The World Economic and Social Crisis – Its impact on the underdeveloped countries, its somber prospects and the need to struggle if we are to survive, report given by Fidel Castro at the Seventh Summit Conference of Non-Aligned Countries, Publishing Office of the Council of State, Havana, 1983, 232 pages.
The World Crisis – Its Economic and Social Impact on the Underdeveloped Countries, Zed Press, London, 1984, 228 pages.
‘World history would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances.’ Karl Marx, April 17th, 1871
The 18th March 2018 marks the 147th anniversary of the start of the Paris Commune. For the workers and oppressed of the world this was probably the most significant event of the 19th century. During the short 72 days of its existence it demonstrated that once workers are united in a common goal they can quickly change their lives for the better. At the same time the murderous manner in which it was suppressed showed that the ruling class will stop at nothing to prevent the workers from taking control of their own lives.
What was the spark that caused this prairie fire?
Before it got light on the morning of 18th March 1871 washer-women, on their way to work, came across a group of soldiers trying to steal some of the artillery pieces which the local National Guard had secured in working class districts once the Prussians had entered Paris. After a long siege the national government had acquiesced to Prussian demands that the National Guard be disarmed and this group of, reluctant, soldiers were given the task to do so before the general population was awake.
Feelings were running high as those in the working class districts of the capital were prepared to hold out against the invaders and this attempt to take away the guns they had paid for was seen as the last straw. The alarm went up. Angry crowds started to gather. A couple of the state’s generals were shot and things moved quickly.
What in other circumstances might have just have been a riot became one of the most significant political events of the 19th century, where working people not only opposed the existing regime but decided to replace it with a structure that benefited the working class and not just the rich. This structure became known as the Paris Commune.
The Communards hadn’t planned in advance what to do and didn’t really understand how they were entering into brand new territory and the majority of those involved in the Commune wouldn’t have known the exact nature of the progressive organisation they were building – or of it’s possible long-term effects.
Mao stated in August 1927, 56 years after the Commune, that ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun’ (Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. II, pp. 224-225) and the spark for the Commune was the attempt by the bourgeois Thiers government to disarm the workers. Due to the siege of Paris by the Prussians many workers in the National Guard actually knew how to use what they had and this combination of armed workers with dangerous ideas made them a threat to the very existence of the bourgeois, capitalist state.
And how did they respond?
There had been political tension in Paris since the end of January when the bourgeois government capitulated to the Prussians and had allowed them to enter the city. The petty-bourgeois elements of the National Guard dissolved away and the Central Committee of the National Guard was staunchly proletarian. This meant there was a structure that was able to step into the vacuum created on that tumultuous day in March – what they did next took the Parisian workers into the unknown.
18th March – Rue Basfroi
By the evening of the 18th the National Guard was in control of key points in the city and had occupied the Town Hall (the Hôtel de Ville), where the Red Flag was hoisted. The next day, the 19th, elections for the Commune were announced for March 26th. On March 28th the Paris Commune was officially proclaimed.
However, instead of following the tried (and failed) road of parliamentary cretinism the Commune started to create a new organisation which had as its central tenet the interests of the working class. For such temerity, for such audacity they were to be severely punished within less than 70 days.
I can do no better than quote the words of the great theoreticians of Marxism for their analysis of the experience of the Commune, some thoughts written within days of the destruction of the first example of workers taking power into their own hands.
The Communards ditched the old reverence to the established electoral order;
‘From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment.’ Frederick Engels, Introduction to The Civil War in France, p15
‘ … the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible until such time as a generation reared in new, free social conditions is able to throw out the entire lumber of the state.’ Frederick Engels, Introduction to The Civil War in France, p17
‘… the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’ Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p66
However, the Paris Commune saw the significance of their new organisation as something that would have to extend beyond the Paris city limits.
‘In a rough sketch of national organization which the Commune had no time to develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet, and that in the rural districts the standing army was to be replaced by a national militia, with an extremely short-term of service.’ Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p71
It also bore the seeds of longer term ambitions and had international implications.
‘It was essentially a working-class government, the produce of the struggle of the producing against the appropriating class, the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economic emancipation of labour.’ Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, p74
What did the Commune achieve – if only for a short time?
On March 30th the first decree of the Commune concerned the suppression of a standing army and an armed people, the National Guard, would be the only army – all citizens capable of bearing arms to be enrolled, both men and women.
Your Commune has been established!
Your Commune has been established.
The vote of March 26 has sanctioned the victorious revolution.
A craven aggressive power had seized you by the throat; in your self-defence you have driven beyond your walls the government that sought to dishonour you by imposing a king.
Today, the criminals whom you had not even thought to prosecute, abuse your magnanimity in organizing a centre of monarchical conspiracy at the very gates of the city. They invoke civil war, they seek to corrupt; they accept every complicity; they have even dared to beg for foreign support.
We summon these abominable intrigues to the judgement of France and the world.
We have just given you instructions which defy all comparisons.
Your are masters of your destiny. Strengthened by your support, the representatives that you have designated will undertake to repair the disasters brought about by the defiant power. The industry that has been compromised, the labour that has been suspended, and the commercial transactions that have been paralysed will all receive the most vigorous impetus.
Today, the awaited decision on rents;
Tomorrow, that on loans;
All public services re-established and simplified;
The National Guard, henceforth the only armed force in the city, reorganized without delay;
Such will be our first acts.
The elected representatives of the people only ask, to ensure the triumph of the Republic, that you give them your support and confidence.
They will do their duty.
Hotel-de-Ville of Paris March 29th 1871 The Paris Commune
Among the other decrees (which were enacted with greater or less success with the time constraints) were;
rents for dwellings abolished
articles that had been pawned declared not for sale
the wage differentials between men and women were abolished
officials would not get any more than ‘workingmen’s wages’
the church was separated from the state
church property was to be national property
religious iconography was to be removed from schools
the guillotine to be publicly burnt, as a symbol of the old regime
Burning the Guillotine in front of Voltaire’s statue
night work for bakers was abolished
planned the reopening of factories closed by owners and these to be run on a collective basis
razed the Chapel of Atonement – built to expiate the execution of Louis XVI
Paradoxically, in a city on a war footing, besieged by hostile forces, both national and international, this all resulted in a situation where the streets of Paris were safer than they had been for decades – without a police force.
Did the Commune make any mistakes?
Of course. Many. Some forced due to the circumstances, some because someone, for some reason, made the wrong decision. Perhaps some mistakes could have been foreseen and lack of experience, lack of knowledge or even stupidity got in the way. And even in a revolutionary situation there will always be those traitors who hide themselves behind revolutionary rhetoric and seek to undermine the movement to benefit of their traditional ‘masters’.
The Commune wasn’t planned, it evolved. It wasn’t the result of a group of revolutionaries working out how best to change society. At the time of the Commune most revolutionaries in Europe were following the Blanqui model of a small group of insurrectionists creating a situation where the rest of the population would follow. (This failed approach was resurrected by Che Guevara in the 1960s under the name of the ‘foco’ theory.) The Commune was different. It was a period when thinking men and women had taken state power and they were trying to work out how to go forward – against all the odds.
And during all this they were under military attack, both from the reactionary bourgeois forces of Thiers and the presence of the Prussian occupying force.
The majority of them were workers who had never been in a position of making decisions about the rest of their community in their lives. They weren’t the trained sycophants and lackeys the ruling class accumulates around themselves. If they had not made mistakes that would have been a surprise.
Some of their mistakes were strategic, some tactical. They had no over-arching theory to guide them. The theory that would lead to a successful revolution of the oppressed and the exploited, Marxism, was in the process of being formed by its originators.
In 1927 Chairman Mao wrote;
‘A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’ Mao Tse-tung, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan” (March 1927), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28.
He had learnt from past experience, in China’s failed insurrections and revolutions, the success of the October Revolution in Russia and the failure of the Commune in Paris in 1871. Chairman Mao learnt from the past but the Paris Commune was the present for the Communards, for the Parisians. They had no experience to guide them. The were true trail-blazers and so mistakes were inevitable.
With hindsight it’s always easy to criticise what people did in the past.
But some of their mistakes need reiteration, not least to remind future revolutionaries of some of the matters they have to consider.
The Central Committee of the National Guard (the precursor of the Commune) gave the reactionary forces almost ten days grace after the thwarted seizure of the guns on Montmartre. This allowed reaction to organise and allowed them to create chaos within the centre of Paris. When you have power you must use it – reaction never rests.
The Central Committee of the National Guard was too magnanimous during this period and allowed a violent demonstration by reactionary forces to take place. Marx criticised ‘this magnanimity of the armed working men’ (The Civil War in France, p60). Reaction is the viper in the nest – it has to be crushed.
This lesson was well learnt by future revolutionaries after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. If you can criticise Comrades Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Joseph Stalin and ‘Iron’ Felix Dzerzhinsky for some of their actions (but not many) it will not be due to their ‘magnanimity’.
‘It is still necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and crush its resistance. This was particularly necessary for the Commune; and one of the reasons for its defeat is that it did not do this with sufficient determination. But the organ of suppression is now the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, serfdom and wage slavery.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p50
They didn’t take over the banks. How this would have worked in practice is difficult to say, especially as they had such a short time in control, but if the Commune had lasted longer then this would have become a very serious matter. Better to take them over and not have an impact than not and then suffer the consequences down the line. Something else the Soviets learnt.
Reactionary parties were allowed to stand in the elections for the Commune on 26th March. This can be a difficult one. There will be the argument that not everyone supports the new order and that opposition forces should be given an opportunity to have their say. The problem is that they have been having their say for thousands of years and still the rich get richer and the poor get poorer – that’s the case in the 21st century world and was definitely the case in 1871 Paris.
The slaughter during the last week of May 1871 was a direct consequence of the innocence, naiveté and magnanimity of the Parisian working class. They suffered for their mistakes – how many more others are to suffer because future generations haven’t learnt the lessons of the past – and of the Paris Commune in particular?
But whatever the failings of the Commune it was not given the time to sort out its shortcomings or mistakes.
What can we still learn from The Commune?
The biggest ‘crime’ of the Communards was that they wanted to plan things for and by themselves and did not choose to be limited by the established bourgeois state. Play the game by their rules and you’ll get a pat on the head. Play another game which doesn’t include them and they will (attempt to) destroy you. That’s what happened in May 1871.
In ‘theory’ revolutions of the oppressed and exploited should be an easy matter. After all we outnumber the ruling class (in whatever country, in whatever social situation – beit slavery, feudalism or capitalism) by factors of hundreds of thousands in some instances. But it doesn’t work that way.
How many slave revolts can people cite during the whole of the Roman Republic and Empire – a period of something like 2,000 years? Spartacus, yes. And?
How many slave revolts can people cite in the 300/400 period of slavery in the United States of America? Nat Turner (possibly but not guaranteed – and that only lasted less than two days). And?
However dire their existence and conditions most people cling to life and misery rather than freedom and dignity. Many individuals in the past have chosen the latter but history doesn’t always record those brave men and women as the ‘prize’ for their independence was death. There are a few episodes in history where the oppressed and exploited have come together to change their situation. In a British context I will cite the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and the English Revolution of 1640.
Fourteenth century peasants would have normally lived and died within sight of their home, only leaving it if they were conscripted into some war for a tribal warlord (as that was basically what the monarchy was at that time) to establish his (and sometime her) right to rule them. The Rebellion, led by Wat Tyler, therefore, was something that came out of the blue, something which would have left most peasants thinking they were in some sort of dream.
When some of them went to London and their leader had a meeting with the King they were probably even more bemused. Then terrified as they were once again ‘put in their place’. They followed their charismatic leader to the capital who, riding a horse (what peasant rode a horse in 1381?), was set to meet the child monarch. Once out of his environment Tyler was treacherously stabbed in the back by the Sheriff of London. The rebellion melted quicker than summer snow.
(Traditionally, ‘commoners’ – i.e., anyone not of Royal birth – in Britain walk away backwards from a meeting with the monarch. This is interpreted as a sign of respect but it comes from the fact that, in the past, no one would trust a King/Queen as they were as likely to stab you in the back as look at you. That’s a lesson Wat Tyler learnt too late and which everyone should remember. Never literally, or figuratively, turn your back on the oppressor.)
Just about 260 years later there was another revolt against a British monarch. Although there were enough grievances amongst the population this particular revolt was led, and instigated, by the nascent bourgeoisie who had their own agenda but needed the anger of the people to achieve their aims – they also needed young, working class men to fight in their war. After nine years of war, where something like 11% of the male population lost their lives, the war criminal Charles Stuart had his divine head separated from his less than divine body.
The reason I mention these two events is to try to suggest how rare are those episodes in history where the oppressed and exploited actually get to a stage of challenging the fundamentals of power. They will always riot (especially in summer, riots rarely happen in the winter, although revolutions often do), they will always go on strike, they will always gripe and make things awkward for the ruling class, but they rarely challenge the class rule.
In 1381 the peasants trusted the monarchy and their trust was thrown back at them and they returned to their misery. In 1640 the few revolutionaries that did exist in Britain thought they could advance their ideas and practices (Gerrard Winstanley, for example, with the Digger Movement) but once the monarchy had been tamed the bourgeoisie had no need of certain sections of the army and used the forelock-tuggers to destroy progress – another lesson that we should learn, not all the oppressed and exploited will side with us against the oppressors and exploiters and are quite happy to destroy their own people.
But Marx saw something different with the working class revolt in Paris. There had been revolutions in France in 1789, 1830 and 1848 but they had been subverted for the benefit of the ruling class, if not initially, eventually. The Paris Commune was something qualitatively different.
‘In September 1870, Marx called the insurrection an act of desperate folly. But, when the masses rose, Marx wanted to march with them, to learn with them in the process of the struggle, and not to give them bureaucratic admonitions. He realised that to attempt in advance to calculate the chances with complete accuracy would be quackery or hopeless pedantry. What he valued above every thing else was that the working class heroically and self-sacrificingly took the initiative in making world history. Marx regarded world history from the standpoint of those who make it without being in a position to calculate the chances infallibly beforehand, and not from the standpoint of an intellectual philistine who moralises: “It was easy to foresee … they should not have taken up … “. VI Lenin, Selected Works, Vol 12, p111
For the first time the working class were fighting, consciously, for themselves. Not that they were necessarily conscious of all that they were doing. They moved the working class movement forwards by defending and promoting the interests of their class. Starting by defending their right to their armaments they decided they could promote those interests that had been denied them by the ruling class.
Serendipity (the washer women arriving at the time the government troops attempted to steal the artillery of the National Guard and those troops preferring to be mutinous rather than go against their class brothers and sisters) also had a role to play. Being in the right place at the right time even has a role in social advancement.
…. and what has already been learnt.
Karl Marx had always closely followed events in Europe and especially what was happening in France with the country at war with Prussia. With the ignominious defeat of the French – and the subsequent declaration of the unification of Germany, on 18th January 1871, which took place in the ‘occupied’ Palace of Versailles in the humiliated France – Marx knew that the situation in Europe was about to change as the new, militaristic and powerful economic power of the new country would have to come into conflict with the most dominant economic power, Britain. It wasn’t a matter of if a war between these two powers would occur, only when. The world was too small for two such ambitious, imperialist powers to exist side by side.
Both Marx and Engels had also very closely followed and studied the revolutionary workers movements in France and Germany (especially) but other movements in Eastern Europe as well. Engels actually fought on the barricades in the Baden, Prussia, during the 1848 Revolution – even writing articles on military tactics which were published in the Manchester Guardian.
They knew that Paris was a seething cauldron of proletarian discontent but that were in a perilous position to take on the combined might of the French state – which had the tacit support of the Prussian occupiers. Although he recommended caution Marx was fully behind the Parisian workers when they were forced to either fight or capitulate after the incident of the attempted theft of the artillery of the National Guard by the reactionary government of Thiers.
He followed matters as closely as possible and, in fact, the first draft of The Civil War in France was written before the Commune was crushed in the blood soaked week at the end of May, 1871.
Apart from that seminal work Marx made an extremely important, and often ‘forgotten’ or ignored, annotation to The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. In the 1872 Preface to the German edition of the book one sentence is of special significance:
‘One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz., that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’ Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p2.
The reason this short sentence is frequently overlooked is because this had the effect of challenging those who believed that a workers’ revolution could succeed peacefully and through bourgeois, parliamentary means – the ideas that have been shown countless times in the almost 150 years of the Commune to be a fallacy but which are still promulgated by modern-day Social Democrats.
Lenin also learnt from the organisation structure of the Commune and later, after the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviets were introduced with many of the attributes of proletarian democracy that had existed in Paris for a couple of months in the spring of 19871.
‘The way out of parliamentarianism is not, of course, the abolition of representative institutions and the electoral principle, but the conversion of the representative institutions from talking shops to “working” bodies. “The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time.” VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p55
Lenin believed in elections and representation but of a new kind that didn’t trap the workers who were attempting to build Socialism into the stultifying trap of parliamentary cretinism.
‘We cannot imagine democracy, even proletarian democracy, without representative institutions, but we can and must imagine democracy without parliamentarism,’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p56
For the first time ever the proletariat had a model which worked – in all sorts of ways – if only for a short time.
‘The Commune is the form “at last discovered” by the proletarian revolution, under which the economic emancipation of labour can take place…. [It] is the first attempt of a proletarian revolution to smash the bourgeois state machine; and it is the political form ….. by which the smashed state machine can and must be replaced.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p66
Although Marx had based his theories of scientific socialism on the experiences of the workers’ and peasants’ struggles in the past he was more than willing to change his approach if new experience told a new story or gave a better example of how to do things in the future.
‘Marx did not indulge in utopias; he expected the experience of the mass movement to provide the reply to the question as to what specific forms this organization of the proletariat as the ruling class will assume and as to the exact manner in which this organization will be combined with the most complete, most consistent “winning of the battle of democracy.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p48
All great revolutionary thinkers learn from great events – from both their success and failures. It can’t be otherwise and this is why both Marx and Engels constantly referred to the Commune in their writings after 1871. When Lenin was trying to make sense of the Russian situation he found inspiration in the events in Paris – which were taking place at the very time he was celebrating his first birthday 3,249 kilometres away in Simbirsk, Russia.
Lenin also liked the way the Communards organised themselves, in a new way and very different from the hierarchical structure that characterises capitalist states.
‘There can be no thought of abolishing the bureaucracy at once, everywhere and completely. That is utopia. But to smash the old bureaucratic machine at once and to begin immediately to construct a new one that will permit to abolish gradually all bureaucracy – this is not utopia, this is the experience of the Commune, this is the direct and immediate task of the revolutionary proletariat.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p57
The proletarian dictatorship replaces the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. This turns the world upside down and now instead of subordination to a monarchy, an aristocracy or an industrial or financial bourgeoisie society would now be under the control of the armed working class.
‘We are not utopians, we do not indulge in “dreams” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination; these anarchist dreams, based upon a lack of understanding of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control and “foremen and bookkeepers.” But the subordination must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and toiling people, i.e., to the proletariat.’ VI Lenin, The State and Revolution, p58
It was the Commune, without an organised, revolutionary Party leadership, that came up with the form of the new State that Marx had been looking for. It was workers themselves, and not ideologues, who realised what was needed to liberate themselves from oppression and exploitation.
They were not a movement as Lenin wrote about 31 years later; ‘Without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary movement.’ (VI Lenin, What is to be Done? – Burning questions of our movement, p28), but without the Paris Commune Lenin might not have come up with this important conclusion.
However the lack of organisation was one of the contributory factors in the defeat of the Paris Commune. Not the only factor, as they had so many things going against them, but divisions based upon different political interests didn’t help in the struggle against the reactionaries. Future revolutionaries who have not learnt that lesson will end up suffering the same fate.
Women and the Paris Commune
Women had played a role in previous revolutions in France but the part they played was not recorded in a consistent manner and is often overlooked. Their role in the French Revolution (1789-1799) is often caricatured with harridans knitting at the public executions of the aristocracy but this is merely promoted to deny what actually was taking place – even when against the odds.
The Women’s March on Versailles, in October 1789, forced the royal court back to Paris – and was the virtual beginning of the end for this episode of the Bourbon’s. The Society of Revolutionary Republican Women agitated for full citizenship for women – their position in society being vague (to say the least) when the Declaration of the Rights of Man was published in August 1789.
Meetings of the Patriotic Women’s Clubs were held in churches – something that was copied in many of its aspects during the Commune.
Women’s Club – 1793
Revolutionary women also played a major role in the funeral of Jean-Paul Marat, the radical writer who produced the periodical ‘Friend of the People’, who was assassinated by a counter-revolutionary woman (not everyone who should be is always a revolutionary) in July 1793. They carried the bath tub in which he had been murdered – which even I think is a strange way of playing tribute.
Women were also very much involved in demonstrations against the increase of the price of basic foods and were prepared to riot when their demands were not met.
However, as the revolution was hijacked and moved to the right organised women’s groups were permanently shut out of the French Revolution after October 30, 1793.
So there was a tradition of women fighting for their freedom in uprisings and revolutions in France but in the Paris Commune of 1871 it (like the workers’ movement in general) took a qualitative leap.
It should be remembered that women were the ones who really started the revolution in March 1871 when they prevented the theft of the workers’ armaments and sounded the alarm which woke Paris to the theft and to a new dawn in so many ways.
They revived the clubs using, as in the 1790s, the same churches from where the clergy had been evicted following the decree on religion.
‘The sacred revolt of the poor, the exploited and the oppressed’
Although there are examples of women taking up arms in the 1790s this was more prevalent in the Paris Commune, especially so when the reactionary state machine started its slaughter of all those who had dared to challenge state power at the end of May 1871. Not only fighting side by side with their male comrades on the barricades but also causing mayhem by setting alight and destroying many buildings in the centre of the city. These ‘petroleuses’ (women incendiaries) were especially vilified by the reaction for the contempt they held for bourgeois property.
‘A girl soldier’
One renowned woman of this group of female revolutionaries was Louise Michel. Louise was an anarchist – and this will probably be the only time where an anarchist will be lauded on this blog – but was steadfast in the face of the threat of death once the Commune had been destroyed. She showed her contempt for the court at her trial – which took place as the fires in the city were still smouldering.
The reaction wanted contrition and regret, what they got was defiance and hatred;
‘You must cut me off from society! You have been told to do so, well, the Public Prosecutor is right! Since it seems that every heart that beats for liberty has the right only to a lump of lead, I demand my share! If you let me live, I shall not cease calling for vengeance, and I shall denounce to the vengeance of my brothers the murderers of the Commission of Pardons! … If you are not cowards kill me!
They were cowards and she was sentenced to, first, imprisonment in Paris and then deportation to the French colony of New Caledonia (off the eastern coast of Australia), returning to Paris when the surviving Communards were given an amnesty.
She wrote a poem in honour of her fellow Communard and friend, Théophile Ferré, the Blanquist Delegate to the Police, who refused to recognize a military court’s right to judge him after the defeat of the Commune and was sentenced to death and executed.
The Red Carnation
If one day to the cold cemetery I were to go, brothers, cast on your sister, like a final hope, some red carnations in bloom.
In the final days of the empire, as the people awoke, red carnation, it was your smile that told us all was reborn.
And now, go blossom in the shade of dark and drear prisons, go blossom near the sombre captive, and tell him we love him.
Tell him that in these changing times everything belongs to the future; that the victor with his pallid brow can die as easily as the vanquished.
She remained active in revolutionary politics (if anarchist politics can be called ‘revolutionary’) until her death in 1905 – the year of the revolutionary events in Russia which were to lead to the October Revolution of 1917.
In 2008 a film was released, ‘Louise-Michel’, directed by Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern, where female workers made redundant from a textile factory decide to pool their redundancy payments to hire a hit man to eliminate the boss. I’m sure Louise would have approved
Long Live the memory of The Paris Commune!
Eternal glory to the Parisian Martyrs of the Working Class!
If the only thing I achieve with this post is to stimulate an interest in this oft forgotten event in the 19th century it would have been worthwhile. When I say ‘forgotten’ I’m not saying that it has been forgotten by the world revolutionary movement. The Paris Commune sits in the pantheon of our revolutionary past.
However, not unsurprisingly, it is ignored in general history education in – at least – schools in the UK. The war between France and Prussia will be taught as this led to the creation of the German State which, ultimately, led to the clash between the European imperialist powers and the ‘First World War’ – called the ‘Great War’ by the murderous British imperialists.
That killing fields of the young working class and peasantry between 1914 and 1919 did have a positive result – the October Revolution of 1917. VI Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party that initiated that revolution learnt from the positive and negative aspects of the valiant struggle of the Parisian workers in 1871.
So the ‘forgotten’ event of 1871 has had a direct effect upon the society in which we live today, coming towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Capitalism and imperialist of the Anglo-Saxon world has never forgiven, and will never forgive, the Russian workers for their audacity to challenge capitalist rule and succeeded in the construction of a Socialist society for, an unfortunately short period of 39 years.
That 39 years, as opposed to 72 days, would not have been possible but for the determination, imagination and sacrifice of the Parisian proletariat from March to May 1871.
This course, as an introduction to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, was originally created by the comrades of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) as an educational tool for their own cadres. As such there are some references, terms, etc., which would be well known in India, less so in other parts of the world. Also, as this was an ideological aid to their particular struggle the emphasis is on the application of the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the Indian context. That’s not a failing. Revolutionary theory has to be adapted to the specific circumstances, location and era. What it does mean is that for revolutionaries in other parts of the world some of the emphasis might have to change.
However, the general principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism are applicable everywhere and in all historical periods.
One aspect which was not in the original are the links to some of the individuals, concepts, events and articles/books referred to in the text. These links have been added to (hopefully) assist those who are living a more comfortable existence than the fighters in India, i.e., not living a precarious existence in a hostile environment having to daily confront a vicious and murderous Fascist force determined to destroy all those who stand up for national liberation and for the land to those who till it.
Long live the unity of workers, peasants, students and intellectuals!
Long live the Party, People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) and United Front!
Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!
Long live Communist Party of India (Maoist)!
Long live New Democratic Revolution!
Long live World Socialist Revolution!
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: What is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
Chapter 3: Socio-economic Conditions Leading to the Birth of Marxism
Chapter 4: Early Life of Marx and Engels Until They Became Marxists
Chapter 5: The Three Sources of Marxism
Chapter 6: The Basic Foundations of Marxist Philosophy – Dialectical and Historical Materialism
Chapter 7: Struggle Against Utopian Socialism and the Establishment of Scientific Socialism
Chapter 8: Marxist Political Economy
Chapter 9: Marxism Fuses Its Links with the Working Class
Chapter 10: The Lessons of the Paris Commune
Chapter 11: Spread of Marxism and Rise of Opportunism
Chapter 12: Marxism in Russia – Early Life of Lenin
Chapter 13: Lenin and the Proletarian Party of a New Type
Chapter 14: Russian Bourgeois Revolution of 1905 – Development of Proletarian Tactics
Chapter 15: World War I – Opportunism v/s Revolutionary Tactics
Chapter 16: Lenin’s Analysis of Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism
Chapter 17: The Great October Socialist Revolution
Chapter 18: The Formation of the Third International
Chapter 19: The National and Colonial Question
Chapter 20: Early Life and Revolutionary Contributions of Stalin upto the 1917 Revolution
Chapter 21: Socialist Construction – the Russian Experience
Chapter 22: Fight against Trotskyism and Other Opportunist Trends
Chapter 23: Tactics During World War II
Chapter 24: Mao’s Early Years
Chapter 25: Mao’s Fight Against Right and ‘Left’ Lines and Victory of the Chinese Revolution
Chapter 26: The Path of Revolution for the Colonies and Semi-Colonies
Chapter 27: Mao on Philosophy
Chapter 28: Mao on The Party
Chapter 29: Socialist Construction – The Chinese Experience
Chapter 30: The Great Debate – Mao’s Fight Against Kruschev’s Modern Revisionism
Chapter 31: The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
Chapter 32: After The Death of Mao
Most of us revolutionary activists are ‘practical’ people. We feel, “Why bother about ideology, and theory, and such other things, … that is for the scholars and ‘intellectuals’, … the most important thing is to get on with the job”. The lower level activists and members feel that it is sufficient that the Central Committee and the higher committees do study and provide guidance; and often, many members in the higher committees also feel that other work is too pressing to ‘allow’ much time for theory.
On the other hand, there are a few others who feel it is necessary to know every work of the Great Teachers in order to work ‘properly’. They spend a large amount of time in trying to read everything. They also have a tendency to treat everything they read as dogma.
It is necessary to avoid both these attitudes in our study. All comrades should give sufficient time and attention to study in order to understand the essence of our ideology — Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM). Rather than knowing by heart a large number of books, it is necessary to understand deeply the essential and basic aspects of our guiding ideology. If we do this and learn to apply it in our day to day work we can greatly improve our practice, both, as individual activists, as well as, of the party as a whole. Very often we understand and analyse the world around us only according to our own limited experiences and therefore arrive at wrong conclusions. A proper understanding of MLM can help us overcome such errors. At other times a superficial understanding can lead to going by only the letter of certain party decisions and stands and not understanding their essence and spirit. Such mistakes can also be avoided by a deeper grasp of MLM. By our study of MLM, we learn from the positive and negative experiences of World Revolution; we learn to absorb the good in it, and we learn to differentiate between the good and the bad in our own practice. We thus learn to recognise, criticise, and fight all types of opportunism. In short, MLM is a must to mould our practice in the light of theory.
This Basic Course in MLM is intended to present to activists an understanding of the principal aspects of our ideology. Our ideology is, first and foremost, a ‘practical’ theory, meant to be implemented and put into practice. The theory itself emerged in the course of numerous class struggles. It is therefore essential to understand the concrete material conditions and social practice through which the Great Teachers of the proletariat – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao – discovered and formulated its basic principles. Thus, this book has been presented by relating the historical process of the growth and development of MLM. The basic concepts have been presented in short by, wherever possible, linking to the socio-economic conditions, main political events and class struggles that gave birth to them. In order to understand any particular aspect in detail, more particular study would be necessary. This Basic Course however is meant to provide an essential basis for understanding the dynamic process of the development of our ideology and in what historical conditions and circumstances certain stands and theory came into being.
Come; let’s begin our study.
What is MLM?
The party leading the revolution is the Communist party; and the ideology guiding the thinking and practice of the Communist party is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. This is known to all of us. However many of us are not so sure as to what exactly is meant by communist ideology or MLM and what are its various parts or aspects. Quite a few understand it simply as the ideas of Marx, Lenin and Mao. Such an understanding is incomplete, insufficient and superficial. What is needed is to go deeper into the matter and understand the internal essence. Let us first therefore try to understand this essence of MLM.
At the time when Marx and Engels were first developing and propagating the theory of communism, Engels, in 1847, drafted a booklet called The Principles of Communism (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, pp 341-357). In this he defined what is communism in the following very simple manner, “Communism is the doctrine of the prerequisites for the emancipation of the proletariat.” Thus Engels, in this very short definition explains that the essence of communist ideology is to provide the theory regarding what is needed to achieve the ultimate freedom of the working class (the proletariat). This freedom would finally be achieved through the establishment of communist society.
Stalin explained the same thing in the following way, “Marxism is the science of the laws governing the development of nature and society, the science of the revolution of the oppressed and exploited masses, the science of the victory of socialism in all countries, the science of building a communist society.” (J. V. Stalin, Marxism and Problems of Linguistics, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1972, pp 52-53.)
Here Stalin explains the wide scope of Marxism. Firstly, it is a science, which provides the answers to the questions concerning not only society, but also the whole of nature. Thus Marxism is an all-encompassing science. Secondly, it is a science regarding revolution; and this revolution is not of the rich (as in earlier bourgeois revolutions of the capitalist class), but of the poor and toiling masses. And thirdly it is the science of building socialist and communist society.
This science is today given the name of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism after the names of the three Teachers who played the greatest role in establishing and developing it – Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse-tung. Besides these three, we recognise two other great Teachers who played a tremendous role – Frederick Engels and Joseph Stalin. Engels was the comrade of Marx who closely collaborated with him in laying the foundations of Marxism, as well as in advancing it after Marx’s death. Stalin defended and developed Marxism-Leninism after Lenin’s death.
Marxism was first worked out by Marx, with the help of Engels, more than 150 years ago. The principal parts of Marxism are: the philosophy of dialectical materialism and the discovery of the materialist conception of history or historical materialism; Marxist political economy which discovered the laws of motion of capitalism and its contradictions and the doctrine of surplus value which uncovered the source of exploitation; and the theory of scientific socialism based on the doctrine of the class struggle and the outlining of the principles governing the tactics of the class struggle of the proletariat.
“Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution.” (JV Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965, p 2). It was first developed by Lenin around the turn of the century during the course of the Russian revolution, while fighting the opportunism of the Second International, and while advancing the international communist movement through the Third International. Leninism, while defending and developing Marxism, made the following significant contributions: the discovery of the laws of motion of capitalism under imperialism and how they would inevitably lead the imperialist powers to war; the qualitative development of the theory and practice of proletarian revolution during the bourgeois democratic revolution as well as the socialist revolution; a clear understanding regarding the dictatorship of the proletariat, as well as the first principles regarding socialist construction; providing the theory and direction for the nationality movements and the movements in the colonies and linking the national liberation movements to the World Socialist Revolution; the development of the organisational principles of the Leninist party – the party of the new type. Stalin, while defending and developing Leninism, particularly contributed to the principles and laws governing the period of socialist construction.
Maoism is an extension and development of Marxism-Leninism applicable to the present era. It was developed by Mao during the course of the Chinese Revolution, in the process of socialist construction, in the fight against modern revisionism and particularly during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Maoism’s contributions include: the theory of contradictions, the development of the theory of knowledge and the formulation of the mass line of ‘from the masses, to the masses’; the theory of new democracy, the formulation of the path of revolution for the colonies and semi-colonies, and the formulation regarding the three magic weapons of the revolution – the party, people’s army and the united front; the theory of protracted people’s war and the development of the principles of military warfare; the development of the organisational principles of the proletarian party through the understanding of two-line struggle, rectification campaigns and criticism and self-criticism; the development of the political economy of socialism on the basis of the Soviet and Chinese experience and the dialectical understanding of the process of socialist construction as the correct handling of contradictions in the process of transition to socialism; and finally and most importantly, the theory and practice of continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat to consolidate socialism, combat modern revisionism and prevent the restoration of capitalism, and its concrete expression in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism are thus not separate ideologies, but represent the constant growth and advancement of one and the same ideology. We shall in the following pages try to trace the story of the process of its development. While doing this we shall also try to understand the essence of its various parts and aspects that have been listed above. The list may appear to be long and difficult, but it need not be so. If we concentrate and try to understand the basic essence of each aspect within its historical context we will be able grasp a lot.
Socio-economic Conditions Leading to The Birth of Marxism
As we will see later, Marxism teaches us that any ideas or theory are always the product of some material conditions. Whenever new material conditions come into being, new ideas and theories too are bound to emerge. This same truth applies also to Marxism itself. Thus in order to understand Marxism better we should try to know the material conditions, i.e. the socio-economic conditions, within which Marx and Engels first gave birth to Marxism.
Marxism was established over 150 years ago, during the 1840s. It was established first in Europe, which at that time dominated the whole world economically, politically and militarily. This world domination was such that almost all earlier advanced civilizations like India, China and Persia had been subordinated to it. Marx and Engels were born and lived in some of the most economically advanced parts of Europe while developing the ideas of Marxism. They observed, participated in and were influenced by all the major political events of that time. Thus in order to understand how Marxism was born we will first have to take a look at the Europe of that time and see the principal factors in the socio-economic situation then.
1) The most important factor was the Industrial Revolution, which lasted approximately from 1760 to 1830, and, though it was centred in England, influenced the whole world. The Industrial Revolution was named as such because it was during these seventy years that the world first saw an explosive and revolutionary upsurge in industrial development. It was at this time that modern large factories were first set up and grew at a very rapid pace, particularly in England. Along with this was the tremendous expansion of the world market, which sent English manufactured goods to all parts of the world. Though other countries like France, Holland, and parts of Germany and the USA also set up large factories, this period was heavily dominated by England. Its domination was such that it came to be called the ‘workshop of the world’ which supplied manufactured goods to all countries.
The Industrial Revolution transformed the capitalist class. This class was earlier economically not so strong and was a middle class (it was called the bourgeoisie because bourgeois in French means middle class). But, with the Industrial Revolution, this middle class was transformed into a class of industrial millionaires – the modern industrial bourgeoisie. The untold riches of this new class gave it the strength to more powerfully challenge the feudal classes, which were, till then, still the ruling classes.
Alongside the modern industrial bourgeoisie the Industrial Revolution also gave birth to another class – the modern industrial working class, or proletariat. This class consisting of workers working together in thousands in large factories was also far different from the earlier workers working in small groups in tiny workshops. The modern proletarians possessed nothing else except their labouring power and had a strength and confidence not known to earlier generations of workers and toilers. This strength came from their contact with modern industry, their discipline learnt from the factory system, and their superior organisation due to their large numbers assembled together in single factories under one roof. Their position within society made them the potentially most revolutionary force in history.
2) The other important factor was that which dominated the political situation in Europe at that time. It was the spate of bourgeois democratic revolutions led by the rising capitalist class, of which the most important was the French Revolution of 1789. The French Revolution not only brought about very radical changes in France. It also led to the Napoleonic wars where the armies of the French bourgeoisie conquered almost the whole of Europe and introduced bourgeois reforms abolishing feudalism wherever they went. They thus dealt a deathblow to the kings and old feudal classes. Though the French armies were later defeated, the old ruling classes could never recover their old position. The modern bourgeoisie continued its revolutionary wave with numerous other bourgeois revolutions, which resulted in the conclusive defeat of the feudal classes and the victory of capitalism as a world system.
Thus both at the economic and political levels the period of the birth of Marxism was a period of great advances and victories for the capitalist class when it was conclusively establishing its rule in the most advanced and dominant countries of the world.
3) Though this was the period of the greatest advancement of the bourgeoisie, the principal factor that gave birth to Marxism during this period was the rise of working class consciousness and proletarian organisations and movements thus signalling the emergence of the proletariat as an independent and self-conscious force.
This rise of a class-conscious proletariat first took place in England and France. This was primarily because of the early spread of modern industry in these two countries. The spread of modern industry, though it brought great wealth to the bourgeoisie, at the same time meant the most inhuman working and living conditions for the working class (see Frederick Engels, The Condition of the Working Class 1844, in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 4, pp 295-583). Almost three-quarter of the workforce was composed of women and children because they provided cheaper and more easily controllable workers for the capitalists. Children from the age of six onwards were forced to work fourteen and sixteen hours in the spinning mills. As the bourgeoisie amassed greater and greater wealth the workers fell into greater and greater misery. While the cloth mill owners multiplied their capital many times over, their weavers’ wages reduced to one eighth of what they earlier obtained.
Thus the conditions of the proletariat were such that rebellion was not merely possible but almost compulsory. The first such outbursts were spontaneous, without clear direction. An example was the machine-breaking agitation of 1810-11 in England, where groups of weavers would attack the textile mills and smash whatever machinery they could lay their hands on. This was their method of protesting against the modern industry that was destroying their very livelihood. Such protests having no clear direction, and being severely repressed, quickly died out.
What followed was the spread and growth of the labour movement and labour organisations that provided the answer and direction to the fighting proletariat. Earlier unions, which had been restricted to skilled workers, started from 1818 uniting all labouring men together in what were then called ‘general trades’ unions. As these unions in England started growing, a movement to start a national level union started building up. This was formed, and by 1833-34 reached a membership of 500,000. Along with the unions, workers also started organising themselves in cooperatives and mutual benefit societies. In other countries where unions were largely banned these were the main forms of organisations of the working class which also grew in numbers and strength.
As the workers organisations started growing, the workers in Britain launched the Chartist movement in 1837 demanding electoral rights for workers. This was the first broad, truly mass and politically organised proletarian revolutionary movement. It used the method of mass petitions to Parliament somewhat similar to the signature campaigns sometimes organised today. These petitions gathered up to 5 million signatures. Some of the Chartist demonstrations had 350,000 participants showing the organised strength of the working class. However as the movement grew in strength and militancy it faced severe repression and was suppressed by 1850. During the early 1840s while Engels was staying in Manchester (in England) he was in close contact with revolutionary Chartist leaders as well as its weekly The Northern Star and was influenced by the Chartist movement.
The growing militancy of the workers movement also often in this period led to the first worker uprisings which were suppressed brutally. Examples of these were the uprisings in London in 1816 and Manchester in 1819, the uprisings of the silk-workers of Lyons (France) in 1831 and 1834, and the uprising of the hand loom linen-weavers of Silesia in Prussian Germany (today part of Poland) in 1844. The last-named struggle had a strong impact throughout Germany as well as on the young Marx.
Thus, by the time of the 1840s, the proletarian movement was growing rapidly in strength and intensity in many industrial countries. However, it was still very weak and in no position to yet pose a threat to either the dominant big bourgeoisie or the old feudal ruling classes. Nevertheless the emergence of the proletariat as an independent class force was an event of world historical significance. The coming into material existence of the proletariat also meant at the same time the birth of the ideas representing this new revolutionary class. Many ideas and theories claiming to represent working class interests thus came into being. Marxism, when it was first formulated in the 1840s was only one among these. However, though many theories had emerged from the same economic conditions, Marxism alone provided the tools to properly understand these conditions and also to change them. Therefore in the years to come it was Marxism alone that would prove to be the true proletarian ideology.
Early Life of Marx and Engels Until they became Marxists
Obviously nobody can be born a Marxist – not even Marx. There has to be a process through which ideas and views are developed and formulated and take a basic shape which can be called an ideology. Naturally Marx and Engels too had to go through such a process before they came to discover and themselves grasp the basic truths of what we today know as Marxism. This process of thought was naturally determined to a great extent by the concrete experiences that both of them went through. In order therefore to understand this in some depth let us briefly look at the early life experiences of these two great teachers.
Karl Marx was born on 5th May 1818, in the town of Trier, in what was then called Rhenish Prussia, and which is today part of Germany. His father, Heinrich Marx, was one of the top lawyers of the town. The family was well to do and cultured, but not revolutionary. Both Marx’s parents came from a long line of Jewish priests. Thus, though they were economically well off, they had to face social discrimination in the anti-Jew atmosphere of Prussia. In 1816, Marx’s father was forced to convert to Christianity because the Prussian government had then brought out a rule stopping Jews from practising law. Similarly, in 1824, another Prussian law was passed to prevent non-Christians from being admitted to public schools. To overcome this, again Heinrich Marx was forced to baptize his son Karl, along with all his brothers and sisters. Thus, though he was no believer in organised religion, Marx’s father was forced to adopt a new faith just in order to pursue his profession and give his children a good education.
Marx’s home town, Trier, is the oldest town in Germany, which for many centuries had been the residence of Roman emperors and later the seat of Catholic bishops, with a religious administration for the town and surrounding area. In August 1794 the French armies captured the town, instituted a civil administration, and brought in the ideas and institutions of the French Revolution. The town only went back into the hands of the Prussian king after the defeat of France’s Napoleon in 1815. Thus during the time of Marx’s birth and youth it still carried the definite impact of twenty-one years of French revolutionary ideas.
Trier was a small town, similar in size to our smaller taluka towns, with a population then of around 12,000. It was principally a market town for the surrounding area, which for centuries has been a famous wine-growing area. Its population was composed of occupations typical to a ‘service’ town – civil servants, priests, small merchants, craftsmen, etc. It had remained untouched by the Industrial Revolution and was thus economically relatively backward. During Marx’s youth it also had a high degree of poverty. Official statistics in 1830 gave an unemployment figure of one in every four, though the actual figure must have been much higher. Beggars and prostitutes were common and the figures of petty crime like stealing was extremely high. Thus Marx from a very young age was witness to the misery of the poorer labouring classes.
After attending elementary school, Marx entered the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium (secondary school) in 1831, from which he passed out in 1835. Within three weeks he was sent for further studies at the law faculty of the university forty miles away from Trier, at the city of Bonn (an important centre which is today the joint capital of Germany). Marx, with a desire to learn as much as much as possible, immediately registered in nine courses that besides law, included poetry, literature, art, etc. He was at first regular at lectures but gradually lost interest, particularly in the law lectures, which he found dry and unsatisfying. He reduced his courses first to six and then to four.
He decided to study on his own and soon got involved in the stormy life of the students of whom he soon became a leader. Being deeply interested in writing poetry he also joined the Poetenbund, a circle of young writers founded by revolutionary students. In the constant struggle between the sons of the feudal nobles and the bourgeoisie, he soon became a leader of the bourgeois group. He was often involved in fistfights and sometimes in sword-duels. He carried a stiletto knife (somewhat similar to our gupti knives), for which he was once arrested and had a police case put on him. He was also sentenced to one day in the university’s student prison on charges of “nightly uproarious disturbances of the peace and drunkenness”. Marx, in one sword-duel was even injured on his right eyebrow. This led to his father withdrawing him from the Bonn University and bringing him back to Trier in August 1836.
While he was in Trier he got secretly engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of Baron von Westphalen a nobleman and senior Prussian government official. Jenny, who was four years elder to him, and Marx, were childhood loves who had decided to get married while Marx was still in school. They now got engaged with the approval of Marx’s parents, but without Jenny’s parents approval, which was only obtained in 1837.
In October 1836 Marx moved to the University of Berlin, which was the capital of Prussia. The university was much larger than Bonn and was renowned as a major centre of learning. After registering for his University courses, Marx immediately jumped into a storm of work. He stayed up night after night, eating irregularly, smoking heavily, reading heavy books and filling up notebooks. Instead of formal classes Marx pursued his studies on his own. Working at a tremendous pace he moved from law to philosophy to poetry to art and then to writing plays and stories and then back to philosophy and poetry. His overwork had a bad effect of his health, particularly his TB affected lungs, and he sometimes was forced to take a break. But he was always back to his excessive work habits, reading up everything, from the ancient to the latest works of scientists and philosophers. His bent was towards philosophy, always trying to find universal meaning; always searching for the absolute in principles, definitions and concepts.
During his second year at the University he joined a group of philosophy students and teachers called Young Hegelians. They were followers of the famous German philosopher, Frederick Hegel, who had taught at Berlin University and died in 1830. They tried to give a radical interpretation to Hegel’s philosophy and for this were sometimes called Left Hegelians. One of Marx’s friends in this group, its intellectual leader, was a professor called Bruno Bauer who was a militant atheist who constantly attacked the church’s teachings. Such attacks, along with the radical political views of the Young Hegelians, made them a target of the Prussian authorities. Thus when Marx completed his doctoral thesis he could not obtain his degree from the Berlin University, which was dominated by reactionary appointees of the Prussian government. After completing his studies in Berlin, he submitted his thesis and obtained his Ph.D. in April 1841 from the liberal leaning University of Jena that was outside Prussian control.
After obtaining his degree he had hoped to become a lecturer at the Bonn University where Bruno Bauer had shifted to in 1839. But Bauer himself was in trouble because of the student disturbances his anti-religion lectures were causing. Finally the King himself ordered the removal of Bauer from the Bonn University. This meant the end to Bauer’s teaching career as well as any hope of a teaching job for Marx.
Marx started concentrating on journalism, which he had already started immediately after leaving University. This also helped him to participate more thoroughly in the rapidly growing radical democratic opposition movement then developing in his Rhineland province and the neighbouring province of Westphalia. These provinces which had experienced the liberating influence of the French anti- feudal reforms were major centres of opposition to the Prussian king. Industrialisation had also led to the growth of the bourgeoisie, particularly in Cologne, the richest city of the Rhineland. This meant strong support for this radical opposition movement by the industrialists, who were fed up with the excessive controls of the feudals.
Marx first started writing for, and then, in October 1842, became the chief editor of The Rheinische Zeitung, a daily newspaper supported by such industrialists. In Marx’s hands the newspaper soon became a fighter for radical democratic rights. This however brought Marx into constant conflict with the Prussian censors who were very repressive. Finally, when the paper published a criticism of the Russian Czar’s despotism, the Czar himself brought pressure on the Prussian King to take action. The paper was banned and had to be closed down in March 1843. Marx then started involving himself in a plan to bring out a new journal The German-French Yearbooks.
During this period, from 1841 to 1843, Marx was deeply involved in the stormy political life of that period. However he was basically a radical democrat and did not at that time hold communist views. At the level of philosophy his major transformation during this period was in 1841 after reading a book The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach which presented a criticism of religion from the standpoint of materialism. This book played a major role in shifting Marx’s ideas from the idealism of the Young Hegelian group to materialism. Another philosophical work of 1841 (The European Triarchy) that influenced Marx was the attempt by his friend, Moses Hess, to develop a communist philosophy by combining French socialist and Left Hegelian ideas.
However at that time Marx yet had only a limited knowledge of the ideas of the socialists and communists. His first contact was in 1842 when he read with interest the works of many of the leading French socialist theorists. He was however not converted to communism or socialism by these readings. This change came about more through his contact with working class communist groups and study of political economy, both of which took place mainly after moving to Paris at the end of 1843.
Seven years after their engagement, Marx and Jenny were married in June 1843. They had a short honeymoon in Switzerland during which Marx wrote a booklet where he presented his initial criticisms of Hegel. After the honeymoon he started the study and preparations for moving to Paris from where the earlier mentioned German-French Yearbooks was to be brought out. This move to Paris was planned in order to avoid the Prussian censors. However, though the journal was planned as a monthly, it collapsed after only one issue that came out in February 1844.
Marx’s period in Paris was however marked by very significant new experiences. Of the greatest importance was direct contact with the various socialist and communist groups of which Paris was a hot centre. Besides meeting a large number of theoreticians and revolutionaries Marx benefited greatly by regular contact with the many working class revolutionaries in Paris. At the same time Marx started a study of political economy in which he read most of the works of the famous English economists. The revolutionary contacts and further study had their impact. These were reflected in Marx’s writings.
The only issue of the Yearbooks was of crucial importance because it contained Marx’s first broad generalisation of a Marxist materialist understanding of history that was contained in an article criticising Hegel’s philosophy. It was in this article that Marx made the highly important formulation regarding the historical role of the proletariat. He also here made his famous formulation that religion is the opium of the people. The same issue also contained an article by Engels on political economy, which also gave a materialist understanding regarding the development of modern capitalism.
It was Marx’s interest in Engels’ writings that led to their meeting in Paris between August 28 and September 6 1844.This turned out to be a historic meeting that helped the two great thinkers to clarify their ideas and lay the first foundations of Marxism. Though they had both independently come to similar conclusions earlier, this meeting helped them to achieve complete theoretical agreement. It was at this meeting that they more clearly came to an understanding regarding the materialist conception of history, which was the cornerstone of Marxist theory.
Frederick Engels was born on 28th November 1820 in the textile town of Barmen in the Rhine province of Prussia. His father was the wealthy owner of a cotton-spinning mill and was a fiercely religious Protestant Christian with a reactionary political outlook.
Barmen, like Marx’s Trier, also belonged to the part of Prussia which had seen twenty years of French conquest. It thus also had progressive influences on it. However its main characteristic was that it was one of the biggest Rhenish industrial centres. Thus Engels from a very early age saw the severe poverty and exploitation of the working class. To survive against factory competition craftsmen were forced to work from morning to night. Often they tried to drown their sorrows in drink. Child labour and occupational lung diseases were rampant.
Engels attended the Barmen town school till the age of 14. He was then sent to the gymnasium at the neighbouring town of Elberfeld (today both Barmen and Elberfeld are merged into one town). This gymnasium (secondary school) had the reputation of being one of the best in Prussia. He was an intelligent student with an early flair for learning languages. He was also part of a poetry circle among the students and wrote his own poetry and short stories. He was planning to study economy and law but his father was more interested in making his eldest son learn the family business. At the age of 17 he was suddenly removed from school and made to join as an apprentice in his father’s office.
Though this was the end of Engels’ formal schooling he continued to use his free time to study history, philosophy, literature and linguistics and to write poetry, which he was attracted to. The next year, in July 1838, Engels was sent to work as a clerk in a large trading firm in the large port city of Bremen. The big city atmosphere brought Engels in contact with foreign literature and the press. In leisure he started reading fiction and political books. He continued learning new languages and besides German got some knowledge of Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, etc. This ability to learn languages continued throughout Engels’ life during which he learnt to be quite fluent in over 20 languages including Persian and Arabic. Also in Bremen, Engels became a good horseman, swimmer, swordsman and skater.
While at school itself Engels had been a fighter against bureaucracy. Now as a grown youth he was attracted to the radical democratic ideas of the bourgeois democratic revolution then taking shape in Germany. The first group he was attracted towards was the Young Germany literary group that stood for radical political views. He soon started writing for a journal being brought out by them from the port city of Hamburg, not far from Bremen. He wrote two articles on the situation in his home district. He exposed the severe exploitation of the workers in Barmen and Elberfeld, the diseases suffered by them, and the fact that half the children of the town were deprived of school and forced to work in the factories. He particularly attacked the hollowness of the religiosity of the exploitative industrialists (which included his own father).
Towards the end of 1839 he started a study of Hegel, whose philosophy he tried to link with his own radical democratic beliefs. However he only made further progress in this when he finished his clerkship in Bremen in 1841, and, after a few months gap, moved to Berlin for one year’s compulsory military service.
While in military service he joined the Berlin University as an external student and did a course in philosophy. He then became closely connected with the Young Hegelian group which Marx had been part of. He, like Marx, was also influenced greatly by the materialist views in Feurbach’s book that came out in that year. Engels’ writings now started to have some materialist aspects. The main thing he always stressed was political action. This was what made him split, in 1842, from his earlier Young German group, which he felt restricted itself only to empty literary debate. He however continued to strongly be linked with the Young Hegelians, particularly Bruno Bauer and his brother.
It was this closeness of Engels with the Bauers that prevented a friendship with Marx, when they met for the first time in November 1842. Engels at that time had finished his military service and was on his way from his home town to join as a clerk in his father’s business in Manchester, in England. On the way he visited Marx at the newspaper office in Cologne where Marx was then the chief editor. Marx, by then, had however started criticising Young Hegelians, and particularly the Bauers, for concentrating their propaganda too much on religion rather than politics. Hence Marx and Engels, having different political affiliations, could not come close at this, their first meeting.
It was Engels’ experiences in England that made him a communist. He developed very close links with the workers of Manchester, as well as the leaders of the revolutionary workers Chartist movement. Manchester was the main centre of the world’s modern textile industry and soon Engels undertook an in-depth study of the working and living conditions of its workers. He would regularly visit the working class areas to gain direct knowledge. In this process a love grew between him and Mary Burns, young Irish factory worker, who would later become his companion and wife. Besides collecting material for his future book on the conditions of the working class in England, Engels came to understand the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. His regular participation in the movement convinced him that the working class was not merely a suffering class, but a fighting class whose revolutionary actions would build the future.
Besides working class contact, Engels also made a deep study of the various socialist and communist theories and even met many of the French and German leaders and writers who had formulated these theories. Though he did not adopt any of these theories, he made an analysis of their positive and negative points. At the same time he started a deep study of bourgeois political economy. This was in order to help him analyse the economic relations of society, which he had started feeling was the basis of all social change. The initial results of his study he put down in his article that was published by Marx in his journal brought out from Paris. As we have mentioned earlier, this led to correspondence between Marx and Engels and their historic meeting in 1844.
Engels was then on his way back from Manchester to his home town Barmen, when he stopped on the way to meet Marx who was then staying in Paris. Their discussions helped Marx to better formulate the materialist understanding of history which they had both started believing in. They also, at this meeting, started work on their first joint book, which was an attack on Bruno Bauer and the Young Hegelian group, which they had both earlier belonged to.
Engels spent the next eight months doing intensive communist propaganda and organisational work in Germany. During this period he was in constant revolt against his father who opposed his communist work and tried to get him to work in his factory. After just two weeks at his father’s office Engels rejected it completely and left Barmen to join Marx. Marx by that time had again become the target of feudal authorities. The Prussian King had brought pressure on the French King, who expelled Marx from Paris. Marx was forced to move to Brussels in Belgium along with his wife and eight-month-old child. This is where Engels came and set up house right next to Marx’s house.
Marx in the meantime had done deep work and had developed the main features of the new world outlook, which they had discussed at their earlier meeting. In Brussels both Marx and Engels started intensive joint work. This was, as Engels said, to develop the new outlook in all possible directions. The result was the historic book, The German Ideology (Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 5), which however only got published almost a hundred years later. The main purpose this book served at that time was for the two great thinkers to self-clarify regarding their old understanding and set up the pillars of the new world outlook, which later came to be known as Marxism. Marx and Engels had become Marxists!
The Three Sources of Marxism
From the earlier account of the early life of Marx and Engels it is clear that they were both very extraordinary and brilliant men. However, it is also very clear that Marxism was not some invention that suddenly emerged from the thoughts of these magnificent brains. The socio-economic changes of that time provided the basis for the emergence of the true proletarian ideology. The actual content and the form of that ideology, however, were the product of the struggles waged in the most important fields of thought of that time. Marx and Engels being deep intellectuals had a wide and deep grasp of the latest advancement of thought in the most advanced countries of the period. They, thus, could stand on the shoulders of the great thinkers before them, absorbing whatever was good, and rejecting what was wrong in them. And it was thus that they built the structure and content of Marxism.
Let us see which were the main fields of thoughts on which they based their ideas. Thus therefore we can also understand the main sources of Marxism.
1) The first source of Marxist thought was German Classical Philosophy. Any ideology has to have its grounding in some philosophy and both Marx and Engels, as we have seen, had a strong base in German classical philosophy.
German philosophy had, during the period 1760 to 1830, grown to become the most influential school in European philosophy. It had its base in the German middle classes. This class was intellectually very advanced but had not developed the political strength to make revolution, or the economic resources to make an Industrial Revolution. This was what probably inclined them towards elaborate systems of thought.
However, this class, having many civil servants, had many contradictory aspects. It sometimes leant to the industrial bourgeoisie and proletariat on the one side and sometimes to the feudal classes on the other. This was thus reflected in German philosophy having both a progressive as well as an anti-progressive aspect. This was particularly seen in Hegel’s philosophy upon which Marx and Engels largely based themselves. They therefore rejected all the anti-progressive aspects that upheld the existing feudal society, and developed upon the progressive and revolutionary parts, to lay the foundations of Marxist philosophy.
2) English Political Economy was the second important source of Marxism. England being the centre of the Industrial Revolution it was but natural that the study of the economy and its laws should reach its peak in this country. It was a new field of study, which basically started with the growth of modern capitalism. It had its firm basis in the modern industrial bourgeoisie and played the role of justifying and glorifying capitalism. It also provided the intellectual arguments for the rising bourgeoisie in its struggles with the feudals.
In England its period started with the publication in 1776 of the world famous book The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith. He basically argued that if capitalism were given the fullest freedom to grow it would lead to the greatest progress of humanity. He thus provided the argument for the reduction of controls of any sort by the feudals on the capitalist class. David Ricardo was another famous classical economist who played a crucial role in the battles of the bourgeoisie with the landlords. He was the one who pointed out that as capitalism progressed the average rate of profit of the capitalists fell. His very significant discovery was the development of the labour theory of value, which showed that all economic value is created by labour. Other later economists analysed the causes of economic crises under capitalism.
English political economy basically served the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. It therefore played a revolutionary role against the feudal classes. However the economists very often did not carry forward their analysis beyond the point where it hurt bourgeois class interests. Thus, for example, Ricardo, though he developed the labour theory of value, did not expose the exploitation of labour by the capitalist class. This was done by Marx. He took ahead the work of the English economists beyond the limits of the capitalist class and drew the necessary revolutionary conclusions from them. It was thus that Marx developed the principles of Marxist political economy.
3) The third source of Marxism was the various socialist theories, which mainly originated from France. These theories represented the hopes and aims of the newly emerging proletariat class. They were both a reflection of, as well as a protest against capitalist exploitation and oppression of the working class. France at that time was the main centre for revolutionary groups and revolutionary theory, which inspired the whole of Europe. It was therefore natural that socialist theories too mainly came out of France.
Most of these theories had major defects, as they were not based on a proper scientific analysis of society. Nevertheless, they represented a break with the individualism, self-interest and competition of bourgeois revolutionary theory. They also pointed the way forward for the proletariat from capitalist society. Marx thus made a study of these theories of socialism and communism before formulating the Marxist principles of scientific socialism. While in Paris, he spent a considerable amount of time with the leaders and members of the numerous French revolutionary and socialist groups. Marx took what was best in socialism and gave it the scientific basis of the doctrine of class struggle. He thus developed the principles of Marxist scientific socialism.
This then is the story of how Marxism emerged from the three great sources of ideas in the then most advanced countries of the world. The three Sources of Marxism – German philosophy, English political economy and French socialist theories – (for more ideas on this see VI Lenin’s The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism) corresponded to the three main component parts of the new ideology – Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism, Marxist political economy and Marxist theory of scientific socialism. In the following pages we will try to understand the essence of each of these parts.
The Basic Formulations of Marxist Philosophy: Dialectical and Historical Materialism
As we have repeatedly seen earlier, Marx and Engels always insisted that all philosophy should be practical and linked to the real world. This was expressed in the most clear manner by Marx in his famous saying, “The philosophers have always interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” (Theses on Feuerbach, in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 5, pp 3-5). By this, Marx meant that he did not want to become a philosopher like our rishis and munnis sitting on some mountain and meditating regarding supernatural things. He did not see much point in thinking and contemplation unless it was linked to the practical world. His basic search was to try to understand how the world was changing and thus to participate in actual practice and change today’s world and society. He thus was interested in a philosophy that would be applied in social practice.
In order to do this Marx had to take a stand with regards to the basic division in all philosophy – the division between idealism and materialism. This division is regarding the basic question as to, which is primary – spirit or nature. Those who take the stand that spirit is primary belong to the camp of idealism, whereas those who take the stand that nature is primary belong to the camp of materialism. Idealism is always connected in one way or other to religion. Being men of practice, who were absolutely opposed to religious beliefs, it was but natural that Marx and Engels established Marxist philosophy firmly in the camp of materialism.
In doing so they were definitely influenced and aided by the writings of Feuerbach and other materialist philosophers of that time. However these philosophers were mechanical materialists who understood nature and society to be like a machine turning round and round without any development or real change. Marx rejected mechanical materialism because it did not give any understanding of historical change and development.
For this Marx had to turn to dialectics, which is the science of the general laws of motion. The essence of dialectics is that it understands things in their inter-connections and contradictions. Dialectics thus was able to provide the science of development that Marx knew was necessary to change the world.
At that time Hegel’s philosophy and laws of dialectics (which Marx studied deeply) were the most advanced in Europe. But Hegel had developed his philosophical laws in an idealist way by only making them applicable to the field of thought. He belonged to the camp of idealism and refused to recognise that nature and material social being are primary, and spirit and ideas are secondary. He thus did not accept that his system of thought itself was a product of the development of human society to a definite stage. He refused to understand that his laws of thought were themselves reflections of the laws of nature and society. Thus, as Marx said, Hegel’s dialectics, by being idealist, was standing on its head – that means it was absurd and illogical. Marx turned Hegel’s dialectics the right side up – that means he made it rational – by putting it on the basis of materialism. Marx took Hegel’s dialectical laws and gave them the approach of materialist philosophy. He thus made Hegel’s laws of thought also into laws of nature and society. He thus formulated Dialectical Materialism, which is the essence of Marxist philosophy.
By giving dialectics a rational and materialist basis Marx changed it into a philosophy of revolution. Marx and Engels applied dialectical materialism to the study of society and history and thus discovered the materialist conception of history. The materialist conception of history was a new and revolutionary way of understanding society and social change. It explained the basis of social changes and political revolutions not as an invention of some brilliant men’s brains but as the product of the processes within society. It showed all revolutionaries that the path to social change lay in understanding society and accordingly formulating the ideas to bring about change.
The starting point of the materialist conception of history is the level of development of the material productive forces i.e. tools, machinery, skills, etc. Marx says that according to the stage in the development of the productive forces we get definite relations of production i.e. relations of ownership and control over the means of production. Thus, for example, backward productive forces like the wooden plough, and wind, hand and animal operated mills give us feudal relations; modern productive forces like tractors, harvesters, etc., when they are widespread, give rise to capitalist relations of production. These relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, or the economic base of society.
On top of the economic base of society arises a legal and political superstructure with definite forms of social consciousness. Further, Marx says that it is the mode of production (consisting of the productive forces and relations of production) that conditions the social, political and intellectual life in general. Thus, for example, the feudal mode of production gives rise to very severe oppression on women and lower castes and a very undemocratic political system; the capitalist mode of production, on the other hand, reduces social oppression and brings some bourgeois democratic rights.
At a certain stage in the development of the productive forces they come into conflict with the existing relations of production. These old relations of production start preventing the development of the productive forces. Unless these production relations are changed the productive forces cannot develop. This period when the relations of production start acting as chains on the development of the productive forces is the beginning of the epoch of social revolution. Revolution is needed to change the relations of production i.e. the relation between the various classes in society. Once this happens and the relations of production or property relations are broken i.e. the economic base is changed, then the change in the whole superstructure follows quite quickly.
This materialist conception of history was the first great discovery of Marx, which he accomplished in 1844-45. It was the foundation on which the other great pillars of Marxist theory were built.
In later years Marx and Engels, and the other Marxist Teachers further developed Marxist philosophy. However its essence remained the basic principles of dialectical and historical materialism mentioned above.
Struggle Against Utopian Socialism and the Establishment of Scientific Socialism
Utopian socialism is the term used to describe the main trends of pre-Marxist socialism, which arose and became prominent in the first half of the nineteenth century. The terms ‘utopians’ (derived from the idea of Utopia, which is supposed to be a state of things where everything is perfect) and ‘socialist’ became popular first in the 1830s. They were used to describe a group of thinkers who developed theories to transform society on a more egalitarian basis by removing the individualism, selfishness and competitiveness in human nature. Many of these thinkers or their followers tried to implement their theories by setting up ideal communities where all the members worked, lived and shared the fruits of their labour on a cooperative basis. They believed that such ideal communities would provide the example that would then be followed by the rest of society. They thus did not rely on the actual processes in society for building their schemes of socialism. Rather they thought that the rationality of their plans and ideas itself was sufficient to convince people and change society.
Utopian socialism was first and foremost a reaction to the oppression and exploitation of the working class under capitalism. The working people had fought bitterly for the overthrow of feudalism. However the bourgeoisie’s slogans of freedom, equality and fraternity had only meant freedom for the capitalist class and intensified exploitation of the workers. The various socialist doctrines arose as a result of the emerging class contradictions between the capitalists and workers and as a protest against exploitation. They attempted to build a system that would provide justice to the toilers.
The anarchy of capitalist production was another cause for the new socialist theories. The utopian socialists attempted to build rational systems that would provide for the needs of humankind in an orderly and harmonious fashion. Some of them even tried to convince capitalists and government officials that their socialist systems where much more rational, planned, and therefore desirable than the existing capitalist system. They even thus attempted to get funds from the rich for their projects.
The main defect of pre-Marxist socialist doctrines was that they did not have a real basis in the class contradictions and class struggles unfolding in society. Though their ideas were themselves the product of the class contradictions within society, the utopian socialists did not realise that it was absolutely necessary to wage the class struggle in order to achieve socialism. Though their ideas were in reality a reflection of the aspirations of the infant proletariat, the utopian socialists did not recognise the central importance of the revolutionary role of the proletariat in bringing about socialism.
When Marx and Engels came into contact with the socialist and communist groups they started trying to convince the followers of the utopian socialist theories of the incorrectness of their ideas. They participated intensively in the debates in the various revolutionary and working class groups where these theories and ideas were being discussed. Their main aim was to give a scientific basis to socialist theory. For this they had to expose the defects and wrong understanding of the earlier socialists and place socialism on the sound basis of the Marxist theory of class struggle.
As Marx himself pointed out the theory of class struggle was not something new invented by him. In fact the earlier socialists and even bourgeois writers were quite conscious about and wrote about classes and class struggle. However the essential difference of the Marxist theory of class struggle is that it showed how the class struggle led inevitably to socialism and communism.
Marx first of all showed that classes are not something that have always existed in human society. He showed that there was a long period in human history when there were no classes at all (i.e. during primitive communism). There would also be a period in the future when there would again be no classes. Secondly Marx particularly analysed the present day class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and showed how this class struggle would inevitably lead to revolution by the workers and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat i.e. socialism. Thirdly, Marx pointed out that this dictatorship of the proletariat was itself a period of transition to a new society. The proletariat could only develop by destroying itself as a class, by abolishing all classes and establishing a classless society i.e. communism.
It is this theory of class struggle that Marx and Engels developed, propagated and brought into practice throughout their lives. It is this Marxist theory of class struggle that converted socialism into a science, which laid the basis of scientific socialism. With this, socialism was no longer to be seen as the product of some brilliant mind, but it became the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes – the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Because of scientific socialism the task of the socialists did not become one of trying to develop the most perfect, harmonious and rational system of society like the utopian socialists had tried to do. Under scientific socialism the task was to analyse society, to analyse the history and economic basis of the class contradictions in society, and from this economic basis to find the way to end all class conflict and bring socialism and communism.
The scientific clarity of Marxist socialist theory was so great that most sincere elements in the various socialist and communist organisations of the 1840s soon rejected the pre-Marxist and non-class varieties of socialism. Marx and Engels soon became ideological leaders within the socialist movement. When a new international organisation was formed in 1847 uniting workers, intellectuals and revolutionary socialist groups of various countries they at once became its leaders. They suggested its name, The Communist League, and it was they who were appointed to draft its programme. This programme is the world historic Communist Manifesto (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, pp 477-519).
The Communist Manifesto was not only the first programme and general line of the international proletariat. It also laid down the basic principles of scientific socialism and the approach to all other types of socialism. With its quick translation into numerous languages, the Manifesto soon spread the basic ideas of Marxist scientific socialism throughout Europe and then throughout the world. The basic principles outlined in this document have in essence remained firm for more than 150 years, up to this day.
Marxist Political Economy
As we have seen earlier Marx developed his principles of political economy in continuation of and in opposition to the bourgeois political economy of the English economists. Most of Marx’s earlier economic writings from 1844 to 1859 were in the form of a critique of bourgeois political economy. He countered the claims of the bourgeois political economists that capitalism was a permanent and universal system. On the other hand he proved that capitalism could exist only for a limited period and was destined to be overthrown and replaced by a new and higher social system. His later economic analysis, particularly the various volumes of his main work, Capital (Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 35), concentrated on discovering the economic laws of capitalism. The in-depth analysis of the relations of production in capitalist society, in their origin, development and decline, thus forms the main content of Marx’s political economy.
Bourgeois political economists always made their analysis in the form of a relation between things i.e. the exchange of one commodity for another. Marx however showed that economics deals not with things but with relations between persons, and in the last resort between classes.
Since under capitalism it is the production of commodities that dominates, Marx started his analysis with an analysis of the commodity. He pointed out that the exchange of commodities was not a mere exchange of things but actually an expression of the relation between individual producers in society who have been linked by the market. Though commodity exchange has existed for thousands of years, it is only with the development of money and the birth of capitalism that it reaches its peak linking up the entire economic life of millions of individual producers throughout society into one whole. Capitalism even converts the labour power of the worker into a commodity that is bought and sold freely in the market place.
The wage worker sells his labour power to the owner of the means of production, i.e. the capitalist. The worker spends one part of his working day producing the equivalent of his wage, i.e. producing what is necessary to cover the cost of maintaining himself and his family. The other part of his working day is spent producing for the maintenance and growth of the capitalist. The worker gets absolutely no payment from this production which is for the capitalist. This additional value which every worker produces, over and above the value necessary to earn his wage and maintain himself, Marx called surplus value. It is the source of profit and the source of wealth of the capitalist class.
The discovery of the concept of surplus value exposed the nature of exploitation of the working class. It also brought out the source of the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This class antagonism was the principal manifestation of the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society: the contradiction between the social character of production and the private character of ownership. This discovery of surplus value was referred to by Engels as the second important discovery of Marx (along with the discovery of the materialist conception of history). Lenin called the doctrine of surplus value as the corner stone of Marx’s economic theory.
Marx also analysed in detail the periodic economic crises that repeatedly affected capitalism. He explained capitalist crises also as another manifestation of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism. He thus exposed the falsehood of the bourgeois economists who at that time propagated that capitalism could not face any crisis, as the operation of the market would solve all problems. They tried to present that whatever was produced by the capitalist would automatically be sold in the market place.
Marx however exposed that the nature of the working of capitalism itself would lead inevitably to crisis. He showed how capitalists in their desperate urge to earn more and more profits went on madly increasing production. However at the same time every capitalist tried to maintain a higher rate of profit by cutting the wage rates of his workers and throwing them into poverty. The working class composes the largest section in society and the poverty of the working class automatically means the reduction of their capacity to buy the goods available in the market. Thus on the one hand the capitalist class goes on increasing the production of goods being supplied to the market, whereas on the other hand it goes on reducing the buying capacity of a large section of the buyers in the very same market. This naturally leads to a severe contradiction between the expansion of production on one hand and the contraction of the market on the other hand. The result is a crisis of overproduction where the market is flooded with unsold goods. Numerous capitalists are thrown into bankruptcy. Lakhs (100,000s) of workers are thrown out of their jobs and forced into starvation at the same as the shops are filled with goods that remained unused because there is no one to buy them.
Marx further concluded that the anarchy of these crises of capitalism could only be resolved by resolving the fundamental contradiction of capitalism between the social character of production and the private character of ownership. This could only be done by overthrowing the capitalist system and establishing socialism and communism, and thus giving a social character to the ownership of the means of production. Marx showed that the social force that would bring about this revolution had been created by capitalism itself; it was the proletariat class. It was the proletariat alone who had no interest in continuing the present system of exploitation and private ownership. It alone had the interest and capacity to establish socialism.
Marx analysed how every crisis intensified the contradictions of the capitalist system. He described the process with each crisis of centralisation of capital into the hands of a smaller and smaller handful of capitalists. This proceeded alongside the immense growth in the misery and discontent of the vast mass of workers. As the contradictions of capitalism sharpened, the revolutionary upheavals of the proletariat grew in strength, finally resulting in revolution, the confiscation of the capital of the capitalists and the building of a socialist society with a social character of ownership suited to the social character of production.
In this way, Marx, starting from the economy’s most basic unit – the commodity – brings out the nature of the economic laws governing capitalism. He thus exposes the scientific economic basis for the socialist revolution and the road to communism.
Marxism Fuses Its Links with the Working Class
As we saw earlier Marx and Engels were deeply involved in the revolutionary communist groups of the eighteen forties. They thus came to lead the Communist League which was an international body uniting the revolutionaries of various European countries. They also drafted its programme – the Communist Manifesto (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, pp 477-519) – which acquired world historic significance. However at that time – in 1848 – the influence of Marxism had yet to reach the vast working class masses. The influence of the Communist League was limited and it consisted mainly of exiled workers and intellectuals. In fact at that time Marxism was just one of the many trends of socialism.
The 1848 Revolution, which spread insurrection throughout the European continent, was the first major historical event where Marxism proved itself in practice. Marx and Engels were in Brussels when the Revolution first broke out in France. The Belgian government fearing the spread of the Revolution immediately expelled Marx from Brussels and forced him to leave for Paris where he was soon joined by Engels. However as the revolutionary wave spread to Germany, both decided to immediately move there in order to directly participate in the revolutionary events.
There they tried to consolidate the work of the Communist League and the workers’ associations. They brought out a daily newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which served as an organ of propagation of the revolutionary line. The newspaper took a line in support of radical bourgeois democracy as the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution was then the main task in Germany. However the paper simultaneously served as the organiser of the emerging revolutionary proletarian party in Germany. Marx and Engels even tried to form a mass workers’ party by uniting the workers’ associations of various provinces of Germany. The paper lasted for one year. With the collapse of the revolution in Germany and other parts of Europe, the paper was forced to close down and Marx was expelled by the Prussian King. He retreated to Paris but had to soon leave from there too because of persecution by the French authorities. Engels continued in Germany fighting as a soldier in the revolutionary armies till the very end. After military defeat, he escaped, and towards the end of 1849, joined Marx, who had by then settled in London. England then continued to be their centre till the end of their lives.
The defeat of the 1848 Revolution had spread confusion among the revolutionaries and proletarian activists throughout Europe. Most of the earlier dominant trends of socialism could not provide any proper understanding regarding the reasons for the course of events during the revolution. It was in such an atmosphere that Marx took up the task of explaining the social forces behind the initial victory and later defeat of the Revolution. Since France was the centre and principal starting point of both the upsurge and decline of the revolution, Marx concentrated his analysis on the French events. This he did through his brilliant works, The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850 (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 10, pp 45-132) and the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 10, pp 99-181). They were Marx’s first attempts to explain current historical events by means of the materialist conception of history. He analysed with complete clarity the class forces behind each of the major turns and twists in the revolution. He thus provided the class basis for revolutionary proletarian tactics. By exposing the role of various classes at various stages, he showed who were the friends and enemies of the revolution and therefore the approach of the proletariat to each of them.
In the following period, Marx continued his writings on all the major political events throughout the world. In all these writings he presented a clear perspective from a proletarian viewpoint. This distinguished them from all other varieties of socialism, which proved incapable of providing real answers to the continuously changing world situation. It clearly established the superiority of Marxism over other brands of socialism as a practical tool for understanding and changing the world.
Simultaneously, Marx and Engels worked energetically to unite the weak and fragmented organisations of the working class. The Communist League, which had its main centre in Germany, faced severe repression from the Prussian police. Many of its members in Germany were put behind bars and the organisation itself was finally dissolved in November 1852. During the long period of reaction after the failure of the 1848 Revolution Marx and Engels tried continuously to reorganise and revive the working class movement. Besides writing and publishing their works extensively, they maintained constant contact with the working class organisations in various countries, particularly England, France and Germany. Their constant attempt was to form an international organisation of the working class and to set up separate parties of the proletariat in the industrially developed countries.
The main work in this respect was done by Marx. He worked throughout this period under very difficult conditions. After having been driven out by the governments of various countries, even after Marx settled in London he was under constant surveillance of the secret police, particularly of Prussia. Besides the political repression Marx’s economic situation was always very bad. Due to the poor and disorganised state of the revolutionary working class movement at that time it was unable to support him as a full-timer. Thus his only source of earnings was the small payment per article which he got for writing for a large American newspaper The New York Tribune. This was of course totally insufficient for Marx’s large family. They thus faced constant poverty, debt and even starvation. Many a time things from the house had to be pawned to provide for food. Marx had six children but only three survived beyond childhood. When his baby daughter died the burial had to be delayed for a few days till some money was collected for the burial. Marx himself faced constant serious illnesses, which he had to struggle against to complete his work.
Throughout all these economic difficulties the main support for the Marx family was Engels. After the failure of the 1848 Revolution Engels had been forced to take up a job in his father’s Manchester firm. He worked there for twenty years, first as a clerk and then for the last five years as a partner in the firm till 1869. During this period he had a substantial income, with which he would regularly help Marx.
Engels’ help however was not merely economic. Though he did not get much spare time because of his job he put in all efforts to continue study and help Marx. They corresponded very regularly and constantly exchanged ideas. Marx always consulted Engels on major questions, particularly on decisions regarding the international working class movement.
Their efforts finally bore fruit in 1864 with the formation of the International Workingmen’s Association – the First International. Marx soon became its leader and was primarily responsible for drawing up its first programme and constitution. The International’s programme however did not contain the strong words of the Communist Manifesto. The First International, unlike the Communist League, was not an organisation limited to small groups of revolutionaries. In fact many of the sections of the International, especially those of England and France, represented organisations with a vast mass following of workers. However, most of these organisations did not have a clear and correct understanding. Though they were composed predominantly of workers the level of consciousness was normally lower than that of the selected revolutionaries of the Communist League. The programme and constitution thus had to be formulated keeping this in mind. The correct line had to be presented in a manner acceptable to the member organisations of the International. Marx, with his great ideological depth and practical organisational experience was at that time the only person capable of thus drafting these documents and was therefore given this task. In subsequent years too, it was he, who drafted all the most important documents of the First International.
It was thus Marxism alone that could provide the ideological, political and organisational perspective for the First International. Implementation of this perspective meant constant struggle against the various anarchist and opportunist trends that arose within the movement. Among other things the anarchists opposed a strong organisation whereas the opportunists opposed resolute struggle. Fighting both deviations, Marx and Engels worked to build the International into a mass organisation of struggle, uniting the workers in both Europe and America. This they largely succeeded in, doing leading at the same time to the formation of independent proletarian parties in many of the industrialised countries of the world.
By the time of the historic Paris Commune of 1871, Marxism had advanced very far from it’s position at the time of the 1848 Revolution. Marxism no longer remained as merely one of the trends of socialism. The earlier brands of Utopian Socialism had been swept away by history and it was Marxism alone that retained full practical significance. Marxism also was no longer restricted to small groups but had become a mass phenomenon. Its influence extended to the proletarian movements in various industrialised countries. It provided the ideological leadership to independent proletarian parties. It headed a massive proletarian movement, which had begun to challenge the bourgeoisie. Marxism had fused its links with the vast working class masses.
The Paris Commune was the first time in history when the proletariat seized power and attempted to set up its own rule. The Commune could not consolidate its rule and was crushed within a period of 72 days. However its experience was of world historic significance. During its short existence it had provided a glimpse of the new society. Through both its positive examples as well as its mistakes it had provided immensely valuable lessons for the working class of the world. Marx, in his role as leader of the First International, summarised the lessons of this great experience for the international proletariat.
The background to the Paris Commune was provided by the Franco-German war of 1870-71. It started in July 1870 with the reactionary French Emperor Napoleon III ordering an attack on Prussia (which with other smaller provinces became Germany in January 1871) because he mistakenly thought that the Prussians were in a weak position. His armies were rapidly defeated and Napoleon III himself surrendered and was taken prisoner by the Prussians in September 1870. Napoleon III’s surrender was followed by the setting up of a Republic headed by a politician named Thiers. Thiers in March 1871 signed a peace treaty with the Germans. Paris however, which had been surrounded by the Prussian army since September 1870, did not submit to Thiers. It was in the control of the Paris National Guard, which was composed mainly of workers. On March 18th, 1871, Thiers sent his army to disarm the National Guard. There was a revolt in which two of the French army generals were shot dead and the army was forced to retreat. Power had passed over into the hands of the National Guard, who, within a week, held elections and set up a Council consisting of 92 members. The Council, which had a large number of workers, became the organ of government. It introduced numerous progressive measures for the reorganisation of social life and the administration of the city and thus had the full support of the whole working people. The Paris Commune was however a government under constant attack. Fearing the strength of the working class, the German and French oppressors had immediately joined hands to crush the Commune. Germany even directly helped the Thiers government by releasing a large section of the French army who had surrendered and been taken prisoner in 1870. The Thiers government strengthened by reinforcements then launched a full-scale campaign to conquer Paris. The workers fought bravely but they were no match for the well equipped professional army. After many days of heroic fighting, resulting in thousands of martyrs, the Commune was crushed on May 28th, 1871. Even after the takeover over 30,000 Communards were butchered in cold blood. Over 45,000 were court-martialled, of whom many were executed and others sent to prison or to exile. It was as if the bourgeoisie was determined to teach an unforgettable lesson to the workers lest they ever even dream of seizing power again.
The First International was at the peak of its popular appeal at the time of the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune. It had a wide struggle base among the workers and regularly provided guidance on political questions. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out Marx immediately brought out a document in the name of the General Council of the First International. This document is one of the first applications of the Marxist tactical principles regarding war. He called for international solidarity of the workers while putting the blame for the war on the rulers of both France and Prussia. Due to the propaganda of the International a strong spirit of internationalism existed among both German and French workers. In fact Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, two members of parliament and leaders of the German proletarian party who were Marxist members of the International were jailed by the Prussian government for voting in parliament against war credits.
In the initial period of the war Marx characterised it as a defensive war on the part of Germany because of the reactionary nature of the aggressive Napoleon III regime. He however predicted the fall of this reactionary ruler. When this took place Marx immediately brought out a document which called on the German workers to oppose what had now become a German war of conquest. He called for peace with France and recognition of the newly formed Republic. He characterised the Republic as being led by the finance aristocracy and big bourgeoisie. He however felt it would be premature to attempt to overthrow the Republic and form a workers’ government. In fact Marx firmly opposed any attempt at insurrection in Paris. This was because the German enemy had already surrounded Paris and there was very little chance of any insurrection surviving in such circumstances.
Despite Marx’s advice the activists of various anarchist and conspiratorial trends who had some following in Paris made various attempts at organising an uprising. When the insurrection actually took place Marx despite all his earlier opposition declared full and militant support for the Commune. He immediately recognised its historic significance and sent hundreds of letters throughout the world trying to build up support. He through messengers kept contact with the Communards sending advice to the Internationalists in the Commune. Consulting Engels, who was an expert in military matters he also sent advice regarding the military defence of the Commune. Though the leadership of the Commune was in the hands of the members of other groups and trends, the Marxists within the Commune made all attempts to strengthen its activities and defence. After the defeat of the Commune the International was the principal organisation which arranged for shelter and help to gain jobs for the Communards who had to flee the brutal repression of the French bourgeoisie.
Marx, who immediately hailed the Commune as an event of immense historic significance, made an in-depth analysis trying to draw lessons from its experience. This work, The Civil War in France (various drafts and versions in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 22), was written during the Commune but could only be brought out two days after the its fall. It served to propagate its achievements and build the correct approach to the Commune among revolutionaries and workers throughout the world.
Marx firstly highlighted the major positive and revolutionary measures taken by the Commune, which he presented as the incubation of the new society. He pointed out the major political decisions as the separation of the Church and the State, abolition of subsidies to the Church, replacement of the standing army by a people’s militia, election and control of all judges and magistrates, upper salary limit for all government officials and making them strictly responsible to the electorate, etc. The major socio-economic measures were free and general education, abolition of night work in bakeries, cancellation of employer fines in workshops, closing of pawnshops, seizure of closed workshops which were to be run by workers’ cooperatives, relief to the unemployed, rationed houses and assistance to debtors. All the above measures showed that there being no clear direction to the Commune, all its decisions had the clear stamp of the actions of the proletariat. Despite being faced constantly by the desperate question of its very survival, the Commune through its actions provided the first glimpse of what type of society the coming proletarian revolution would bring. It provided the first experience of the proletariat in state power – what Marx and Engels referred to as the first dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Commune by its weaknesses also provided the most valuable lessons for the future struggles of the proletariat. These were pointed out by Marx. A serious weakness of the Commune was the lack of the clear and centralised leadership of a single proletarian party. From this Marx concluded that for the success of the revolution it was absolutely necessary to have the leadership of a strong, clear-sighted and disciplined proletarian party. The other point, which Marx repeatedly stressed was the need to smash the earlier state machinery. In order to build the new workers’ state it was not possible to rely upon the earlier state machinery of the bourgeoisie with its state officials who were totally committed to preserving the old social order. In fact in order to build the workers’ state it was first necessary to smash the earlier state apparatus and get rid of all the high level officials associated with it.
In the period of reaction and repression following the Commune, there was considerable confusion among the revolutionary forces as to how to assess the experiences and draw the correct conclusions. The anarchists, who had participated in large numbers in the Commune, were particularly at a loss. Marx’s analysis gave a clear-cut position clearing all types of confusion. Marx also helped propagate the correct understanding regarding the Commune throughout the world. Following the Commune the bourgeoisie portrayed Marx as the real leader of the Commune and he was therefore even interviewed by the world press. Through these interviews he thus was able to present the correct stand to various countries. Marxism again was providing the correct answers.
Spread of Marxism and Rise of Opportunism
The period after the Paris Commune was one of reactionary offensive by the bourgeoisie on the working class movement. This had its impact on the First International. The French section was the worst hit with most of the members becoming refugees in other countries and severe factional fights among them. The German labour movement also faced a setback with the long arrest of the main Marxist leaders, Bebel and Liebknecht, who had opposed the war and the annexation of parts of France. This meant that the two of the most important sections in the International were handicapped. Simultaneously there was a split in the English section with some of the leaders leaving the International in opposition to the militant stand in support of the Commune taken by Marx. This coupled with the manipulations by the anarchists weakened the International. Marx and Engels decided to transfer the headquarters of the International from London to New York. This decision was taken in the 1872 Congress of the International (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 23). The weakened International however could not revive and was finally dissolved in 1876.
The dissolution of the First International however did not stop the onward march of Marxism and the setting up of new proletarian parties. The period after the Paris Commune saw a long almost 35 year gap of peace, without any major wars between the big capitalist countries on the European continent. During this period the labour movement in most industrialised countries expanded rapidly. Socialist parties, which had a basically proletarian composition, set up large and elaborate structures. Under their leadership grew trade unions, daily newspapers, worker cooperatives, etc. Working often under legal conditions they participated quite successfully in the bourgeois parliaments. It was many of these parties who got together to set up the Second International in 1889.This formation of the Second International gave further encouragement to the growth of new proletarian socialist parties in various parts of the world.
Marx and Engels till the end of their lives continued to play the role of ideological leaders and practical organisers of this growing working class movement. They provided constant theoretical inputs to strengthen the foundations of the growing movement. Marx concentrated on further study of political economy and more in-depth study of capitalism. The first volume of Capital came out in1867. After that Marx continued to struggle against severe ill health to try and complete the later volumes of this work. However it remained unfinished right up to his death on 14th March 1883. Engels however completed the monumental task of collecting together Marx’s notes, editing them and finally publishing the second and third volumes of Capital. Engels in fact also did substantial theoretical work after becoming a full-timer in 1869. Along with Marx, and alone, he brought out various works on philosophy, socialist theory, evolution, origin of social and political institutions, etc. After the death of Marx he played the central role in guiding and building the movement in various countries. Through regular correspondence he performed the role of a centre which was otherwise non-existent throughout this period. This he did till his death on 5th August 1895.
A large part of the work of Marx and Engels was in fighting the trends of opportunism that started gaining strength with the growth of the movement. One important trend was that of Lassalleism which arose first during the First International but continued also in later years. Its originator, Ferdinand Lassalle, was the founder of the first working class socialist party set up in 1863 in Germany. The main opportunist aspects of Lassalleism were a discouragement of workers struggle for higher wages and making appeals to the state for government aid to set up workers cooperatives which Lassalle saw as the main means of reforming society and gradually bringing about socialism. In order to fight the wrong understanding on wage struggles Marx wrote the work, Wages, Prices and Profits (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 20, pp 101.149) and presented it in the General Council of the First International in 1865. The fight against Lassalleism continued in 1875 when Marx wrote the Critique of the Gotha Programme (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp 75-99). The Gotha programme was the programme drafted at the time of the unification of the Lassalleist and Marxist proletarian parties of Germany into one party. At that time the Marxists were so keen on unity that they made many compromises with the opportunist politics of Lassalleism. Marx in his Critique made a thorough criticism of the points that had opportunist politics. However the Critique was only given to a handful of the leading Marxist members of the German party. It was not circulated and very few of its suggestions were brought into practice. However in 1891 when a new party programme was being drafted Engels insisted on publishing the Critique, despite the protests of some of the leading members of the party. This time the Lassalleist aspects did not appear in the new programme.
Other opportunist trends, which appeared, were similarly resolutely opposed by Marx and Engels as long as they were alive. After Engels’ death however one of the most major attacks on Marxism appeared from within the proletarian movement itself. Since direct opposition to Marxism was very difficult this attack came in the form of an attempt to ‘revise’ Marxism. This trend which later came to be called revisionism was initiated first by Bernstein, one of the leading members of the German party and also of the Second International. He first presented his views in 1898-99 within the German party. Bernstein proposed that because of changed conditions it was necessary to change all the basic formulations made by Marx. He proposed that it was not necessary to have violent revolution to bring about socialism and that reform of capitalist institutions would gradually bring about socialism. As opportunism had been growing in the working class movement Bernstein’s revisionism soon found supporters in various parties. However at the same time many genuine revolutionaries rallied around in the support of Marxism. The debate was taken up before the Congress of the Second International held in 1904. The Congress strongly condemned revisionism by a vote of 25 to 5, with 12 abstentions. There was also another compromise resolution, which did not so strongly condemn revisionism, which did not get passed because there was a tie vote of 21 to 21. Thus in both the resolutions there was a very big section that supported or did not want to take a strong stand against revisionism. Though the Congress finally condemned revisionism it was quite clear in 1904 itself that opportunism and revisionism had built a substantial base for itself at the highest levels of the international working class movement. The opposition to opportunism in many countries however was also strong. A particularly strong centre was in Russia, where the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin had already waged numerous struggles against Russian varieties of opportunism.
Marxism in Russia – Early Life of Lenin
Russia was one of the countries where Marxism and Marxist literature spread very early. In fact the first translation of Marx’s principal work ‘Capital’ or ‘Das Kapital’ was in Russian. An edition brought out in 1872 (just five years after the original German edition), was an immediate success with good sales and numerous positive reviews in prestigious journals. Its impact was so great that by 1873-74 quotes from ‘Capital’ already started appearing in the propaganda of radical student agitations in big Russian cities. The translation into Russian of other Marxist works was also taken up quite early by Russian revolutionaries attracted to Marxism.
One such revolutionary was Vera Zasulich, a woman revolutionary known for her attempt to assassinate the governor of St. Petersburg. She started correspondence with Marx in 1881, which she later continued with Engels after Marx’s death. In 1883 she became a part of the first Russian Marxist organisation – the Emancipation of Labour group led by George Plekhanov. Plekhanov participated in the 1st Congress of the Second International in 1889 after which he met Engels for the first time. After this meeting Plekhanov continued to maintain close links and take guidance from Engels.
Plekhanov played the principal role in establishing Marxism in Russia. He translated and popularised many of Marx and Engels’ works. While combating the anarchist, peasant socialist views of the Narodniks he also made many theoretical contributions to Marxism. Russia at that time was under the tyrannical rule of the Tsar against whom many revolutionaries and revolutionary groups had started activities. Many of these groups however had leanings towards anarchism and terrorism. Plekhanov and the Emancipation of Labour group played the crucial role in converting considerable sections to Marxism. Lenin, who joined hands with this group at a later stage, was however, the outstanding figure who took ahead Marxism and the proletarian movement.
Lenin was the party name of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who was born on 22nd April 1870, in the city of Simbirsk, which was the capital of the Simbirsk province. It was situated on the Volga, which is Russia’s biggest river. Though it was a provincial capital communication with the outside world were limited during Lenin’s youth. There was no railway and the main means of transport was via the steamers that travelled up and down the Volga. This however stopped during the long winter months when the river froze into ice and journeys had to be made on horseback.
Lenin’s father was a well-educated man who through hard work had risen from the level of poor peasant to become teacher, inspector of schools and finally the director of elementary schools in Simbirsk province. He was also given the noble rank of Civil Councillor in1874. He died in 1886. Lenin’s mother was the daughter of a rural doctor. Though she did not go to school she was educated at home and even learnt many foreign languages, which she later taught her children. She died in 1916. They had eight children of whom two died in early childhood and one in her teens. Lenin was the fourth child. All his brothers and sisters grew up to be revolutionaries.
Lenin was however the most influenced by his elder brother, Alexander. Alexander was a brilliant student and gold medallist of the University of Saint Petersburg (then the capital of Russia). He was a member of the secret revolutionary study-circles of revolutionary youth in St. Petersburg and conducted political propaganda among the workers. He ideologically stood between the Narodniks and Marxism. In 1887 Alexander was arrested along with his elder sister Anna and other comrades for trying to assassinate the Tsar. Anna was later released and banned from St. Petersburg. Alexander however who was the leader of the group was hanged on 8th March 1887, along with four of his comrades. Lenin who was then only 17 years of age vowed to avenge his brother’s martyrdom.
Lenin from a very young age was a model student with a very systematic method of study. Unlike other students, he never produced his assignments at the last minute. Rather, he prepared an early outline and draft, constantly making notes, additions and changes before producing his final draft. He had a very high level of concentration and did not talk to anyone who disturbed him while studying. He was a great admirer of his elder brother and at a young age tried to imitate Alexander in everything he did. A month after his brother was hanged, Lenin, despite the severe tension and grief, had to sit for his school leaving exams. He received a gold medal as the school’s best student.
Despite the gold medal, Lenin could not get admission in either the St. Petersburg University or Moscow University because he was the brother of a known revolutionary. He finally gained admission in the smaller University of Kazan. He was however within three months expelled from the city of Kazan for participating in a demonstration against new regulations limiting the autonomy of universities and the freedom of students. The police officer who escorted him to the city limits tried to convince the young Lenin that he was up against a wall. Lenin however replied that the wall was a rotten one, which would crumble with one kick. The next year in 1888 Lenin was allowed to return to Kazan but was not given readmission into the university. It is here that he started attending one of the secret Marxist study-circles.
During this period and later when the family moved to another province of Samara, Lenin spent a large amount of his time in reading and study. Besides reading the works of Russian revolutionaries, Lenin, at the age of eighteen, starting reading many of Marx and Plekhanov’s works. He started propagating his knowledge of Marxism, first to his eldest sister Anna, and then by organising small discussion groups of his friends. He also took to swimming, skating, mountain climbing and hunting.
In the meantime his mother made repeated attempts to get him readmitted to university. He was however again refused at Kazan. He was also refused a foreign passport to go and study abroad. After many applications, Lenin was, in 1890, finally accepted only as an external law student at the St. Petersburg University. He could sit directly for the examinations without being allowed to attend lectures. Lenin was determined to complete his course at the same time as his former Kazan fellow students. He therefore studied on his own and completed the four-year course within a year. In the examinations, held in 1891, he received the highest marks in all subjects and was given a first class degree. In January 1892 he was accepted as a lawyer and started practice in the Samara Regional Court.
Lenin however was least interested in his law practice. While giving his exams in St. Petersburg he had developed Marxist contacts there and got a supply of Marxist literature. In Samara Lenin spent a large part of his time giving lectures in illegal study circles of workers and others. He also formed the first Marxist study circle of Samara. Samara was a centre of the Narodniks and Lenin concentrated his energies on fighting the Narodnik ideology of that time which had moved to liberalism. He, at the same time, had a great respect for the brave, selfless, Narodnik revolutionaries of the 1870s, many of whom were residing in Samara after retiring from politics. Lenin was always eager to learn from them about their revolutionary work, their secrecy techniques, and about the behaviour of revolutionaries during interrogation and trials. It was in Samara that Lenin started his first writings, which were circulated among the study circles. He also translated the Communist Manifesto (in Marx/Engels, Collected Works, Volume 6, pp 75-99) into Russian. Lenin’s activities and influence started spreading beyond Samara to other provinces of the Volga region.
After developing well formed views Lenin now wanted to broaden the scope of his revolutionary work. With this aim, he moved in August 1893 to St. Petersburg, which was a major industrial centre with a large proletariat. As a cover he took up a job as an assistant lawyer to a senior barrister of St. Petersburg. He however did very little legal work and concentrated wholly on revolutionary activities. Lenin soon became a leading figure bringing new life to the numerous secret study-circles of St. Petersburg. He also influenced the Moscow circles. Besides lecturing in the circles he was always interested in learning every minute detail of the workers’ lives. In the circles he convinced a big section of the revolutionaries to move from selective propaganda (propaganda in those days was understood as similar to our political education classes today) in small circles to mass agitation among the broad mass of workers.
It was during this period that he met his future wife, Krupskaya, who had already come into contact with Marxism and was teaching without payment at a night school for workers. Many of her worker students were part of a study circle conducted by Lenin. Lenin himself would always be eager to learn from her deep knowledge of the lives and work conditions of the St. Petersburg workers. When Lenin fell ill she used to visit him and gradually their friendship grew into love.
Meanwhile Lenin continued to expand his contacts in many more cities of Russia. In February 1895 a meeting of the groups in various main cities decided to send Lenin and another delegate from Moscow abroad to make contact with the Emancipation of Labour group. Lenin’s first visit to Europe lasted from April to September 1895. He during this period met Plekhanov and Axelrod of the Emancipation of Labour group, and other leaders of the German and French working class organisations. He wanted keenly to meet Engels but could not do so as Engels was on his deathbed.
Upon his return to Russia he united all the Marxist circles of St. Petersburg into one political organisation called the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. The League immediately started agitation and organising strikes in large factories of the city. It also made plans for bringing out an illegal magazine of the workers. This magazine however could not be brought out. The secret police who had been keeping close watch on Lenin finally managed through the help of an informer to arrest him along with proof. He was picked up in December 1895, along with the manuscript of the first issue of the illegal magazine and was sent to jail.
Even from jail Lenin managed to keep close contact with his comrades outside. His mother and sister Anna brought him numerous books and he sent letters in the books through a code language that he had taught his sister. He also sent letters written in milk, that served as invisible ink that became visible later, on being warmed up. He used black bread as his ink pots so that he could swallow them as soon as any jail-guard came nearby. Thus from the jail Lenin could even write pamphlets and direct strikes, which during 1896 were on an upswing throughout Russia. He came to be known as the real leader of the League. At the same time he also started intense study and research on his first major theoretical work, The Development of Capitalism in Russia, (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 3, pp 21-607). While studying heavily from morning to night, Lenin kept up his fitness by daily regular exercises before going to bed.
After over one year in jail Lenin was released but was immediately sentenced to three years exile in Siberia where he reached in May 1897. Krupskaya in the meantime had also been arrested. Lenin proposed marriage to her from Siberia. She replied simply, “If I’m to be a wife, so be it.” She was allowed to join him in Siberia where she reached in May 1898. Lenin spent most of his time in Siberia in theoretical work. With Krupskaya’s help he translated an English book Industrial Democracy into Russian. He also completed his work on the development of capitalism in Russia, which was published legally in 1899. He also his started his struggle against the Economists – an opportunist trend linked to the Bernsteinian revisionism mentioned in the previous chapter. He also wrote extensively on what should be the programme and immediate tasks of the Russian revolution. When he came out of exile in early 1900 he immediately started work on those tasks.
Lenin and the Proletarian Party of a New Type
The most urgent and pressing task when Lenin came out of exile was to build the revolutionary proletarian party. The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) had been formally established in a Congress held in 1898 attended by 9 delegates. However the Central Committee elected at the Congress was very soon arrested. Though the banner of the party had been announced this Congress did not actually succeed in unifying all the groups and building up a single party organisational structure. Thus in 1900 this task remained.
The plan for building up the party had been worked out in detail while in exile. The key to it Lenin felt was the setting up of an All-Russian political newspaper. Lenin proposed that the only way of politically and organisationally uniting the scattered Marxist study-circles, groups and organisations was through a political newspaper. This newspaper would be able to politically link all the varied cells throughout Russia by presenting the correct line and immediately fighting all opportunist deviations. At the same the most difficult task of secretly distributing an illegal paper would by itself create an underground organisation trained in facing the repressive Russian secret police. Lenin wanted to first bring into action this plan before the calling of a Party Congress because it was also first necessary to defeat the opportunist and revisionist trends that had raised their heads in the movement in the preceding years.
Lenin’s plan was first discussed with and approved by the Leagues of Struggle in various Russian cities and at a conference of Social Democrats, which he arranged to discuss this plan. His principal associates in this plan were Martov and Potresov members of the central group of the St. Petersburg who had been arrested and sent to Siberia at the same time as him. The plan was to bring out the paper from abroad as it was too dangerous to publish it within Russia. Lenin also planned for this purpose to unite with Plekhanov’s Emancipation of Labour group, which already existed abroad. The editorial board was to consist of six members – three from the Emancipation group abroad and three from Russia – Lenin, Martov and Potresov. After making all arrangements the first issue of the paper came out in December 1900.
It was called Iskra meaning Spark. Its title page carried the words of the first Russian bourgeois revolutionaries of 1825 – The Spark Will Kindle a Flame. Iskra was printed in various countries at various times – Germany, England and Switzerland. It was never sent directly to Russia but went by extremely roundabout routes until they reached the secret Iskra committees within Russia. The distributors had an extremely difficult task avoiding the secret police and if Iskra smugglers were caught they would be straight away exiled to Siberia. Iskra was a major tool for educating the working class with lectures in study circles often consisting in reading out articles from the paper. Iskra agents used every opportunity to distribute the newspaper as well as secret Iskra leaflets. These were distributed not only in the factories but also on the streets, in theatres, in army barracks, and through the post. In large cities they were widely scattered through the streets or from the balconies in theatres. It worker localities they were distributed late at night or early mornings by keeping them in factory courtyards and near water-pumps where they would be seen in the morning. After each such operation, which was called sowing, a particular marking would be made on a nearby wall so that a full report could be got in the morning as to the impact of the night’s work. In small towns and villages, the Iskra pamphlets would be brought in peasant carts on market days and pasted on walls. All this was dangerous work as discovery meant immediate arrest and the possibility of banishment to Siberia. The comrades involved in this work slowly started building up into the team of professional revolutionaries on the basis of whom Lenin planned to build the proletarian party.
As to the structure and composition of the party itself, Lenin considered that it should consist of two parts: a) a close circle of regular cadres of leading party workers, chiefly professional revolutionaries, that is, party workers free from all occupation except party work and possessing the necessary minimum of theoretical knowledge, political experience, organisational practice and the art of facing and fighting the tsarist police; and b) a broad network of local party organisations and a large number of party members enjoying the sympathy and support of hundreds of thousands of working people. As the process of building such a party was proceeding through the help of Iskra, Lenin gave direction to this process through his articles and books. Of particular significance were Where To Begin? (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5, pp 13-24), What Is To Be Done? (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5, pp 347-529) and Letter to a Comrade on Organisational Questions (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5). In these works he laid down the ideological and organisational basis of the proletarian party.
Besides the organisational questions a major battle waged by Lenin was the fight against the Economists, who wanted to restrict the Social Democratic Party merely to the economic struggle of the workers. They had grown in strength in Russia during Lenin’s period in exile and Lenin realised that Economism had to be ideologically defeated before the convening of the Party Congress. He launched a direct attack on them particularly through his book What is to be Done? (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 5, pp 347-529) Lenin exposed how the Economists’ views meant bowing to the spontaneity of the working class movement and neglecting the role of consciousness and leading role of the party. He showed how this would lead to slavery of the working class to capitalism. While mouthing Marxism, the Economists wanted to convert the revolutionary party into a party of social reform. Lenin thus showed how the Economists were actually Russian representatives of the opportunist trend of Bernsteinian revisionism. Lenin’s book, which was widely distributed in Russia, succeeded in decisively defeating Economism. It thus laid down the principles which later became the ideological foundation of the Bolshevik party.
The actual birth of the Bolshevik trend within the RSDLP took place at the Second Party Congress, which took place in July-August 1903 (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 41, pp 78-96). The main debate at the Congress was regarding what should be the nature of the party and thus who should be given membership in the party. Lenin who had in mind a tight, effective, professional revolutionary based party proposed that all party members should work in one of the party organisations. Martov, on the other hand, had as his model the loosely functioning legal parties, which had become common in the Second International at that time. He thus proposed loose criteria for membership, which would allow anyone who accepted the party programme and supported the party financially, to be eligible for party membership. He thus was ready to give party membership to any party sympathiser. In the vote on this point the majority was with Martov. However later when some opportunist sections walked out of the Congress the majority came on Lenin’s side. This was reflected in the elections to the Central Committee and Editorial Board of Iskra, which went according to Lenin’s proposals. The differences between the two groups however remained strong and continued even after the Congress. From that time Lenin’s followers, who received the majority of votes in the elections at the Congress, have been called Bolsheviks (which means majority in the Russian language). Lenin’s opponents, who received the minority of votes, have been called Mensheviks (which means minority in the Russian language).
Immediately after the Congress the Mensheviks started manipulations and splitting activities. This created a lot of confusion. In order to clear the confusion, Lenin, in May 1904, brought out his famous book, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 7, pp 203-425). It gave a detailed analysis of the intra-party struggle both during and after the Congress and on that basis explained the proletarian party’s main organisational principles which later came to form the organisational foundations of the Bolshevik party. The circulation of this book brought the majority of the local organisations of the party to the side of the Bolsheviks. However the central bodies, the party organ and the Central Committee went into the hands of the Mensheviks who were determined to defeat the decisions of the Congress. The Bolsheviks were thus forced to form their own committee and start their own organ. Both groups also started making separate preparations for organising their own congress and conference. These were held in 1905. The split in the party was complete. The foundations however had been laid for the building of the true revolutionary party – the proletarian party of a new type.
Russian Bourgeois Revolution of 1905: Development of Proletarian Tactics
The period of the split in the RSDLP came at the beginning of a period of major changes in the world situation. The long 35-year gap of peace in Europe between the main capitalist countries was broken with a series of wars. The age of imperialism had dawned and the new imperialist powers started fighting for capturing and expanding markets. They entered into a number of regional wars. An important war among these was the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. These regional wars were only a way by which the imperialist powers were preparing themselves for the devastating World War I of 1914-18 for the re-division of the world.
This same period was also a period of a new upsurge of revolutions. The main source of these revolutions was however now not Europe but Asia. The first of these revolutions was the Russian bourgeois revolution of 1905, which was followed by the Turkish, the Persian and the Chinese bourgeois revolutions. The most important of these revolutions, from the point of the role of the proletariat and the development of Marxist revolutionary tactics, was the 1905 Russian revolution. Its starting point was the Russo-Japanese war.
The Russo-Japanese war, which started on 8th February 1904, ended in defeat for the Tsar and a humiliating peace treaty on 23rd August 1905. The Bolsheviks adopted a clear revolutionary standpoint to the war, opposed to their own government and opposed to any false notions of nationalism or patriotism. Their approach was that the defeat of the Tsar would be useful, as it would weaken Tsardom and strengthen the revolution. This is actually what happened. The economic crisis of 1900-03 had already aggravated the hardships of the toiling masses. The war further intensified this suffering. As the war continued and the Russian armed forces faced defeat after defeat the people’s hatred for the Tsar increased. They reacted with the great revolution of 1905.
The historic movement started with a big Bolshevik-led strike of the oil workers of Baku in December 1904. This was the ‘signal’ for a wave of strikes and revolutionary actions throughout Russia. In particular, the revolutionary storm broke with the indiscriminate firing upon and massacre of a demonstration of unarmed workers on 22nd January 1905, in St. Petersburg. The Tsar’s attempt to crush the workers in blood only inspired a still more fierce response from the masses. The whole of 1905 was a period of rising wave of militant political strikes by workers, seizure of land and landlord’s grain by peasants, and even a revolt by the Russian Navy sailors of the battleship Potemkin. Twice the Tsar, in a bid to divert the struggle, offered first a ‘consultative’ and then a ‘legislative’ Duma (Duma is the Russian parliament). The Bolsheviks rejected both Dumas whereas the Mensheviks decided to participate. The high tide of the revolution was between October and December 1905. During this period, the proletariat, for the first time in world history, set up the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies – which were assemblies of delegates from all mills and factories. These were the embryo of revolutionary power, and became the model for the Soviet power set up after the Socialist Revolution in 1917. Starting with an all-Russia political strike in October, the revolutionary struggles went on rising until the Bolshevik-led armed uprisings, in December, in Moscow, and various other cities and nationalities throughout the country, these were brutally crushed and after that the tide of the revolution started to recede. The revolution was however not yet crushed and the workers and revolutionary peasants retreated slowly, putting up a fight. Over a million workers took part in strikes in 1906, and 740,000 in 1907. The peasant movement embraced about half of the districts of Tsarist Russia in the first half of 1906, and about one-fifth in the second half of the year. The crest of the revolution had however passed. On 3rd June 1907, the Tsar effected a coup, dissolved the Duma he had created, and withdrew even the limited rights he had been forced to grant during the revolution. A period of intense repression under the Tsarist Prime Minister, Stolypin, called the Stolypin reaction, set in. It was to last till the next wave of strikes and political struggles in 1912.
Though the 1905 Revolution was defeated it shook the very foundations of Tsarist rule. It also, in the short space of three years, gave the working class and peasantry a rich political education. It was also the period when the Bolsheviks proved in practice the basic correctness of their revolutionary understanding regarding the strategy and tactics of the proletariat. It was in the course of this revolution that the Bolshevik understanding regarding the friends and enemies of the revolution and the forms of struggle and forms of organisation got firmly established.
The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks had an opposite understanding on all the above questions. The Menshevik understanding was the reformist and legalist understanding that had by then grown common in many parties of the Second International. It was based on the understanding that the Russian revolution, being a bourgeois revolution, had to be led by the liberal bourgeoisie, and therefore the proletariat should not take any step that would frighten the bourgeoisie and drive it into the arms of the Tsar. The Bolshevik understanding on the other hand was the revolutionary understanding that the proletariat could not rely on the bourgeoisie to lead the revolution and would have to itself take up the leadership of the revolution. It was on this revolutionary basis that the Bolsheviks developed their understanding on all the other important strategic and tactical questions of the revolution.
Thus the Bolsheviks called for the extension of the revolution and the overthrow of the Tsar through armed uprising; the Mensheviks tried to control the revolution within a peaceful framework and attempted to reform and improve Tsardom. The Bolsheviks pushed for the leadership of the working class, the isolation of the liberal bourgeoisie and a firm alliance with the peasantry; the Mensheviks accepted alliance with and leadership of the liberal bourgeoisie and did not consider the peasantry as a revolutionary class to be allied with. The Bolsheviks were ready for participation in a provisional revolutionary government to be formed on the basis of a successful people’s uprising and called for the boycott of the Duma offered by the Tsar; the Mensheviks were ready for participation in the Duma and proposed to make it the centre of the “revolutionary forces” of the country.
The Menshevik understanding was not an isolated example of a reformist trend. In fact the Menshevik understanding was fully representative of the understanding of the main leading parties of the Second International at that time. Their stand was basically supported by the leaders of the International at that time. Thus Lenin and the Bolsheviks were not only fighting the reformism of the Mensheviks but also the reformist understanding that then dominated the so-called Marxist parties of the International. Lenin’s formulations were however a continuation and development of the revolutionary understanding of Marx and Engels. It was a further development of the Marxist revolutionary tactics applied in the new conditions brought about by the growth of capitalism into a new stage – imperialism. Lenin brought out these tactics in his various writings during the course of the revolution and particularly in his book, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 9, pp 15-140). This book written in July 1905 after the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks held separated Congresses, brought out the essential differences in the strategy and tactics proposed by the two groups.
The fundamental tactical principles presented by Lenin in this and other works were:
1) The main tactical principle running through all Lenin’s writings is that the proletariat can and must be the leader of the bourgeois democratic revolution. It order to do this two conditions were necessary. Firstly, it was necessary for the proletariat to have an ally who was interested in a decisive victory over Tsardom and who might be disposed to accept the leadership of the proletariat. Lenin considered that the peasantry was such an ally. Secondly, it was necessary that the class which was fighting the proletariat for the leadership of the revolution and striving to become its sole leader, would be forced out of the arena of leadership and isolated. Lenin considered that the liberal bourgeoisie was such a class. Thus the essence of Lenin’s main tactical principle of the leadership of the proletariat meant at the same time the policy of alliance with the peasantry and the policy of isolation of the liberal bourgeoisie.
2) As regards the forms of struggle and forms of organisation, Lenin considered that the most effective means of overthrowing Tsardom and achieving a democratic republic was a victorious armed uprising of the people. In order to bring this about Lenin called for mass political strikes and the arming of the workers. He also called for achieving the 8-hour working day and other immediate demands of the working class in a revolutionary way by disregarding the authorities and the law. Similarly he called for the formation of revolutionary peasant committees to bring about changes like seizure of land in a revolutionary way. These tactics of disregarding the authorities paralysed the Tsar’s state machinery and released the initiative of the masses. It led to the formation of revolutionary strike committees in the towns and revolutionary peasant committees in the countryside, which later developed in the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies and the Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies.
3) Lenin further held that the revolution should not stop after the victory of the bourgeois revolution and the achievement of a democratic republic. He proposed that it was the duty of the revolutionary party to do every thing possible to make the bourgeois- democratic revolution pass into the Socialist revolution. He thus giving concrete form to Marx’s concept of uninterrupted revolution.
These tactical principles became the basis for the Bolshevik practice during the following period. It finally led to the victory of the proletariat in 1917 October Revolution and the establishment of the first workers’ state.
World War I : Opportunism v/s Revolutionary Tactics
The dawn of imperialism from the turn of the century brought with it the wars by the imperialist powers for the capture of colonies. An example was the Russo-Japanese war mentioned in the previous chapter. This war took place because both Russia and Japan wanted control over Manchuria in Northern China and Korea. Similar wars for capturing or recapturing colonies started breaking out in various parts of the world. Thus it became of crucial importance for the international proletarian movement to adopt the correct revolutionary position on the questions of colonialism and war. This therefore came up before the Congresses of the Second International.
Opportunism had however, by then, spread quite extensively within the parties of the Second International. Many leading sections of the parties in the imperialist countries had in fact started taking the standpoint of the bourgeoisie on many of the crucial political questions. This was seen very clearly at the 1907 Congress of the Second International where the questions of colonialism and war were first taken up.
On the question of colonialism, the leading body of the Congress – the Congress commission – adopted a resolution on colonial policy and placed it before the general body for approval. This resolution while criticising the bourgeoisie’s colonial policy for namesake did not reject totally the principle of capturing colonies. It in fact argued that under a socialist regime it could be in the “interests of civilization” to capture colonies. Such an openly imperialist position of these so-called Marxists was strongly opposed by the revolutionaries in the general body and the resolution was finally defeated, but only by a small margin of only 127 votes to 108.
Similar opportunism of the leadership was seen in the case of the stand on the question of war. Bebel, a known leader and a close follower and associate of Marx and Engels prepared the resolution. The resolution however was left vague without any specific direction or course of action to be taken by the members in the event of war. This again was opposed strongly by the revolutionaries – particularly Rosa Luxembourg of Germany and Lenin. They then proposed an amendment which gave a clear-cut direction to the members of the International to fight to prevent war, to fight to end the war quickly in case it started, and to make full use of the economic and political crisis in the case of war to arouse the people and bring about revolution. This was a continuation of the revolutionary proletarian position on war that Marx had already clearly laid down. Since the opportunists could not openly oppose this understanding, this resolution was passed by the Congress. As the war danger grew nearer the 1910 and 1912 Congresses of the International again discussed and adopted resolutions regarding war. They decided that all socialists in parliament should vote against war credits. They also repeated in their resolutions the wording of the amendment proposed in 1907 by Luxembourg and Lenin.
However the hold of opportunism over the Second International was so great that most of the leaders who passed these resolutions had absolutely no intention of standing by these decisions. This was seen when the World War I actually broke out in July-August 1914. The German Social-Democratic Party, which was the undoubted leader of the Second International, led the way. The trade-union bureaucrats, instead of trying to rouse the workers against the war and for revolution, immediately entered into a no-strike agreement with the employers. In the party caucus (fraction) meeting that was held before the parliamentary vote on war credits, a large majority voted in support of the war. Only a handful of revolutionaries led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg opposed. Kautsky, who was at that time the main ideological leader of the Second International, voted to abstain. Thus on 4th August 1914 the German Social Democratic Party threw aside all the previous Congress resolutions and voted unanimously in parliament to support the imperialist war. For the revolutionary proletariat, the Second International ceased to exist from that date. The German party was immediately followed by the majority of socialists in France, Britain, Belgium and other countries. The Second International broke up into separate social-chauvinist parties warring against each other.
The Bolsheviks were almost the only party to stand by the anti-war resolutions. In the context of the Second International leaders falling totally into opportunism, it was left to Lenin and the Bolsheviks to uphold and implement the correct Marxist position regarding the World War. Lenin immediately brought out writings presenting this correct understanding. The Central Committee of the RSDLP (B) gave a call to “turn the imperialist war into civil war” and to build a new Third International in place of the Second International. Lenin started the process of building the Third International by uniting all the leftist anti-war forces. Though these forces started holding conferences from 1915 onwards much confusion continued. Lenin had to take up the task of clearing this confusion and establishing among these elements the correct revolutionary position on the principles of socialism in relation to war and also the tasks of revolutionary social democrats at the international level and in Russia. Lenin did this through his various writings propagated both within Russia as well as the international level.
The principles and tasks Lenin outlined can be presented in the following manner:
Firstly, socialists are not pacifists who are opponents of all war. Socialists aim at establishing socialism and communism, which by eliminating all exploitation will eliminate the very possibility of war. However in the fight to achieve the socialist system there will always be the possibility of wars which are necessary and are of revolutionary significance.
Secondly, while deciding the attitude to be adopted towards a particular war, the main issue for socialists is this: what is the war being waged for, and what classes staged and directed it. Thus Lenin pointed out that during the period of the bourgeois democratic revolution, Marx had supported the wars waged by the bourgeoisie, which were against feudalism and reactionary kings. Because these wars were aimed at abolishing feudalism and establishing or strengthening capitalism, they were progressive or just wars. Adopting similar criteria Lenin points out that in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution socialists will support all such wars that take ahead the World Socialist Revolution. According to such an understanding Lenin gave examples of the types of wars that may be called just or progressive wars: – 1) national wars waged by a colonial or semi-colonial country against its imperialist exploiter, 2) civil wars waged by the proletariat and other oppressed classes against their feudal or capitalist ruling classes, 3) socialist wars for the defence of the socialist fatherland.
Thirdly, Lenin pointed out that on the basis of the above understanding there was nothing just or progressive about the World War I. He compared the imperialist war to a war between a slave-holder who owns 100 slaves and a slave-holder who owns 200 slaves for a more ‘just’ redistribution of slaves. The essential purpose of the World War I was for redistribution of the colonial slaves. Thus there could not be anything progressive or defensive or just war. It was an unjust, reactionary war. The only stand towards it could be the call to convert the imperialist war into civil war. The only use thus of such a war was to take advantage of this war to make revolution. In order to do this, Lenin pointed out that it was advantageous that one’s own country is defeated in the war. Defeat would weaken the ruling class and facilitate the victory of revolution. Thus any socialist revolutionary must work for the defeat of his own government in the war.
Finally, Lenin pointed out that it was the duty of socialists to participate in the movement for peace. Nevertheless while participating in the movement for peace, it is their duty to point out that no real and lasting peace is possible without a revolutionary movement. In fact, whoever wants a just and democratic peace must stand for civil war against the governments and the bourgeoisie.
Though these principles and tactics were propagated among all the parties of the Second International, the only ones to implement them in practice were the Bolsheviks. It was this approach to the war that helped them to make use of the revolutionary crisis situation created by the war and within three years achieve the victory of Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917.
Marx’s analysis of the laws of motion of capitalism belongs to the stage of free competitive capitalism where a large number of capitalist producers competed in the market. He analysed to some extent the process of centralisation of capital. He however did not live long enough to see the start of a new stage in capitalism — the stage of imperialism. This happened at the start of the 20th century and it was left to Lenin to analyse this process. In 1897-98 Lenin made some initial analysis of the development of the capitalist world market but did not analyse in full the subject of imperialism. However with the start of the World War I which was a war caused by imperialism it was necessary to do a full analysis of imperialism to understand the economic basis of the war and the political consequences for the proletariat.
This question became all the more urgent in 1915 when the opportunist and revisionist leader of the Second International, Karl Kautsky, wrote a book on imperialism where he argued that the world economic system was moving towards ‘ultra-imperialism’ where there would be stability and no risk of war. His argument was similar to some people who analyse globalisation today and argue that, because of the growth of multinational groups and corporations and the spread of their capital to all countries, these multinationals will be opposed to war and there is therefore no danger of a world war. This theory presented during the World War I gave a false picture of imperialism. Since such a false theory was presented by Kautsky who was then recognised as the main theoretician of Marxism it was absolutely necessary to oppose this theory and present the correct understanding. It was necessary to clear the confusion created by the Second Internationalists and give the correct analysis and present the correct tactics before the international working class movement. In order to do this Lenin, in 1916, did extensive research and produced his famous work, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 22, pp 185-304). Besides this main work he also wrote many other articles linking this basic economic analysis to the tactics of the proletariat.
In the first place, Lenin tried to clear the confusion created by Kautsky and other opportunists as to ‘What is Imperialism?’ In order to answer this, he pointed out that imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is three-fold: imperialism is (1) monopoly capitalism; (2) parasitic, or decaying capitalism; (3) moribund capitalism or capitalism on its deathbed. The replacement of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the essence of imperialism.
Monopoly Capitalism manifests itself in five principal forms: (1) Cartels, syndicates and trusts — The concentration of production has reached a degree which gives rise to these monopolistic associations of capitalists who join together to crush other competitors. They fix prices, allot production among themselves and make other arrangements and agreements to prevent others from entering and succeeding in the market. They play a decisive role in economic life. (2) The monopolistic position of the big banks and the creation of finance capital through the merger of monopoly industrial capital and bank capital – During Lenin’s time this had already reached the level where three, four or five giant banks manipulated the whole economic life in the main industrialised counties. (3) The export of capital which gains particular importance – this feature that is different from the export of commodities under non-monopoly capitalism is closely linked to the economic and political partition of the world. (4) The economic partition of the world by the international cartels – At Lenin’s time there were already over one hundred such international cartels, which commanded the entire world market and divided it among themselves in a ‘friendly’ manner. Of course this ‘friendliness’ would only be temporary and would last until war took place for a redivision of markets. (5) The territorial (political) partition of the world (colonies) among the biggest capitalist powers – This process of colonisation of all the backward countries of the world was basically completed at the time of the dawn of imperialism. Any further colonies could only be got through redivision of the world, through war.
On the basis of the above features, Lenin defines imperialism in the following way: “Imperialism is capitalism in that stage of development in which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital has established itself; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”
The fact that imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism is manifested first of all in the tendency to decay, which is characteristic of every monopoly under the system of private ownership of the means of production. As compared the rapid expansion under free competition, there is a tendency for production as a whole to decline under monopoly. Technological progress is discouraged and new inventions and patents are deliberately suppressed. Secondly, the decay of capitalism is manifested in the creation of a huge stratum of rentiers, capitalists who live without working but merely on the basis of the interest or dividend they earn on their investments. Thirdly, export of capital is parasitism raised to a high pitch as it means the open exploitation of the cheap labour of the backward countries. Fourthly, finance capital strives for domination, not freedom. Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism. Corruption, bribery on a huge scale and all kinds of fraud become common. Fifthly, the exploitation of oppressed nations and especially the exploitation of colonies by a handful of “Great” Powers, increasingly transforms the imperialist world into a parasite on the body of hundreds of millions in the backward nations. It reaches the stage where a privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries also lives partly at the expense of hundreds of millions in the colonies.
Imperialism is moribund capitalism, because it is capitalism in transition to socialism. Monopoly, which grows out of capitalism, is already dying capitalism, the beginning of its transition to socialism. The tremendous socialisation of labour by imperialism produces the same result. The basic contradiction of capitalism between the social character of production and the private character of ownership only gets further intensified under imperialism. Thus Lenin says, “Imperialism is the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat.”
The Great October Socialist Revolution
As mentioned earlier, in Chapter 14, the period after the defeat of the 1905 Revolution was a period of extreme repression and reaction under the leadership of the Tsar’s Prime Minister, Stolypin. The working class was made the main target of attack. Wages were reduced by 10 to 15 per cent, and the working day was increased to 10 to 12 hours. Black lists of worker activists were drawn up and they were not given jobs. Systems of fines on workers were introduced. Any attempt to organise was met with savage attacks by the police and goondas organised by the Tsar’s agents. In such a situation many intellectuals and petty bourgeois elements started retreating and some even joined the camp of the enemy.
In order to face this new situation, the Bolsheviks changed over from offensive tactics (like general strike and armed uprising used during the period of the 1905 Revolution) to defensive tactics. Defensive tactics meant the tactics of gathering together of forces, the tactics of withdrawing the cadres underground and of carrying on the work of the party from underground, the tactics of combining illegal work with work in the legal working-class organisations. Open revolutionary struggle against Tsardom was replaced by roundabout methods of struggle.
The surviving legal organisations served as a cover for the underground organisations of the party and as a means of maintaining connections with the masses. In order to preserve their connections with the masses, the Bolsheviks made use of he trade unions and other legally existing people’s organisations, such as sick benefit societies, workers’ co-operative societies, clubs, educational societies and even parliament. The Bolsheviks made use of the platform of the State Duma to expose the policy of the Tsarist government, to expose the liberal parties, and to win the support of the peasants for the proletariat. The preservation of the illegal Party organisation enabled the party to pursue a correct line and to gather together forces in preparation for a new rise in the tide of the revolution.
In implementing these tactics the Bolsheviks had to wage struggle against two deviations within the movement – the Liquidators and the Otzovists (Recallists). The Liquidators, who were Mensheviks, wanted to close down the illegal party structure and set up a legal ‘labour’ party with the consent of the government. The Recallists, who were from among the Bolsheviks, wanted to recall all the Bolshevik members of the Duma, and also withdraw from the trade unions and all other legal forms of organisation. They wanted only the illegal form of organisation. The result of both sets of tactics would have been to prevent the party from gathering together the forces for a new advance of the revolution. Rejecting both deviations, the Bolsheviks used the correct tactics of combining both legal and illegal methods and were able to gain a strong presence in many workers’ organisations and also win over a number of Menshevik worker organisations. This strengthened the party and prepared it for the next upswing in the revolutionary movement, which started from 1912.
The Bolsheviks held a separate Party Conference (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 41, pp 245-154) in January 1912 and constituted themselves as a separate party – the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) [RSDLP (B)]. At this conference itself they assessed the rise in the revolutionary movement which was seen from the rise in the number of strikers in 1911. At this conference and at later meetings of the Central Committee, new tactics were decided upon according to the new situation. This involved extending and intensifying the struggles of the workers.
An important aspect of the tactics during this period was the starting of the daily newspaper, Pravda (Truth), which helped to strengthen the Bolshevik organisations and spread their influence among the masses. Earlier the Bolsheviks had a weekly paper, which was meant for advanced workers. Pravda, however, was a daily mass political newspaper, aimed at reaching out to the broadest sections of the workers. Started on 5th May 1912, it lasted for two and a half years. During this period it faced numerous problems and heavy fines from the government’s censors. It was suppressed eight times but reappeared again each time under a slightly changed name. It had an average circulation of 40,000 copies. Pravda was supported by a large number of advanced workers – 5600 workers’ groups collected for the Bolshevik press. Through Pravda, Bolshevik influence spread not only among the workers, but also among the peasants. In fact during the period of the rise of the revolutionary movement (1912-14) the solid foundation was laid for a mass Bolshevik party. As Stalin said, “The Pravda of 1912 was the laying of the corner-stone of the victory of Bolshevism in 1917.” (JV Stalin, Works, Volume 5, pp131-135).
With the outbreak of war in 1914, the revolutionary situation further ripened. The Bolsheviks did extensive propaganda among the workers against the war and for the overthrow of Tsardom. Units and cells were also formed in the army and the navy, at the front and in the rear, and leaflets distributed calling for a fight against the war. At the front, after the Party’s intensive agitation for friendship and brotherhood between the warring armies’ soldiers, there were increasing instances of refusal of army units to take the offensive in 1915 and 1916. The bourgeoisie and landlords were making fortunes out of the war, but the workers and peasants were suffering increasing hardships. Millions had died directly of wounds or due to epidemics caused by war conditions. In January and February 1917, the situation became particularly acute. Hatred and anger against the tsarist government spread.
Even the Russian imperialist bourgeoisie, were wary of the Tsar, whose advisers were working for a separate peace with Germany. They too, with the backing of the British and French governments, planned to replace the tsar through a palace coup. However the people acted first.
From January 1917 a strong revolutionary strike movement started in Moscow, Petrograd, Baku and other industrial centres. The Bolsheviks organised big street demonstrations in favour of a general strike. As the strike movement gained momentum, on March 8, International Women’s Day, the working women of Petrograd were called out by the Bolsheviks to demonstrate against starvation, war and Tsardom. The workers supported the working women with strikes and by March 11, the strikes and demonstrations had taken on the character of an armed uprising. The Bureau of the Central Committee on March 11 issued a call for continuation of the armed uprising to overthrow the tsar and establish a provisional revolutionary government. On March 12, 60,000 soldiers came over to the side of the revolution, fought the police and helped the workers overthrow the Tsar. As the news spread, workers and soldiers everywhere began to depose the Tsarist officials. The February bourgeois-democratic revolution had won. (It is called February Revolution because the Russian calendar at that time was 13 days behind the calendar in other parts of the world and the date of the victory of the revolution was February 27th according to the Russian calendar).
As soon as Tsardom was overthrown, on the initiative of the Bolsheviks, there arose Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. However, while the Bolsheviks were directly leading the struggle of the masses in the streets, the compromising parties, the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries (a petty-bourgeois party which was a continuation of the earlier Narodniks) were seizing the seats in the Soviets, and building up a majority there. Thus they headed the Soviets in Petrograd, Moscow and a number of other cities. Meanwhile the liberal bourgeois members of the Duma did a backdoor deal with the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries and formed a Provisional Government. The result was the formation of two bodies representing two dictatorships: the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, represented by the Provisional Government, and the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, represented by the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Lenin called this dual power.
Immediately after the bourgeois revolution Lenin whiled still in Switzerland, wrote his famous Letters from Afar (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 23, pp 295-342), where he analysed this dual power. He showed how the Soviets were the embryo of the workers’ government, which had to go ahead and win victory in the second stage of the revolution—the socialist revolution. Their allies in this would be the broad semi-proletarian and small peasant masses and the proletariat of all countries.
On April 16, 1917, Lenin arrived in Petrograd after a long period of exile, and the very next day presented his famous April Theses (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 24, pp 21-26) before a meeting of Bolsheviks. He called for opposing the Provisional Government and working for a Bolshevik majority in the Soviets and transferring state power to the Soviets. He presented the programme for ensuring peace, land, and bread. Lastly, he called for a new party Congress with a new party name, the Communist Party, and for building a new International, the Third International. The Mensheviks immediately attacked Lenin’s Theses and gave a warning that ‘the revolution is in danger’. However within three weeks, the first openly held All-Russia Conference (Seventh Conference) (VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 41, pp 409-428) of the Bolshevik Party, approved Lenin’s report based on the same Theses. It gave the slogan, ‘All Power to the Soviets!’ It also approved a very important resolution, moved by Stalin, declaring the right of nations to self-determination, including secession.
In the following months, the Bolsheviks worked energetically according to the Conference line, convincing the masses of workers, soldiers and peasants of the correctness of their position. The Sixth Party Congress was also held in August 1917 after a gap of ten years. Due to the danger of attack from the Provisional Government, the Congress had to be held in secret in Petrograd, without the presence of Lenin. Stalin presented the main political reports, which called for the preparation for armed uprising. The Congress also adopted new Party Rules which provided that all Party organisations shall be built on the principles of Democratic Centralism. It also admitted the group led by Trotsky into the Party.
Soon after the Congress, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, Gen. Kornilov, organised a revolt of the army in order to crush the Bolsheviks and the Soviets. However the soldiers of many divisions were convinced by the Bolsheviks not to obey orders and the revolt failed. After the failure of this revolt the masses realised that the Bolsheviks and the Soviets were the only guarantee for achieving peace, land, and bread, which were their urgent demands. Rapid Bolshevisation of the Soviets took place, the tide of the revolution was rising, and the Party started preparing for armed uprising.
In this period, Lenin, for security reasons, was forced to stay in Finland, away from the main arena of battle. During this period, he completed his book, The State and Revolution, which defended and developed the teachings of Marx and Engels on the question of the state. While particularly exposing the distortions on this question by opportunists like Kautsky, Lenin’s work then had tremendous theoretical and practical significance at the international level. This was because, as Lenin saw clearly at that time itself, the Russian February bourgeois revolution was a link in a chain of socialist proletarian revolutions being caused by the World War I. The question of the relationship between the proletarian revolution and the state was no longer merely a theoretical question. Because of the revolutionary situation created by the war it was now a question of immediate practical importance and it was necessary for the international proletarian movement and the masses to be educated as to correct understanding regarding this.
As the revolutionary tide rose Lenin again landed in Petrograd on October 20, 1917. Within three days of his arrival, a historic Central Committee meeting decided to launch the armed uprising within a few days. Immediately representatives were sent to all parts of the country and particularly to the army units. On becoming aware of the plan for the uprising, the Provisional government started an attack on the Bolsheviks, on November 6, 1917, the eve of the holding of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets. The Red Guards and revolutionary units of the army retaliated and by November 7, 1917, state power had passed into the hands of the Soviets.
Immediately the next day the Congress of Soviets passed the Decree on Peace and the Decree on Land. It formed the first Soviet government—the Council of People’s Commissars—of which Lenin was elected the first Chairman. The Great October Socialist Revolution had established the dictatorship of the proletariat.
It was however a long battle before the workers’ power was consolidated. Firstly the war with Germany had to be ended. This was finally done by signing the Brest-Litovsk Treaty in February 1918. This too however did not bring a lasting peace. As soon as the World War I ended, the victorious imperialist powers of Britain, France, Japan and America started direct and indirect intervention and help to the old ruling classes of Russia to wage a civil war against the Soviet state. This civil war lasted till the end of 1920. The Soviet state emerged victorious but at the end of the war the economy was in ruins.
The end of the World War I was a period of revolutionary upsurge throughout the world. The success of the October Revolution had an impact in numerous countries, even where Marxism had little or no influence. Europe, the main battlefield of the War, was in the deepest revolutionary crisis. The war had resulted in the overthrow of four emperors and the break-up of their four great empires – the Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg), and Turkish (Ottoman). The state structures were in shambles and the masses were in the mood for revolt. The mass protests started even before the completion of the war. In January 1918, a wave of mass political strikes and anti-war demonstrations swept throughout central Europe. This was followed by revolts in the armed forces of various countries. There was also a national upsurge, which led to the formation of many new states after the break-up of the old empires.
In Germany and Hungary however the crisis led to revolution. In November 1918 the German sailors mutinied and this immediately spread a wave of revolt throughout Germany resulting in the overthrow of the emperor and the establishment of a republic under the leadership of the Social-Democrat Party. Soviets were immediately established in Berlin and other cities. These were however crushed in January 1919 after two weeks of street fighting against the reactionary military forces, which had been reorganised by the Social-Democrat government. Later a Soviet Republic was formed in Bavaria (a province of Germany) in April 1919. But this too was crushed.
In Hungary the Communists led a coalition with the Social-Democrats and took control of the government in March 1919. They were however thrown out within five months by military pressure from Allied governments. The struggles of the workers continued for at least four more years but both these revolutions finally ended in failure.
Nevertheless the rising tide of revolution and the success of the revolution in Russia had led to formation of Communist Parties in many countries. A real basis now existed for a union of the Communist Parties, for the formation of the Third, Communist International. As mentioned earlier, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had given the call for the formation of the Third International in 1914 itself. Now they took the initiative for actually setting it up.
In January 1919 Lenin addressed an open letter to the workers of Europe and America urging them to found the Third International. Soon after invitations for an international congress were sent out. In March 1919, the First Congress of the Communist Parties of various countries, held in Moscow, founded the Communist International. The Congress set up an Executive Committee of the Third, Communist International.
Just a month after the First Congress, Lenin explained the historical significance of the Third International in the following way: “The First International laid the foundation of the proletarian, international struggle for socialism. The Second International marked a period in which the soil was prepared for the broad, mass spread of the movement in a number of countries. The Third International has gathered the fruits of the work of the Second International, discarded its opportunist, social-chauvinist, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois dross, and has begun to implement the dictatorship of the proletariat.” He thus pointed out that the most significant aspect of the Third International was that it now represented the proletariat that had succeeded in seizing state power and now had begun to establish socialism.
After intense preparatory work, the Second Congress of the Communist International held in July 1920 was a major success with a wide representation from 41 countries. Lenin made major contributions to Marxist theory in connection with this Congress. He prepared what he intended as a handbook of Communist party strategy and tactics, which was distributed among the delegates of the Congress. It was called “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, and concentrated on correcting the ‘leftist’ errors then prevalent in many parties who had joined the International. Lenin also prepared the Theses on the National and Colonial Question adopted at the Congress. It was a landmark document which laid the Marxist-Leninist theoretical foundations for understanding and leading the national liberation struggles then gathering momentum in all the colonies and semi-colonies. Besides, Lenin outlined the basic tasks of the Communist International and the Theses on the Agrarian Question adopted at this Congress. The Congress also adopted theses on the role of the Communist Party in the proletarian revolution, on the trade union movement, on Communist Parties and parliament, and the Statutes and Conditions of admission of the Communist International. In its statutes the Comintern (Communist International) clearly declared that it “breaks once and for all with the traditions of the Second International, for whom only white-skinned people existed”.
Besides theoretical formulations, the International, through its Executive Committee started playing a prominent role in guiding the parties and movements in the various member countries. In particular, it tried to make the utmost of the post-war revolutionary situation in the capitalist countries, which continued till 1923. However due primarily to the betrayal of the Second International Social-Democrats, as also the ideological and organisational weaknesses of the Communist Parties in these countries, revolution could not be successfully completed in any other capitalist country.
The Comintern however played an important role in establishing, developing and guiding the newly formed Communist parties in the colonies and semi-colonies. During the nineteen twenties as the national liberation movements in these countries advanced rapidly, the Comintern attempted to guide and train the Communist Parties to provide the leadership to these movements. It was for the first time that Marxism was building a base among the people of the backward countries of the world.
The earliest national movements arose in Western Europe. These national movements were mainly led by the bourgeoisie in their fight against feudalism. The main aim of these national movements was to unite into one nation and state a large territory, which was under the rule of numerous feudal lords. This was necessary for the bourgeoisie to get a single large market and to avoid the harassment and domination of the various feudal lords. Thus the bourgeois revolution against feudalism and the national movement to establish a single nation-state often combined into one. Thus the national movement was not normally a struggle for independence from oppression by another nation. In the whole of Western Europe, the only place where a national movement for independence took place was when Ireland fought to free itself from Britain.
Marx and Engels lived in this period, when the later national liberation struggles were yet to break out in a major way. They thus did not devote much attention to developing Marxist theory on the national question. Marx however formulated the basic stand in relation to the Irish Question by calling on the English proletariat to support the national struggle of the Irish people and oppose its national oppression.
The next phase of nationality movements came in Eastern Europe, with the spread of capitalism, and the weakening of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires. Nationality movements and organisations starting growing in the whole of East Europe, including Russia. It was necessary for the international proletarian movement and the RSDLP to have a proper understanding and stand on the question. It was during this period that Stalin, in 1913, made the first systematic Marxist presentation on the national question. Stalin himself was a Georgian, a member of an oppressed nationality in Russia, where a national movement was rapidly developing. In Georgia it was therefore doubly necessary to present the correct Marxist understanding and take the correct political stand. This is what Stalin attempted to do in his pioneering work, Marxism and The National Question.
In his work Stalin started by defining what is a nation. He defined a nation as “a historically evolved, stable community of people, based upon the common possession of four principal attributes, namely: a common language, a common territory, a common economic life, and a common psychological make-up manifesting itself in common specific features of national culture.” Stalin rejected the concept of nation based merely on religion or culture, like the Jews. He insisted that a community should have all the above characteristics to be called a nation. Stalin proposed that all such nations should have the right to self-determination. This right of self-determination however cannot be limited to autonomy, or to linking up in a federation, as some other parties of that time were proposing. The right of self-determination had to include the right of secession, i.e. to separate and exist as an independent state. However Stalin pointed out that how to exercise the right depended on the concrete historical circumstances at a particular point of time. It was up to the revolutionaries to try and influence the nation’s decision regarding self-determination. The decision of the revolutionary party would be based on whether autonomy, or federation, or secession, or any other course would be in the best interests of the toiling masses, and particularly the proletariat.
Though Stalin’s presentation clarified many questions, it was still incomplete because it did not link the national question to imperialism and the question of colonies. This was only done after Lenin’s analysis of imperialism in 1916. On the basis of an analysis of imperialism, Lenin linked the question of self-determination of nations to the national-liberation struggles being waged in the colonial countries. Thus it came to cover the vast majority of the world’s peoples. It did not remain merely an internal state problem of a few countries, which had oppressed nationalities within their boundaries. The national question became a world problem, a question of the liberation of the oppressed peoples of all dependent countries and colonies from the burden of imperialism.
Thus when Lenin, in 1916, presented his Thesis on The Socialist Revolution and The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, he included all the countries of the world in his analysis. He divided the countries of the world into three main types:
First, the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States of America. These are oppressor nations who oppress other nations in the colonies and within their own country. The task of the proletariat of these ruling nations is to oppose national oppression and support the national struggle of the peoples oppressed by their imperialist ruling classes.
Secondly, Eastern Europe and particularly Russia. The task of the proletariat in these countries is to uphold the right of nations to self determination. In this connection the most difficult but most important task is to merge the class struggle of the workers in the oppressing nations with the class struggle of the workers in the oppressed nations.
Thirdly, the semi-colonial countries, like China, Persia, Turkey, and all the colonies, which then had a combined population amounting to a billion. With regard to these colonial countries, Lenin took the stand that socialists must not only demand the unconditional and immediate liberation of the colonies without compensation, but must also give determined support to the movement for national liberation in these countries and assist rebellion and revolutionary war against the imperialist powers that oppress them.
This was the first time within the international socialist movement that such a clear stand had been taken on the national and colonial questions. There was naturally thus some debate and confusions. One such argument was that support to self-determination and national liberation went against proletarian internationalism. It argued that socialism aimed at the merger of all nations. Lenin agreed that the aim of socialism is to abolish the division of mankind into small states, to bring nations closer together, and to even merge them. However he felt it would be impossible to achieve this by the forced merger of nations. The merging of nations could only be achieved only by passing through the transition period of complete liberation of all oppressed nations i.e. their freedom to secede. While presenting the party programme in 1917 Lenin said, “We want free unification, that is why we must recognise the right to secede. Without freedom to secede, unification cannot be called free.” This was the proletariat’s democratic approach to the national question, which stood opposed to the bourgeoisie’s policy of national oppression and annexation.
In the initial years after the October Revolution, Lenin directly guided all the affairs of state and the party. In August 1918 there was an attempt on his life by a women member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, which left two bullets in his body. Lenin was weakened by this attempt, but continued his rigorous work schedule, which only left him three to four hours sleep. This overwork soon started having a serious impact on his health, particularly his brain. From end 1921 he started getting severe headaches and spells of vertigo (an illness which causes giddiness) which affected his work. In May 1922 he suffered a paralytic stroke which affected his right hand and leg and his power of speech. From that time on till his death despite Lenin’s many efforts to recover and get back to work, he could not play any effective role. Just before Lenin’s stroke, the Central Committee had in April 1922, elected Stalin as the General Secretary. It was thus Stalin who took over the leadership of the Party during Lenin’s illness and after his death on 21st January 1924.
Stalin (meaning man of steel), was the most popular of many party names of Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili who was born on 21st December 1879, in Gori, a small town of Georgia, which was then an oppressed nationality within the Russian Empire (today Georgia is an independent country). His parents were poor and illiterate, descendants of serfs. His father, a few years after being released from slavery to his landlord, had shifted, in 1875, from his village near Tiflis, the capital of the Caucasus (a backward region of the Russian Empire, which was home to Georgia and several other oppressed nationalities). He set up a small shoemaker’s shop in Gori, which was the equivalent of a district town. He was however not able to earn much and left his wife and child in Gori to go and take up a job in a shoe factory in Tiflis, where he died in 1890.
Since Stalin’s father did not contribute much to the household, his mother, Ekaterina was the one who looked after him and brought him up. She worked long hours as a washerwoman and it was her earnings that paid for all the expenses of the household. She had three children before Stalin, who all died soon after birth. Stalin being her only surviving son, she made all efforts to give him a proper education. Despite her poverty, she did not send her son to work as would have been normal. She sent Stalin, at the age of nine, to the local church school. She herself put in a lot of effort and learnt to read and write later in old age. Ekaterina was thus a remarkable example of the grit and determination of the working masses.
Stalin personally experienced poverty from his earliest childhood days. His house consisted of two extremely small rooms, which served as shop, workshop and home. Though Stalin was strong and hardy, he suffered an attack of smallpox when six or seven years of age that left lifelong pock marks on his face. He also had a blood infection, which brought him near death and permanently handicapped his left arm.
During his five years at the Gori School, Stalin was noted for his intelligence and his exceptional memory. It was here that Stalin came first into contact with rationalist ideas and went against religion. He started writing poetry and was himself influenced by Georgian literature and poetry, which had strong nationalist trends. It was during these years itself that Stalin was filled with strong feelings of fighting against social injustice and against the oppression of his people.
Due to his poverty it would have been impossible for Stalin to go for higher education. However he was recommended as the ‘best student’ for a scholarship, by the school headmaster and the local priest. This enabled him to continue his studies from October 1894 at the topmost institution of higher learning in the Caucasus. This was the Theological Seminary (a college for training to become a Christian priest) at Tiflis. Stalin’s five years at the Tiflis seminary were crucial formative years when he became a Marxist.
Georgia, in Stalin’s youth was in a constant state of unrest. One of the sources of unrest was the rebellious mood of the peasantry, where the abolition of serfdom had been delayed even after it had been abolished in Russia. The other source was the constant inflow of revolutionary ideas from Russia. This was because the Tsarist government had a long history of deporting to the Caucasus, many of its rebels and bourgeois revolutionaries. Later these deportees included even Marxist worker revolutionaries like Kalinin, the future President of the Soviet Union, and Alliluyev, Bolshevik organiser and later Stalin’s father-in-law.
The Tiflis seminary was one such centre of unrest. It was the main breeding ground of the local intelligentsia and also the main centre of opposition to the Tsar. In 1893, just a year before Stalin joined the seminary there was a strike, which led to the dismissal of 87 students. The main leaders of the strike later became prominent Marxists and revolutionaries. One of the leaders, Ketskhoveli, was also from Stalin’s Gori school, just three years his senior. He soon became Stalin’s first political mentor.
Stalin, in the first year itself immersed himself in reading all sorts of radical literature. This he had to do secretly, because most books of non-religious and political nature were strictly banned in the seminary. His poetry, radical and political in nature, was published for the first time, under another name, in a leading Georgian magazine. This was also the time when Stalin, at the young age of fifteen, came into contact with secret Marxist study circles. Soon Stalin came under the vigilance of the seminary authorities and was even sent to the punishment cell for reading forbidden literature. Around this time he joined a secret debating circle in the seminary itself. This further increased his activities, which brought him more often into conflict with the seminary authorities.
At the age of eighteen, in August 1898, he joined Messame Dassy (meaning The Third Group), the first group of Socialists in Georgia, whose leaders later became prominent Mensheviks. Later Stalin would say, “I became a Marxist because of my social position (my father was a worker in a shoe factory and my mother was also a working woman), but also …because of the harsh intolerance and Jesuitical discipline that crushed me so mercilessly at the Seminary…. The atmosphere in which I lived was saturated with hatred against Tsarist oppression.” Outside the Seminary, in the city of Tiflis, the workers during this period were on the move. These years saw the first strikes in the Caucasus. As soon as Stalin joined the Messame Dassy he was given the task of running a few workers’ study circles. This he did by holding secret meetings in the workers’ bastis (slums) during the short free time that he got from the seminary. Meanwhile the seminary authorities were looking for an opportunity to deal with Stalin. Finally he was expelled from the seminary in May 1899, on grounds of not having appeared for his examinations.
Expulsion from the seminary however did not see much change in Stalin’s revolutionary activities. After a short stay with his mother in Gori, he was back in Tiflis, organising and educating, while staying among the workers. In December 1899, he took up a job as a clerk with the Tiflis geophysical observatory. This job though paying very little, took very little time and provided an ideal cover from the Tsarist secret police.
Under this cover, Stalin continued to expand his activities. The next year, in 1900, he organised and spoke at the first May Day celebration to be held in the Caucasus. Due to Tsarist repression, this 500 strong meeting had to be held, not in the city but in the mountains above Tiflis. The meeting was an inspiring event which led to strikes in the factories and railways in the following months. Stalin was one of the main organisers. The next year it was decided to hold the May Day demonstration openly in the middle of Tiflis, but the main leaders were arrested in March 1901 itself. Stalin’s room too was raided but he managed to escape. From that day onwards till the success of the revolution in 1917, Stalin led the life of an underground professional revolutionary. His first task was to take over the leadership of the organisation and go ahead and organise the May Day event despite the loss of the main leaders. This he did successfully, and despite arrests and violent attacks by the police, a historic 2000 strong demonstration was held.
These first years of Stalin in the Socialist organisation were also days of intense debate on Economism and other issues. Within the Georgian organisation, Stalin always opposed the opportunists and stood with the left wing. When Iskra started, Stalin’s group was the first to become its enthusiastic supporters and distribute it in Tiflis. They soon started an illegal paper in the Georgian language, in September 1901, called Brdzola (meaning The Struggle). Stalin who was one of its principal writers with many articles basically upholding the Iskra line. Of particular importance was a detailed article The Russian Social Democratic Party and Its Immediate tasks, which came out in December 1901.
In November 1901, Stalin was elected to the Social-Democratic Committee of Tiflis, which was the effective leading body then for the whole of the Caucasus. He was immediately sent to Batum, a small town of 25,000 population, which was a new centre of the oil industry linked by oil pipeline to the bigger and older oil-town Baku. He soon formed a town committee there under cover of a New Year’s party. He also set up a secret press in the single room where he was staying. Many leaflets were brought out which led soon to struggles of the workers. One such struggle led to police firing in which fifteen workers were killed. All these activities were done despite opposition by the local Socialists who later became Mensheviks. Finally after just four and a half months in Batum, Stalin was arrested in April 1902 at a secret Batum committee meeting. The secret press however remained undiscovered. It was during the Batum period that Stalin took one of his many party names, by which he remained famous for the many years he worked in the Caucasus. He was called Koba, which meant the indomitable or unconquerable in Turkish, and was the name of the people’s hero of one of the poems of Stalin’s favourite writers of his youth days.
Stalin spent one and a half years in various jails. In jail he maintained a strict discipline, rose early, worked hard, read much, and was one of the chief debaters in the prison commune. He was also known as a patient, sensitive and helpful comrade. After his jail period when no charges could be proved against him he was still banished in November 1903 to eastern Siberia. While in prison, he was, in March 1903, elected to the Executive of the newly formed All-Caucasian Federation of Social-Democratic groups. Since it is very rare for an imprisoned comrade to be elected to a committee, this action gives an idea of the importance of Stalin in the Caucasian organisation. Stalin’s banishment to Siberia coincided with the build up to the Russo-Japanese war. Stalin and his comrades made use of the confusion to escape almost immediately on arrival in Siberia. By end January 1904 he was back in Tiflis.
As soon as Stalin returned he was called upon to take a stand on the issues that had led to the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The majority of the Socialists in the Caucasus were Mensheviks and even many of the Bolsheviks were for compromise. Despite this large majority for the Mensheviks, Stalin soon took a stand with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. He started writing in the Georgian party press in vigorous support of the Bolshevik line. In his first article he wrote that the party is “the militant group of leaders” and “must be a coherent centralised organisation”. His strong political position brought him into contact with Lenin who, from abroad, asked for copies of Stalin’s articles. Along with his ideological battle against the Mensheviks, Stalin, at the same time, was deeply involved in the revolutionary struggles that were building up throughout the country as part of the 1905 Revolution. Stalin’s centre was the Caucasus.
Besides participating in organising the workers’ strikes, Stalin immediately started the practical implementation of the Bolshevik call for preparation for armed uprising. He became the main organiser, inspirer and guide of the military organisation in the Caucasus. An efficient and secret laboratory for explosives was also set up. Through the struggles a number of fighting squads were set up. They participated in the numerous revolts, in attacks on ruling class goonda gangs, and kept contact with peasant guerrillas. In the later period of downswing of the revolution, when the party faced a serious shortage of funds, some of the best fighting squads were used for major and daring money actions. Stalin played the principal role in building up and directing this very secret Technical branch of the Party. He also wrote articles during this period explaining the Marxist approach to insurrection.
In December 1905, Stalin attended his first All-Russia Conference of the Bolsheviks, where it was decided to build unity with the Mensheviks. It is here that he met Lenin for the first time. He also attended the April 1906 Unity Congress where he was the only Bolshevik out of eleven delegates from the Caucasus. The rest were all Mensheviks. He was also the only Bolshevik from the Caucasus who attended the 1907 Congress. At both Congresses one of the points of discussion were resolutions led by the Mensheviks and Trotsky, calling for bans on armed actions and money seizures. However the Caucasus continued to be the main centre for such actions with an estimate of 1150 such actions taking place there between 1905 to 1908.
Towards the end of 1907 Stalin was elected on the Baku committee. This oil-town of 50,000 workers had workers of various nationalities and religions facing severe exploitation. Stalin soon united the workers and developed the lone centre of struggle during the dark period of the Stolypin reaction. Adopting a new identity he set up residence and a secret printing press in the Muslim part of the city. It was in this period that Stalin started writing for the first time in Russian. In 1908, Stalin was arrested, but continued to write articles and guide party activities from inside the jail. In 1909, he was again banished, but again escaped within four months.
Stalin returned via St. Petersburg and found the disorganised state of the party headquarters in the capital. On returning to Baku he wrote strongly regarding the state of affairs and called for an All-Russia paper brought out from Russia. He also later called for the practical directing centre to be transferred to Russia. After many months of intensive work in Baku and articles for the party organ abroad, Stalin was again arrested in March 1910. After some months in jail he was again banished where he remained till June 1911. This time being forbidden to return to the Caucasus or any big city he settled in a town near St. Petersburg and Moscow. He was however again arrested within two months. After a few months in jail he was again released but had to live outside the big cities.
It was during this period that the first Bolshevik Central Committee, elected by the January 1912 Bolshevik Conference, co-opted Stalin on to the Committee, in its very first meeting. One of Stalin’s first tasks after becoming CCM was to bring out the first issue of the Bolshevik daily paper Pravda. He was however almost immediately arrested again. After three months in prison and two months banishment in Siberia he escaped again. He reached St. Petersburg in time to lead the campaign for the elections to the Duma. Though the Bolsheviks won only six seats, it represented eighty percent of the industrial workers.
At the end of 1912 and beginning of 1913, Stalin spent a few weeks abroad where he met and had detailed discussions with Lenin and other comrades. It was during this period that he wrote his famous theoretical book on the National Question. He returned to St. Petersburg in February 1913, but was betrayed within a week by another member of the Central Committee, Malinovsky, who was an agent of the Tsarist secret police. This agent also betrayed another CCM, Sverdlov. Both Stalin and Sverdlov were banished to the remotest parts of Siberia from where escape was the most difficult. Lenin during this period made elaborate plans to arrange for their escape but the escape plans themselves were made through the same secret agent. Rather than arrange escape this agent only arranged for closer watch to be kept on the CCMs. Thus Stalin was forced to remain this time in exile for four long years until the February bourgeois Revolution of 1917 resulted in the overthrow of the Tsarist regime. It was then that he was allowed to return to St. Petersburg, where he arrived on 12th March 1917. From then till Lenin’s arrival in April, he led the party centre.
Looking back over Stalin’s political life of around twenty years before the Revolution, it stands out as a model of courage, self-sacrifice, dedication and devotion to the cause of revolution. Besides the long years in prison and banishment, Stalin’s life was almost throughout in the underground in close and living contact with the masses. In such a difficult life of total dedication there was hardly any time for Stalin to have much of a ‘private life’. His first marriage was in his youth to Ekaterina Svanidze, the sister of one of his Socialist comrades at the Tiflis Seminary. They had one son, who after Ekaterina’s death, during the 1905 Revolution, was brought up by her parents. Stalin second marriage was to Nadezhda Alliluyeva, the daughter of one of Stalin’s close worker comrades. He had had close links with the family and it was they who always sent parcels of food, clothing and books during his banishment days. This second marriage however only took place when both were assigned to Tsaritsyn (later renamed Stalingrad) during the Civil War. This was after the October Revolution.
Socialist Construction – the Russian Experience
Around the time of the October Revolution there were two types of so-called Marxist views with regard to the building of socialism.
One was the view represented by the Mensheviks and others like them. These people were opposed to going ahead to the socialist revolution and wanted power to remain in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Their argument was that since capitalism had not advanced sufficiently and concentrated the means of production, particularly in agriculture, the time was not appropriate for the proletariat to capture power. They proposed that the proletariat should wait for some time till capitalism had been advanced to some extent under the rule of the bourgeoisie. This would create the conditions for the nationalisation of all the means of production and for the construction of socialism. The Mensheviks were thus altogether against the proletariat seizing power and going ahead with a programme of socialist construction.
The other view was represented by a group within the Bolshevik party called ‘Left’ Communists. Their stand was that power should be captured and all the means of production immediately nationalised even by means of seizing the property of the small and middle peasants and other producers. These ‘Left’ Communists thus wanted to take an antagonistic stand to the peasantry and thus drive away the main ally of the revolution.
Lenin, in a struggle against these two trends, drew up the correct path for socialist construction. The main aspects of Lenin’s path of socialist construction can be outlined as follows:
a) The proletariat should not lose the chance but make full use of the favourable conditions to seize power. Waiting will only mean that capitalism will go ahead and ruin millions of small and medium individual producers.
b) The means of production in industry should be confiscated and converted into public property.
c) The small and medium individual producers should gradually be united in producers’ co-operatives, i.e., in large agricultural enterprises, collective farms.
d) Industry should be developed to the utmost and the collective farms should be placed on the modern technical basis of large-scale production. The property of the collective farm should not confiscated, but on the contrary they should be generously supplied with first-class tractors and other machines;
e) Exchange through purchase and sale, i.e. commodity production should be preserved for a certain period, because the peasants would not accept any other form of economic tie between town and country. However trade should only be through Soviet trade—between the state, co-operative, and collective farm. This should be developed to the full and the capitalists of all types and descriptions should be ousted from trading activity.
Of these five points, the first two steps, the seizure of power and the nationalisation of big industry were completed in the first few months itself. However the further steps in the process of socialist construction could not be taken up immediately because of the extremely difficult conditions of all-sided enemy attack faced by the first proletarian state. Due to the civil war the very survival of the state was in question. In order to face this all-round attack, the Party had to mobilise the whole country to fight the enemy. A set of emergency measures called ‘War Communism’ was introduced.
Under War Communism the Soviet government took over control of middle and small industries, in addition to large-scale industry; it introduced a state monopoly of the grain trade and prohibited private trading in grain; it established the surplus-appropriation system, under which all surplus produce of the peasants had to be handed over to the state at fixed prices; and finally it introduced universal labour service for all classes, making physical labour compulsory for the bourgeoisie, thus releasing workers required for more important responsibilities at the front. This policy of ‘War Communism’ was however of a temporary nature to fulfil the needs of war. It helped mobilise the whole people for the war and thus resulted in the defeat of all the foreign interventionists and domestic reactionaries by the end of 1920 and the preservation of the independence and freedom of the new Soviet Republic.
From 1921 there was another turn in the situation in Russia. After completing victory in the civil war, the task had to shift to the peaceful work of economic restoration. For this a policy shift was made from War Communism to the New Economic Policy (NEP). According to this, the compulsory surplus appropriation from the peasants was discontinued, private trade was restarted and private manufacturers were allowed to start small businesses. This was necessary because the War Communism measures had gone too far ahead and were being resented by certain sections of the mass base of the party—particularly the peasantry. However the Trotskyites strongly opposed the NEP as nothing but a retreat. Lenin, at the Tenth Congress of the Party (see VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 32), in March 1921, countered the Trotskyites and convinced the Congress of the policy change, which was then adopted. He further gave a theoretical substantiation of the correctness of the NEP in his Report on the Tactics of the Russian Communist Party presented before the Third Congress of the Communist International in July 1921 (see VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 32). The NEP continued till end 1925, when the Fourteenth Party Congress (see JV Stalin, Works, Volume 7, pp 90-134) took the decision of moving to the next phase of socialist construction, that of socialist industrialisation.
Socialist Industrialisation: The Soviet Union was at that time still a relatively backward agrarian country with two-thirds of the total production coming from agriculture and only one-third from industry. Further being the first socialist state, the question of being economically independent of imperialism was of central importance. Therefore the path of socialist construction had to firstly concentrate on socialist industrialisation. In Stalin’s words, “The conversion of our country from an agrarian into an industrial country able to produce the machinery it needs by its own efforts—that is the essence, the basis of our general line.” Thus the main focus was on heavy industry which would produce machines for other industries and for agriculture.
This policy succeeded in building a strong industrial base independent of imperialism. It also enabled the defence of the socialist base in the World War II. Also industry expanded at a pace several times faster than the most advanced imperialist countries thus proving the immense superiority of the socialist system. The principal factor in this was the wholehearted participation in increasing production by the whole working class. At a time when the whole capitalist world was reeling under a very severe economic crisis socialist industry was marching ahead without any problems whatsoever.
However, due to special emphasis on priority development of heavy industry, agriculture was neglected in the plans. Thus in the period when industrial production went up by over nine times, grain production did not even go up by one-fifth. This showed that the growth of agriculture was very low as compared to industry. This was also the case within industry with heavy industry growing at a much faster speed than light industry. Mao, in his Critique of Soviet Economics, (in Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works, Volume 8 – partial), criticised this emphasis and called for simultaneous promotion of both industry as well as agriculture. Within industry he called for the development of both light and heavy industry at the same time.
Collectivisation of Agriculture: The first step in this process was taken in the NEP restoration period itself with the formation of the first co-operatives among small and medium peasants. However due to the resistance of the kulaks (rich farmers) there was not much progress. Further the kulaks had taken a position of active opposition and sabotage of the socialist construction process. They refused to sell to the Soviet State their grain surpluses. They resorted to terrorism against the collective farmers, against Party workers and government officials in the countryside, and burned down collective farms and state granaries. In 1927, due to this sabotage, the marketed share of the harvest was only 37% of the pre-war figure. Thus the Party, in that year took the decision to launch an offensive to break the resistance of the kulaks. Relying on the poor peasants and allying with the middle peasants, the Party was able to achieve success in grain purchasing and take ahead the collectivisation process. However the major advance came from the end of 1929.
Prior to 1929, the Soviet Government had pursued a policy of restricting the kulaks. The effect of this policy was to arrest the growth of the kulak class, some sections of which, unable to withstand the pressure of these restrictions, were forced out of business and ruined. But this policy did not destroy the economic foundations of the kulaks as a class, nor did it tend to eliminate them. This policy was essential up to a certain time, that is, as long as the collective farms and state farms were still weak and unable to replace the kulaks in the production of grain.
At the end of 1929, with the growth of the collective farms and the state farms, the Soviet Government turned sharply from this policy to the policy of eliminating the kulaks, of destroying them as a class. It withdrew the laws on the renting of land and the hiring of labour, thus depriving the kulaks both of land and of hired labourers. It lifted the ban on the confiscation of the kulaks’ property. It permitted the peasants to confiscate cattle, machines and other farm property from the kulaks for the benefit of the collective farms. The kulaks thus lost all their means of production. They were expropriated just as the capitalists had been expropriated in the sphere of industry in 1918. The difference, however, was that the kulaks’ means of production did not pass into the hands of the state, but into the hands of the peasants, united in the collective farms.
A step-by-step plan was adopted for the implementation of this policy. Depending on the conditions in various regions, different rates of collectivisation were established and the targeted year for completion of the collectivisation was fixed. The production of tractors, harvesters and other agricultural machinery was increased manifold. State loans to collective farms were doubled in the first year itself. 25,000 class-conscious industrial workers were selected and sent to the rural areas to help implement this plan. The process of collectivisation despite some errors, advanced rapidly towards success. By 1934 ninety percent of the total crop area of the country had been brought under socialist agriculture, i.e. state farms or collective farms.
The whole process of the collectivisation of agriculture was nothing less than a revolution in which the proletariat had allied with the poor and middle peasants to break the hold of the kulaks.
This revolution, at one blow, solved three fundamental problems of Socialist construction:
a) It eliminated the most numerous class of exploiters in the country, the kulak class, the mainstay of capitalist restoration;
b) It transferred the most numerous labouring class in the country, the peasant class, from the path of individual farming, which breeds capitalism, to the path of co-operative, collective, Socialist farming;
c) It furnished the Soviet regime with a Socialist base in agriculture—the most extensive and vitally necessary, yet least developed, branch of national economy.
With the victory of the collectivisation movement, the Party announced the victory of socialism. In January 1933, Stalin announced that, “The victory of Socialism in all branches of the national economy had abolished the exploitation of man by man.” In January 1934, the 17th Party Congress Report (in JV Stalin, Works, Volume 13, pp 288-388) declared that, “the socialist form of social and economic structure—now holds undivided sway and is the sole commanding force in the whole national economy.” The absence of any antagonistic classes was later repeatedly stressed while presenting the Constitution in 1936 and in later Political Reports.
Errors in Russian Experience: The Russian experience in socialist construction was of central importance to the international proletariat, and particularly to all countries where the proletariat seized power. Stalin in his work Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR tried to theorise regarding the process of socialist construction and the economic laws of socialism. He however did not make a self-critical analysis of the Russian experience. Later Mao made an analysis of the Russian experience and pointed certain errors in the practice, as well as in Stalin’s formulations.
Mao pointed out the following principal errors in the Russian experience: –
1) Not giving due importance to the contradiction between the production relations and productive forces. This was reflected in the prolonged coexistence of two types of ownership – on the one hand ownership of the whole people, as represented in the nationalised industries and the stated farms and on the other hand ownership by the collectives. Mao felt that prolonged coexistence of ownership by the whole people with ownership by the collectives was bound to become less and less adaptable to the development of the productive forces. Essentially a way had to be found to make the transition from collective to public ownership.
2) Not giving importance to the mass-line during socialist construction. Mao pointed out that in the earlier period mass-line was adopted, but afterwards, the Soviet party became less reliant on the masses. The things emphasised were technology and technical cadre, rather than politics and the masses.
3) Neglecting the class struggle. After the success of the collectivisation process not enough importance was given to continuing the class struggle.
4) Imbalance in the relation between heavy industry on one side and light industry and agriculture on the other.
5) Mistrust of the peasants. Mao criticised the Russian policy for not giving due importance to the peasantry.
Besides drawing these lessons from Stalin and the Russian experience, Mao learnt from the Chinese experience. He thus made an at tempt to develop the Marxist theory of socialist construction.
Fight against Trotskyism and Other Opportunist Trends
Throughout the period of the Russian Revolution and even after the seizure of power the Bolshevik line had to wage struggle against various opportunist lines. One of the most important of these anti-Marxist trends was Trotskyism, named after its originator, Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was a member of the RSDLP who at the time of the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, sided with the Mensheviks. Later he tried to form a bloc separate from both the Bolshevik and Menshevik trends and even presented himself as the ‘centrist’ who would unite the two groups. After the success of the February Revolution he self criticised for his errors and was admitted into the Bolshevik party and taken into the Central Committee. After the October Revolution he was Commissar of Foreign Affairs (1917-1918) and Commissar of Military and Naval Affairs (1918-1924) from which post he was removed for his opportunist and factional activities.
In the period of socialist construction in particular, Trotskyism played a very disruptive and factional role. Stalin led the Party in a firm struggle against Trotskyist opportunism. The three specific features of Trotskyism, which were outlined by Stalin, in his speech on Trotskyism or Leninism are:
1) The theory of permanent revolution: – According to this theory, Trotsky proposed that the proletariat should quickly move from the bourgeois democratic stage to the socialist stage of the revolution without the help of the peasantry. He thus was opposed to any talk of dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. He thus rejected the role of the peasantry, the strongest ally of the proletariat. This theory which looks very ‘Left’, actually in essence meant the betrayal of the revolution because without the peasantry there was no hope of success for the proletariat and the revolution was bound to end in failure. Another aspect of this theory was that revolution in the advanced capitalist countries was necessary for the building of socialism. His theory of permanent revolution was also a theory of world revolution, which proposed that though revolution would start on a national basis, the revolutionaries should immediately work to spread it in other countries. Again this proposal appears very ‘Left’ but actual meant a very defeatist understanding that opposed the possibility of building of socialism in one country.
Lenin opposed this anti-Marxist theory as soon as it appeared in the period immediately following the 1905 Revolution, when Trotsky was not part of the Bolshevik trend. However it appeared in various ways and had to be fought against at various points after the October Revolution, when Trotsky had joined the Bolshevik Party and become one of its leading members.
The first instance was immediately after the Revolution, during the negotiations for peace with Germany. Trotsky on the basis of his theory wanted war to continue as he felt that it would help the revolutionary situation in Germany and the success of the revolution in Germany, an advanced capitalist country was more important than the consolidation of the Russian Revolution. Lenin and Stalin forcefully opposed this argument, but a special Seventh Congress (see VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 27) had to be held to discuss and defeat this understanding.
Another example of this theory was Trotsky’s Opposition’s fight against the introduction of the NEP (New Economic Policy). Being an opponent of the alliance with the peasantry, he felt that the NEP was nothing but a retreat. He did not accept the need of preserving this alliance and preparing the ground for socialist construction. Again this understanding had to be fought against and defeated at the Tenth Party Congress (see VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 45).
A third example was at the time of turning from the NEP to Socialist Industrialisation. At that time Trotsky united with other elements to propose that it was not possible to build socialism in one country. This proposal based on Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ and ‘world revolution’ understanding would have meant a defeatist and opportunist approach towards socialist construction which would supposedly base the success of socialism in Russia on the success of revolution in the developed capitalist countries. Stalin united the Party against this understanding at the Fourteenth Party Congress in 1925 (see JV Stalin, Works, Volume 7, pp 90-134).
2) The second feature of Trotskyism is its opposition to Bolshevik party principles. Trotsky’s opposition to democratic centralism and the concept of the Leninist party was apparent from the very beginning in his support to the Mensheviks during the split with the Bolsheviks. Even later in 1912 he united all the opportunist trends like the Liquidators and Recallists to form a faction called the August bloc. While pretending to be a ‘centrist’ who was going to unite the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Trotsky actually totally supported the Mensheviks and was working jointly with them. Lenin, supported by Stalin and others, opposed and fought against this opportunist bloc.
In 1923, when Lenin was grievously ill, Trotsky took advantage of the gap in leadership to demand the withdrawal of all norms of democratic centralism in the party. He united all varied opposition elements to formulate a Declaration of the Forty-Six Oppositionists, which demanded freedom of factions and groups in the Communist Party. This factionalist demand was also defeated.
However Trotsky’s demand for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ was totally opportunist and depended whether he was in a position of decision-making or not. Thus when he was at the centre of decision-making in 1920, Trotsky proposed the ‘militarisation’ of the trade unions and subjecting them to the discipline of the army. He opposed democracy being extended to the trade unions and the election of trade union bodies. Lenin, Stalin and other comrades led the struggle against this understanding and asserted that the trade unions should base all their activities on methods of persuasion.
3) The third feature of Trotskyism was its repeated false propaganda against the Bolshevik leadership. In the initial period Trotsky concentrated all his attacks on Lenin. In the later period Stalin became the focus of all manner of defamation.
After Trotsky could not succeed in winning over the party to his side in open debate, he started secret manipulations. In 1926 he started a secret faction with an illegal press and secret propaganda. This was discovered and he was finally expelled from the Party. He moved abroad but continued to maintain links with other factionalists within the Party. In 1929 another group (the Right Opposition) was formed under the leadership of Bukharin, a Politburo member, which opposed the fight against the kulaks and the advance of the process of collectivisation of agriculture. This line too was defeated.
In the thirties however Trotskyism ceased to be a political trend within the working class. It gave up attempts at open propagation of its anti-Marxist line but shifted to secret planning and manoeuvring. Trotsky and the top Trotskyists in the Soviet Union developed links with foreign intelligence services and started working on plans to assassinate leading elements in the Party and take over the leadership of the party. It was as part of this plan that Comrade Kirov, at that time second after Stalin in the Party leadership, was murdered in 1934. In the investigations that followed, the main conspirators, many of who were Central Committee members, were discovered. Open trials were held where they admitted to their crimes. Many were sentenced to death and executed.
Tactics During World War II
During most of the period between World War I and World War II the world capitalist economy was in a state of collapse. World industrial production grew at a very slow pace and world trade remained stagnant. In fact the total world trade in 1948 (three years after the end of World War II) was the same as that in 1913 (the year before World War I started. The worst phase was what was called the Great Depression of 1929-33, from which capitalism did not really recover, even upto the start of World War II in 1939. It was a crisis that affected practically the whole world, from the most industrialised to the most backward. Industrial production fell and unemployment reached the highest levels ever. In Germany almost half the working class remained unemployed. Prices crashed affecting the economies of almost every country.
As economic hardships increased, contradictions sharpened and there was widespread social and political unrest in many countries. In Latin America there were attempts to overthrow the government in almost all the countries, many of which were successful. There was also an upsurge in the independence movements in many countries, including India. Thus throughout the colonies and semi-colonies there were struggles and a shift towards the left. In the imperialist countries, the ruling classes tried desperately to control the social effects of their crisis. Some of them introduced social welfare schemes to divert the masses from struggle. Most of the ruling classes however used repressive means to suppress the people. Many countries brought in rightist and fascist regimes. Italy was the first to turn to fascism. Japan shifted from a liberal to a national-militarist regime in 1930-31. Germany brought the Nazis to power in 1933. In many other imperialist countries also there was a rise of rightist parties and a retreat of the reformist parties.
The Communist International analysed this growth of fascism. It showed how three factors in the post-World War I situation had affected the imperialist classes and was leading to the rise of fascism. Firstly the success of the October Revolution and the victory of socialism had made the bourgeoisie fearful of the advance of the proletariat and the success of the revolution in their own countries. Secondly they were facing the most severe economic crisis in the history of capitalism. Thirdly, the first two factors were making the toiling masses throughout the world turn towards revolution. The response of the imperialist ruling classes to all these three factors was to bring in fascism.
At the Seventh Congress of the Comintern, which was held in 1935, fascism and the danger of war were analysed in detail. Fascism was defined as the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinist and the most imperialist elements of finance capital. It was explained how the imperialists were planning to drastically increase the loot of the toiling masses. They were preparing to wage a new imperialist world war, to attack the Soviet Union, to divide up China among the imperialist powers, and thus to stop the advance of the revolution. As major imperialist countries started setting up fascist governments, they aggressively started local wars in preparation for a new world war for the re-division of the world. As Germany and Japan started attacking and invading new areas, the other imperialist powers like Britain, France and the USA started a policy of compromise and concessions towards the fascist aggressors and attempted to use them to destroy the Soviet Republic. It was in the context of such dangerous tactics by the imperialists that the international proletariat had to work out and implement its tactics.
The tactics of the proletariat were directly opposed to the tactics of the imperialists. The aims of the international working class were the defence of the Soviet Union, the defeat of fascism and the instigators of war, the victory of the national liberation struggles and the establishment of Soviet power in as many countries as possible.
In order to achieve these aims the Third International adopted tactics as per Marxist principles of war tactics. As during the World War I, the International called on all communists to try and prevent the outbreak of war and in case a war actually broke out, the International gave instructions that all communists should work to convert the unjust, imperialist war into civil war and thus complete the revolution. However the main difference from the World War I situation was that now there was a single socialist base – the Soviet Union. It was the duty of every communist to defend this socialist base. Thus in case the Soviet Red Army was forced to enter the war in the defence of the Soviet Union, then the nature of the war would change. It would become a just war for the defence of socialism and it would become the task of every communist to mobilise the workers and toiling masses of all countries for the victory of the Red Army over imperialism. Thus the Communist approach to the war and the tasks of the Communist Parties of the world was made clear in 1935 itself, four years before the actual outbreak of war.
The Third International further drew up detailed united front tactics in order to fight fascism and implement the above understanding. In the capitalist countries two types of fronts were to be formed. One was the anti-fascist workers’ fronts, which were to be formed along with the Social-Democrat parties. The other was the anti-fascist people’s fronts, which were to be formed where necessary along with other anti-fascist parties besides the Social-Democrats. In the colonies and semi-colonies, the task was to form anti-imperialist people’s fronts including the national bourgeoisie. The final aim of the communists in participating in all these fronts was to achieve the victory of revolution in their own country and the worldwide defeat of capitalism.
In the years leading up to the war most of the Communist Parties tried to implement the above tactics. United fronts were formed and movements developed in many countries. However during the various twists and turns in the situation, and in the differing concrete conditions in various countries, some of the parties were not successful in implementing the correct tactics.
The Soviet government however, which faced the most dangerous situation, was able, under Stalin, to employ the correct tactics in the concrete situation of World War II. In the pre-war years all attempts were made to build up a united front of the non-fascist governments against the group of fascist aggressor countries. However it soon became clear that these countries were not interested in a united front but were trying their best to use Germany to crush the Soviet Union. In order to defeat such tactics, Stalin entered into a no-war pact with Germany in August 1939, forcing the first part of the War to be a war between the imperialist powers. Thus Communist parties throughout the world worked according to the tactics of ‘turning the war into civil war’ during the first two years of the war. The Soviet Union used this period to make all possible preparations for its defence in case any of the imperialist countries launched an attack.
This happened in June 1941, when Germany attacked the socialist base. With this attack the Red Army was forced to respond and the character of the war changed to that of an anti-fascist people’s war and the tactics as envisaged earlier by the Third International became applicable. Some of the parties, employing the correct tactics and making use of the severe revolutionary crisis, could achieve revolution. In particular, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), was able to lead the Red Army and the whole Soviet people to a heroic victory in the war. It defeated the mighty German army and joined hands with the Communist parties and fighters of the East European countries to liberate them from German occupation. Thus, utilising these tactics, the international proletariat not only succeeded in protecting its Socialist Base, but by 1949, could break the imperialist chain at several places, come out of the imperialist world system and build a Socialist Camp covering one third of humanity. Thus the strategy and tactics charted out by the Third International, during the period of Second World War were proved in practice to be basically correct.
However there were also serious failures. This was mainly due to incomplete education by the Third International leadership on the correct approach in implementing these tactics, and the strong remnants of the Second International reformist approach in many of the European parties and the parties formed by them—like the Communist Party of India. Parties like the CPI and the Communist Party of Great Britain spent most of its time in the people’s war period trying to increase production. Many such parties did a lot of strike breaking activity and got alienated from the working class. Some others like the Communist Party of France, who joined in united fronts with ruling class parties, did not even try to maintain any difference between communists and other reactionaries in the united front. Such an approach led to these parties becoming tails of the ruling classes in the united fronts that they participated in. It also led to the development of rightist tendencies, which in the following period would result in the leaderships of almost all these parties taking the path of revisionism.
The Third International, while not being able to combat these revisionist tendencies, had also lost its effectiveness in providing guidance in the vastly differing conditions faced by the various member parties. Except for the regular publication of its periodicals, Comintern activity had greatly reduced from 1940 and even the customary May Day and October Revolution Manifestos were discontinued between May 1940 and May 1942. It was finally decided to dissolve the Comintern. Since a Congress could not be convened in the conditions of war the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) sent out a resolution recommending the dissolution of the International to all its sections. After receiving approval from most of the sections, including all the important sections, the Comintern was dissolved on 10th June 1943.
Mao’s Early Years
Mao Tse-tung was born on 26th December 1893, in the village of Shaoshan Chung in the fertile valley of Shaoshan in the Hunan province of China. The district where Mao was born was a wealthy agricultural area. It was also a strategic area with all major routes by road or river passing through the Hunan province. Being at the crossroads of commerce the Hunan people were known for their peasant traders. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Hunan also became an intellectual centre and a centre of dissidence and revolt, producing many of China’s best scholars. It produced both the military generals who helped the Chinese Emperors, as well as the revolutionaries who overthrew their rule. It was also a major centre of the biggest peasant revolt of the nineteenth century – the great Taiping peasant uprising. Hunan provided lakhs of fighters for the rebellion, which lasted for 14 years from 1850 to 1864. This vast support for the peasant revolt was because of the severe poverty of the peasantry due to exploitation by the landlords and excessive taxation. Though the uprising had been brutally crushed, the memory of the revolt remained strong in the villages around where Mao spent his childhood and youth.
Mao’s father, Mao Jen-shen, was born a poor peasant and was forced to become a soldier for seven years in order to pay off his father’s debts. Later through hard work and careful saving he was able to buy back his land. He grew to become a middle peasant and petty trader. The standard of living of the family however remained very poor. Even at the age of sixteen, Mao only ate one egg a month and meat about three or four times a month. Mao’s father put his children to work as soon as possible. Thus Mao started work in the fields at the age of six. Mao’s mother, Wen Chi-mei, was from Xiangxiang district just sixteen miles from Shaoshan. Mao was the eldest son. He had two younger brothers and an adopted sister. All three were among the members of the first peasant Communist party branch that Mao formed. All became martyrs in the Revolution.
Mao was a rebel from a very young age. He called his father the Ruling Power. He often united with his mother, brother and the labourer against the authority of his father. This was the opposition. At school too he opposed the old customs. Once in protest against his schoolteacher he, at the age of seven, ran away for three days and stayed in the mountains surrounding his village. After this protest – which Mao calls his first successful strike – he was not beaten in school.
Mao’s first school was the village primary school, which he joined at the age of seven. As soon as he learnt to read sufficiently, he developed a passion for reading. He preferred romantic books of rebellion and adventure. Very often he would read the whole night by the light of an oil lamp. Mao’s father, who himself had very little schooling, was not interested in Mao continuing his education for too long. He needed somebody to work in the fields and to maintain his accounts. So in 1906, he removed Mao from the village school.
Mao however continued his interest in reading and constantly demanded to be sent for further education. His father could not understand this interest of his son and thought the solution was in marriage. At the age of fourteen, Mao was married to a girl from the same area. Mao however refused to complete the marriage.
Meanwhile the revolutionary atmosphere was rapidly growing in the surrounding areas. Two rebellions took place in this period, which had a lasting impact on Mao. One was the revolt in Hunan in 1906 led by the revolutionaries of the party of the nationalist Sun Yat-sen. The other was a rebellion against a landlord by a group of peasants of Shaoshan itself. Both were crushed and the leaders were beheaded. Mao was very much affected by the injustice and longed to do something radical for the country and its people. He also longed to continue his education. Finally in 1910, he was sent to a Higher Primary School, in his mother’s home district, Xiangxiang.
The students in this school were all from landlord and rich background who initially looked down upon Mao. Mao however had soon outshone all the other students by his superior intellect and hard work and study. He would sit reading for long hours in the classroom after everyone had left. His teachers were highly impressed by his ability. Within a few months however he was restless to move on to a higher level. After a year he easily passed the exams for admission to Middle School which was situated in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan. In September 1911, Mao walked the forty miles to Changsha. Mao, who was almost eighteen, was seeing a city for the first time.
Changsha, a city of scholars, was in extreme turmoil at the time of Mao’s arrival there. Revolutionary associations under various names had been formed by teachers and students. Underground literature was being circulated and an explosion was expected at any moment. Mao, who had already developed some radical thinking, was eager to participate in the events. Within a month of Mao’s arrival the 1911 bourgeois revolution broke out under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen. Mao immediately decided to join the revolutionary army. The revolution however was soon betrayed and landed in the hands of counter revolutionaries. Mao, after five months, resigned from the army and landed back in Changsha.
On his return, Mao was in search of what to do and what direction to take in life. Looking up advertisements in newspapers, he registered for a number of courses in schools ranging from a soap-making school and a police school to a law school and a commercial school. He finally sat for the entrance examination for the First Provincial Middle School in Changsha and stood first. After six months however he left the school and arranged a schedule of education of his own, which consisted of reading every day at the Hunan Provincial Library. For six months, he would spend the whole day from morning to night at the library with just a small lunch of two rice cakes. This period of intensive reading covered a very wide range of social and scientific topics of Western as well as Chinese authors. It laid the foundation of Mao’s education. Six months of such study however left Mao totally penniless. His father, who could not understand his son’s desire to just go on reading on his own, refused to support him unless he joined a real school.
Thus in 1913, Mao joined the Hunan First Normal College which was a Teachers’ College. He remained there for five years from 1913 to 1918. The collapse of the central Chinese government and the outbreak of World War I had created conditions of extreme upheaval throughout China and the world. In China wars between provincial armies of warlord generals became a common occurrence. It was also the period when Japan, making use of the involvement of the other imperialist powers in war, tried to achieve total domination over China. This led to strong opposition from Chinese intellectuals and revolutionary sections.
It was during these years that Mao’s political ideas took shape. In 1915 he became secretary of the Students’ Society at the Normal College, and created the Association for Student Self-Government. This organisation organised numerous agitations against the college authorities for student demands. Mao also led this organisation in street demonstrations against Japanese domination and their Chinese puppets. This organisation was later to become the nucleus for future student organisations in the Hunan province.
As the attacks of the warlord generals grew the students in many places formed self-defence corps. In 1917 Mao became the head of his college battalion. He obtained some arms from the local police and led the students in guerrilla attacks on warlord groups to collect more arms. Using his knowledge of guerrilla tactics used by earlier Hunanese fighters as well as study of military theory, Mao build up the college battalion into an efficient fighting force. Mao also took a keen interest in all the major military campaigns of the ongoing World War I. He lectured and wrote articles on strategy and tactics.
Mao also involved himself in various other activities. He fought against social evils like opium taking and prostitution. He fought against oppression of women and tried to ensure the maximum participation of women in the students’ movement. He wrote and encouraged swimming, sports and intensive physical training among the students and youth. He himself maintained extreme physical fitness – took cold baths throughout the year, swam in cold water, went barefoot and bare-chested for long walks in the hills, etc. In 1917 he started an evening school where he and other students and teachers taught the workers of Changsha’s factories free of charge.
In 1918, Mao inaugurated the New People’s Study Society, which he had been planning for about a year. It was one of many such student groups, but grew into something else, the core of a political party. From the start it insisted on action as well as debate. It would not only talk revolution, but practise it, first of all revolutionising its own members, turning them into ‘new men’. It had girl members and took up among other issues, the oppression of women in the traditional marriage system. Its activities went according to a programme of debate, study and social action. Social action included night schools for workers, visiting factories, demonstrating against Japanese imperialism, writing articles, fighting for new ideas and the use of the vernacular language. In later years all thirteen of the original members of the society joined the Communist Party of China (CPC), founded in 1921. By 1919 there were eighty members, of whom over forty were to join the Party.
Around the time of Mao’s graduation from the Normal College in 1918 he was joined in Changsha by his mother who came there for treatment. She however could not be cured and died in October 1918. After her death Mao moved to Peking, the capital of China, where he for six months took up a very low paying job as an assistant librarian in the Peking University. This job was obtained through Li Ta-chao the university librarian, who was the first Chinese intellectual to praise the Russian Revolution and one of the first to introduce Marxist thought to China. Under Li Ta-chao, Mao rapidly developed towards Marxism. He started reading those works of Lenin, which had been translated into Chinese. Towards the end of 1918 he joined the Marxist Study Group formed by Li. He also met many intellectuals and Marxists. One who had an impact then on him was Chen Tu-hsiu, who was later to become the first Secretary of the CPC. Chen at that time was editor of the radical magazine, New Youth, which Mao had already written for and which had had an influence on him.
Mao spent only six months in Peking. During this period however he fell in love with Yang Kai-hui, the daughter of one of his Changsha College lecturers, who was now a Professor at the Peking University. She was then a student, doing a course in journalism at the university. For both it was their first love. Their love was of the type that was then called ‘new’ love where the partners made their own choice going against the traditional system of arranged marriages. For some time their love remained secret. They were not sure whether there was time for love when the country needed them so much. They decided to wait some time before taking a final decision.
In April 1919 Mao returned to Changsha just before the outbreak of the historic May 4th movement of 1919. This anti-imperialist democratic movement shook the whole of China. Though initiated by the students, it rapidly covered vast sections of workers, merchants, shopkeepers, artisans and other sections. Mao immediately involved himself wholeheartedly in political agitation. On his arrival he had immediately taken up a low paying job as a primary school teacher. All his spare time however was spent in organising agitations and spreading Marxism. He encouraged the study of Marxism in the New People’s Study Society and other students’ societies that he was in contact with. At the same time he built up the United Students Association of Hunan which encompassed even young school students and girls students in a big way. Uniting all sections Mao organised a movement for the seizure and burning of Japanese goods. He brought out a weekly magazine the Xiang River Review, which quickly had a great influence on the students movement in South China. When the weekly was banned in October 1919, Mao continued to write in other journals. Soon he got a job as a journalist for various Hunan papers and set out for the big cities of Wuhan, Peking and Shanghai to win support for the Hunan movement.
However when he landed in Peking in February 1920, he soon got involved with the plans to build the Communist Party of China. He held discussions with his university librarian, Li Ta-chao and other intellectuals. He visited the factories and railway yards and discussed Marxism with the workers. He did further study of the works of Marx and Engels and other socialists. He also met Yang Kai-hui, who had been studying Marxism. They discussed their dedication to each other and to the revolution. They got engaged.
After Peking, Mao spent four months in Shanghai, China’s biggest city and its biggest industrial and commercial centre. Here he held discussions with Chen Tu-hsiu and other Shanghai Marxists. To support himself he took a job as a labourer, working twelve to fourteen hours in a laundry. It was during this period, in May 1920, that China’s first Communist group was set up in Shanghai.
When Mao moved backed to Hunan in July 1920, he started working to set up a similar Communist group there. His father had died in the beginning of the year and Mao made his home in Shaoshan there initially. His two brothers and adopted sister were among his first recruits. He then moved back to Changsha where he continued recruiting. There he took up a job as the director of a primary school and also taught one class at the Normal College for which he received a comfortable salary for the first time.
Towards the end of 1920, Mao got married to Yang Kai-hui and they lived together for the one and a half years that Mao was in Changsha as primary school director. They were regarded as an ideal couple with Yang being also involved with the work of the Party of which she became a member in 1922. They had two sons, one of whom died in 1950 as a volunteer in the Korean War against US imperialism. The other became an accountant. Yang who performed secret work for the Party was arrested in 1930 and executed.
Though Mao participated in various agitations during this period, the main focus of his work was the formation and building up of the CPC. After forming a Communist group in Hunan, Mao went to Shanghai to attend the secretly held First National Congress of the Communist Party of China in July 1921. He was one of twelve delegates who represented only 57 party members at that time.
After the Congress, Mao became the Provincial Party Secretary of Hunan Province. From the very beginning he paid particular attention of building the party in Hunan on the basis of Leninist party principles. He recruited youth from the existing revolutionary organisations as well as advanced workers who were won by extending the workers’ movement. He started two monthly magazines to raise the ideological and political level of the Party members and Youth League members and to help them to carry on Communist education among the masses.
It was during this period up to 1923 that Mao concentrated a great deal on the organising of workers in Changsha, the Anyuan Colliery (in the neighbouring Kiangsi Province) and in the Shuikoushan Lead Mine. By August 1921 he set up the first Communist trade union. In 1922 he formed the Hunan branch of the All-China Labour Federation, of which he was made the chairman. The Anyuan Colliery movement and organisation in particular was an excellent example of Communist organising. The Party at first ran spare-time schools for the workers of the colliery to carry on Marxist education. It then organised a trade union. Meanwhile, a branch of the Socialist Youth League was formed among the workers, the best members of which were later absorbed into the Party. The Anyuan Colliery saw major strikes, which had country wide repercussions. It had a strong organisation, which survived even during the repression periods. The workers provided valuable support and participation at various stages in the revolutionary war. Anyuan was the liaison centre for the first Communist base area in the Chingkang Mountains.
Mao did not participate in the Second National Congress of the CPC, held in July 1922, as he missed his appointment. He participated in the Third National Congress of the CPC, held in June 1923, at which he was elected on the Central Committee. This Congress decided to promote an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal national front in co-operation with the Kuomintang Party led by Sun Yat-sen. It directed Communist Party members to join the Kuomintang Party as individuals. Mao did so and was elected as an alternate member of the Kuomintang Central Executive Committee at its First and Second National Congresses held in 1924 and 1926. He worked as Head of the Central Propaganda department of the Kuomintang, edited the Political Weekly and directed the Sixth class at the Peasant Movement Institute.
Mao’s Fight Against Right and ‘Left’ Lines and Victory of the Chinese Revolution
The First Revolutionary Civil War : From 1924 till the beginning of 1926 the Chinese Revolution advanced rapidly with the proletariat and peasantry in great ferment. In 1925 the protest against the 30th May massacre of demonstrators by the British police in Shanghai turned into an anti-imperialist people’s movement involved all sections of the masses throughout the country. The country was on the verge of a decisive battle between revolution and counter-revolution.
However two deviations then plagued the CPC. The dominant Right opportunist clique was led by the then party General Secretary, Chen Tu-hsiu. He took the stand that the bourgeois-democratic revolution must be led by the bourgeoisie and the aim of the revolution should be to form a bourgeois republic. According to his line the bourgeoisie was the only democratic force with which the working class should unite. He did not consider any possibility of building an alliance with the peasantry. On the other hand, were the ‘Left’ opportunists who were represented by Chang Kuo-tao, the leader of the All-China Federation of Labour. He saw only the working-class movement. He argued that the working class is strong enough to make revolution alone. Thus his clique also ignored the peasantry.
While fighting these two deviations, Mao made his first major contributions to the development of Marxist theory. In March 1926, he brought out his famous Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society and in March 1927, he presented his Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan. In these works he tried to answer the most basic questions of the Chinese revolution. Who are the friends and enemies of the revolution, who is the leading force and who are the reliable and vacillating allies? He argued that it was the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie who would have to lead the revolution. However the proletariat would not be able to win by fighting alone. He stressed the role of the peasantry, which was the closest and most numerous ally of the proletariat. He also pointed out that the national bourgeoisie was a vacillating ally with the possibility of the Right wing becoming an enemy and the Left wing remaining a friend of the revolution. Mao also presented his ideas on how the masses were to be mobilised, a revolutionary government established and the peasant armed forces organised. This was Mao’s clear perspective for the direction the revolutionary forces should take.
This was the time of the Northern Expedition, which was a critical part of the first phase of the Chinese Revolution – the First Revolutionary Civil War. It was a march by the Revolutionary Army under the leadership of the revolutionary national united front (the Kuomintang-CPC united front). Starting in July 1926 from Kwantung in the south of China its aim was to smash the reactionary government of the imperialist-backed Northern warlords in a revolutionary war and achieve the independence and unity of China. The Northern Expedition was initially a major success with the whole of South China and many of the Southern warlords being defeated or won over. Under the influence of the Northern Expedition there was an upsurge among the peasantry. The proletariat staged many armed uprisings in cities to coincide with the advance of the Revolutionary Army. Even Shanghai the largest industrial and commercial city of China was liberated in March 1927 after three attempts at armed workers’ uprising.
After achieving major victories however the bourgeois clique represented by Chiang Kai-shek (the main Kuomintang leader after Sun Yat-sen’s death in 1925), broke the united front. In April 1927 massacres, backed by the imperialists, were launched on the Communist cadre in various parts of the country. The Right opportunist Chen Tu-hsiu leadership of the CPC however, instead of mobilising the workers and peasants against the Kuomintang reactionaries, submitted to them. In July 1927 another Kuomintang clique launched massacres against the Communists. This resulted in the breaking up of the united front and defeat of the First Revolutionary Civil War.
The Right line of Chen Tu-hsiu, which dominated throughout the period of the First Revolutionary Civil War was one the important reasons for the failure of the revolution during this period. Though Mao struggled against this Right Line, he could not win the support of the majority in the Party. In fact at the Fifth National Congress held during this period, in April 1927, Chen succeeded in removing Mao from the Central Committee.
The Second Revolutionary Civil War Period : In August 1927, at the start of the next period—the Second Revolutionary Civil War Period—Chen Tu-hsiu was removed as General Secretary after a firm criticism of his Right opportunism. Mao was brought back on the Central Committee and made an alternate member of the Provisional Polit Bureau that was set up. However the correct criticism of the Right line gave way in November 1927 to the domination of a ‘Left’ line in the Central Committee, under the leadership of Chu Chiu-pai, an intellectual comrade returned after training in Russia. This line made the wrong assessment that the Chinese revolution was on a ‘continuous upsurge’, and therefore called for armed uprisings in many cities. The leadership criticised Mao for advocating and leading a peasant uprising and opposing uprisings in big cities. He was again removed from his Central posts. He was also removed from membership of the Hunan Provincial Committee. The ‘Left’ Line led to heavy losses and the abandonment of this line by April 1928.
The Sixth Congress of the CPC held in Moscow in June 1928 rectified this first ‘Left’ line and adopted a basically correct understanding, repudiating both the Right and ‘Left’ positions. Though Mao did not attend the Congress it basically upheld his position on many points. In his absence he was again elected on to the Central Committee. It was while implementing this understanding, and while building up the Red Army after the failures of the Northern Expedition and the city uprisings, that Mao made his further contributions to the development of Marxist-Leninist theory. He wrote Why is it that Red Political Power can exist in China? in October 1928, and The Struggle in the Chingkang Mountains (in Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works, Volume 1, pp 73-104) in November 1928. These historical works provided the theoretical basis for the historic process of building and developing the Red Army then under way. Mao, starting from a small group of worker and peasant fighters had after the failure of the peasant uprising in 1927 set up the first base in the Chingkang mountains in October 1927. Through the period from 1927 to the beginning of 1930 the area of armed peasant uprisings and rural revolutionary bases grew steadily. Many of the fighting sections under Communist leadership joined Mao’s forces. The Red Army grew to 60,000 soldiers and, a little later to 1,00,000 soldiers.
However ‘left’ ideas again started gaining ascendancy and from 1930 took over the leadership of the party. Two ‘Left’ lines led by Li Li-san in 1930 and Wang Ming in 1931-34 dominated the party and caused incalculable harm. Li Li-san in June 1930 drew up a plan for organising armed uprisings in the major cities throughout the country and for concentrating all the units of the Red Army for attacking these major cities. The attempt to implement this plan between June and September 1930 led to severe losses and a demand from cadres for its rectification. During this period Mao led an attack on Changsha but withdrew to prevent heavy losses in the face of superior imperialist and Kuomintang forces. After the withdrawal there was brutal repression in Changsha during which Yang Kai-hui, Mao’s wife, who was doing underground work there, was executed. Li Li-san did self-criticism at a plenum held in September 1930 and stepped down from leadership positions. Mao and Chu Teh (Commander of the Red Army) were taken on to the newly formed Polit Bureau.
This Politburo was however bypassed by a plenum called in January 1931 by Wang Ming one of the group of twenty-eight so-called ‘Bolsheviks’ who had returned after training in Russia. They did not call Mao and Chu Teh for the plenum but removed them and others from the Central Committee. In August 1932 Mao was also removed from his posts as secretary of the Front Committee and political commissar of the Red Army. With the Party and Red Army in their full control the Wang Ming clique committed numerous errors which led to severe losses. Throughout, their main attack was on Mao, who was the representative of what was according to them right opportunism and the main danger within the Party. Mao’s correct line was called a ‘rich peasant line’. Sectarian and factional methods were used by the ‘Left’ Line leadership to attack not only Mao but also the leaders of the earlier ‘Left’ Lines, Li Li-san and Chu Chiu-pai. While the Wang Ming clique was creating havoc in the Party, Chiang Kai-shek was organising repeated campaigns of encirclement and suppression against the Red base areas. The first four campaigns were defeated because of Mao’s leadership and the influence of his strategic principles before the ‘Left’ leadership acquired full control over the Party and Red Army in the base areas. However when the ‘Left’ leadership actually moved into the base area their direct leadership led to serious errors and defeat of the Communist forces in the fifth campaign of the Kuomintang forces. In order to break through Chiang Kai-shek’s encirclement and win new victories it was decided from October 1934, to undertake the world-shaking strategic shift of the Red Army, known as the Long March. Mao was accompanied by his next wife, Ho Tzu-chen, a Party cadre from a local peasant family of the Kiangsi base area. They had married in 1931, after the death of Mao’s earlier wife, Yang Kai-hui. They had two children who were left behind with peasants in the Kiangsi base area at the start of the Long March.
It was during the Long March, at the Tsunyi Plenum of the CPC, in January 1935, that leadership of the party moved into the hands of Mao and his policies. This was a turning point for the Long March as well as for the Chinese Revolution. It was then decided to continue the Long March in the northward direction to be able to better co-ordinate the nation-wide anti-Japanese movement, which had been growing continuously since the Japanese attack and occupation of North-eastern China in 1931.
During the Long March, besides the repeated attacks of the Kuomintang troops, the Party had also to face the line of flightism and warlordism led by Chang Kuo-tao. Two conferences of the Central Committee held during the Long March defeated Chang Kuo-tao’s proposal to retreat to national minority areas of Sinkiang and Tibet. He however refused to follow the Party decision and tried to form a new Party Centre. He led a section of the Red Army in a different direction during which they were attacked and finished off by the Kuomintang forces. Chang himself became a traitor and joined the Kuomintang. The main force of the Red Army reached their destination in the Shensi province in Northern China in October 1935, one year after they had started the Long March. The Red Army which numbered around 3,00,000 just before the beginning of the fifth encirclement campaign had now been reduced to just over twenty thousand. It was this core that set up the Shensi-Kansu-Ninghshia (on the border areas of these three provinces of Northern China) base area. It became famously known as Yenan, the name of its capital. This was the base from which Mao led the Party and Red Army to victory by 1945 in the war against Japan.
It was during this period that Mao and Ho Tzu-chen were divorced in 1938. In April 1939 he married Chiang Ching. Chiang Ching was the party name of Lan Ping, a theatre and film actress, who had joined the Party in 1933 and moved to Yenan in1937 to teach drama at the Art Academy there and participate in the propaganda teams who went among the peasantry. Mao who took a keen interest in art and literature met her in the course of this work and they fell in love and decided to get married.
The Period of the War of Resistance Against Japan: Immediately after the completion of the Long March, Mao concentrated on the adoption and implementation of a new tactical orientation in order to end the Civil War and unite the maximum forces for a War of Resistance against Japan. His presentation On Tactics Against Japanese Imperialism was a major development of Marxist-Leninist United Front tactics. This was later further developed in his May 1937 Report on The Tasks of the Chinese Communist Party in the Period of Resistance to Japan. Giving a brilliant exposition of the stage of development of China’s internal and external contradictions, Mao explained the change in the principal contradiction caused by Japan’s aggression and therefore the change in the United Front tactics necessary to face the new situation. He called for a united front with the Kuomintang in order to drive away the Japanese aggressors. Chiang Kai-shek however did not agree to enter a united front until he was forced to do so by the CPC’s propaganda and by the pressure of certain factions in his own party. He finally agreed, when he was arrested in December 1936 by two of his own generals who insisted that a united front should be built with the CPC. The Anti-Japanese United Front was set up in August 1937.
During the period of the War of Resistance, Mao had again to fight wrong trends though these did not grow to capture leadership over the Party and the struggle. One was a pessimistic trend of national subjugation present in some Kuomintang sections of the United Front. These people after some defeats at the hands of the Japanese felt that the Chinese was bound to be suppressed and ruled by the Japanese and other imperialists. One faction even prepared for surrender. On the other hand there was the trend in some sections of the CPC, who felt that since the united front had been formed there would be quick victory over the Japanese. These comrades overestimated the strength of the United Front and did not see the reactionary side of the Chiang Kai-shek clique. In order to correct these mistaken theories and to point out the correct course of the war, Mao in May 1938 brought out his book On Protracted War, which pointed out that the War would finally end in victory but the victory would not be quick. He also in this and other writings laid down the military principles of the war.
Mao also wrote various philosophical works to help educate the Party cadre and remove the damaging effects of the earlier Right and ‘Left’ Lines. Basing on these writings, between 1941 and 1944, a lengthy Rectification Campaign was held to fight the main errors in the Party. This was combined with in-depth discussions to review the history of the Party. Chou En-lai, who had been a leading comrade throughout the period, particularly participated in this process. This led finally to an open and complete repudiation of the earlier wrong Lines. This understanding was adopted in the Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party at Plenum of the CPC held in April 1945.
Armed with the correct line and correct tactics, the CPC led the Chinese people to victory, first in the War of Resistance against Japan and then against the reactionaries led by Chiang Kai-shek. From a fighting force of just over twenty thousand at the end of the Long March, the Red Army grew to a strength of one million towards the end of the anti-Japanese war in 1945. At that time, at the Seventh Congress of the CPC in April 1945, Mao in his Report On Coalition Government (in Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works, Volume 3, pp 205-270), presented a detailed summing up of the anti-Japanese war and an analysis of the current international and domestic situation. He gave a specific programme for the formation of a coalition government with the Kuomintang after the victory over the Japanese forces.
The Third Revolutionary Civil War Period: However after the victory over the Japanese, Chiang Kai-shek, because of the support of U.S. imperialism and the superior strength of his military forces, refused to agree to the formation of a coalition government on any reasonable terms. At that time even Stalin wanted the CPC to come to an agreement, saying that they should not have a civil war and should co-operate with Chiang Kai-shek, otherwise the Chinese nation would perish. Nevertheless the CPC under Mao went ahead and fought what came to be known as the Third Revolutionary Civil War. Relying on the full support of the masses and particularly the peasantry, the Red Army was able to change the military balance of forces and move in July 1947 from the strategic defensive to the strategic offensive. By October 1949 the CPC had, within a period of four years, won nation-wide victory over the U.S. backed Kuomintang.
As China gained victory, Marxist-Leninists and the proletariat throughout the world were filled with joy and pride at the formation of a seemingly invincible socialist camp encompassing one-third of humanity. Mao however gave an idea of the challenges ahead and dangers of the coming period. In 1949, on the occasion of the twenty-eighth anniversary of the founding of the CPC, in his speech On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship (in Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works, Volume 4, pp411-424) , he said, “Twenty- eight years of our Party are a long period, in which we have accomplished only one thing—we have won basic victory in the revolutionary war. This calls for celebration, because it is the people’s victory, because it is a victory in a country as large as China. But we still have much work to do; to use the analogy of a journey, our past work is only the first step in a long march of ten thousand li.”
The Path of Revolution for the Colonies and Semi-Colonies
Immediately after the establishment of the Chinese Peoples’ Republic the international communist movement gave open recognition to the significance of the Chinese path of revolution, for the colonies and semi-colonies. In the 27 January, 1950, editorial of For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy, the organ of the Cominform, it was stated, “The path taken by the Chinese people… is the path that should be taken by the people of many colonial and dependent countries in their struggle for national independence and people’s democracy.
“The experience of the victorious national-liberation struggle of the Chinese people teaches that the working class must unite with all classes, parties, groups and organisations willing to fight the imperialists and their hirelings and to form a broad, nation-wide united front, headed by the working class and its vanguard—the communist party…
“A decisive condition for the victorious outcome of the national-liberation struggle is the formation, when the necessary internal conditions allow for it, of people’s liberation armies under the leadership of the communist party.”
Thus, the universal applicability of Marxist-Leninist theory developed by Mao—i.e. Maoism—was recognised, and began to become the guideline for genuine revolutionaries throughout the world, particularly in the colonies and semi-colonies.
Mao’s formulation of the Chinese Path of Revolution had been developed in his numerous writings during the advance of the Revolution. Lenin had already pointed out that in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution it was the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie that would lead the bourgeois democratic revolution. Mao in his work On New Democracy (in Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works, Volume 2, pp 339-384), carrying this understanding ahead, further pointed out that in this era, any revolution in a colony or semi-colony that is directed against imperialism, no longer comes within the old category of the bourgeois-democratic world revolution, but within a new category; it is no longer part of the old bourgeois, or capitalist, world revolution, but is part of the new world revolution, the proletarian-socialist world revolution. Such revolutionary colonies and semi-colonies can no longer be regarded as allies of the counter-revolutionary front of world capitalism; they have become allies of the revolutionary front of world socialism. Thus, in order to differentiate from the old bourgeois democratic revolution, he called the revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies a New Democratic Revolution. On this basis he elaborated the politics, economy and culture of New Democracy.
Mao also developed on the understanding of the united front that Lenin and Stalin had given. He showed that the bourgeoisie in the colonies and semi-colonies was divided into two parts – the comprador bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. The comprador bourgeoisie, who depended on imperialism for its existence and growth, was always an enemy of the revolution. The national bourgeoisie was a vacillating ally who would sometimes help the revolution and sometimes join the enemies. Thus the united front under the leadership of the proletariat would consist of a four class alliance – the proletariat, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. The enemies of the revolution were imperialism, the comprador bourgeoisie and the landlords.
According to Mao the revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies would not follow the path of insurrection followed by the Russian Revolution where the main cities were captured first and then control taken over the countryside. He showed the Chinese path of protracted people’s war which involved the area wise seizure of power in the countryside, the building of guerrilla zones and base areas and the final encircling and capturing of the cities. To achieve this Mao laid down the military principles of revolutionary war. He taught how to build up the Red Army, which was an absolutely necessary weapon of the revolution. Starting from guerrilla warfare and then moving to mobile warfare and finally to positional warfare, Mao showed the way how a small force can rely on the vast masses to build up the forces needed to defeat a formidable enemy.
Finally, basing himself on the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat, Mao elaborated the theory regarding the form of the state in the revolutions in the colonial countries. On the basis of the theory of New Democracy, he formulated the understanding of the new-democratic republic.
This new-democratic republic he said would be different from the old European-American form of capitalist republic under bourgeois dictatorship which is the old democratic form and already out of date. On the other hand, it would also be different from the socialist republic of the Soviet type under the dictatorship of the proletariat. For a certain historical period, this form too was not suitable for the revolutions in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. During this period, therefore, a third form of state was necessary to be adopted in the revolutions of all colonial and semi-colonial countries, namely, the new-democratic republic under the joint dictatorship of several anti-imperialist classes. Since this form suits a certain historical period it is therefore transitional. Nevertheless, according to Mao, it is a form that is necessary and cannot be dispensed with.
This state was established after the victory of the Chinese Revolution in the form of the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Mao explained the essence of the people’s democratic dictatorship as the combination of two aspects – democracy for the people and dictatorship over the reactionaries. The people are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. These classes, led by the working class and the Communist Party, unite to form their own state and elect their own government; they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism—the landlord class and bureaucrat-bourgeoisie, as well as the representatives of those classes.
Mao further pointed out that the Communist Party had to lead the process of transformation of the People’s Democratic Dictatorship into a Socialist State. The people’s democratic dictatorship, led by the proletariat and based on the worker-peasant alliance, required that the Communist Party should unite the entire working class, the entire peasantry and the broad masses of revolutionary intellectuals; these are the leading and basic forces of the dictatorship. Without this unity, the dictatorship cannot be consolidated. It is also required that the Party unite with as many as possible of the representatives of the urban petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie who were ready to co-operate and with their intellectuals and political groups. This was necessary to isolate the counter-revolutionary forces. If this were done it would be possible, after the victory of the revolution, to speedily restore and develop production, cope with foreign imperialism, steadily transform a backward semi-colonial agricultural economy into an industrial country and build up a socialist state.
Mao on Philosophy
Mao’s writings on philosophy are directed to educating the Party cadre and masses in Marxism-Leninism so as to change the mode of thinking and practice. Mao himself was an ardent student of philosophy. When he got hold of books on philosophy he would consume them in intense concentrated reading. Because of the earlier influence of the dogmatists who had returned after study in Russia and could not relate their knowledge to reality, Mao was continuously eager to make the Party’s study and teaching linked to practice. He wanted to make Marxist philosophy and particularly the Marxist dialectical method of use to all Party cadre and activists and to the common masses.
The Theory of Knowledge: Of prime importance was Mao’s teaching on the theory of knowledge. An important work was his essay On Practice – On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing. Though it took only two hours of lectures, Mao said it had taken weeks to write. The central point, which Mao explains is that knowledge does not drop from the skies, it comes from social practice and from it alone. True knowledge, or correct ideas, come from three kinds of social practice – the struggle for production, the class struggle and scientific experiment.
Theory depends on practice. It is unthinkable, said Mao, that it should not be measured and checked by practice. In turn, theory changes practice, changes our method of work and thinking. Through this is brought about the transformation and gaining of more knowledge. No one is born wise, or born stupid. Knowledge cannot come before material experience; nobody can become an expert before practically doing a thing.
Mao explained the process of obtaining knowledge. It starts from perceptual knowledge, the stage of sense perceptions and impressions, where man at first sees only the separate aspects, the external relations of things. As social practice continues, things that give rise to man’s sense perceptions and impressions in the course of his practice are repeated many times; then a sudden change (leap) takes place in the brain in the process of understanding, and concepts are formed. Concepts are no longer the phenomena, the separate aspects and the external relations of things; they grasp the essence, the totality and the internal relations of things. Between concepts and sense perceptions there is not only a quantitative but also a qualitative difference. Conceptual or logical or rational knowledge is a higher stage than the stage of perceptual knowledge.
There are two important aspects to this. One is that rational knowledge depends upon perceptual knowledge. It is foolish to think that rational knowledge can be developed without someone first experiencing and obtaining perceptual knowledge. The second important aspect is that perceptual knowledge remains to be developed into rational knowledge. This means that perceptual knowledge should be deepened and developed to the stage of rational knowledge.
The acquiring of rational knowledge is however not an end in itself. As Marxism has always held, the essential point of all knowledge is to bring it into practice. Thus as Mao says, “Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world. Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This form repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing.”
On Contradiction: The other important contribution of Mao to Marxist philosophy was in dialectics and particularly relating to the understanding and application of contradictions. The understanding and use of contradictions appears at various points and almost throughout Mao’s analysis and writings. His main work is On Contradiction, which is an essay on philosophy written in August 1937 by Mao after his essay “On Practice” and with the same object of overcoming the serious error of dogmatist thinking to be found in the Party at the time. Originally this essay was presented as two lectures at the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College in Yenan.
Mao’s work was in a sense the continuation of work by Lenin who particularly made a deep study of contradictions. Lenin called contradiction ‘the salt of dialectics’ and stated that ‘the division of the One and the knowledge of its contradictory parts is the essence of dialectics.’ Lenin further in his Philosophical Notebooks asserted, “In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development.”
These ‘explanations and development’ was done some twenty years later by Mao. Mao work was a leap in the understanding of contradictions. He examined the question of contradictions in great detail and clarified them in such a manner as to make them easily understandable and easily useable by anybody.
Firstly he asserted that the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought.
Following from this he explained the principle of the universality and absoluteness of contradiction. According to this principle, contradiction is present in all processes of every object and of every thought and exists in all these processes from beginning to end.
Next he gives the principle of the particularity and relativity of contradiction. According to this principle, each contradiction and each of its aspects have their respective characteristics.
A very important concept given by Mao in this respect is regarding the unity and struggle between the opposites in a contradiction. Mao points out the unity or identity of opposites is conditional; it is thus always temporary and relative. On the other hand the struggle of opposites is unending; it is universal and absolute.
Another important principle, which Mao gave and uses very often in his analysis, was the understanding of the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction. According to this principle, there are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determines or influences the existence and development of the other contradictions. Hence, if in any process there are a number of contradictions, one of them must be the principal contradiction playing the leading and decisive role, while the rest occupy a secondary and subordinate position. Therefore, in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction. Once this principal contradiction is grasped, all problems can be readily solved.
Similarly, in any contradiction the development of the contradictory aspects is uneven. Sometimes they seem to be in equilibrium, which is however only temporary and relative, while unevenness is basic. Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be principal and the other secondary. The principal aspect is the one playing the leading role in the contradiction. The nature of a thing is determined mainly by the principal aspect of a contradiction, the aspect that has gained the dominant position.
Mao always gave central importance to understanding the principal contradiction in his analysis. Thus in his analysis of Chinese society he always analysed the principal contradiction. This was an advance over earlier Marxist-Leninist analysis, which did not particularly go into an analysis of the principal contradiction in a country or revolution. Mao however asserted that unless we examine two aspects – the principal and the non-principal contradictions in a process, and the principal and the non-principal aspects of a contradiction – we shall get bogged down in abstractions, be unable to understand contradiction concretely and consequently be unable to find the correct method of resolving it. The importance of understanding the principal contradiction and the principal aspect of a contradiction was because they represented the unevenness of the forces that are in contradiction. Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly and therefore it was necessary to understand the change in the position of the principal and non-principal contradictions and the principal and non-principal aspects of a contradiction. It is only by understanding the various stages of unevenness in the contradictions and the process of change in these contradictions that a revolutionary party can decide on its strategy and tactics, both in political and military affairs.
Lastly Mao clarified regarding the question of antagonism in a contradiction. According to Mao antagonism is one form, but not the only form, of the struggle of opposites; the formula of antagonism therefore cannot be arbitrarily applied everywhere. Some contradictions are characterised by open antagonism, others are not. In accordance with the concrete development of things, some contradictions, which were originally non-antagonistic, develop into antagonistic ones, while others which were originally antagonistic develop into non-antagonistic ones. Forms of struggle differ according to the differences in the nature of the contradictions. Non-antagonistic contradictions can be solved by peaceful and friendly means. Antagonistic contradictions require non-peaceful means.
Mao came back to the question of antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions during the period of socialist construction and during the Cultural Revolution. He stressed that despite the victory of the revolution it was wrong to think that contradictions no longer existed in Chinese society. He showed that there were two different types of contradictions still existing – the contradictions with the enemy and the contradictions among the people. The contradictions with the enemy are antagonistic and had to be dealt with by suppression. On the other hand the contradictions among the people which are non-antagonistic had to be dealt with in such a way that they did not become antagonistic. Mao always stressed the need for the correct handling of contradictions. He pointed out that if contradictions were not understood and handled correctly there was always the danger of restoration of capitalism.
Mao on The Party
From the time that Mao took over the leadership of the CPC he made all efforts to develope the Party on true Leninist lines. Due to the domination of the earlier incorrect lines, particularly the third ‘Left’ Line of Wang Ming there were many deviations in party functioning. Due to the sectarian understanding there were no proper norms of democratic centralist functioning and a totally wrong approach to the two line struggle. Decisions were taken without consultation and without involving the Party cadre and by manipulating the holding of plenums and other meetings. Two line struggle was not conducted openly and representatives of another point of view were harassed and punished. Also due to dogmatism there was no implementation of mass line. Mao made all attempts to rectify these deviations as well as build up proper forums and bodies. In the process Mao also clarified and developed many organisational concepts. He also tried to correct certain wrong understanding that had grown in the international communist movement and also in the CPSU under the leadership of Stalin.
Democratic Centralism: Mao’s attempt to correct sectarian and bureaucratic deviations is seen in his explanation regarding democratic centralism. Mao’s understanding of democratic centralism is clearly ‘first democracy, then centralism’. He explained this in many ways – ‘if there is no democracy there won’t be any centralism’, ‘centralism is centralism built on the foundation of democracy. Proletarian centralism with a broad democratic base’.
This view of Mao was based on his understanding that centralism meant first of all the centralisation of correct ideas. For this to take it was necessary for all comrades to express their views and opinions and not keep it bottled up inside them. This would only be possible if there was the fullest possible democracy where comrades would feel free to state what they want to say and even vent their anger. Therefore without democracy it would be impossible to sum up experience correctly. Without democracy, without ideas coming from the masses, it is impossible to formulate good lines, principles, policies or methods. However with proletarian democracy it was possible to achieve unity of understanding, of policy, plan, command and action on the basis of concentrating of correct ideas. This is unity through centralism.
Mao did not restrict the understanding of democratic centralism only to party functioning. He broadened the understanding to the question of running the proletarian state and building the socialist economy. Mao felt that, without democratic centralism, the dictatorship of the proletariat could not be consolidated. Without broad democracy for the people, it was impossible for the dictatorship of the proletariat to be consolidated or for political power to be stable. Without democracy, without arousing the masses and without supervision by the masses, it would be impossible to exercise effective dictatorship over the reactionaries and bad elements or to remould them effectively. Mao was making these observations after the rise of modern revisionism in the Soviet Union and saw that the masses had not been mobilised to exercise the dictatorship of the proletariat. He also saw the rise of revisionist tendencies within the CPC at the highest levels and recognised that the only safeguard against such trends was the initiative and vigilance of the lower level cadre and the masses.
Thus Mao said in his talk in January 1962, “Unless we fully promote people’s democracy and inner-Party democracy and unless we fully implement proletarian democracy, it will be impossible for China to have true proletarian centralism. Without a high degree of democracy it is impossible to have a high degree of centralism and without a high degree of centralism it is impossible to establish a socialist economy. And what will happen to our country if we fail to establish a socialist economy? It will turn into a revisionist state, indeed a bourgeois state, and the dictatorship of the proletariat will turn into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and a reactionary, fascist dictatorship at that. This is a question, which very much deserves our vigilance, and I hope our comrades will give it a good deal of thought.”
The Two-Line Struggle is another aspect of party organisational principles, regarding which Mao developed Marxist understanding and theory. Mao’s approach, based on dialectical materialism was to see incorrect opinions within the Communist Party as the reflection of alien classes in society. Thus as long as the class struggle continued in society there was bound to be its reflection in the ideological struggle within the Party. His approach towards these contradictions too was different. He saw them as non-antagonistic contradictions initially which through ‘serious struggle’ we should try to rectify. We should give ample opportunity to rectify and only if the people committing errors ‘persist’ or ‘aggravate them’, then there was the possibility of the contradiction becoming antagonistic.
This was a correction of Stalin’s understanding, which he had presented in Foundations of Leninism. Stalin was opposed to any attempt to rectify wrong trends through inner-party struggle. He called such attempts as a “theory of ‘defeating’ opportunist elements by ideological struggle within the Party”, which according to him was “a rotten and dangerous theory, which threatens to condemn the Party to paralysis and chronic infirmity”. Such a presentation refused to accept the possibility of a non-antagonistic contradiction and treated the struggle against opportunism as an antagonistic contradiction from the very beginning.
Drawing lessons from the same historical experience, Mao presented the methods of inner-Party struggle in the following manner. “All leading members of the Party must promote inner-Party democracy and let people speak out. What are the limits? One is that Party discipline must be observed, the minority being subordinate to the majority and the entire membership to the Central Committee. Another limit is that no secret faction must be organised. We are not afraid of open opponents, we are only afraid of secret opponents. Such people do not speak the truth to your face, what they say is only lies and deceit. They don’t express their real intention. As long as a person doesn’t violate discipline and doesn’t engage in secret factional activities, we should allow him to speak out and shouldn’t punish him if he says wrong things. If people say wrong things, they can be criticised, but we should convince them with reason. What if they are still not convinced? As long as they abide by the resolutions and the decisions taken by the majority, the minority can reserve their opinions.”
Mao’s understanding thus was on the clear basis that as long as class struggle existed in society there was bound to be the class struggle in the Party—i.e., the two-line struggle. Therefore it was only correct that this struggle should be fought out openly according the principles of democratic centralism. Thus Mao, through his understanding and implementation of the concept of two-line struggle, attempted to bring about a correct dialectical approach to classes, class struggle and inner-party struggle.
Mass-Line: Another area where Mao advanced Marxism was regarding Mass-Line. Starting from the basic Marxist-Leninist understanding of the party maintaining the closest possible links with the masses, Mao developed the concept of mass-line to a qualitatively new level. At the philosophical level he showed how it was an essential aspect of the Marxist theory of knowledge. At the political and organisational levels, he showed how it was the basis of a correct political line and also how it was the essential organisational line of inner-party relations.
Mao explains that in the practical work of the Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ‘from the masses, to the masses’. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. This, as Mao says, is the Marxist theory of knowledge.
In order to bring into practice the principle ‘from the masses, to the masses’, Mao explains that it is necessary to have a correct relationship between the leading group and the masses in an organisation or in a struggle. It is necessary that the party draws together the activists to form a nucleus of leadership and links this nucleus of leadership closely with the masses. If this is not done the leadership of the party becomes bureaucratic and divorced from the masses. It is also necessary that the leadership does not remain content with merely giving general calls. General calls must be followed up by particular and concrete guidance if they are to be properly implemented. “Take the ideas of the masses and concentrate them, then go to the masses, persevere in the ideas and carry them through, so as to form correct ideas of leadership—such is the basic method of leadership.” In this way Mao explains the mass-line as the basic method of leadership of the Party over the masses.
Lastly Mao says that the mass-line should not only be seen in the context of leadership of the Party over the masses. In fact Mao stresses on the application of the mass-line to inner-party relations also. He thus also saw it as an organisational line. Mao points out that to ensure that the line really comes from the masses and particular that it really goes back to the masses, there must be close ties not only between the Party and the masses outside the Party (between the class and the people), but above all between the Party’s leading bodies and the masses within the Party (between the cadres and the rank and the file). Thus Mao shows that it was of crucial importance that close ties be maintained between higher and lower levels of the Party. Any break up in inner-party ties would result in a gap in the relation between the party leadership and the masses. It would go against the implementation of the mass-line.
Socialist Construction – The Chinese Experience
The implementation of the new democratic economic programme started even before nation-wide victory of the revolution. Soon after the Red Army and the Chinese Revolution entered the strategic offensive in 1947, Mao announced and started implementing what was called the three major economic policies of the new-democratic revolution. These were 1) the confiscation of the land of the feudal class and its distribution among the peasantry, 2) the confiscation of the capital of the comprador bourgeoisie and 3) protection to the industry and commerce of the national bourgeoisie. These policies were immediately taken up for implementation in the vast areas of Northern China which were under revolutionary control and the agrarian reform was completed there by mid-1950. Subsequently the agrarian reform programme was completed in the remainder of the country.
General Line and Step-by-Step Collectivisation: In 1951, the party adopted what came to be known as the general line for socialist construction, for the period of transition from capitalism to socialism. The basic aim set for this period was to accomplish the industrialisation of China together with the socialist transformation of agriculture, handicrafts, and capitalist industry and commerce. The target set to complete this process was roughly eighteen years. This was divided into three years of rehabilitation for recovering from the damage and destruction of the civil war plus fifteen years covering three five-year plans for planned development of the economy.
In accordance with this general line, a ‘step-by-step’ plan was drawn up for the socialist transformation of agriculture. The first step was to call on the peasants to organise agricultural producers’ mutual-aid teams consisting of only a few to a dozen or so households each. These teams had only certain basic elements of socialism like help and co-operation among the members of the team. The second step was to call on the peasants to organise small agricultural producers co-operatives on the basis of these mutual-aid teams. These co-operatives were semi-socialist in nature and were characterised by the pooling of land as shares and by unified management. Then the third step was to call on the peasants to combine further on the basis of these small semi-socialist co-operatives and organise large fully socialist agricultural producers’ co-operatives. The basic principles underlying this step-by-step plan were voluntary participation and mutual benefit. The peasants were to be persuaded to voluntarily participate in this process of collectivisation.
The first step of mutual-aid teams had started in the revolutionary bases even before the nation-wide victory of the Revolution. The second step towards elementary co-operatives took place in the years 1953-55. The third step of transition to advanced co-operatives came about in 1956. There was a literal upsurge of socialist transformation in the countryside. Simultaneously, in the early months of 1956, a related movement rapidly took ahead and completed the process of nationalisation of businesses. Thus China’s industry and commerce was transferred from private ownership to ownership by the whole people far ahead of schedule.
Mao’s Dialectical Approach to the Process of Socialist Construction: The general line was basically reliant on the Soviet model of socialist construction. The emphasis on industry and particularly on heavy industry was the central direction of the First Five Year Plan of 1953-57. Further there was a tendency to uncritically adopt all Soviet policies. With the rise of modern revisionism in the Soviet Union (and particularly after the revisionist 20th Congress of the CPSU in February 1956), the revisionist tendencies in the CPC were immediately strengthened. In 1956 a campaign was started from within the party to ‘oppose rash advances’—i.e., to stall the process of socialisation. At same time the revisionist theory of productive forces gained ascendancy within the party, with the prime representative being the party general secretary, Liu Shiao-chi. The representatives of this trend upheld the Kruschevites, negated the class struggle and concentrated attention towards building modern productive forces, primarily through heavy industry. Their argument was that the productive forces are the main motor of change and it was the backward productive forces in China that were the main factor holding back the development of the country. Changes in production relations should wait till after the productive forces had been developed enough. The cooperativisation of agriculture should wait until industries had developed enough to provide machinery for the rural mechanisation. All these proposals negated the importance of production relations and the class struggle. It would lead to growth of revisionist and bureaucratic trends and the growth of a new exploiting class.
Seeing the Soviet experience and realising the revisionist danger Mao immediately launched a struggle to defeat these trends which at that time controlled the party. His first step in this struggle was his speech of April 1956, On the Ten Major Relationships. In this speech, Mao for the first time made a clear-cut critique of the Soviet pattern of socialist economic construction. While referring to the relationship between heavy industry on the one hand and light industry and agriculture on the other, Mao stressed that “We have done better than the Soviet Union and a number of East European countries. …Their lop-sided stress on heavy industry to the neglect of agriculture and light industry results in a shortage of goods on the market and an unstable currency.” Similarly he criticised the Soviet policy of “squeezing the peasants too hard”. He also attacked the dogmatists within the CPC who “copy everything indiscriminately and transplant mechanically” while learning from the experience of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. He also criticised those who were following the example of Kruschev in indiscriminately criticising Stalin. He upheld Stalin as a great Marxist with 70% achievements. Thus through this extensive critique of the Soviet revisionists and the mistakes in Soviet socialist construction, Mao led the struggle against the then dominant revisionist line of productive forces within the CPC.
However the biggest contribution of Mao’s speech was its major advancement of the understanding of the process of socialist construction and socialist planning. By presenting the problems of socialist construction as ten major relationships, Mao brought dialectics and contradictions to the centre of the process of building socialist society. He showed how socialist construction involved not merely the mechanical implementation of targets of production and distribution, but a dialectical understanding of the main contradictions in the process, and the mobilising of all the positive forces to achieve socialism. Thus he said, “It is to focus on one basic policy that these ten problems are being raised, the basic policy of mobilising all positive factors, internal and external, to serve the cause of socialism… These ten relationships are all contradictions. The world consists of contradictions. Without contradictions the world would cease to exist. Our task is to handle these contradictions correctly.”
Mao followed it up the next year with his work On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People. In it he continued the development of the dialectical understanding of the process of socialist construction. Primarily he also placed the class struggle at the very core of the process. He asserted that the “class struggle is by no means over…the question of which will win out, socialism or capitalism, is not really settled yet.” With this he began the struggle against the revisionist sections in the Party who were saying that class struggle no longer existed under socialism. This marked the beginning of a country-wide Rectification Movement, the Anti-Rightist Movement. During this period many high-level cadre had to present their self-criticism before the masses, millions of students involved themselves in manual labour to integrate with the workers and peasants, all party cadres in the factories and agricultural co-operatives had to participate in manual labour, workers began to participate in decision making in their factories, a socialist education campaign started among the peasantry. Through this process the Party was brought closer to the people and rightist trends that were growing, both within the Party and outside were checked.
Great Leap Forward and the Birth of People’s Communes: With the progress of the rectification movement, the rightists in the party were thrown on the defensive. This led, in 1958, to a rectification of the erroneous productive forces theory which had dominated the Eighth Party Congress in1956. The prime mover of this theory, Liu Shiao-chi, was forced to admit before the Second Session of the Eighth Party Congress in May 1958, that, throughout the period before completion of the building of a socialist society, the principal contradiction was between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, between the socialist road and the capitalist road. His report also mentioned the Great Leap Forward, which had then begun. There had been major advances on every front in socialist construction. Industry, agriculture and all other fields of activity had registered greater and more rapid growth.
Aside from rapid growth however, the Great Leap Forward was a major change in the priorities of the earlier plans and general line. The general line of the Great Leap Forward had been formulated at a Central Committee meeting held at the end of November 1957. It changed the emphasis on heavy industry and aimed at the simultaneous development of agriculture, heavy and light industry. It aimed at reducing the gap between town and countryside, between worker and peasant, and between worker and peasant on the one hand and the intellectual and manager on the other hand. It aimed at not merely an economic revolution but a technological, political, social and cultural revolution to transform the city and countryside.
In 1958 started the building of the people’s communes. The process first started spontaneously when neighbouring peasant associations in a drought affected area made a plan to merge together their labour and other resources to implement an irrigation project. Their merger was given the name commune by Mao. Mao encouraged such formation and this immediately led to a rapid spread of communes throughout the country. They were formed by the merger of neighbouring co-operatives in order to undertake large-scale projects such as flood control, water conservancy, afforestation, fisheries, and transport. In addition, many communes set up their own factories for making tractors, chemical fertilisers, and other means of production. The movement to set up people’s communes grew very rapidly. The CC of the CPC announced in its famous Wuhan Resolution of December, 1958 that “Within a few months starting in the summer of 1958, all of the more than 740,000 agricultural producers’ co-operatives in the country, in response to the enthusiastic demand of the mass of peasants, reorganised themselves into over 26,000 people’s communes. Over 120 million households, or more than 99 percent of all China’s peasant households of various nationalities, have joined the people’s communes.” Summing up the political essence, the CC went on to say: –
“The people’s commune is the basic unit of the socialist social structure of our country, combining industry, agriculture, trade, education, and military affairs; at the same time it is the basic organisation of the socialist state power. Marxist-Leninist theory and the initial experience of the people’s communes in our country enable us to foresee now that the people’s communes will quicken the tempo of our socialist construction and constitute the best form for realising, in our country, the following two transitions.
“Firstly, the transition from collective ownership to ownership by the whole people in the countryside; and,
“Secondly, the transition from socialist to communist society. It can also be foreseen that in the future communist society, the people’s commune will remain the basic unit of our social structure.”
Thus the commune movement represented a tremendous advance which basically completed the process of collectivisation of agriculture. However the expectation of the commune taking ahead the process of the transition to full public ownership and communism could not be fulfilled to that extent. Also attempts at setting up urban communes could not be consolidated.
In the earliest period of the commune movement during the Great Leap, there were certain ‘left’ errors. Mao in his speech in February 1959 called it a ‘communist wind’. These ‘left’ errors, which Mao identified, were mainly of three types. The first was the levelling of the poor and the rich brigades within the commune by making the whole commune into one accounting unit. This meant that shares of the peasant members of richer brigades (the former advanced co-operative) would be smaller than the share they would receive soon after the commune was formed. They would thus resent the formation of the commune and their participation would not be voluntary. The second error was that capital accumulation by the commune was too great and the commune’s demand for labour without compensation was too great. When larger amounts are kept aside for capital accumulation the share that the peasant gets is lower. Similarly more labour without compensation can only come where the consciousness has been raised to that extent. The third error was the ‘communisation’ of all kinds ‘property’. In some areas attempts were made to even bring minor property of the peasant like hens and pigs under the commune. This too was opposed.
These errors were soon corrected. The production brigade (former advanced co-operative), was kept as the basic accounting unit, and in 1962, this was brought to an even lower level, that of the production team. However, though the perspective remained always of raising the level of ownership and accounting to higher levels, as a process of greater socialisation and transition towards communism, this did not achieve success. The basic accounting and ownership unit continued till 1976, to remain at the lowest level—the production team.
Struggle against the Capitalist Roaders: Though the ‘left’ errors were soon corrected, the hold of the capitalist roaders, led by Liu Shiao-chi, remained strong within the party’s higher levels. The two-line struggle was represented in direct and indirect ways. In July 1959, Peng The-huai, then Defence Minister, launched a direct attack on the Great Leap Forward, criticising what he called its “petty-bourgeois fanaticism” and desire “to enter into communism at one step” Mao repulsed these attacks and defended the politics of the Great Leap. However, though Peng was defeated, the other capitalist roaders continued their attacks through indirect means.
One method was through veiled defence of Peng and attacks on Mao in the media. This was through articles and also through plays and cultural performances intending to show how Peng was an upright comrade who had been victimised. The other method was to stall or divert the implementation of key policies decided at the highest levels. A principal example was sabotage of the programme of socialist education and the decision to launch a Cultural Revolution, taken by the Tenth Plenum of the CC in 1962. Though this was formally agreed to by the capitalist roaders, they ensured through their control within the party structure, to ensure that there was no mass mobilisation. They tried to turn the Cultural Revolution in the direction of academic and ideological debate rather than class struggle.
Mao, throughout this period (1959-65), fought the battle at various levels. He realised on the basis of the Russian experience, the very real danger of the restoration of capitalism. He, therefore, on the basis of a major study of the politics and economics of Kruschevite revisionism, drew the theoretical lessons of this experience for the education of the Chinese and the international proletariat. Through the struggle of the Great Debate against Kruschev’s modern revisionism Mao tried to rally around the revolutionaries around the world and in China. Through his works like Critique of Soviet Economics and the CPC’s analysis of Kruschev’s Phoney Communism and its Historical Lessons for the World, he tried to inculcate in the party cadre the theoretical foundations for a fight against revisionism and restoration.
However he mainly tried to draw the masses into the struggle to defend and develop socialism and prevent restoration of capitalism. Besides his earlier mentioned programme for socialist education, he also gave slogans for socialist emulation of the Tachai and Tach’ing experiences as model experiences in building socialism. But when all attempts to mobilise the masses were diverted by the party bureaucracy, Mao succeeded after tremendous efforts in unleashing the energies of the masses through the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. It was the culmination in practice of Mao’s development of the Marxist principles of socialist construction.
In 1953, after the death of Stalin, a revisionist clique led by Kruschev, performed a coup, and took over the controls of the CPSU, then the leading party of the international proletariat. They threw out or killed the revolutionaries in the party, started the process of restoration of capitalism in the first land of socialism and proceeded to develop ties with the imperialist camp, particularly U.S. imperialism. By 1956, after securing firm control over the CPSU, they, at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, started spreading their revisionist poison among other communist parties. They simultaneously attacked the so-called Stalin personality cult and introduced their revisionist theory of the three peacefuls—peaceful transition, peaceful coexistence and peaceful competition.
Peaceful transition meant peaceful transition to socialism by the parliamentary road. Kruschev proposed that in the present era it was possible to achieve socialism by peacefully winning a majority in parliament and then bringing about reforms to bring in socialism. He thus denied the need for revolution. This theory was thus a repetition of the revisionism of Bernstein and other social-democrats.
Peaceful co existence between states having different social systems was proposed by Kruschev as the general line of the foreign policy of the socialist state. He thus distorted Lenin’s policy of peaceful co existence with capitalist states, which was just one aspect of the socialist state’s foreign policy of proletarian internationalism. Kruschev subordinated all other things to his desire to maintain a peaceful existence with imperialism. He made relations with and aid to other socialist countries and the policy of help to the struggles of oppressed nations dependent upon the requirements of peaceful co existence with the imperialist powers. This was thus nothing but a policy of collaboration with imperialism.
Peaceful competition was the theory that the contradiction between imperialism and socialism would be resolved through economic competition between the capitalist and socialist systems. This theory thus refused to recognise the reactionary and war mongering character of imperialism. It created the illusion that the contradiction between the socialist and imperialist camp was a non-antagonistic contradiction, which would be resolved through peaceful forms of struggle.
Kruschev’s theory of the three peacefuls was thus a full-fledged revisionist theory, which he wanted to impose on the international communist movement. It was directed towards building up close relationship with imperialism. In order to implement his schemes and gain the acceptance of the imperialist powers, Kruschev simultaneously launched a vicious attack on Stalin in the name of personality cult. In order to demolish the revolutionary principles that Stalin had stood and fought for it was first necessary to destroy the image of Stalin among the revolutionaries and the masses throughout the world. This was done through a campaign of lies and degenerate propaganda.
Many of the leaderships of the communist parties of the world backed the revisionist Kruschevite line. Many prominent leaders and parties had already started taking the revisionist line in their own countries. Browder in the USA had already put forward theories of collaboration between socialism and capitalism and moved out of the international communist movement; Thorez, the former Third International leader from France, who developed close relations with the bourgeoisie following the period in the anti-fascist front, had in the post-war years taken national chauvinist positions towards the peoples of the French colonies and become a servant of the French imperialist bourgeoisie; Togliatti of Italy, another major Third International leader, had wanted to ‘reform’ and ‘restructure’ capitalism into socialism through ‘structural reforms’ through the bourgeois parliament ; the Communist Party of India leadership had already changed their tactical line to recognise the peaceful path. Thus these revisionist forces, who had not been sufficiently criticised and defeated in the earlier period, quite happily collaborated with Kruschev.
Where however such parties tried in any serious manner to implement ‘peaceful transition’ through the electoral system and where such efforts sufficiently threatened the social order, they were eliminated through military coups and savage repression, as in Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), and Chile (1973).
Among the newly formed People’s Democracies, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, led by Tito, had already, from 1948, started on the revisionist road and broken off from the socialist camp. Kruschev however soon started making friends with him. Most of the remaining leaderships also aligned with Kruschev. Within the socialist camp it was only the CPC and the Albanian Party of Labour who identified and recognised Kruschevite revisionism and made a valiant and determined defence of Marxism-Leninism.
As the struggle sharpened the Soviet Revisionists in June 1959 withdrew technical assistance in the field of defence, and in July 1960 withdrew suddenly all the Soviet technical experts that were working in China. The same was done with Albania. In April 1960 the CPC published Long Live Leninism and two other articles upholding the basic principles of Leninism on imperialism, war and peace, proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. These articles opposed the revisionist positions of the CPSU without mentioning it by name.
The revisionists however continued with their attempts to further systematise their revisionist positions. Thus in the 22nd Congress of the CPSU held in 1961, the Programme adopted there revised the essence of Marxism-Leninism, namely, the teachings on proletarian revolution, on the dictatorship of the proletariat and on the party of the proletariat. It declared that the dictatorship of the proletariat was no longer needed in the Soviet Union and that the nature of the CPSU as the vanguard of the proletariat had changed. The Congress advanced absurd theories of a “state of the whole people” and a “party of the entire people”. At the Congress Kruschev launched an open and public attack on the Albanian Party and even gave a call to overthrow its leader, Enver Hoxha. This was opposed by the CPC delegation led by Chou En-lai.
This struggle, which came out in the open in 1963 and continued through 1964, came to be known as the Great Debate. The Great Debate was of immense historic significance. It was a principled and comprehensive struggle against modern revisionism. It provided the rallying point for all proletarian revolutionary forces throughout the world. It was also a scientific development of Marxism-Leninism, which gave the international communist movement its revolutionary general line for that period. Mao was the driving force behind the struggle. It was through the Great Debate that Mao advanced the science of Marxism-Leninism by providing the answers to the most significant questions before the international proletariat—the fundamental contradictions in the world, who are friends and enemies, the aims of the movement, and the path for achieving the victory of World Socialist Revolution. These formulations were mainly contained in the June 14th Letter. The nine commentaries outlined and elaborated the revolutionary position on various crucial issues facing the international communist movement after the World War II—neo-colonialism, war and peace, peaceful existence, Yugoslavia, Kruschev’s revisionism and the historical lessons to be drawn therefrom. It was through the Great Debate that Maoism gained further acceptance as the guiding ideology of the revolutionary sections of the international proletariat.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) was the answer of Marxism to the obstacles and sabotage of the process of socialist construction created by the Kruschevites and the capitalist roaders. Particularly after the rise of revisionism in the Soviet Union, Mao had realised that one of the biggest dangers of the restoration of capitalism came from within the Party itself. Throughout the Great Debate, Mao, while fighting revisionism, tried to find the answer to the question of how to prevent the restoration of capitalism. He was at the same time deeply involved in the fight with the Chinese Kruschevites, like Liu Shiao- chi and Deng Tsiao-ping. Thus while concluding the Great Debate in the CPC’s last document, which was called On Kruschev’s Phoney Communism and its Historical lessons for the World, Mao stressed certain points on the question of prevention of the restoration of capitalism.
Mao firstly stressed the recognition of the need to continue the class struggle throughout the period of socialist society, right to the end. He explained that change in the ownership of the means of production, i.e. socialist revolution on the economic front is insufficient by itself. He insisted that we must have a thorough socialist revolution on the political and ideological fronts in order to consolidate the revolution. And this revolution must be continued under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Another point that Mao repeatedly stressed was that in order to carry out this revolution it was necessary to stick to the mass line, and to boldly arouse the masses and to unfold mass movements on a large scale. For this the Party would have to rely on, win over and unite with the masses of the people, who constitute 95 per cent of the population, in a common struggle against the enemies of socialism. Mao also stressed the need “to conduct extensive socialist education movements repeatedly in the cities and the countryside.” In these continuous movements for educating the people Mao again stressed the need to organise the revolutionary class forces, and “to wage a sharp, tit-for-tat struggle against the anti-socialist, capitalist and feudal forces”. Thus Mao clearly saw that the extensive participation of the masses was an essential precondition to prevent the restoration of capitalism. This came from Mao’s experience of how it was the revisionists from within the leadership of the Party itself who were the main elements bringing about the restoration of capitalism.
However within the CPC itself there was strong resistance from the highest levels, led by Liu Shiao-chi, to the implementation of these theories and the concrete programme being proposed by Mao. Thus though the ‘socialist cultural revolution’ was officially accepted at the Tenth Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee in 1962, the implementation was half-hearted and in a direction counter to the line given by Mao. In fact the Party bureaucracy, under Liu’s control, started criticising Mao for the actions he was trying to take and opposing the action taken on capitalist roaders like Peng Te-huai. This criticism they conducted through articles in the press and plays and other cultural forums which were in their full control. Their control was such that Mao could not even get an article defending himself printed in the press in Peking. Such an article defending Mao and his policies was finally published in November 1965 in the Shanghai press, which was a much more radical centre than Peking. This was what Mao later called ‘the signal’ for the GPCR which started a flow of criticism of the party bureaucracy an support of Mao’s Line in the media and the field of culture. There also arose demands for self-criticism by the main culprits. The Party bureaucracy however did all they could to prevent this movement from taking on a mass character. The Cultural Revolution Group, which was supposed to initiate and direct it actually tried to control the dissent and channelise it along academic lines.
Finally the CC under the direction of Mao, issued a circular of 16th May, 1966, dissolved the ‘Group of Five’, under whose charge the Cultural Revolution was being sabotaged, and set up a new ‘Cultural Revolution Group’ directly under the Politburo Standing Committee. This May 16th Circular gave the call to criticise and break the resistance of the capitalist roaders, particularly those within the party. This action led to the actual initiation of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and made it a mass phenomenon involving millions of people.
On May 25th the first big character poster was put up at the Peking University criticising its vice-chancellor and the education system. This was only the first of thousands of such massive posters put up by the students and masses throughout the country where they expressed their opinion and criticised what they felt was wrong in society. Demonstrations and mass criticisms were held criticising professors, party bureaucrats and others for their wrong policies. Soon there was a demand from a section of students for the abolition of entrance examinations. The Central Committee in June passed an order suspending new admissions to colleges and universities for six months so that the students and youth could more fully participate in the GPCR. However the six month period proved too short and the universities only opened again after four years.
Mao too started personally participating in the GPCR. On July 17th he participated along with ten thousand other swimmers in a mile long swim which across the river Yangtze. This was his symbolic act signifying that he was participating in the flowing stream of the GPCR. Again on August 5th, during the Eleventh Plenum meeting of the CPC, Mao gave a much more straightforward signal. He put up his own big character poster. His main slogan was “Bombard the Headquarters!” This was a clear cut call to attack the capitalist headquarters of the capitalist roaders in the Party headed by Liu Shiao-chi. Mao’s call gave a further push to actions and militancy of the movement.
On August 18th Mao was present at the first rally of Red Guards in Peking – it was a million strong. The Red Guards were the members of the thousands of mass organisations that had sprung up throughout the country for participation in the GPCR. The first mass organisations were composed mainly of students and youth, but as the movement grew such organisations grew among the workers, peasants and office employees. The August 18th rally was the first of numerous such rallies. At some times there were over two million Red Guards from all over the country assembled in the capital.
The Eleventh Plenum defined the GPCR as “a new stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country, a deeper and more extensive stage.” Mao, in his closing speech at the Plenum said, “The great proletarian Cultural Revolution is in essence a great political revolution under socialist conditions by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes. It is the continuation of the long struggle against the Kuomintang reactionaries waged by the CPC and the broad revolutionary masses under its leadership. It is continuation of the struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie.”
The Eleventh Plenum adopted what came to be known as the Sixteen Articles of the Cultural Revolution. They repeated what had been said by the May 16th Circular that the present revolution is to touch people’s souls, to change man. Old ideas, culture, customs, habits of the exploiting classes still mould public opinion, offering fertile ground for the restoration of the past. The mental outlook must be transformed and new values created.
It identified the main target as “those within the party who are in authority and are taking the capitalist road.” It identified the main forces of the revolution as “the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals and revolutionary cadres”.
The objective of the revolution was “to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticise and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic ‘authorities’ and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, art and literature and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.” The form of the revolution was to arouse the masses in their hundreds of millions to air their views freely, write big-character posters, and hold great debates so that the capitalist roaders in power would be exposed and their plans to restore capitalism could by smashed.
The essential aspect of the Cultural Revolution was the advancement and practical implementation of Mao’s mass line. It was aimed, not merely at eliminating the elements hostile to socialism, but to enable the working class to ‘exercise leadership in everything’, to ‘place politics in command of administration’, and to ensure that everyone serving as an official should ‘remain one of the common people’. In order to achieve these aims it was necessary to launch an all-out offensive against bourgeois ideology in such a way that the masses would be actively involved.
Thus, the Eleventh Plenum resolution instructed
“In the great proletarian Cultural Revolution, the only method is for the masses to liberate themselves, and any method of doing things on their behalf must not be used.
“Trust the masses, rely on them and respect their initiative. Cast out fear. Don’t be afraid of disorder. … Let the masses educate themselves in this great revolutionary and learn to distinguish right and wrong and between correct and incorrect ways of doing things.”
As the masses entered in full strength in the revolution they even created a new organisational form—the revolutionary committee. It was based on the ‘three-in-one’ combination: that is, its members, who were elected, subject to recall, and directly responsible to the people, were drawn from the Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and the mass organisations (the Red Guards whose membership reached thirty million in number). They sprung up at all levels, from the factory or commune to the organs of provincial and regional government, and their function was to provide the link through which the masses could participate directly in the running of the country.
This three-in-one organ of power enabled proletarian political power to strikes deep roots among the masses. Direct participation by the revolutionary masses in the running of the country and the enforcement of revolutionary supervision from below over the organs of political power at various levels played a very important role in ensuring that leading groups at all levels adhered to the mass line. Thus this strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was also the most extensive and deepest exercise in proletarian democracy yet achieved in the world.
Under the initial sweep of the Cultural Revolution in 1966-67, the bourgeois headquarters within the Party was effectively smashed, and most of the leading capitalist roaders like Liu Shiao-chi and Deng Hsiao-ping and their supporters were stripped off their party posts and forced to do self-criticism before the masses. It was a great victory, which not only inspired the Chinese masses, but also created a wave of revolutionary enthusiasm among communist revolutionaries throughout the world.
During the Great Debate many revolutionary forces had gathered around the revolutionary line of the CPC led by Mao, but it was mainly during the Cultural Revolution that these forces throughout the world came to accept that it was Maoism that could provide the answers to the problems of World Socialist Revolution. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution had shown that Marxism had an answer to the enemy of capitalist restoration. This advance in Marxism, led to the consolidation of numerous revolutionary groups and parties throughout the world on the basis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and the launching of revolutionary struggles under their leadership.
However Mao warned, “The present Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is only the first; there will inevitably be many more in the future. The issue of who will win in the revolution can only be settled over a long historical period. If things are not properly handled, it is possible for a capitalist restoration to take place at any time in the future.”
Further he reminded the Ninth Party Congress in 1969, “We have won a great victory. But the defeated class will continue to struggle. Its members are still about and it still exists, therefore we cannot speak of the final victory, not for decades. We must not lose our vigilance. From the Leninist point of view, the final victory in one socialist country not only requires the efforts of the proletariat and the broad masses at home, but also depends on the victory of the world revolution and the abolition of the system of exploitation of man by man on this earth so that all mankind will be emancipated. Consequently, it is wrong to talk about the final victory of the revolution in our country light-heartedly; it runs counter to Leninism and does not confirm to facts.”
Mao’s words proved true within a short time. First in 1971 Lin Piao, then vice-chairman, who in the Ninth Congress of the CPC had been appointed as a successor to Mao, conspired to seize power through assassinating Mao and staging a military coup. This was foiled through the alertness of the revolutionaries in the party.
After this however, arch revisionists like Deng were rehabilitated back to high positions within the party and state apparatus. During the last period of the Cultural Revolution, there was again a struggle against these capitalist roaders and Deng was again criticised and removed from all posts a few months before Mao’s death on 9th September 1976. He however had many of his agents in positions of power. It was these renegades who engineered the coup to take over the party and lead it on the path of capitalist restoration very soon after the death of Mao. It was they who sabotaged the Cultural Revolution and then formally announced its end in 1976.
This coup and capitalist restoration however cannot repudiate the validity of the truth of the Cultural Revolution. Rather it, in a way, confirms Mao’s teachings on the nature of socialist society and the need to continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Cultural Revolution is a scientific tool developed in the struggle against capitalist restoration and in the theoretical struggle to develop Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Its scientific validity has been established in the test of practice of the Chinese Revolution. Its effectiveness as a weapon to mobilise the vast masses in the struggle against the danger of capitalist restoration in a socialist country has also been proved. However, as Mao himself pointed out, no weapon can provide a guarantee of final victory. Thus, the fact that the capitalist roaders have achieved a temporary victory does not in any way diminish the objective truth of the necessity and effectiveness of this weapon in the fight for socialist construction and the defence of socialism.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is one of the foremost contributions of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the arsenal of the international proletariat. It represents the implementation in practice of Mao’s greatest contribution to Marxism—the theory of continuing revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat to consolidate socialism, combat modern revisionism and prevent the restoration of capitalism. Its significance for the international proletariat is immeasurable in today’s world where all the socialist bases have been lost due to the manipulative schemes of the bourgeoisie within the communist party itself. Therefore the time has come to revise Lenin’s definition of a Marxist.
Lenin while defining a Marxist had said that it was not enough to accept the class struggle to be called a Marxist. He said it that only those who recognise both the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat can be called Marxists. Today it not sufficient to only recognise the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat to be a Marxist. A Marxist has to accept the basic understanding of the GPCR. Thus, only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat to the recognition of the continuous revolution in the super structure with the aim of the completion of the world revolution and building communist society as early as possible.
After The Death of Mao
The late 60s – the period of the GPCR and the establishment of Maoism as a new stage of Marxism-Leninism – was a period of revolutionary ferment in many parts of the world. The revolutionary war in Indo-China (the area covering Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos) was dealing severe blows to the tremendous military might of the US imperialists. Simultaneously revolutionaries breaking away from the hold of the modern revisionists launched armed struggles under the guidance of Maoism in many parts of the Third World during this period –the ongoing armed struggles in the Philippines and India are a continuation since then. National liberation struggles waging guerrilla war were also raging in various parts, as well as armed struggles under Guevarist ideology (ideology following the views and practice of Che Guevara, who played a leading role in the revolutionary struggles in Cuba and Bolivia) in parts of Latin America.
The Indo-China war, the sharpening struggles in the Third World, and the GPCR were among the major factors for the vast out break of students and anti-war movements throughout the capitalist world at the end of the sixties. The Paris student revolt of May 1968 was the most significant but only one of a wave of student revolt ranging from the USA to Italy and even to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It also had its impact on student movements in various parts of the Third World. At the same time the anti-Vietnam war protests started picking up in the USA and other parts of the world with massive peace movements against war and the nuclear arms race in major cities of Europe. The US imperialists were effectively isolated as not even one of their allies agreed to send troops to fight in Vietnam. Following the students movement there was also a major growth of struggles of the industrial working class in the West European countries particularly Italy and France, though largely on economic demands. Huge waves of strikes with major wage demands often paralysed entire economies of the imperialist countries.
The mid-70s saw the final overthrow of many long standing colonial regimes after long guerrilla wars. Thus the US and their puppets were thrown out of Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos in1975. In Africa the republics of Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Congo, and Benin were formed in this period. However most of these countries were taken over by puppets or satellites of the new imperialism – Soviet social imperialism. A prominent exception was Kampuchea, where genuine communist revolutionaries – the Khmer Rouge – remained independent until invaded in 1978 by Vietnam on the behest of the Soviet imperialists.
In the following period too there has continued to be an excellent revolutionary situation with the sharpening of all the fundamental contradictions and the further weakening of imperialism. In particular the colonies and semi-colonies have continued to be the storm centres of world revolution. At the beginning of this period guerrilla struggles continued in Zimbabwe, Nicaragua, Eritrea and other countries. The People’s War started in Peru in 1980 under communist revolutionary leadership. The Shah of Iran was overthrown and an anti-American Islamic Republic came into existence. National liberation war broke out in Afghanistan after the installation of a Soviet puppet regime in 1978 and occupation by the Soviet social imperialist army in 1979. The heroic struggle of the Afghan people dealt a serious deathblow to the Soviet regime and proved to be a major factor in the final collapse of the USSR.
The epochal significance of the struggles of the peoples of the colonies and semi-colonies has been that it has forever changed the nature of the relations between imperialism and the oppressed nations. Both the Vietnam and Afghan wars proved that even a superpower could not occupy even a small and weak country. This truth was brought out even more starkly in the 90s in the numerous spots where UN peacekeeping forces tried to intervene. Somaliland, which had been controlled for numerous years without major difficulty by British and Italian colonialists, had in the 90s become the Somalia where thousands of American and other troops were forced to retreat in disgrace, when attacked by the people. Even the large scale and continuous bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia without the commitment of ground troops is the recognition by imperialism that no country, nation or people would in this period be prepared to accept an occupation army.
Ever since the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes in East Europe and the various republics of the former Soviet Union, there has been a continuous revolutionary crisis there too. Even in the Western imperialist countries the worsening of the crisis has led to the intensification of the contradiction between labour and capital and repeated waves of strike struggles by the industrial working class. The revolutionary forces however have not been organisationally strong enough to utilise the excellent world-wide revolutionary situation to advance the World Socialist Revolution
After the death of Mao in1976, the capitalist roaders who had remained in the party staged a coup under the leadership of the arch revisionist Deng Tsiao-ping and took over the control of the party under the nominal leadership of Hua Kuo-feng, a so-called centrist. As Mao had often taught, with political control going over to the hands of the revisionists the socialist base had gone out of the hands of the proletariat. At the same time the leadership of the Albanian Party of Labour switched over to an opportunist line attacking Maoism and projecting Mao as a petty bourgeois revolutionary. Though the Khmer Rouge continued to hold power in Kampuchea they were waging a constant struggle against the internal and external enemies of the Revolution and were yet to emerge from the economic ravages of war and consolidate their rule when they were defeated by the Soviet backed Vietnamese Army. Thus there was no country anywhere in the world where the proletariat had consolidated its hold on state power and could play the role of a socialist base for the international proletariat.
In the years immediately after the death of Mao, there was a considerable amount of ideological confusion in the international communist movement, with the Deng revisionists, through Hua Kuo-feng, attempting to project themselves as upholders of Maoism. In particular they falsely peddled the revisionist Three World Theory as Mao’s general line for the international proletariat. Many revolutionary sections accepted these positions and it was only after the very openly revisionist History Resolution of the CPC in 1981 and the Twelfth Congress in 1982 that most revolutionary forces throughout the world started coming out openly against Deng revisionism. However some sections continued to follow the Dengist revisionist line and abandoned Mao’s revolutionary teachings. Certain other sections allied themselves with the opportunist attack by the Albanian Party of Labour on Maoism. However these parties later either disintegrated or openly revealed their revisionist nature.
Those that resolutely opposed Deng revisionism and upheld Maoism in practice could however make considerable advances. Today these forces form the core of the revolutionary international proletariat. They are leading armed struggles in Peru, Philippines, Turkey, Nepal and India. Though these forces are organisationally yet very weak, they continue to grow in strength.
The principal source of their growth in strength is the correctness of the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. The chain of main historical events in the last twenty odd years has confirmed most of the assessments of Maoism. In particular the collapse of the Soviet Union and its retreat from super power status in the face of people’s struggles and the serious weakening of the American super power in the face of the struggles of oppressed peoples of the world, have confirmed the assessment by Mao that these imperialists were only paper tigers who would be taught a lesson by the people.
Similarly Maoism has remained the best tool in the hands of the international proletariat and oppressed peoples to formulate and implement the programme for revolution in their own respective countries. It has also had a major influence over the armed struggles for national liberation being waged in various corners of the globe. Though in this period there has not been any major or significant developments in Marxist science and theory, MLM continues to be adaptable to the changing conditions in the world. It yet provides the only scientific and correct theory for the international proletariat.
The international communist movement is going through the process of victory-defeat-victory on the road to ultimate victory in the World Socialist Revolution. For those who would get despondent due to the ups and downs of this process it would help to remember the understanding given by Mao during the Great Debate and also during the Cultural Revolution, “Even the bourgeois revolution, which replaced one exploiting class by another, had to undergo repeated reversals and witness many struggles—revolution, then restoration and then the overthrow of restoration. It took many European countries hundreds of years to complete their bourgeois revolutions from the start of the ideological preparations to the final conquest of state power. Since the proletarian revolution is a revolution aimed at completely ending all systems of exploitation, it is still less permissible to imagine that the exploiting classes will meekly allow the proletariat to deprive them of all their privileges without seeking to restore their rule.”
Temporary defeats are therefore but to be expected on the long and tortuous path of the World Socialist Revolution. The history of 150 years of the development of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has however conclusively proved that it is the historical destiny of this doctrine alone to lead and guide the international proletariat to final victory.