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What is Marxism-Leninism? Introducing a new series on the Science of Revolution

By J. Sykes

Soviet poster depicts Lenin cleaning the world of garbage.

This is the beginning of a new series on Marxist-Leninist theory. Fight Back! News is publishing this series of short articles in the interest of furthering the critical task of fusing Marxism with the workers’ movement. Marx stressed that the purpose of theory is to understand the world so as to change the world, and this series hopes to help give activists in the people’s struggles a better grasp of these theoretical tools. But let’s begin with an overview: when we say we are Marxist-Leninists, what does that mean? What is Marxism-Leninism, and why is it important?

In the essay Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism, Vladimir Lenin, the great leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, argued that Marxism grew out of the most advanced theory of its time. It drew from the most advanced thinking in British political economy, especially from Adam Smith and David Ricardo; from German philosophy in G.W.F. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach; and from the most advanced ideas of French socialism.

Marx and Engels took each of these sources to a higher level and developed their critique of capitalism, the philosophy of Dialectical and Historical Materialism, and the theory of Scientific Socialism. These ideas were tested and refined through International Workingmen’s Association, the First International, where they helped to lead the struggles of workers around the world, particularly in Europe and the United States.

Marxism didn’t spring from the heads of these two thinkers. It was built upon a foundation of theory and practice that came before it, and was tested and refined through the summation of the practical experiences of the international working class. This is why it is often called the “science of revolution.” As this series progresses, we will dive deep into these three component parts of Marxism. We’ll break down the elements of Marxism in political economy, philosophy, and scientific socialism so that we can use these theoretical tools to analyze our conditions and find the best path forward.

It is important to note, however, that Marxism isn’t some kind of dogma. We don’t accept anything just because someone said it. Practice is the sole criterion of truth. Revolutionary theory is a guide to action, and it changes and develops as the world changes and develops, building upon itself just as Marx and Engels built upon the advanced theory of their time. In the early part of the 20th century, Vladimir Lenin and the experience of the October Revolution and socialist construction in the Soviet Union further developed the science of revolution in many ways. Lenin’s analysis of the further development of capitalism into monopoly capitalism led to his development of the theory of Imperialism and the importance of anti-imperialist struggles for national liberation.

The first socialist state was founded by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in October 1917. Marxism-Leninism became the Marxism of the age of imperialism and proletarian revolution. Stalin, who went on to lead the USSR through socialist construction and the defeat of fascism in the Second World War, used Marxism-Leninism to take the Soviets from horse-drawn plows to one of the most advanced countries in history in just 30 short years. Likewise, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China used and developed Marxism-Leninism in the experience of the socialist revolution in China, and in the process bettered the lives of a billion people.

If we want to transform society, end exploitation and build socialism, we need Marxism-Leninism. Certainly we need to study the ideas of the principal theorists of the science of revolution: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. But that’s not the end of revolutionary science. The revolutionary struggles in this country likewise produced theory through the summation of practical experience that can help guide us as we build revolutionary consciousness and organization today. The socialist and communist movements of the past here in the U.S. are rich with lessons we can draw upon. For that reason, we should likewise study the writings of those who came before us here in the United States – revolutionaries like William Z. Foster, Mother Bloor, Harry Haywood, Claudia Jones and many others. We can learn a great deal from these movements and without a doubt their struggles are a source of inspiration for revolutionaries who want to transform this country. Ours is a living science. We are continuing to build and develop revolutionary theory through practice today.

What Mao Zedong once said merits repeating: “If there is to be revolution, there must be a revolutionary party. Without a revolutionary party, without a party built on the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory and in the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary style, it is impossible to lead the working class and the broad masses of the people in defeating imperialism and its running dogs.”

We want what Mao wanted. We need revolution, and we therefore need revolutionary theory. Our hope is that this series of articles will serve to give advanced activists in the people’s struggles the foundation in Marxist-Leninist theory upon which to advance their study so that they can apply it to the many urgent tasks at hand, just as all successful revolutionaries who came before us did.

See our full series of articles on Marxist-Leninist theory here.

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