8 September 2009

Vulgarisation of Marxism by Opportunists

[CU for Wednesday, 9 September 2009]

Lenin at this stage of his writing life (1917) is using the term “Opportunist” to describe the Social Democrats, reformists or gradualists who had nearly all voted to take part in the Imperialist world war. He used the term “Anarchist” to refer to the ultra-leftist pseudo-revolutionaries, descendents of Proudhon and Bakunin, but also noted that the Opportunists and the Anarchists were petty-bourgeois “twin brothers”.

In this chapter, Lenin is writing of “the most prominent theoreticians of Marxism”. Kautsky, a German, had been known as the “Pope of Marxism”, whereas Plekhanov was known as the “Father of Russian Marxism.” By 1917 both were proven “renegades” – i.e. they were people who had “reneged”, or gone back on their word. They were supporting their respective national bourgeoisies in the inter-Imperialist Great War (First World War).

[Image: - Cover of "The State and Revolution," Penguin edition, depictiong Lenin]


Kautsky… displays the same old "superstitious reverence" for the state, and "superstitious belief" in bureaucracy.

After the "revolutionary period of 1789-1871" in Western Europe, [Kautsky says], a similar period began in the East in 1905. A world war is approaching with menacing rapidity. "It [the proletariat] can no longer talk of premature revolution." "We have entered a revolutionary period." The "revolutionary era is beginning".

These statements are perfectly clear. This pamphlet of Kautsky's should serve as a measure of comparison of what the German Social-Democrats promised to be before the imperialist war and the depth of degradation to which they, including Kautsky himself, sank when the war broke out. "The present situation," Kautsky wrote in the pamphlet under survey, "is fraught with the danger that we [i.e., the German Social-Democrats] may easily appear to be more 'moderate' than we really are." It turned out that in reality the German Social-Democratic Party was much more moderate and opportunist than it appeared to be!

Kautsky, the German Social-Democrats' spokesman, seems to have declared: I abide by revolutionary views (1899), I recognize, above all, the inevitability of the social revolution of the proletariat (1902), I recognize the advent of a new era of revolutions (1909). Still, I am going back on what Marx said as early as 1852, since the question of the tasks of the proletarian revolution in relation to the state is being raised (1912).

In response to Kautsky, Lenin writes:

We, however, shall break with these traitors to socialism, and we shall fight for the complete destruction of the old state machine, in order that the armed proletariat itself may become the government. These are two vastly different things.

We, however, shall break with the opportunists; and the entire class-conscious proletariat will be with us in the fight - not to "shift the balance of forces", but to overthrow the bourgeoisie, to destroy bourgeois parliamentarism, for a democratic republic after the type of the Commune, or a republic of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, for the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

The experience of the Commune has been not only ignored but distorted. Far from inculcating in the workers' minds the idea that the time is nearing when they must act to smash the old state machine, replace it by a new one, and in this way make their political rule the foundation for the socialist reorganization of society, they have actually preached to the masses the very opposite and have depicted the "conquest of power" in a way that has left thousands of loopholes for opportunism.

So Lenin knew well the arguments about “shifts”, and knew that the armed proletariat itself must become the government.

Click on this link:

State & Revolution, Chapter 6, Vulgarisation of Marxism by Opportunists, Lenin (6061 words)


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