Revisionism according to Marxist Internet Archive: “A fundamental alteration of a theory, essentially usurping (though taking elements of) the former theory and replacing it with a new one. While the attributes of a theory are subject to change in accordance to changing historic circumstances, changing the fundamental basis of that theory is to nullify it in place of a new one.”
Basically, revisionism is altering the theories of Marxism so that it is no longer a revolutionary ideology, or no longer legitimate Marxism. Attempting to make Marxism into a type of reformism or liberalism is revisionism. Attempting to make Marxism into a form of petty-bourgeois idealism is revisionism. Attempting to make Marxism a justification for social fascism is revisionism. Ultimately, Marxism is a science, and as is well known, science must be followed according to procedures to the largest extent possible, or the results will be affected negatively. Therefore, the charges against anti-revisionists as being dogmatic are baseless, and do not take into account the fact that Marxism is a science within itself. Of course, adding or improving theories, based on dialectical and historical materialism and other Marxist methods of analysis, does not constitute for revisionism, though. In fact, it would be inherently revisionistic not to contribute to Marxian theories and instead constantly insist on “pure Marxism,” as this leads to stagnation and does not understand the ever changing nature of material conditions. For example, when the theories of vanguardism were introduced by the likes of the Bolsheviks, it was not revisionism they were advocating, but progress based on materialism. Therefore, Leninism is Marxism in the modern, imperialist age, which knows that the original theories of Marx cannot generally be utilized exactly as they were written, considering they were written in the late 1800s. Marxism-Leninism continued to evolve, and was the only true form of revolutionary Marxism to ever liberate countries. It is therefore a baseless claim to accuse Stalin a revisionist on the grounds of his theory of socialism in one country; it is the same logic as saying Lenin was a revisionist because his theories of the vanguard didn’t match Marx and Engels views exactly.
As mentioned, Marxism is a form of science. Therefore, Marx and Engels were revolutionary social scientists. And so, science’s theoretical content changes and develops accordingly as new scientific evidence is presented. In Marxist terms, this means that as historical and material conditions change, new theories will have to be understood so as to suit those conditions. Lenin developed his theories of imperialism based on conditions that were not in existence during the time of Marx and Engels, as they had passed away before modern imperialism was implemented. So too, the vanguard was developed as a practical response to historical failures of mass parties that had existed previously, and to spearhead modern revolutionary activity. The nature of these theories proposed by the majority of the Bolsheviks were similar to methods used by Darwin in his theories of evolution, and Marx himself made numerous changes in his own theories. It was therefore necessary and logical for Lenin to advance his theories.
Marxism does however have basic, fundamental principles. These principles are well grounded in historical fact, and legitimate Marxists are well aware of them. They cannot be discarded, or Marxism’s scientific integrity would be severely affected. For example, if an evolutionary scientist started rambling about supernatural things affecting genes, they would be a revisionist of evolution, in a sense. The same goes for Marxism. Rejecting class struggle, rejecting the abolition of private property, rejecting the dictatorship of the proletariat, substituting revolution for reform, and the like. These are revisionist theories. None of these, did Lenin make, however. The same goes for Joseph Stalin, the controversial leader of the Soviet Union after Lenin. Although supporters of Stain are generally the ones to label accurately opponents as revisionist, some leftist communists have the audacity to accuse Stalin and the Bolsheviks as being revisionist themselves, based on their own ignorance.
When the theory that socialism in one country could be constructed, it was the greatest subject of debate among the Russians. Particularly between Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Trotsky favored the system of permanent revolution which calls for a more internationally based method of revolutionary activity, whereas Stalin proposed that socialism could most definitely be built in one country; although he most certainly did not reject the prospect of international revolution, nor did he not aid foreign revolutions, he merely believes that the conditions of global society were not suitable for such a means of revolution. But before discussing the nature of socialism in one country, let us examine the historical context of the theory.
The Bolsheviks under Lenin were the only revolutionary party during the first world war. The other parties insisted on lesser, pseudo-revolutionary views and did not construct any legitimate proletarian party or revolution. It was many of these quasi socialistic groups who then began to denounce Lenin and the Bolsheviks as betraying Marxism because they were calling for a socialist revolution in one country. This tactic was mainly done out of desperation, as the Bolsheviks were generally dominating the leftist scene at the time and by 1921, parties such as the Mensheviks were outlawed. Those who argued against the theory failed to understand the material conditions capitalism had created at the time, in Russia and the world around. During the time of Marx and Engels, the nature of imperialism was not as solidified as it was years later; monopoly capitalism was not in effect, and therefore, it is true that Marx and Engels did not believe in the possibility of socialism in one country, but it was solely because the emergence of imperialistic monopoly capitalism had not occurred as it would go on to do later. Imperialism altered the already uneven development of nations even further. Because of this, the worldwide working class was no longer as equal as they had been, and thus it is foolish to assume that worldwide revolution can occur simultaneously given the material conditions in each country may be drastically different from each other; to attempt to exploit this is essentially degenerate revolutionism and fascistic. Lenin stated:
“Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible in several or even in one capitalist country, taken singly.”
“The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in the various countries. It cannot be otherwise under the commodity production system. From this, it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois for some time.”
Lenin explained that there was indeed the possibility of war breaking out between socialist countries and backwards, or capitalist states. The socialistic war, however, would be justified. In these regards, Marxist-Leninists assert that Lenin put forward the notion that socialism could be established in one or several countries based on the fact that the world revolution vision was no longer possible. He was no a revisionist for this theory, because it indeed acted in accordance to the fact that Marxism is a science. Although Trotsky had not joined the Bolsheviks until 1917, he went on to criticize Lenin’s theories, and later, went on to say that Stalin distorted them. Even supposing Lenin truly did not believe that socialism could be built in one country, Trotskyists furthermore continue to argue as though Lenin’s word was final, which is irrelevant and hypocritical on their own part. When the debate between Trotsky and Stalin ensued, on the issue of socialism in one country, it persisted for as long as five years before Trotsky was finally exiled in 1927, having been labeled a social democratic deviation of the Party. Trotsky and the left opposition were right that Marx and Engels didn’t believe in socialism in one country, but as mentioned, they left out something dire to Marxism; dialectical and historical materialist analysis, which made their own methods of arguing inherently anti-Marxist. Furthermore, the opponents failed to realize that in order to construct socialism, aside from the fundamental principles of Marxism such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, other aspects were necessary. These aspects included an industrialized society, educational and other social advancements, and so forth, all of which do not necessarily require permanent revolution to occur.
During the period of socialist construction in the Soviet Union under Stalin, it is important to note that he did not abandon the principles of internationalism. In “The Foundations of Leninism.” Stalin stated the following:
“But the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean that the complete victory of socialism has been ensured. After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society. But does this mean that it will thereby achieve the complete and final victory of socialism, i.e., does it mean that with the forces of only one country it can finally consolidate socialism and fully guarantee that country against intervention and, consequently, also against restoration? No, it does not. For this the victory of the revolution in at least several countries is needed. Therefore, the development and support of the revolution in other countries is an essential task of the victorious revolution. Therefore, the revolution which has been victorious in one country must regard itself not as a self-sufficient entity, but as an aid, as a means for hastening the victory of the proletariat in other countries.
Lenin expressed this thought succinctly when he said that the task of the victorious revolution is to do “the utmost possible in one country for the development, support and awakening of the revolution in all countries.”
This was said in 1924, when the debate was highly heated among members of the Bolsheviks. He would continually expand on this statement, however. For example in 1938 when he wrote “On the Final Victory of Socialism in the USSR,” and in his last speech of 1952 even:
“It would be a mistake to believe that our Party, which has become a mighty power, does not need more support. That would be wrong. Our Party and our country need the continuous trust, sympathy and support of fraternal peoples outside our borders, and will always need it….
It is understood that our Party must do its duty by its fraternal parties and support them and their peoples in the struggle for liberation and in their struggle for keeping peace. This is what the Party does. (Stormy applause.) After the seizure of power by our Party in 1917, and after our Party took real measures to eliminate the yoke of capitalists and landlords, the representatives of the’ fraternal parties, inspired by our daring and the success of our Party, gave it the name “Shock Brigade” of the revolutionary movement and the workers’ movement of the world. Thereby they expressed the hope that the success of the “Shock Brigade” would alleviate the sufferings of the people in the situation of being under the capitalist yoke. I think that our Party has fulfilled these hopes, especially in the time of the second world war, as the Soviet Union smashed the German and Japanese fascist tyranny and liberated the European and Asian peoples from the danger of fascist slavery. (Stormy applause.)
Of course it was very difficult to fulfill this honorable task as long as there was only one “Shock Brigade,” as long as it stood alone, the avant-garde in the fulfillment of this task. But that is in the past. Now it is completely different. Now, from China and Korea to Czechoslovakia and Hungary, new “Shock Brigades” have appeared on the map, in the form of people’s democracies; now the struggle has been eased for our Party and also the work proceeds better. (Stormy, prolonged applause.)”
Stalin acknowledged fully the risks of building socialism in one country. He wrote extensively on the economics of this, and developed numerous works with the topic in mind as well. But none of this made him a revisionist, as one should plainly see. Rather than take up the defeatist position that socialism cannot be established in one country, or the opportunistic position of attacking such movements, one should educate themselves on the matter further, and understand that although the Soviet Union was no the ideal socialist state, it still was on a solid road towards developing a classless society from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. The Russian proletariat smashed the conceptions against socialism in one country as well, counter to the claims of those such as Kautsky who were the prominent naysayers of the era. The same was true for others such as Enver Hoxha, who was the only other legitimate socialistic state according to anti-revisionist Marxists-Leninists. So, ultimately, it would be foolish and anti-Marxist to proclaim Stalin’s theories were revisionist. Further theories such as aggravation of class struggle helped solidify how socialism in one country could be built. Meanwhile, Trotsky’s most significant contributions to legitimate Marxist theory was his brief book in 1920 which defended the Bolsheviks, and parts of his works dealing with the subject of fascism, the latter of which he would continually denounce “Stalinists” nonetheless and brushed aside the fact that German Social Democrats feared the KPD more so than the NSDAP. Other than that, he would continue to criticize the Soviets and present himself as their enemy even while exiled. More than that, he would simply reiterate theories made by Marx and Engels not taking into account historical and material conditions, and thus, his methodology was flawed and un-Marxist. Thus, I will tolerate criticisms of Stalin and other Marxist-Leninists on other levels, but as should have been made evident in this article, I will simply not tolerate the charges that they were revisionists.