What is revisionism?
Some people falsely think that revisionism is to deviate from an orthodoxy, to “revise” a tradition. This is an incorrect view of what revisionism is in a Marxist context. We should not treat Marxist writers the same way that Medieval Church scholars treated Aristotle. Mao was right when he said we must oppose book worship. We should not quote the classics of Marxism in the same way that Jesuits quote the Bible. Real Marxism, Leading Light Communism, is not a dogma, it is simply revolutionary science. Marxism is simply applying science to the task of total liberation, to the task of reaching Leading Light Communism. Like any science, revolutionary science evolves over time. If any deviation from Marx’s original works were revisionism, then everything published after Marx’s lifetime would be revisionist. This is not the case. So what is revisionism?
Revisionism does not mean simply to “revise” Marxist works. Sometimes we need to “revise” in order to advance science. Some “revising” is good. Marxism requires us to deviate from the revolutionary classics sometimes. Revisionism is something very different. Revisionism is to revise the revolutionary heart out of Marxism. Revisionists are those who turn revolutionary science into its opposite. It is putting a “Marxist” face on counter-revolution and oppression. Revisionists “wave the red flag to oppose the red flag.” There are different kinds of revisionism. They often overlap and imply each other. Here are some of the main forms of revisionism:
1. Reformism. Reformists often say that we do not need revolution. They say that the system can be gradually reformed. They think that we can reach socialism (and communism) through legal and parliamentary means. They do not see the current state as an instrument of reactionary class rule. They see it as a semi-neutral or independent agent that stands above class struggle. According to this view, the reactionary state can be contested; the reactionary state can be a place where class antagonisms can be negotiated. The people’s forces can gradually extend their influence over the state through legal means, according to this view. They believe that the people’s forces can get elected, lobby, etc. This is related to the view that communist consciousness evolves spontaneously from economist struggles for things like better wages. This gradualism and evolutionism was held by the revisionists of the Second International. Sometimes these forces are referred to as “social democrats.”
Lenin sharply criticized these revisionists. Lenin advanced another view of the state. Lenin advanced the view that the state is not neutral. It is always a dictatorship of one class against another. The state is always an agent of repression. It cannot be captured in its current form by the revolutionary forces. It cannot be wrangled away from the forces of reaction. There is the parable of the man who drops his bag of gold into the oceans and dives in after the gold. He drowns. Did he own the gold or did the gold own him? Such is the nature of the reactionary state. Those revolutionaries who try to enter the state only end up getting captured in the process. They do not capture the state, the state captures them. Rather, the old state must be smashed. A dual power must be built within society to contest with the old power. A New Power must be built from the ground up. A New Power must be built up to replace the Old Power. This New Power is the order of the proletariat. To embrace reformism is to deny the New Power.
2. Social imperialism/social fascism. There are those who claim to be Marxist, yet they advocate imperialism. They wrap their imperialism in a red flag. The original social imperialists were the social democrats of the Second International. The German and French social democrats supported the war efforts of their imperialist homelands in World War 1. They reasoned that a victory in the war would benefit their homeland’s workers. These nationalists sought to advance their population’s interests with the spoils of imperial conquest. The revisionists placed their own peoples, their own workers, ahead of the global proletariat. These social democrats were narrowly nationalist. By contrast, Lenin was internationalist. Lenin advocated the policy of “revolutionary defeatism” for imperialist countries. Lenin sought the defeat of his own country, the Czarist empire, in the hope that a defeat for his imperialist homeland could lead to a revolutionary situation. Contrary to Lenin, the revisionists of the Second International were the social imperialists and social fascists of their day. They were socialist in name, but in reality, they were imperialists and fascists.
Other kinds of socialism imperialism have existed. For example, the Soviet Union stopped moving forward toward communism in the mid-twentieth century. The Soviet bureaucracy became a new capitalist class. They began implementing capitalist policies.* Even though they claimed to be socialist, they acted like a big imperialist power. They exploited other peoples. They imposed their own colonial order across parts of the Third World. Like the imperialists before, the USSR and the Western imperialists divided up the world into “spheres of influence.” Both imperialist blocs, the West and East bloc, worked together to control the Third World. The imperialists as a whole reconfigured the world economy to the benefit of the imperialists at the expense of the Third World. The USSR carried out its imperialist ambitions under a red flag.
3. First Worldism. First Worldism is a widespread variant of social imperialism. First Worldism is a form of revisionism that claims that there exists a significant social base for revolution in the First World or that there exists widespread, significant exploitation in the First World. First Worldism recognizes various enemy classes of the First World as progressive. Some First Worldism claims that the wage-earning and working bourgeoisie (the “labor aristocracy” or so-called workers) in the First World is exploited and potentially revolutionary.** Other First Worldism claims that the lumpen bourgeoisie in the First World is so oppressed that it constitutes a stand-in proletariat. Other First Worldism claims that the majority of non-Whites in North America are a stand-in proletariat. Other First Worldism claims that women, youth, or homosexuals in the First World are a stand-in proletariat. Other First Worldists say they will create a “social base” in the First World, as though one can, without state power, simply will a revolutionary agent into being. All of these social groups are, on the whole, enemies of the Third World majority. To advocate on their behalf along economic and gender lines is, on the whole, reactionary. First Worldists, whether they know it or not, end up supporting imperialism against the Third World to one degree or another.
4. The Theory of the Productive Forces. This revisionism downplays the need for class struggle in the revolutionary process. Instead, this revisionism sees development of technology as the main key to creating a better world. This view overemphasizes technology’s role in the revolutionary process. It sometimes acts as though technological development will serve up communism. These revisionists set the goal wrong. Instead of setting the goal as the end of oppression, they see creating a bountiful society filled with consumer goods as the goal. Third World socialism will not measure up to First World capitalism in terms of creating a consumer society because socialism is based on sustainability and not based on imperialism. When Third World socialism fails to measure up to First World capitalism in terms of creating a consumer society, these revisionists argue that socialism itself should be rejected. They dangle the carrot of consumer society in front of the masses to encourage reactionary thinking. This is related to economism.
5. Failure to go all the way to Leading Light Communism. Some revisionists say that we do not need to go all the way to communism. This revisionism is one that downplays the need to continue class struggle under socialism. These revisionists say that class struggle simply dies out under socialism. They do not see socialism as a transition to communism. Rather, they see socialism simply as nationalization of industry and a welfare state. By contrast, communists of Mao’s era held that if one isn’t advancing to communism, then the revolution will slide back into capitalism. If one doesn’t continue to push forward, counter-revolution will defeat the revolution. Inequalities left over from the old society and new inequalities will solidify and a new capitalist class will arise within the organs of power. Reactionary ideas spread, reversing revolution. This is why Mao said, “Never forget class struggle!” Revolutionary struggle must continually be waged against inequality and reactionary culture, otherwise a new bourgeoisie will arise and reverse the revolution. This is “continuing the revolution under the New Power of the proletariat.”
This list is not exhaustive. It only covers some of the bigger forms of revisionism. There are many other forms. These revisionisms are almost always intertwined. They usually imply each other. To embrace one is to embrace the others. When it comes down to it, all revisionism is simply denial of the most advanced revolutionary science, all-powerful, awesome Leading Light Communism. The only anti-revisionism today is real revolutionary science, Leading Light Communism. Remember, past revolutions were defeated from within. Leading Light Communism is our sword and out shield against all enemies.
* We have updated our position on Soviet revisionism. While we do not deny the imperialist tendencies within the Soviet foreign policy, we do no longer hold the position that a full-blown capitalist restoration happened before 1991. Read the full article here: https://llco.org/understanding-soviet-revisionism/
** We have updated our position on the labor aristocracy. The general population of wage earners in the First World is a special section among the working class, the labor aristocracy. Although they are technically not capitalists, they do get to enjoy so many of the spoils of imperialism that they would rather align with the capitalists than with the workers of the so-called Third World.