Skip to Content

Marxism: Past and Present - pt.1

Marxism: Past and Present

(R. N. Carew Hunt. Published by Geoffrey Bles)

This book is a mine of reference on Marxism. While the author may have diligently quarried for his treasure, precious little has been brought to the surface that materially adds to existing stocks of knowledge on the subject. The book in fact is not so much a solo as a sound track for a massed anti-Marxist choir: so much so, that the author's voice seems but the sotto voce of a "whispering baritone." In addition, he attempts to decant the whole quart of Marxism into the half-pint bottle of 175 pages, thus making impossible any systematic treatment of the many issues raised.

The author essays to show that the totalitarian empire of Russia is the melancholy sequel to Marx's doctrine of "the dictatorship of the proletariat." Presumably, had there been no Marx there would have been no Lenin, no October Revolution. The sequence of events in Russia might then have told a happier story. Once again, then, Marx takes on the legendary role of history's "wicked uncle,"

One of the author's contentions, then—the one we shall deal with—is that both Leninism and Stalinism are rooted in Marx's doctrine of "the dictatorship of the proletariat." The author adopts, however, the dubious procedure of interpretation rather than testimony, of inference in lieu of evidence. He selects passages from Marx and Engels compares them with statements of Lenin and stress similarities. He never selects passages which reveal differences.

Yet those differences are of an order to show not a crucial connection but antithetical relations between Marxism and Leninism. While Marx and Engels were never specific as to what they meant by "the dictatorship of the proletariat," they were always consistent with the generally accepted notion of democracy. Lenin's political doctrine did not characterize democracy but only caricatured it in a debased Soviet form. Marx's political theory carried no suggestion of a one-party device for the capture of political power. On the contrary, it presupposed "free elections" via the polling-booth. That was the method of the Paris Commune—and that, said Engels in his most vigorous statement on the subject, was "the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Engels, in the Critique of the Erfurt Programme, declared : "Our party and the working class can only gain political supremacy under the political regime of a democratic republic. This is even the specific form the dictatorship of the proletariat as the great French revolution has already shown." (Marx Engels Correspondence, p.486)

For Lenin the organizational form of the proletarian dictatorship was political centralism, with its military dictatorship and denial of any right of appeal from decisions made by the ruling body. The sinister sequel to this was dramatically summed-up by Lenin himself when he stated:

"The Soviet Socialist Democracy is in no way incompatible with the rule and dictatorship of one person . . . this was explained to and accepted by the Central Executive Committee a long time ago " (Socialist Party of Canada Pamphlet The Russian Revolution, p. 14).

Mr. Carew Hunt's arrangement of quotations serves to conceal, not reveal, the antithetical views of Marx and Lenin. Thus, Lenin is quoted: "The transformation of the proletariat into the ruling class is identical with democracy," While this in the letter agrees with the Communist Manifesto's statement "The constitution of the proletariat into the ruling class is the conquest of democracy," in the spirit it is utterly at variance.

In fact, Lenin's notion of the conquest of political power by a class-conscious proletariat was perfectly consistent with his anti-democratic outlook. By giving the term "proletarian" an ideological twist, Lenin was able to include in the term his own Bolsheviks, who by and large had no working-class origin but had sprung from the Russian bourgeois intelligentsia. These for Lenin were not only "proletarians" but formed in the main his "class-conscious proletarians." That is why Lenin made a decisive distinction between "the class-conscious proletarians" and "the masses." While he often adroitly manipulated the term "proletarian" for demagogic purposes, he always made the capture of political power by the class-conscious proletariat synonymous with the supremacy of an elite.

Yet Mr. Carew Hunt blandly informs us that this is all perfectly in line with Engels's statement in the preface to Class Struggles in France "that in a complete social transformation the masses themselves have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for body and soul. The history of the last 50 years has taught us that." The author is able to say that because he never informs us as to the real content of Bolshevik doctrine. He only misinforms us of its relation with Marxism. Because the author's proofs of most of his assertions are so constricted, he stretches his imagination to the point of rupture.

The Bolshevik seizure of power is paralleled also with Engels's statement in his article on Authority, February, 1873, that "a revolution is an act where one part of the population imposes its will on the other part by rifles, bayonets and cannon." (Selected Works, p.578) But in this particular instance Engels specifically cites, as an example of the armed authority of the people, the Paris Commune, which was no Leninist usurping of power by a minority but authority democratically conceived and arrived at.

Also the Communist Manifesto's statement, "The Communists are the most resolute section which pushes on all other sections," the author suggests, is the originating idea of Lenin's professional elite. Undoubtedly his penchant for reading between the lines of Marxist literature has given him a bad squint.

The authority of the Communist League (1850) is cited as good Marxist paternity for Leninism. Marx then advised workers to agitate on behalf of the Democrats, who represented the German lower-middle class; and, in the event of their forming a government, to foist on them "revolutionary demands," thus weakening the power of the upper bourgeoisie and strengthening the revolutionary potential of the workers. This political immaturity of Marx was never repeated. Afterwards, he made working class political maturity the measure of working-class development. All the essential features of Leninism, how ever, were missing from the Communist League. There was no separation of intellectuals from workers, no proscribing of working-class activity, no envisaging seizure of power by a political Junta.

(To be concluded)