Many decades have passed since the period when Marxism, the revolutionary theory of the working class, came into being. The Communist Manifesto, the fundamental programmatic basis of proletarian revolutionary struggle from past to present, is 167 years old now. Despite all kinds of smear campaigns waged by the bourgeoisie, Marxism has lost nothing of its relevance as it remains the most comprehensive and accurate expression of the revolutionary theory and practice of the working class.
But, this argument, without doubt, expresses an objective reality. On the subjective side, however, there have been setbacks in terms of adoption of Marxism as well as deviations and distortions displayed in various cases in different periods. Marxism has suffered almost so much from some “Marxists” as from the bourgeoisie, justifying a reprimand of Marx that goes “May god save us from such Marxists.”
In this regard, it is neither possible nor necessary to examine every one of these examples. But, we must strongly underline that a kind of Marxism that is deprived of its revolutionary essence and that is subject to a theory contest in the academic world has no place in the revolutionary struggle of the working class.
Marxism is not the one in crisis
There is an important reality that has been pointed out ever since the period of Marx and Engels: The revolutionary struggle of the working class is waged in three different fields, in other words, it is a three-dimensional struggle. These three dimensions, namely, theoretical, political and economic dimensions of proletarian revolutionary struggle, constitute a unity on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. And above all, achieving this unity calls for the revolutionary vanguard organisation of the working class based on a correct conception of organisation.
A reconsideration of different approaches and tendencies that have been displayed in the name of Marxism over decades would reveal that theoretical deviations from Marxism are definitely accompanied by distortions, denials and breakaways in political and organisational fields. This applies to various cases ranging from Stalinist falsification of revolutionary Marxism to its denial by reformists of the Second International or to academic-style degeneration hidden behind the excuse of the importance of theoretical struggle.
There is an obvious truth that some resist admitting. Anti-Marxist attacks and smear campaigns aside, the biggest blow to revolutionary Marxism came from the Stalinist reign that tore down workers’ power in the Soviet Union which had been built by the Great October Revolution. Owing to its bureaucratic rule in the Soviet Union, Stalinism extended its sphere of influence worldwide and established its hegemony over the communist movement. It succeeded in presenting itself as “living socialism” loyal to Marxism. Precisely for this reason, the sins of Stalinism have been unfairly used against Marxism and socialism, although they were radically different from it.
If examined objectively, it would be seen that the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes in the Soviet Union and elsewhere could by no means trigger a crisis for Marxism since the latter has nothing to do with them. However, life does not follow a smooth path where objective realities are directly reflected in social consciousness, since various subjective factors come into play. Ideological and theoretical distortions can be cleared from the minds of the masses only in the long run. That is the reason why the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes could not immediately open the way for comprehension of revolutionary Marxism and Marxist socialism. On the contrary, the collapse of its opposite could unduly be perceived as the loss of reputation and even crisis of Marxism and socialism.
Needless to say, the bourgeoisie used every means available to wage a massive ideological attack in order to feed this misperception. However, this side of the coin is normal as it reflects the nature of class struggle. The key factor that needs to be highlighted is the adverse effect of elements and circles that pretended to be socialist and Marxist. The collapse of the Soviet Union, once known as the fatherland of socialism, created a climate in which elements with weak ties to Marxism drifted apart. Such an atmosphere fostered claims that Marxism has failed and was sliding into a deep crisis. How can the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes that are indeed grounded on the denial of Marxism ever be presented as the evidence of historical failure and crisis of Marxism? Is it not obvious that these are deliberate allegations showing clear signs of siding with the bourgeoisie? What remains crystal clear is that those obsessed with proclaiming the death or crisis of Marxism are all a mob of intellectuals having no faith in class struggle or a bunch of worn-outs reluctant to fight.
It is true that the working class movement has declined due to the sins of Stalinism and the attacks of the bourgeoisie. This is the ground whereupon Marxism is being presented as out of date. In fact, it has lost nothing of its relevance, importance and rightfulness. On the contrary, the perspectives on the future of capitalism that were put forward by the founders of Marxism many decades ago are of vital importance in today’s world while they have become ever more enlightening. Clearly, Marxism is not in a crisis but ever more relevant as the guiding light of the working class in its revolutionary struggle for a new world. Even though bourgeois ideologists continue to make up all kinds of lies in order to deceive the masses, they cannot hide the truth. What is floundering in an endless crisis is nothing but the world capitalist system. Even this situation itself is enough to prove the scientific accuracy and the historical rightfulness of Marxism which foresaw such an outcome many decades ago.
Today, the ongoing and ever-deepening historical crisis of capitalist system has repercussions in all aspects of life, while, in the meantime, it also drives the youth into depression and lack of a future. The young generations, who had once seemed to have leanings towards Marxism and socialism, are now largely keen on distancing themselves from these ideas. But, with capitalism offering them no way out, they find themselves in a spiritual vacuum. The solution to the spiritual crises that arise in this framework lies in adherence to Marxism. But, because of the atmosphere created by the nourishment and propagation of the lie that Marxism and socialism are dead, the hopelessness of young generations deepens further.
Looseness of the theory in isolation from class struggle
The tendency to fabricate theories, which has nothing to do with revolutionary Marxism, can be characterised as a passion for theoricism that is alien to revolutionary struggle of the working class. The theories produced by some writers, who owe their fame to “Marxist” studies in academic circles, can generally be counted within this framework. As the theory remains unchecked, disconnected from the light and discipline of revolutionary class struggle, it becomes nothing more than confusing variations. Details aside, the most fundamental feature that dominates academic Marxism (may also be called Western Marxism) is the denial of the revolutionary mission of the working class, which is followed by the effort to fabricate a self-styled intellectual basis for such denial. As we see in some actual examples, these efforts result in promoting social networks which discourages organised struggle or in the trend of discovering new social dynamics apart from the working class.
In whatever form they are presented, the vast majority of variations alleging to explore this or that flaw of Marxism are not new at all, but have been recurring since decades. Although they are sold as genuine under the guise of new words and make-up, these are stale ideas in essence. An example of this kind is the thesis that attempts to melt the working class into the nonsense called “expanding new middle class” while distorting the Marxist analysis regarding the class structure in capitalist society. Likewise, the theory that says “revolutionary consciousness arises spontaneously from the massive actions of the working class” shares the same nature as it trivialises the importance of the revolutionary organisation and the necessity of building it. One should also not forget those academics who have gained recognition as Marxist authors although their books are based on assumptions that Marx’s Capital, his method in that book or historical materialist analysis of society are defective.
Far from being any benefit to the revolutionary cause of the working class, such “theories” attract attention and become subjects of debates among would-be Marxist academics and highbrow elements who approach the struggle semi-voluntarily. Beginning with the announcement of this or that inadequacy of Marxism, all that flashy stuff written comes to no conclusion other than a mixture of baseless, ambiguous thesis that satisfies nobody except some educated ignoramuses. It is understandable that such a polemical contest attracts the educated. But, such polemics have nothing to do with revolutionary theoretical struggle.
The attacks waged against Marxism by bourgeois ideology are natural consequences of the class struggle. There has always been and will always be an anti-Marxism arising from this source. In addition to all these, however, Marxism has been faced with revisionist attacks from within that constituted a much more insidious danger over decades. Such attacks have been mostly brought up in the name of adjusting Marxist analysis to new conditions. To avoid a possible misunderstanding, it must be underlined that Marxism is undoubtedly revolutionary in terms of its own life. It has the capacity to renew itself in light of social changes. In order to explain actual developments in society, it is an indispensable necessity to review and improve Marxist theory, keeping loyal to its scientific and revolutionary essence. But, this is something else. The currents that we examine under headings such as revisionism, academic Marxism or Western Marxism, however, are made up of a theoricism that is disconnected from class struggle and that is also conducted in such a way that the revolutionary grounds and scientific method of Marxism are abandoned.
Clearly, there is an unbridgeable gulf between revolutionary Marxism and such theoricism. The theory to guide the revolutionary struggle of the working class can never be developed or improved as long as it is disconnected from collective and organised struggle of the class. The scientific essence of Marxism lies in dialectics, where revolutionary theory and practice constitute an inseparable unity and cannot be pitted against each other. As Marx points out in his Eleventh Thesis, in order to be able to interpret the world, one must take part in practice, in other words, join the fight of changing the world which will enable him/her to comprehend the world. Therefore, academic Marxism or Western Marxism is, in fact, alien to the essence and integrity of Marxism. It is also clear that those who regard the contest of verbiage of Western Marxism as theoretical struggle have never succeeded in organising among the working class in any country, if indeed they ever intended to.
Western Marxism is not only alien to the concept of revolution and revolutionary organisation of the working class, but, in the final analysis, it is against them. Stalinism, a rightful subject of criticism for working-class revolutionaries, is used by Western Marxism in such a way as to use it as a smoke screen for hiding its own sins. Having entered the service of universities in Western countries, these pseudo-Marxist academicians use criticism of Stalinism as a means of attacking the concept of organisation and revolution of the working class. Arising from Western universities, a would-be Marxism spreads hostility towards Bolshevism and revolutionary organisation by alleging that Lenin was to blame since he created Stalin. In this way, Western Marxism keeps young people with potential Marxist leanings away from a true revolutionary organising among the working class from the very beginning.
There is another side to the question which is quite interesting. Posing as sharp critics of Lenin and Bolshevism, Western Marxism is in fact very tolerant toward Stalinism for all its criticism. To grasp this fact, it is enough to remember the admiration for “real socialism”, a result of worship of authority of the petty bourgeois, shared by various authors who were famous among Western Marxist circles. In general, most authors who were in the service of universities in the Western countries feverishly advocated the copies of bureaucratic regimes like Yugoslavia, China and Cuba and created sympathy for them across the world, while they were posing as critics of Stalinism at the same time.
During the periods when revolutionary waves subsided, academic Marxism, freed from the pressure of the working class movement, focused entirely on thesis topics at universities. Even when intellectuals of this kind had some interest in Marxism, their interest were mostly antipathetic. They served to undermine and blur Marxism for the sake of intellectual satisfaction even at times when they seemed to come very close to Marxism. As a consequence, a would-be “Marxist” corpus has been created regarding various issues that had already been dealt with accurately by Marx and Engels, along with claims that these were old or inadequate. This, in brief, is what we criticise under heading of Western Marxism. This tendency has not, of course, remained within Western countries. Having arisen in the Western World, it has spread to other countries including Turkey.
In fact, the field of political struggle appears boring to intellectuals who are disconnected from revolutionary struggle, but who also cannot refrain from pretending to be Marxists. Therefore, their Marxist-flavoured theoricism generally focuses on fields like art or linguistics. Keeping one away from burning issues of class struggle and drawing him into a world of surreal ideas where even the gender of angels might become a matter of debate, this tendency has a diverse range of variations including postmodernism and deconstructivism that dominate the fields such as philosophy, linguistics and art. There is a common feeling widely shared by individuals and circles that create their ways of thinking and fields of interests on the basis of such variations. This feeling consists in their scepticism towards revolutionary struggle, and even in their ever-deepening hatred towards revolutionary organisations.
Among many other writers, Louis Althusser (1918-1990) provides an example of attempting to revise this or that side of Marxist theory, going so far as to disintegrate its revolutionary unity. His works enabled him to build the Althusserian School in 1970’s and to make a worldwide reputation. He also had a strong influence on intellectual circles who were sharing an enthusiasm for Marxism despite having no faith in its revolutionary essence. The likes of Althusser deal with their subjects in such a way as to arbitrarily disrupt the dialectical relationship between substructure and superstructure. Thus, one moves away from Marxism’s materialist conception of history, which makes it possible to unveil the secrets of human societies. Here, ideological field is escalated to such a level where it becomes independent from economic base, by which it is determined in the final analysis. Exaggerating the role of ideology in such an arbitrary way paves the way for the idealist philosophy which argues that ideas determine material world.
What dominates the Althusserian School and the like is the production of a variety of ideas based on definitional approaches and concepts that are taken out of context. Yet, Marxist thought is based on comprehension of the objective foundations lying beneath the historical and social phenomena in the framework of the scientific and dialectical method. But, in order to comprehend social realities on the basis of Marxism, one needs to be determined and tenacious to move away from the sphere of influence of the bourgeois ideology and to refrain from elitism of the world of academics. However, for those who evade class struggle and seek intellectual satisfaction, the theories produced by the likes of Althusser constitute an attractive source as they look polished, appealing and hard to grasp. Such a source is also favourable for the bourgeoisie in terms of keeping educated youth away from genuine Marxism and revolutionary struggle.
Althusser served the purpose of presenting theoricism, which dominates the world of the likes of him, as a good thing to do. For this cause, he even coined the term “theoretical practice”. He made efforts in order that the attitude expressed by this term gain popularity and become canonised. According to this approach, intellectual endeavour that is based on the invention of some ideas in an individualist world isolated from revolutionary organising and collective struggle, means “theoretical practice” which must be counted among the ways of struggle! Without doubt, not only Althusser, but Western Marxism in general grants autonomy to theory through such approaches, attaching such importance to it that is out of touch with class struggle. So, one must underline at this point that there is a world of difference between such would-be Marxist intellectuals and revolutionary intellectuals who successfully internalise the organised unity of theory and practice on the basis of struggle within the working class.
Granting theory an autonomy, which amounts to breaking away from class struggle as well as materialist conception of history, Western Marxism uses empiricist methodology. There are irreconcilable antagonisms between empiricist methodology and Marxist methodology. Far from overestimating experiment, Marxist method refrains from viewing temporary, shallow and fragmental experiences as scientific knowledge. It examines, questions and focuses on grasping interrelations of social phenomena. Empiricist methodology, however, handles social phenomena and processes including capitalism on the basis of their shallow and cyclical oscillations, without looking deeply into their origins before drawing conclusions. It is clear that conclusions, generalisations, definitions or concepts reached through such a methodology cannot unearth deep-seated tendencies that underlie realities.
Western Marxism is reformist, and, in the last analysis, dependent on the Western bourgeois democracy and regards it (i.e. a form of bourgeois state) as a bridge that will enable transition to socialism. This is the reason why Western Marxists find the essence of the Bolshevik Revolution and its idea of destroying the bourgeois state apparatus too radical and anarchistic. Moreover, they portray the dictatorship of the proletariat as a vicious, a non-democratic regime, disregarding the fact that bourgeois democracy is a class dictatorship itself. Yet, the dictatorship of the proletariat is and can be nothing else than workers’ power, i.e. workers’ democracy which is the most extensive democracy from the point of view of the working masses.
Because it is unable or reluctant to grasp capitalism’s tendency to decay and the class character of bourgeois democracy which is hostile to revolution, Western Marxism seems doomed to obey capitalism in the last instance. Those highbrow authors and their educated followers seem far from drawing essential revolutionary lessons from history and the collapse of the Soviet Union and other bureaucratic regimes. As their hopes to create a new world diminish, they prefer to replace these with faith in capitalism. This, in our view, is not surprising. It is clear that the theory that turns its back on Marxism will turn its face towards capitalism. It is equally natural that those lacking belief in a better future that will be created by workers’ revolutions would expect goodness from capitalism and gradually view it as an eternal system while exploring “positive sides” of it. After all, life abhors vacuum. Those who fail to solve problems in line with revolution are doomed to dissolve on capitalist road.
One of the most important assets of the revolutionary content of Marxism, which is grounded on scientific foundations, is its ability to analyse the relationship between the objective and subjective accurately and thoroughly. Marx emphasises that it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, their social being that determines their consciousness. Therefore, there is also an objective condition of existence determining the revolutionary consciousness, and it is revolutionary organisation. Revolutionary people can find their objective life environment in a revolutionary organisation. It is the only environment where they can protect and improve their revolutionary consciousness. Working class revolutionaries with such consciousness embrace revolutionary organisation and its discipline insightfully. Yet, a person below such a level would regard and present the requirements of the revolutionary organisation as an external pressure. Without sharing the atmosphere of organised struggle, it is not possible to get rid of individualism and become a revolutionary. The most striking examples of this situation are displayed by those educated who pretend to be interested in so-called social science and theory while running away from the revolutionary struggle of the working class.
There is no such thing as a neutral or supra-class social science which is independent of the world-view and struggle of this or that class. Therefore, the ability to improve the theory in terms of the revolutionary struggle of the working class requires a resolute faith in the struggle and embracing its discipline. This is the only basis upon which theoretical efforts can deserve the title revolutionary Marxism. It is almost a rule that this reality becomes much clearer during historical periods when the revolutionary struggle of the working class is on the rise. During setbacks, however, looseness, which is displayed in the name of theoretical struggle, reaches its extreme. The early twentieth century provides a good example of the former case. During this period, there was an unforgettable theoretical struggle both in Russia and Europe, waged by Lenin and many other qualified revolutionary fighters, who strictly adhered to the discipline of the revolutionary struggle of the working class. An example of the latter case is the course of working class struggle around the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As may be remembered, even those elements that had previously seemed to adhere to discipline of the struggle failed to swim against the current and sank in the swamp of degeneration. Having endless discussions about the crisis of Marxism, they drifted away from Marxism. Over time, they became worn-out and lost with regards to the revolutionary struggle.
The passion for individualism is totally at variance with the determination to carry forward the organised revolutionary struggle. It is always incompatible with the spirit and style of the struggle waged on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. One can never grasp the necessity and importance of theoretical struggle, as long as he is in pursuit of an “individualistic progress” which is disconnected from the goal of raising the collective efforts and quality. The evil of bourgeois ideology is always ready and waiting to lead the weak elements of revolutionary struggle astray. By imposing the evil thought that says, “first consider your own interest”, it deprives those shaky elements of the collective spirit and pleasure. As the happiness and satisfaction of being part of the collective struggle are replaced by individualistic plans and ambitions, one’s state of mind becomes more and more dominated by jealousy and obsessions. Thus, one avoids approaching revolutionary organisation and its discipline; and if he has already come near, he begins to recede gradually. What these elements, who experience a transformation on this basis, understand from the importance attached to theory is nothing more than a foolish admiration for would-be Marxist intellectuals and their theoricism. This point should not be misunderstood. People can develop interests in this or that idea and wish to learn them. However, there can be no way of becoming a working class revolutionary without submitting oneself to the collective will of the organised struggle. Individualistic leanings have nothing to do with being a communist.
In this respect, there is a sharp difference between those elements who are generally considered within the category of intellectuals, and the intellectual elements who devote themselves to the revolutionary cause of the working class. The tendency to escape from revolutionary Marxism dominates the souls of intellectuals, as they view the will of the organised struggle as a threat to their individual being. At best, even when he talks about fighting capitalism, individualistic intellectual views revolutionary organisation and its necessities as a heavy burden that should be refused from the very beginning. So, it is clear enough, isn’t it, that the elements that are eager and tenacious to join the fight on the basis of revolutionary Marxism can only be distinguished according to their attitudes on organisational question?