In defence of genuine Marxism

1337B7A5 0CF0 4336 97A1 B6CFEABB3A18One often hears of this caricature of Marxism as a dry, narrow doctrine, which reduces all human thought to economics and the development of the productive forces. Yet even today there are people who like to call themselves Marxists who defend, not the genuine ideas of Marx and Engels in all their richness, breadth and profundity, but the very same “economist” caricature of the bourgeois critics of Marxism. This is not Marxism at all but, to use Hegel’s expression, “die leblosen Knochen eines Skeletts” (the lifeless bones of a skeleton), on which Lenin commented: “What is necessary is not leblose Knochen, but living life.”...

The advanced workers and youth have a thirst for ideas and theory. They want to understand what is happening in society. They are not attracted by tendencies that merely tell them what they already know: that capitalism is in crisis, that there is unemployment, that they live in bad houses, earn low wages and so on. Serious people want to know why things are as they are, what happened in Russia, what Marxism is, and other questions of a theoretical character. That is why theory is not an optional extra, as the “practicos” imagine, but an essential tool of the revolutionary struggle.

– From In defence of theory — or Ignorance never yet helped anybody

First published in early 1902, What Is to Be Done? remains a classic of Marxism on the building of the revolutionary party, which sets out the party’s role as the organiser and director of the revolution. The pamphlet was written as part of a conflict with the opportunism of the Economists, who emphasised ‘bread and butter issues’ rather than theory. Lenin uses the book to explain the necessity of creating a centralised group of professional and dedicated revolutionary cadres before the “times of explosion and outbursts.” The history of the past 100 years has proven Lenin right: time and again, the masses have been ready to struggle, but let down by their leadership.

Lenin's famous call to arms makes the case for a disciplined revolutionary party, organised around an “All-Russian” political newspaper. Through the aid of a newspaper “a permanent organisation will naturally take shape that will engage, not only in local activities, but in regular general work, and will train its members to follow political events carefully, appraise their significance and their effect on the various strata of the population, and develop effective means for the revolutionary party to influence these events.”