Debate: Did Lenin and Stalin only write for Russia?

Tjen Folket Media wishes to be a platform for debate and ideological struggle. We have received articles from individuals, both within Tjen Folket Media, as well as from outside, who wish to answer a blog post on the blog MLM Thoughts that levied heavy criticism against Maoists in the US and Germany. These comrades are a part of the same movement as Maoists in Norway, and Norwegian activists are eager to counter the criticism. One may send editorials to post@tjen-folket.no. If one wishes to send articles anonymously and securely, we recommend sending it from a public computer with an email address one has created for the occasion. Tjen Folket Media reserves the right to make corrections to any articles received if needed.

Did Lenin and Stalin only write for Russia?

By Ragnar V. Røed

This text directs itself towards the stances of the blogger MLM Thoughts, a norwegian leftist blog with a lot of english text. The blog is until now dedicated to a several texts that attack “left deviations”. The blogger writes that left deviations are just as reactionary as right deviations, but it is obvious that the blogger principally is worried about left deviation in the international communist (maoist) movement. This is typical of rightists in my view. For the rightists in the movement the red line will always look like a “left deviation”. “Left”-deviations exist and are real, but the principal danger in the western left movement and the international communist movement for the last hundred years have been right opportunism and revisionism.

Still it is mainly good that the positions are put forth so that we can treat them properly. In my opinion the positions in the blog are principally opportunist and wrong. These positions can’t build the movement, they can only tear it down or apart. They are in line with the thinking that previously dominated in the leadership of norwegian maoist organizing, which today’s organised maoist are in a process of rectifying.

The most important for us is not how they applied it, but what our class can learn from it and apply today

The author of the blog writes this about a good article from the german maoist paper Klassenstandpunkt:

It seems that they forget that the most brilliant with Lenin and Mao was their ability to apply and adjust [the norwegian text says “tilpasse” which is correctly translated to fitting or adjusting, trans.] Marxism to the reality they lived under. Marx and Engels did not primarily think of Russia and China when writing their theories. As little as Lenin and Stalin wrote for China.

What is most important for communists is to apply theory in practice. And when it comes to the classics of communist what is most important to us is to learn from them and use what we learn. In other words, what is most important for those of us, who do not study the classics for historical or academic interests, is to find the universal lessons and laws that their theory and practice has uncovered. In other words, what is most important to us is not the particular or concrete about their countries, but the discoveries that also are valid for us. That is the essence, what can be transferred, the universal about their practice is what becomes most important, not what happened on a meeting, or in which order particular battles was waged.

Furthermore i disagree with the term “adjust marxism” to describe how the classics used the ideology of the proletariat in their own countries. As I see it, marxism consists of universal laws. For example the law of surplus value which Marx provided. Can or should the law of surplus value be adjusted to a particular country? Or the law of class struggle as the main driving force for development of societies? Or dividing society into base and superstructure? This does not make sense. When marxism is used on the concrete reality of a country, one makes concrete analysis of the concrete situation, when one acts in practice and instigate movement, one is doing practical application of marxism. And this will always have specific characteristics. The concrete situation will never be exactly the same. It is never identical in time and place, it is never the same humans. It is as the old greek dialectic Heraklit pointed out, that everything is flowing and one can never go down in the same river twice. But marxism was not marxism, if it consisted of laws and discoveries that need to be reconsidered and adjusted all the time. To adjust marxism is in its core to revise it, and it is a characteristic of opportunism to want to adjust (marxism, trans.) to the current conditions and what other people feels, rather than to work to change these conditions and these people.

I the development of marxism it can and must transform. Maoists know this. That’s why we say maoism is marxism today. If laws that are discovered show themselves to be invalid then they must not be adjusted but rejected. If one goes into new epochs (for example the monopolist [imperialist, trans.] phase of capitalism) then some laws will become more important and some less important, or one will discover new contradictions that come more into the forefront. During the application one will by necessity be able to enrich the theory, make it deeper, sharper and more precise. This point is not unimportant, because it is about how we understand marxism. If we understand it as a collection of all the thoughts of Karl Marx, then it is in essence something different from understanding it as the first stage of the scientific ideology of the international proletariat. Marxism is the science, what Lenin and Stalin did in practice is applied science as a wikipedia article defines it “Applied science is the term for transferring scientific knowledge to a physical environment. Examples of this is testing a theoretical model, through formal science or solving a practical problem through the use of natural science.” But it is not so that scientists in natural sciences adjust evolution to their experiments.

The classics were internationalists

It has further to be underlined that the classics never only had their own reality or present time or only “their own” country in their thoughts when they fought and wrote. Proletarian internationalism is a red thread in all of their works, and they explicitly address the struggle of the proletariat as an international struggle. Marx and Engels wrote the communist manifesto as a party program for the international Communist League. Here they formulate a line of the proletarian movement, not for a single country or a single time period, but for the proletariat of the world and Europe, and ends the manifest with the slogan, “Proletarians in all countries, unite!”

Lenin founded the Communist International, and in this he and the bolsheviks fought for their discoveries and the october road to socialism, to be recognized by the international movement. And in this perspective Stalin writes “The october revolution was not just a revolution within ‘national frames’. First and foremostly it is a revolution that has an international, worldwide significance.” The international character of the october revolution.

All the classics did much more than writing. They participated actively to organize and lead communists and proletarians. They participated in revolutionary conspirations (clandestine organizing), in the build up of communist parties, in organizing labour unions and revolutionary fronts and many of them participated directly in revolutionary war. But both when they acted and wrote, it was as internationalists. And they wrote many works and letters that explicitly was about other countries then they themselves lived in. Their advices and viewpoints were priceless for other communists, as they still are today.

Maoism is the ideology of the whole international proletariat

Stalin writes:

And so, what is Leninism? Some say that Leninism is the application of Marxism to the conditions that are peculiar to the situation in Russia. This definition contains a particle of truth, but not the whole truth by any means. Lenin, indeed, applied Marxism to Russian conditions, and applied it in a masterly way. But if Leninism were only the application of Marxism to the conditions that are peculiar to Russia it would be a purely national and only a national, a purely Russian and only a Russian, phenomenon. We know, however, that Leninism is not merely a Russian, but an international phenomenon rooted in the whole of international development. That is why I think this definition suffers from one-sidedness.
The Foundations of Leninism

And in the same text he writes: “Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.”

It can not be correct that “the most brilliant” about the great communist leaders, leaders of the whole international proletariat, was that they “adjusted” marxism to their own national conditions. Instead it must be as Stalin said, that to apply marxism to their particular conditions is a part of their achievements, but far from the whole truth. The whole reason that we can talk about marxism, leninism and maoism, is that the classics discovered universal laws and truths that are also valid outside of their particular conditions and times. If the brilliance of Marx is his application of the theory for 1800’s western europe, then is not the social democrats and revisionists correct in saying that he is outdated?

Social democratic content once again

This might be exactly what the author means. The author does after all think that the maoist thesis about living with, working with and fighting with the masses, is not valid for communists in imperialist countries. Maybe the person simple thinks that the communist classics were brilliant, in their own time and context, but that we now need to reinvent the wheel? And by chance, as it often is, the “wheel” is confusingly similar to the old social democrat thoughts. The thoughts about a party that does not have strict criteria for its selection of cadres, where its members to not have to live, work and fight with the proletariat (after all, it is easier to recruit from “progressive front organizations”), where it is puritanism to learn from the greatest maoist of our time, and to combat revisionism irreconcilably is dogmatism. All of this seems like something one has heard before….

Against living with, working with and fighting with the masses!

And what is the point of the author? What does the person think is an expression of mechanical application of Gonzalo? What the author finds problematic, is that the article from Klassenstandpunkt says that we have to learn from Gonzalo to:

Work with, live with and fight with the masses. Communists should live according to the needs of the revolution. Generally comrades should live among the broadest and deepest masses, share every aspect of the life of the masses. Communists should have a personal production in the sector where they must develop their respective mass work.

The author is of the opinion that communists (in the western imperialist countries!) should not (generally!) work with, live with and fight with the masses. Communists should not live according to the needs of the revolution. And that one generally can’t say that comrades (organized communists) should live among the broadest and deepest masses and share every aspect of their life. And that communists should not work as the people they do mass work among.

At the very least the author has an ideological problem with one of these recommendations (working as a proletarian). To state that communists should work in the same jobs as toilers, or work in the same type of job as the people they do mass work among, is mechanical according to the blogger. Since the western imperialist countries are “quite different” from Peru (something everyone will agree!), there is some sort of exception here where the ties between the communists and the deepest and broadest masses kan be lesser or be solved (exclusively?) through what the blog authors calls “progressive front organisations” and without connection to how the communists themselves live and work.

To claim that the communists should not work with, live with and fight with the masses, is not a blow against “puritanism”, but against the mass line, against Mao Zedong and against the communist party as the party of the proletariat. There is nothing “mechanical” or “puritan” about the quote from Klassenstandpunkt about learning from Gonzalo on this point. If this is mechanical thinking then communists really can not learn anything from from the classics. And then one becomes as the author, one who claims to be something one is not.