We have seen that Wallerstein considers Leninism to be a variant of liberalism, basing this conclusion on analysis of the development of the Soviet Union after Lenin (see “Wallerstein on liberalism” 4/6/2014). But I approach an analysis of the role of Marxism-Leninism in the world-system with a different method.
I think it important to maintain a distinction between the Russian Revolution under Lenin and the Soviet Union after Lenin. This of course is a complicated subject. I am influenced by Trotsky’s writings on the Russian Revolution and by the analysis of the subsequent development of the Soviet Union by the British Trotskyite Ted Grant. In my view, the October Revolution led by Lenin fell to a petit bourgeois bureaucratic counterrevolution that put Stalin at the head, a counterrevolution that had significant implications for the subsequent internal development of the Soviet Union and the conduct of its foreign policy (see “Reflections on the Russian Revolution” 1/29/2014).
Meanwhile, the Russian Revolution inspired revolutionaries throughout the world. It established as a concrete historical fact the possibility of the taking of control of the state by the popular classes. Inasmuch as revolutionaries were politically active in particular conditions that were different from those of the Russian Revolution, they found it necessary to formulate, often in response to competing interpretations within the nationalist movement, what insights and strategies should be appropriated from Lenin and the Russian Revolution and what new concepts and methods were necessary for the particular conditions of their movement. In adapting Lenin to particular national conditions, various revolutionary leaders were fostering the evolution of Marxism-Leninism. So my approach is to analyze the evolution of Marxism-Leninism as it was developing in the revolutions of the world, each emerging in a particular historical and social context.
Evolving Marxism-Leninism has provided an alternative moral and intellectual tradition and an alternative political practice that has sought to place popular sectors in control of the political-economic system and the development of its ideology. Marx’s analysis of human history had envisioned the revolutionary transformation to an alternative socialist system led by the industrial working class. Lenin appropriated Marx’s insights and adapted them to the conditions of the Russian Revolution, giving emphasis to popular councils formed by workers and peasants. The insights of Marxism-Leninism did not come to fulfillment in the Soviet Union after 1924, and they were ignored by the social democratic movements as well as the universities of the West. But Marxist-Leninist insights were subsequently developed, with creative adaptations, by charismatic leaders in other social contexts: the Chinese Revolution, which gave special emphasis to the peasant; the Vietnamese Revolution, which forged a revolutionary process through the united political action of a traditional scholar-gentry class and the peasantry; revolutionary African nationalism, which envisioned a modern reconstruction of socialism and political practice on a foundation of traditional African values; the Cuban Revolution, which forged united political action of various political sectors in opposition to U.S. imperialism; and the Chavist Revolution in Latin America today, which has formed alternative political parties supported by various popular sectors in order to establish new constitutions.
The evolution of Marxism-Leninism in Third World revolutionary nationalism has led to an understanding that differs in important respects from the formulations of Marx and Lenin. Third World revolutionary nationalism today envisions a revolutionary transformation led not by an industrial working class vanguard but by a vanguard consisting of informed and committed persons from all popular classes and sectors, representing the various popular organizations and tendencies. It is led by a charismatic leader who plays a critical role in unifying the various popular tendencies. It seeks to develop structures of mass participation in order to establish popular control over the state. It envisions a decisive role of the state in formulating a national development plan and in obtaining control of production and of natural resources, utilizing a variety of forms of property, in accordance with the particular conditions of the nation. It expresses a form of international solidarity that is based on patriotic sentiments toward the nation as well as respect for the patriotic symbols and national cultural traditions of all nations. It understands the moral values of the revolution as similar to the morality and spirituality of religious traditions, and it promotes tolerance with respect to personal religious beliefs and practices.
This alternative tradition of revolutionary Third World nationalism is seeking the development of an alternative just and democratic world-system. It embraces certain Enlightenment values: the democratic rights of all, the development of scientific knowledge for the improvement of the human condition, and faith in the future of humanity. But at the same time, it seeks a world that is fundamentally different from the modern world-system. It seeks to protect the social and economic rights of all persons in the world and the sovereign rights of nations, political goals that are impossible under the existing core-peripheral economic relation as well as the existing inequality of power between the capitalist class and the popular classes and sectors.
Having formulated a political agenda that is incompatible with the interests of the global elite, the revolutionary processes are attacked by the global powers and their representatives. There has emerged a global political and ideological battle between the global elite, which seeks to maintain its control over the unsustainable neocolonial world-system, and a global revolutionary process with historic social and ideological roots, which proclaims that nations should be governed by delegates of the people and not by representatives of the elite.
Leninism did not die with Lenin nor was it buried under the weight of the Soviet bureaucracy. It continued to live and to evolve in different historical and social contexts, where charismatic leaders, stimulated by its insights and moved by its commitment to the rights of the humble, instilled it with new life. It is alive today, and in battle, condemning the indifference of the global powers to the sufferings of the poor, and proclaiming faith in the future of humanity.
For further reflections related to this theme, see “Revolutionary patriotism” (8/15/2013); “What is revolution?” (11/14/2013); “Lessons from the Haitian Revolution” (12/18/2013); “The social & historical context of Marx” (1/15/2014); “Reflections on the Russian Revolution” (1/29/2014); “Lessons of the Mexican Revolution” (2/19/2014); “A change of epoch?" (3/18/2014); and “Is Marx today fulfilled?" (3/20/2014).
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Wallerstein, world-systems analysis, liberalism