Leninist principles on the criticism of opportunism and revisionism as an integral part of communists' struggle against imperialism

Tyulkin Viktor Arkadievich, 1st Secretary of the RCWP-CPSU Central Committee

When we have a look at our communist movement, in a number of cases there could be observed really childish attitudes and moods in relationships between the parties. We don’t deal with the “Infantile Disorder of Left-Wing Communism” in this cases but rather with unwillingness to see and hear something one doesn’t like. Not long ago I read together with my granddaughter an excellent fairytale by Nikolay Nosov called “The adventures of Dunno and his friends”. There was an episode when Donno decided to become an artist. “When everybody else was asleep, he painted pictures of all his friends. He painted Roly-Poly so fat that he couldn't get him all in the picture. He painted Swifty with long skinny legs and a dog's tail. He painted Shot astride his dog Dot. He gave Dr. Pillman a thermometer instead of a nose. He painted donkey-ears on Doono. In a word, he made them all look very foolish. In the morning he wrote names on all the pictures and hung them up. It was a real picture gallery. The first to wake up was Dr. Pillman. As soon as he saw the paintings he began to laugh. He liked them so much that he put on his spectacles to get a better look at them. He examined each picture in turn, laughing very hard. "Good for Dunno!" he said. "I never had such a good laugh in my life! "At last he came to his own picture. "Who is this?" he asked in a stem voice. "Me? It couldn't be me. No likeness at all. Take it down." Everybody liked caricatures of the others, but as soon as they recognized in the caricature themselves they demanded that the picture should be removed.

We can observe a similar picture in our adult party life, the only difference is that we deal not with friendly caricatures but with real disagreements. Everybody criticizes opportunism and revisionism, but as soon as somebody’s names are called or some concrete parties are mentioned there immediately appear objections of the sort: “please don’t do that, this is just labeling, we should aim our criticism at bourgeoisie and not at each other etc.

There have been even attempts to agree on putting a ban on any concrete criticism. In Athens on the 13th Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties such attempts were met with rebuff.

Let’s ask Lenin and have a look what principles he followed in his theoretical and practical work.

1. Scientific character. Class approach. Detection of essential contradictions in order to resolve them.

Lenin rejected both the use of criticism as a means of emotional accusations, and even more so he rejected it as a means of swearing (nowadays it’s fashionable to accuse not only of desertion and opportunism but of neotrotskism as well). Lenin always revealed the essence of the matter. The most precise and clear definition of opportunism can be found in his work “The Russian Radical is Wise After the Event”: “Very often this word is wrongly regarded as “merely a term of abuse” and no attempt is made to grasp its meaning. The opportunist does not betray his party, he does not act as a traitor, he does not desert it. He continues to serve it sincerely and zealously. But his typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, he is politically short sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to momentary, transient and minor interests”. [1]

Lenin believed that “it is immoral to colour the truth”. [2] He insisted that “Marxist…considers valid only criticism made from the viewpoint of a definite class[3] (accentuated by V.T here and further). Lenin himself always criticized from the viewpoint of working class. He always aimed at detecting and revealing the real contradictions in order to sort them out and to resolve them. He paid a special attention to typical patterns of opportunists’ behavior, in particular to their reluctance to clearly state their positions: “When we speak of fighting opportunism, we must never forget a characteristic feature of present-day opportunism in every sphere, namely, its vagueness, amorphousness, elusiveness. An opportunist, by his very nature, will always evade taking a clear and decisive stand, he will always seek a middle course, he will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view and try to “agree” with both and reduce his differences of opinion to petty amendments, doubts, innocent and pious suggestions, and so on and so forth”. [4]

In order to prove once again class-scientific nature of Lenin’s approach let’s stress his clear understanding of the fact that the basic questions are not always decided by way of voting but sometimes it’s done in the process of the struggle itself. On a number of occasions Lenin wasn’t afraid to be in minority, he believed that life and struggle would prove who was right. “Numerical weakness? But since when have revolutionaries made their policies dependent on whether they are in a majority or minority?[5] and added “we shouldn’t be afraid to be left in minority[6]

2. Specificity, objectivity and targeting.

Everybody who read Lenin’s works knows very well that those principles were characteristic of his style, i.e. nothing like criticism of opportunism and defection in general, in theory, but the struggle against their concrete manifestations and theoretical generalization and conclusions based on those examples. Lenin was in favour of directness and simplicity of expressions: “The flaunting of high-sounding phrases is characteristic of the declassed petty-bourgeois intellectuals. The organized proletarian Communists will certainly punish this “habit” with nothing less than derision and expulsion from all responsible posts. The people must be told the bitter truth simply, clearly and in a straightforward manner”. [7]

It’s not possible to imagine that Lenin would have called his work “Proletarian Revolution and certain defectors in our movement”. No, he called it straight – defector Kautsky, though Kautsky’s merits for the movement had been quite obvious.

We should specially stress that Lenin used to condemn any attempt to disregard class analysis of the situation. In his article “In Memory of Count Heyden” he directly and openly condemns his comrades for their class transcending eulogy dedicated to the late celebrity: “This is not a stand point common to all mankind but a common servile stand point. The slave who is aware of his slavish condition and fights it is a revolutionary. The slave who is not aware of his slavish condition and vegetates in silent, unenlightened, and wordless slavery, is just a slave. The slave who drools when smugly describing the delights of slavish existence and who goes into ecstasies over his good and kind master is a groveling boor. And you, gentlemen of Tovarishch, are just such boors…You do not realize that instead of turning the slave into a revolutionary you are turning slaves into grovellers”. [8]

Lenin’s criticism of Plekhanov, Martov, Trotsky and Bukharin as well as of many other comrades in arms some of which had defected the positions of proletariat, leaves us no doubt that Lenin never hesitated to use his criticism under concrete circumstances and towards concrete people.

3. Positive trend and constructive approach.

Lenin’s criticism had been never aimed just at publicly defeating his ideological opponent or political competitor, he always sought for the development of the movement and strengthening of the organization. One of his most famous statements regarding the delimitation contains a lot of meaning referring to a higher task of future unification: “before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation”. [9]

The task of Lenin’s criticism is not the denunciation of diseases, but their treatment: “a political party would never deserve any respect in case they don’t dare call their disease a real name, diagnose it ruthlessly and look after means of its treatment”. [10]

4. Continuity, intransigence, bindingness and publicity.

Bolshevism as a political trend and political party came to life beginning from 1903. The whole history of Lenin’s party is the history of struggle with the ideological trends that were hostile to the basic interests of the working class: with Narodniks and Economists, with opportunism in a general meaning of this word, with Otzovists, Liquidators, with leftists, Trotskyism and with many other forms of bourgeois ideology’s influence over the workers’ movement.

In his book “Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder” Lenin answers the following question: the struggle against which enemies within the working-class movement helped bolshevism to develop, gain strength, and become steeled. “First and foremost, the struggle against opportunism which in 1914 definitely developed into social-chauvinism and definitely sided with the bourgeoisie, against the proletariat. Naturally, this was Bolshevism’s principal enemy within the working-class movement. It still remains the principal enemy on an international scale.” [11] This Lenin’s assessment of opportunism as the main enemy of the workers’ movement has not only retained its topicality, but has recently become even more important as the modern bourgeoisie has taken opportunism that used to be a simple means of conciliation and turned it into their controlled weapon manifesting itself in open apostasy and in revision of the theory. The necessity and uncompromising position in the fight with opportunism are proved by this statement of Lenin: “the fight against imperialism is a sham and humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism”. [12]

Most often both opportunists of the past and the modern ones suggest that one should abstain from criticism under the pretext of the concern for the unity of the party’s ranks. This way they defended Gorbachev, suggesting that the weapon of criticism should be directed against Eltsyn. Now they defend Zyuganov and CPRF saying that the weapon should be directed against Putin etc. We are all communists, they say, we all have the same Red Banner and stand for Socialism. Regarding this issue as early as in 1914 Lenin gave an exhausting answer in his article “Unity”: “Unity is a great thing and a great slogan. But what the workers’ cause needs is the unity of Marxists, not unity between Marxists, and opponents and distorters of Marxism”. [13]

We should mention that when dealing with the distorters of Marxism Lenin was not only just severe, but cruel and ruthless to the degree when he was ready to morally humiliate them:

Either the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (masked by ornate Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik phraseology about a people’s government, a constituent assembly, liberties, and the like), or the dictatorship of the proletariat. He who has not learned this from the whole history of the nineteenth century is a hopeless idiot”. [14] He adds next: “Only scoundrels or simpletons can think that the proletariat must first win a majority in elections carried out under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, under the yoke of wage-slavery, and must then win power. This is the height of stupidity or hypocrisy; it is substituting elections, under the old system and with the old power, for class struggle and revolution”. [15]

Lenin didn’t hesitate to express his opinions not only concerning politicians, but concerning their parties as well: “Europe’s greatest misfortune and danger is that it has no revolutionary party. It has parties of traitors like the Scheidemanns, Henaudels, Hendersons, Webbs and Co., and of servile souls like Kautsky. But it has no revolutionary party”. [16] Now you can see that our assessments of certain parliamentary oppositionists are extremely mild and diplomatic if compared with those of Lenin.

6. Addressing masses of proletariat to get arbitration.

Lenin stressed that Bolsheviks defeated Mensheviks first of all due to the fact that they had managed to win the majority of the conscious proletariat, that with the use of their “workers flair” were capable of choosing correctly what corresponded to their basic interests: “The working masses have a fine intuition, which enables them to distinguish honest and devoted Communists from those who arouse the disgust of people earning their bread by the sweat of their brow, enjoying no privileges and having no “pull”“. [17] That’s why by joint efforts of the authorities and the opportunists the masses of workers in Russia have been prevented from taking an organized part in politics.

7. Self-criticism and recognition of mistakes.

Lenin stated that: “Nothing can ruin us but our own mistakes”. [18] If so, then the attention paid to these mistakes, to their sheer possibility should be constant and must develop into their correction: “All the revolutionary parties that have perished so far, perished because they became conceited, because they failed to see the source of their strength and feared to discuss their weaknesses. We, however, shall not perish, because we are not afraid to discuss our weaknesses and will learn to overcome them”. [19] It’s a pity, but this Lenin’s advice was forgotten and we did become conceited. CPSU collapsed. We ought to remedy the situation.

Here we should mention that Lenin was also capable of recognizing the cases when his opponents were right. Vladimir Ilyich for example told that though Mensheviks had so many times proved by their deeds that they were mostly the agents of imperialism, it didn’t mean that their opinions had been always wrong. Sometimes one could observe quite the opposite.

In 1920 Lenin wrote that “Bolshevism would not have defeated the bourgeoisie in 1917–19 if before that, in 1903 –7, it had not learned to defeat the Mensheviks, i.e., the opportunists, reformists, social-chauvinists, and ruthlessly expel them from the party of the proletarian vanguard”. [20]

Modern communists armed with the experience of the construction of Socialism in the USSR and the downfall of the Gorgachev’s CPSU should come to the conclusions necessary to avoid the repetition of such development of events in the future.

[1] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 14, с. 35. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1906/oct/18.htm

[2] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 1, с. 410. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1894/narodniks/ch01.htm#v01pp72-340

[3] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 1, с. 466. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1894/narodniks/ch03.htm#v01pp72-424

[4] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 8, с. 392 – 393. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1904/onestep/q.htm

[5] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 30, с. 266 –267. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/dec/15b.htm

[6] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 31, с. 105.

[7] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 36, с. 290 – 291. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/may/09.htm

[8] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 16, с. 40. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1907/jun/00.htm

[9] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 6, с. 22. http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/index.htm

[10] В.И.Ленин. Полн. собр. соч. Т. 8, с. 305.