What is Marxism?

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Fred
What is Marxism?
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: What is Marxism?. The discussion was initiated by Fred.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Fred
militant revolutionaries and marxism

Rosa Luxemburg said, as quoted in this article : "Marxism is a revolutionary understanding of the world."  But Pawel, the writer of this important and informative piece, so easy to read too, says:

Quote:
 We ourselves.... insist that Marx was a revolutionary fighter. And even more: that only a militant revolutionary can be a marxist. This unity between thought and action is simply one of the foundations of marxism.
 

Isn't this a bit odd?  "...only a militant revolutionary can be a Marxist ..."  is this correct?  I would agree that : only a Marxist can be a militant revolutionary.  No problem with this.  But to claim Marxism as the exclusive preserve of militant revolutionaries is to say that Luxemburg's "revolutionary understanding of the world" is only available to a very precious few.  I am of course assuming that "militant revolutionary" as used by Pawel, refers to the specific kind of comrade found in revolutionary organizations like the ICC or ICT to name the obvious  two.  But maybe I'm wrong here.  Pawel  is not clear about this.

So who decides  who is a proper fully kitted out "militant revolutionary"  and thus a proper legitimate marxist Pawel? The revolutionary organization?  If you're  a pukka member of the rev. org. you are, ipso facto  and by definition a military revolutionary and thus a Marxist. But who decides who's pukka?  Stalin was a Bolshevik for many years! 

Perhaps there are degrees of being a Marxist.  There's the academic kind and the left wing bourgeois versions - all fakes. And then there are various "hangers on" claiming to be Marxists but who don't actually join the revolutionary organization for reasons rarely gone into; and of course there are those who have left the rev. org. but now detest it  as an enemy, but  others who still claim to love  and support it though from the outside.    How many of these are "militant revolutionaries" I wonder, and can thus legitimately lay  claim  to the mantel of marxism?  

Maybe it comes down finally to "the unity between thought and action".  Is this something else though only  available  to militants who join the revolutionary organization ?  But how do they prove that they've got it, so to speak?  Police agents and informers have been quite good at masquerading as militant revolutionaries one gathers and infiltrated revolutionary organizations for years without raising suspicion.  

In the end I like Rosa's definition of Marxism as a  "revolutionary understanding of the world" and am disturbed by what  Pawel  says, which needs elaboration anyway, though I like  the rest of  his article.  I also think that those correspondents led into earnest discussions when the article first appeared,  about the use of pseudonyms by those writing about proletarian issues and militancy, are actually missing the point; which is to change the world. 

KT
Militant?

I've not yet re-read the article Fred's brought to our attention but the extract he's quoted prompts these two observations:

- I've always interpreted the passage "only a militant revolutionary can be a marxist" as saying that you cannot have (or be) an armchair revolutionary (or an armchair marxist). To be a revolutionary is to put 'your ideas' (ie the reflections arising from the class struggle, or class lessons) into action by defending them as actively as you are able (each according to his/her ability/circumstances, etc), within the class struggle that gave rise to them. I'd wager the article points out that Marx did this in an organised, collective fashion and thus, revolutionaries can only realise their militancy through organised activity. How this is interpreted today is another matter: I believe those of us not in any specific organisation, yet who participate in the collective discussions like those on this web site as well as, perhaps, other activity, meet this criteria. Whether they (we) could do more is also another thing.

- I don't agree that "only a Marxist can be a militant revolutionary."  I think that marxists are the clearest, most effective revolutionaries. But I have a few friends who I would describe as 'internationalist anarchists' who adhere to organisations that label themselves 'anarchist' rather than marxist. In my book, they are still revolutionaries, militants produced by the proletariat who, unfortunately, do not recognise themselves as marxists.

Fred
Thank you for your reply KT.

Thank you for your reply KT.  But I am now a little confused.  The anarchists you refer to and who you regard as  revolutionaries  but who do not "recognize themselves as Marxists" could still be the product of Marxism could they not, though they themselves can't see it?   For what else could have generated them?  The proletariat generated Marx, and he and others generated Marxism as the theory and practice of proletarian struggle. But  the proletariat didn't generate anarchism did it? Or did it?   So the comrades you refer to as anarchists are really communists who have got attached to the wrong organization.  Is that right?  Or are you saying that anarchism itself is a product of proletarian struggle just as Marxism is?

Or is it just a question of some comrades finding themselves wearing a mistaken label, as I think you are suggesting? But what  a waste and what confusion!  In the heat of the battle in the future  this could cause mayhem. 

 

 

KT
Welcome

You're welcome. And sorry to have produced confusion (not for the first time!) But as I suspect we both draw from the same well, there's little I can say to enlighten things further.

Is anarchism the product of proletarian struggle? The general Marxist view seems to have been that anarchism is the political expression of more intermediate strata in society: artisans, petty-bourgeois, lower peasantry and such like. Hence the general emphasis on individualism, localism, federalism, etc. Nonetheless, such strata are, by and large, still non-exploiting elements, tending to be crushed by the bourgeois state and often in active revolt against it. In this sense they are allies, not enemies of the proletariat.

Could internationalist anarchists have been the product of Marxism? I would like to think that this is partially true: the pull of the proletariat’s political positions can at certain moments exert a powerful influence over other strata and organisations representing them. After all, in the period of transition, the proletariat is going to have to convince the rest of the non-exploiting world population to adopt its methods of organisation and the political vision which drives it.

I’m not trying to make the case for some unattainable marriage of Marxism and anarchism. I am saying that the consciousness of the proletariat and other non-exploiting classes is heterogeneous, expresses itself in many forms and levels, and that at crucial moments in history (wars and revolutions) a minority of anarchists have crucially defended internationalism and have been saluted by the communist left for so doing. That's why I have my doubts about the statement that 'only a marxist can be a revolutionary.' 

https://en.internationalism.org/wr/336/anarchism

 

 

A.Simpleton
The same well

All helpful. Thanks for the thread.

Fred's points, questions (and possibly doubts) about labels are well-made, well-asked. Indeed Stalin was a Bolshevik and one could say that when the great cry went up from Petrograd in the February insurrection 1917 even the Bolsheviks weren't er..... the Bolsheviks who became the Bolsheviks if you see what I mean. Of course we have to use labels 'activism' / 'opportunism' etc. otherwise posts (especially mine) would bring down the Web. The tragedy is that however comprehensive the analysis behind that label, however much living history it represents, the label itself can be as much a source of woe, 'waste and confusion' -to use Fred's phrase- as it is a precise representation of a position, resolute stance. But perhaps not in the heat of struggle 

KT wrote:

.. the pull of the proletariat’s political positions can at certain moments exert a powerful influence over other strata and organisations representing them. 

I agree Fred there are academic Marxists. I might well be classified as such by a number of personal detractors. As for the armchair revolutionary: well I wonder if they are not extinct, such is the stalemate of the class struggle. However that may be, both are fakes if you like but are not nearly as dangerous as a 'radical' shop steward leading actual workers astray or some resentful Marxist splinter group dedicated to disasocciation and slander. 

I'm not sure that I agree with the old cliché 'if you're not for us you're against us': one could just as glibly say 'if you're not against us you're for us'. The number of 'non-exploiters who don't resist' ,who are at least open to that proletarian pull will be a significant factor.

It is important to keep the perspective of principles rather than personalities in mind. At the level of Revolutionary Organisations especially so. 

KT wrote:

 I am saying that the consciousness of the proletariat and other non-exploiting classes is heterogeneous, expresses itself in many forms and levels, and that at crucial moments in history (wars and revolutions) a minority of anarchists have crucially defended internationalism and have been saluted by the communist left for so doing. That's why I have my doubts about the statement that 'only a marxist can be a revolutionary.' 

Leave it there for now

AS

(I'll try to come back on the Anarchist/Marxist question with the example of the bizarrely named 'National Communist Front' in Eastern Ukraine. Was it not there that the Makhnovist movement swelled in 1918 fought and overthrew the state and indeed succeeded in gaining power for the councils but in the tradition of Anarchism - all of that of course within the context of the October revolution in Russia its previous imperial ruler.In that colony ruled and looted since whenever by two Imperial powers -Russia and Austria- the delusion, the (mis)perceived need to gain national sovereignty 'before' destroying capitalism still militates against Class Struggle and clarity)