50 Years Ago: Distorting Marxism
The theory and practice of the Socialist Party of Gt. Britain is based on Marxism; that is, we accept as valid the main theories put forward by Marx about history, political economy and politics. We accept that the materialist conception of history is a very useful method for examining and understanding social and historical events and changes. We accept that Capital is a brilliant analysis of the workings and historical tendency of capitalism and exposition of how the working class are exploited. We accept too that the working class can be freed from wage-slavery only by its own efforts, by taking class-conscious democratic political action to get Socialism. We were unaware that in so doing we were ’emasculating’ Marxism and we are not prepared to consider the allegation that we have distorted Marx’s views until and unless Mr. Therrien, or anyone else, produces some evidence.
As a matter of fact it was Lenin and the Bolsheviks who twisted Marx’s theories. For Marx the emancipation of the working class had to be the work of the working class itself. Lenin rejected this. In What Is To be Done? he says, contemptuously, of the working class that ‘exclusively by its own effort’ it can only reach a trade union consciousness. Socialist understanding, Lenin argued, must be brought to them from outside—in Russia by a band of professional revolutionaries organised as a vanguard party. In other words, Lenin and the Bolsheviks held that a vanguard party could free the working class rather than the working class, through its own class-conscious democratic political action, free itself.
(from Reply to a Letter, Socialist Standard, December 1967)