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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 25, New Delhi, June 5, 2021

Official Marxism in India disappearing in sync with global trend | Sankar Ray

Friday 4 June 2021, by Sankar Ray

The crisis of Marxism the world over surfaced in the late twentieth century. The fault doesn’t lie in Marx, but in so-called Marxist parties.

Extremely incorrigibly optimist sections of the concerned about the future of India’s official Marxist parties (better be termed ‘Leninist’) such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, and variants of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) dream of comeback of those parties. The reality is that Indian Leftist parties never regained their past dominance once their area of influence declined. Take the Praja Socialist Party, Samuyukta Socialist Party, CPI and even the CPI(ML)s. The CPI(ML) Liberation is confined to pockets in Bihar. Going by the past experience, the CPI(M) is very unlikely to regain even a quarter of its influence in West Bengal and Tripura in the foreseeable future.

My hypothesis is these CPs which evolved during the growing years of the Communist International (Comintern) follow the path of gradual evanescence of other once-powerful CPs such as the Parti Communiste Français, PCF and Partito Comunista Italiano. Comintern was set up by the Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party (Bolshevik) -RSDLP (B) under whose diktat the affiliates (termed ’sections’) had to function. The PCI transitioned from doctrinaire communism to democratic socialism between the 1970s and 1980s with the dissolution of PCI. The new party was named Partito Democratico della Sinistra (Democratic Party of the Left) which is affiliated with the Socialist International.

Leninism whose basis was a totalitarian state that Karl Marx or Frederick Engels never even hinted is approaching towards a decrepit stage. The vanguardist experiment, scripted by Vladimir Lenin, not only failed, but created a distorted perception of Marx who might have foreseen the possibility of such aberrations. Lenin’s frustration with vanguardism was explicit in his last written essay, ’Better Fewer, But Better’ where he strongly criticised the uncoveted growth of bureaucratic traits among Bolsheviks in leading positions of RSDLP. Shortly after Franz Mehring, the first biographer of Marx, coined the word ‘Marxism’ in 1881, Marx told two leading French socialists, Paul Lafargue (Marx elder son-in-law) and Jules Guesde in chaste French, “Ce qu’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste.” (If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist). Marx was annoyed with the two as they kept mum when Marx’s supporters in the FI were branded as ‘Marxists’, Marx felt irritated, more so due to silent endorsement of the prefix ‘Marxist’ by adversaries of Marx at a session of the International Woking Men’s Association (First International. Marx who had a scientific (having enunciated ‘materialist dialectics’, not the misconceived ‘dialectical materialism’) knew that there was nothing called Newtonism’

Lenin’s words, “Marxism is omnipotent because it is true’ reflects vulgarization of Marx, proving how prophetic was Moor. Marx scholars who insulate themselves from aberrant Leninist school assert that incompleteness was a systemic nature of Marx, rejecting the prefix ‘omnipotent’ or omniscient. A talk by Michael Kraetke of the (University of Lancashire, “Why and in what respects is ‘Capital’ incomplete?’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2B51rdmhb4) i.e. worth listening to but with a critical mind that Marx wanted his supporters to adhere to. After the Paris Commune of 1871, Marx wanted to rewrite most of his texts including ‘Das Kapital’, Communist Manifesto and Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

Let me pick a couple from many important academic contributions from those who rediscover Marx by insulating themselves from official Marxists – some even refusing to be branded as Marxist. Norman Levine in his ‘Marx’s Rebellion Against Lenin -The Disappearance of Marx in Lenin’ laments that in Lenin ‘the writings of Marx suffered a tragic fate. Rather than speak of what Lenin knew of Marx, it is necessary to speak of what Lenin did not know of the writings of Marx. Destiny dictated that many of the most critical writings of Marx were not published until after Lenin’s death. .He wrote from serious ignorance of Marx’s opinions on these matters. The invisibility of Marx compelled Lenin to be dependent on the writings of Engels. Lenin perpetuated the myth that Marx and Engels spoke with one voice’

Take Paul Edward Gottfried’s ‘The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium. He is of the view, ‘Today European CPs survive merely as adjuncts of larger concentrations of power on the Left. Whatever the chief cause for this development, whether a general rise in living standards, disintegrating working-class solidarity, or the demonstrated unattractiveness of Communist practice, Communist parties in Western Europe have lost their electoral appeal. Although they occasionally do stage comebacks in Poland, Hungary, Russia, or the Baltic states, this may be happening because of populations spooked by an overly abrupt transition to a free or quasi-free market economy. It would, in any case, be hard to prove that the sporadic electoral successes of renamed Communist parties in Eastern Europe indicate a renewed belief in either Marxism or in working-class cohesion’

The Bolshevik uprising (Marx scholars who gravitate towards Marx with the principle of ‘Doubt everything’ denounce it as a revolution, unlike the February Revolution of 1917) was momentary sans any epochal content, evident from Lenin’s ‘ideological’ moorings. He was toying with the idea of seizure of power nearly a month ahead of Bolshevik insurrection Assuming that the people were on the side of Bolsheviks - he did not produce any concrete evidence that people were with him on the insurrection. But he knew that reality was different. Even the Soviets did not endorse the insurrection plan. But Lenin did not care for popular views, he implicitly admitted this when he stated, “We must not be deceived by the election figures; elections prove nothing. Compare the elections to the city councils of Petrograd and Moscow with the elections to the Soviets. Compare the elections in Moscow with the Moscow strike of August 12. Those are objective facts regarding that majority of revolutionary elements that are leading the people.”) In his letter to the Central Committee Members of RSDLP (B) on 12 September 1917: “The majority gained in the Soviets of the metropolitan cities resulted from the people coming over to our side. The wavering of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks and the increase in the number of internationalists within their ranks prove the same thing…. The Democratic Conference represents not a majority of the revolutionary people, but only the compromising upper strata of the petty bourgeoisie. The Democratic Conference is deceiving the peasants; it is giving them neither peace nor land. A Bolshevik government alone will satisfy the demands of the peasants. Why must the Bolsheviks assume power at this very moment?”

I maintain Marx and his theoretical formulations continue to be relevant, despite the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union. A year before the onset of the financial tsunami - ‘sub-prime crisis’ with the epicenter at the Wall Street in 2008, Prof Paresh Chattopadhyay, world-renowned Marx scholar and author of ‘Communism of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the six-volume Oxford Handbook on the History of Communism ( ed. Stephen A. Smith, professor of history at the European University Institute in Florence. The positive gradient of sales graph of ‘Das Kapital’ proved Chattopadhyay. In contrast, Lenin’s books are left dusty at bookstands, let alone Stalin and even Mao.

The crisis of Marxism or Marxian studies surfaced in the late twentieth century. The fault doesn’t lay in Marx but in so-called Marxists and Marxist parties. The point is to discard the orthodox and vanguardist Marxism associated mainly with hierarchical or Comintern-subjugated communist parties most of which are in semi-comatose state. The blame does not lie wholly in the Stalinisation of the Soviet Union and its eventual collapse. Seeds were sown when Lenin and Len Trotsky when the RSDLP (B) was known as the ‘party of Lenin and Trotsky’ (Rosa Luxemburg).

But the role of Lenin’s mentor, Georgi Plekhanov, and Trotsky in introducing Marx and some of his basic works to revolutionaries but there were fault lines therein. Unfortunately, it took nearly a century to detect them. Whether Marx and his theories would lead to the installation of ‘associated mode of production and association of free and de-alienated peoples is left to posterity, thanks to a strong logical foundation of Marx. But ‘official Marxism’ deserves a decent burial.

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