Living Marxism vs. Vulgarized Marxism

Liberating Revolution, Not Lifeless Reformism

With certain political trends—including among the “woke,” the “progressive” and those “on the left” generally—this is a common refrain: “Marxism only deals with class, and does not speak to, or has no solution for, white supremacy and male supremacy.”

This, where it is not a matter of outright dishonesty, is an expression of gross ignorance.

Marxism, in its development from the time of Marx himself to the present, has been and is today the most sweeping approach to reality as a whole, and specifically to the transformation of the world, aiming for emancipation from every form of exploitation and oppression in every dimension of human relations.

Now, it can be said that ignorance and confusion about this is, to a certain extent, owing to the fact that some who speak in the name of “Marxism” are in fact narrow and petty reformists, who reduce the scientific, sweeping revolutionary theory of actual Marxism to what amounts to a crude “economism” and trade-unionism. (“Economism” reduces the struggle of the exploited working class to economic issues, and specifically the striving for improvement in the situation of the working class within its exploited condition, with demands for higher wages and benefits, etc. In some versions of this “economism,” it is claimed that this approach is the best, or only, means of winning the working class to ultimately fight for socialism, however that is conceived of by these “economists.”)

This, in fact, is a vulgar distortion of Marxism. After all, it is Marx (along with his collaborator and co-founder of the communist movement, Frederick Engels) who insisted that the workers should inscribe on their banner not “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” but instead “Abolition of the wage-system”—in other words the abolition of the capitalist system of exploitation.

Further, in a formulation that has come to be known as the “4 Alls,” Marx set forth, in a very sweeping and at the same time concentrated way, the fundamental purpose and goal of the communist revolution—which, he said, aims for the abolition of all class distinctions, all the production relations on which those class distinctions rest, all the social relations corresponding to those production relations, and the revolutionization of all the ideas corresponding to those social relations. Here I have underlined “social relations,” to emphasize that this involves, among other things, the elimination of the oppression of minority nationalities and of women. And Engels wrote a lengthy study—The Origin of The Family, Private Property and the State—which is a seminal work speaking extensively to the historical basis and development of the oppression of women, and the road to the elimination of this oppression.

Lenin and the Further Development of Marxism

Of course, as a scientific method and approach, Marxism must continue, and has continued, to develop. After Marx and Engels, it was Lenin (the leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917, which founded the Soviet Union as the world’s first socialist state) who further developed the science of communism. As one critical dimension of this, as concentrated in his work What Is To Be Done? Lenin waged a powerful polemic against economism—emphasizing that the exploited working class (proletariat) could never gain revolutionary, communist consciousness from within the narrow sphere of its own immediate circumstances and experiences, but that this consciousness must be brought to the proletariat by an organized vanguard force, based on the science of communism. And, he stressed, in order to develop this communist consciousness it is necessary to understand the basic workings of the capitalist-imperialist system and how this affects and is responded to by different class and social forces, in order to make clear that the revolution that is needed is one based on the fundamental interests of the proletariat—in eliminating and uprooting not just the exploitation of the proletariat itself, but all oppressive relations in society. (This was an elaboration on Marx’s famous statement that the proletariat can only emancipate itself by emancipating all humanity.)

Lenin also further theoretically developed the crucial insight of Marx’s that establishing a new, socialist society could not be accomplished by taking hold of the existing state machinery that had served the capitalist system; it was necessary, instead, to smash that state machinery and establish a new state power. And, of course, Lenin led the revolution in Russia to do just that.

At the same time, Lenin analyzed the development of capitalism into a worldwide system of exploitation, capitalist imperialism, and he emphasized the importance of revolution in the vast regions of the world under the colonial domination of foreign imperialist powers.

Mao Zedong—Another Leap in the Development of Communism

It was Mao Zedong, in the process of leading the Chinese revolution over several decades, beginning in the late 1920s, who brought about another leap in communist theory. In particular, Mao developed the strategy for making revolution in a country like China—a country subjected to “semi-colonialism” (domination by a number of contending imperialist powers) and characterized by “semi-feudalism” (relations in which hundreds of millions of peasants were ruthlessly exploited by landlords, alongside developing capitalist relations, particularly in the cities). Even as Mao emphasized that it was important for communists to concretely analyze, and proceed on the basis of, the actual conditions in their particular countries (in the context of the world situation overall), this strategic approach for revolution had important relevance for the large numbers of countries in the Third World (Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia), where the conditions were similar to those in China. And it is noteworthy that, during the powerful upsurge of the 1960s, Mao issued two statements in support of the struggle of Black people in the U.S., emphasizing at the same time the crucial relation of this to the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system as a whole.

Beyond that, after the victory of this revolution in China (in 1949), Mao continued to make historic advances in communist theory. Summing up the experience of the Soviet Union—where capitalism had actually been restored in the mid-1950s, even as it continued for several decades after that to call itself “socialist”—as well as experience in China itself, where there was the growing danger of the same kind of counter-revolution, Mao developed the theory and strategy of continuing the revolution in socialist society. In doing so, Mao analyzed, in a way beyond what had been understood previously in the communist movement, how contradictions within socialist society itself (as well the existence, influence and actions of imperialist and other reactionary states) would, for a long time, continue to give rise to forces that would seek to restore capitalism; and, Mao further analyzed, since the vanguard communist party is the leading force in socialist society, it is within that party itself, particularly at its highest levels, that the most concentrated and powerful forces of capitalist restoration would be generated, among those who, as Mao put it, are “people in authority taking the capitalist road.” The Cultural Revolution in China—which took place over a decade from the mid-1960s until 1976, and which involved hundreds of millions of people in the struggle over the direction of society—was the concrete manifestation and mass expression of this theory and strategy of continuing the revolution in socialist society.

It is a tragic truth, which has had to be faced, that after the death of Mao in 1976, the “people in authority taking the capitalist road” were able to succeed in seizing power, violently suppressing the revolutionary forces resisting this capitalist coup, and taking China on the road of capitalist restoration, which has resulted in the emergence of China, not as a powerful socialist state and force for revolution in the world, but an increasingly powerful capitalist-imperialist state. This, as a matter of bitter irony, has confirmed Mao’s analysis about the danger of capitalist restoration within socialist society.

But, as with Marxism overall, Mao’s orientation and contributions were not simply in the realm of politics (even understanding politics in the broadest sense). It is Mao who authored the insightful statement that Marxism embraces but does not replace the realm of physics, and science generally, as well as art—in fact, every dimension of human existence and reality overall.

The New Communism—A Further Breakthrough

With the reversal of the revolution in China and the restoration of capitalism there, the first stage of communist revolution (which began with the short-lived Paris Commune in France in 1871) came to an end. Communists everywhere were faced with the pressing necessity to scientifically analyze what had actually happened with the coup in China—that capitalism had been restored—and why this had happened. It is to this challenge that I devoted myself, beginning immediately after this coup, in late 1976. And, proceeding from this analysis, I set about making a deeper scientific summation of the historical experience of the communist movement and the socialist societies it had brought into being, first in the Soviet Union and then in China. Over several decades, identifying and upholding the mainly positive aspect of this experience, but also making a critical examination of the sometimes very serious but overall secondary negative aspect—and drawing from a broad range of human experience—the result of this work has been the development of a further, new synthesis of communism: the new communism.

In BREAKTHROUGHS, The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism. A Basic Summary (and even more extensively in the book The New Communism), I discuss at some length how the new communism is “a continuation of, but also represents a qualitative leap beyond, and in some important ways a break with, communist theory as it had been previously developed.1 As decisive dimensions of this, along with focusing attention on Marx’s pithy statement on the “4 Alls,” the new communism analyzes, and gives great emphasis to, the importance of the struggle for the liberation of Black people, and other oppressed peoples (commonly referred to popularly as people of color), as well as the emancipation of women, as indispensable components and powerful driving forces in the communist revolution. The new communism has also strengthened the understanding of the importance of proceeding on an internationalist basis, with the orientation of giving “fundamental priority to the advance of the revolutionary struggle, and the final goal of communism, throughout the world.”2

Applying the new communism to the problem of making revolution, particularly in a powerful country like this, I have developed a basic strategic approach for this revolution, and have also authored a sweeping vision and concrete blueprint for a radically new and emancipating society, in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.3 And, as I wrote in BREAKTHROUGHS, “the development of the new communism is a work in progress, an important part of which is continuing to learn from and further synthesize what has come before, in the first great wave of communist revolution, beginning with the historic breakthrough by Marx.”4

Finally, one of the most essential and crucial elements of the new communism is the determined struggle I have waged to root out of the communist movement the poisonous notion that “the ends justify the means” (that any means are justified if the goal is, or is proclaimed to be, righteous). Along with this, I have emphasized that the purpose and objective of the communist revolution is not revenge (and the notion that “the last shall be first, and the first last”) but instead is the emancipation of humanity, with the elimination of all situations in which people are divided into “first and last.”

Underlying and running through all this is the fact that the new communism

represents and embodies a qualitative resolution of a critical contradiction that has existed within communism in its development up to this point, between its fundamentally scientific method and approach, and aspects of communism which have run counter to this....

What is most fundamental and essential in the new synthesis is the further development and synthesis of communism as a scientific method and approach, and the more consistent application of this scientific method and approach to reality in general and in particular the revolutionary struggle to overturn and uproot all systems and relations of exploitation and oppression and advance to a communist world. This method and approach underlies and informs all the core elements and essential components of this new synthesis.5

From all this it can be clearly seen that it is a distortion, of the crudest kind, to claim that communism (Marxism, in its continuing development) only speaks to class—and simply poses things as “class against class”—while not dealing with other important dimensions of oppression and the struggle for emancipation from that oppression. Once again: Marxism, in its development from the time of Marx himself to the present, has been and is today the most sweeping approach to reality as a whole, and specifically to the transformation of the world, aiming for emancipation from every form of exploitation and oppression in every dimension of human relations.

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FOOTNOTES:

1. BREAKTHROUGHS, The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism. A Basic Summary is available at revcom.us. This statement on the new communism in BREAKTHROUGHS is quoted from Bob Avakian (BA)—Official Biography, 2017, which is available at the Bob Avakian Institute (thebobavakianinstitute.org) and revcom.us. The book by Bob Avakian, The New Communism, The science, the strategy, the leadership for an actual revolution, and a radically new society on the road to real emancipation (Insight Press, 2016), can be ordered through revcom.us. [back]

2. From the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian, which is also available at revcom.us. [back]

3. The strategic approach to revolution in this country—as an important part of the revolutionary struggle aiming for communism throughout the world—is set forth in several works by Bob Avakian, including the 2018 speech Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution (video and the text of this speech are available at revcom.us) as well as the article A Real Revolution—A Real Chance To Win, Further Developing the Strategy for Revolution, which is part of a collection of articles Bob Avakian: Writings in 2020—A Momentous Year, available at revcom.us. This is a profound question which Bob Avakian is continuing to grapple with on a strategic level, taking into account the acute and continually sharpening situation in this country, as spoken to in A Declaration, A Call To Get Organized Now For a Real Revolution, from the revcoms, and elaborated on in the article by Bob Avakian, This Is A Rare Time When Revolution Becomes Possible—Why That Is So, And How To Seize On This Rare Opportunity, both of which are also available at revcom.us [back]

4. BREAKTHROUGHS, The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism. A Basic Summary [back]

5. Six Resolutions of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, January 1, 2016, available at revcom.us (emphasis in the original). [back]