I must begin with a mea culpa. For around four decades I have been associated with Marxism Leninism, sometimes actively, often more passively. What I have demonstrated to myself is an individual’s capacity for self-delusion.
In this centenary year of the Russian Revolution the ideology associated with Lenin continues to be presented, by adherents and foes alike, as the dominant expression of Marxism. This despite the abject failure of the Soviet Union and its bloc.
Then there is “socialism with Chinese characteristics” or burgeoning capitalism protected by an authoritarian one party state. Cross the border into North Korea and the only socialism to be found is akin to National Socialism.
Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela et al make various socialistic claims and can boast some successes with enlightened social policies. However, the working class in each still stands in the same relationship to capital as in avowedly capitalist countries, with the common tendency to authoritarianism.
That Cuba remains in conflict with its larger nearby neighbour is not confirmation of socialist status. It became an outpost of Soviet influence when the national revolutionary leader Castro, who’d previously claimed no such affiliations, adopted Marxism Leninism to counteract US aggression over the loss of American interests.
Stated boldly, the working class may have succeeded in acquiring limited influence in the ruling bodies of capitalist states, but without assuming control, or anything approaching it, anywhere. Those states that developed state capitalism as the dominant mode as opposed to the “free” market, adopted Communist as a label of convenience.
Socialism, actually synonymous with Communism in Marxist terms, became the rocky road with Communism promoted as the distant, very distant, destination. As for the state “withering away”, it actually became much stronger and entrenched before eventually just moribund.
Nonetheless, mention socialism or communism to many, perhaps most, folk and it’s the Leninist manifestation that is conjured up. Indeed, whatever fleeting contact people have with socialism it is usually in the form of a Communist Party, of which there are quite a few, or a Socialist party/group styling themselves Trotskyite, of which there are more.
Despite the mutual antipathy to each other, all share a common feature; their origins lie in Leninism and the Russian Revolution. Each is determined to express its exclusive brand of Marxism and lead the working class along the socialist road to the promised land of communism. And all, in the unlikely circumstances of actually being in a position to do so, would actually establish state capitalism.
What defines socialism in Marxist terms is the relationship of the working class to the means of wealth creation: does the working class have full control over those means being held democratically in common? If workers are employed by the state, paid wages by the state, with the state controlling the means of wealth creation and surplus value, then that is capitalism.
The attraction of Marxism Leninism is the sense that unless it is led by those who understand the grander scheme, workers will at best develop what Lenin referred to as “trade union consciousness”, going no further than making bargains with capitalism.
Indeed, the working class has, so far, singularly failed to lift its eyes from the politics of the here and now, to the grander vision of what is actually possible. The temptation is to take people by the political scruff and drag them to their destination. Unfortunately, that destination is the state claiming to act on their behalf.
However, unless the working class acts on its own behalf by consciously pursuing its own interests, socialism cannot come about. To be blunt, if the working class cannot be educated to vote for socialism where it is able to do so, then it certainly won’t pursue other self-defeating measures such as armed insurrection.
Socialism is not a simple matter of an overwhelming parliamentary majority. That would be an indication that the working class was organising a new society for itself. Until Leninism has been decoupled from Marxism it will continue to be an ideological bulwark containing working class potential.
Having recognised I was afflicted by elective political blindness I am clearing my vision and seeing there is no short cut. It is also clear to me defending the indefensible – Leninism and its derivatives Stalinism and Trotskyism – is, in the tragic terms of the Soviet purges, a crime against the people.