February 27, 2010

The Marxist-Leninist Guide to Leftist Factions

[This article has been revised and updated - Editor, 2010]


Marxism is a political, social and economic ideology based on scientific doctrine and the materialist interpretation of history. Marxism was developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as a radical and revolutionary position on how to achieve socialism. Whereas the earlier socialists of the time believed in reform movements, Marxism called for a revolution of the proletarian class. One of the foundations of Marxism is dialectical and historical materialism. Marxism states that humanity’s history is related to class struggle, the struggle between social classes, and these struggles have changed throughout time. In present form, class struggle is primarily between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the bourgeoisie being those who own the means of production and control society and the proletariat being members of the working class who must sell their labor power merely to be exploited, having no access to the means of production. Production relations evolve overtime through class relations, and society itself becomes led by whichever class takes the upper hand. Society itself follows the “stagist” theory of historical periodization in which the order is primitive communism > slave society > feudal society > capitalism > socialism and the final epoch being communist society. Marxism also calls for a scientific criticism of capitalism, and asserts that capitalism is exploitative and essentially privatized tyranny. One of the central tenets of Marxism and communism is the abolition of private property; Marx argues society cannot fully develop until private property relations are abolished. This means that productive forces of capital such as factories, land and the other means of production must be socialized. To do this, Marxism calls for revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat in which the people themselves, members of the working class, democratically run a socialist society until classes are abolished and there is no need for the state. Marx and Engels helped to develop the theories of materialist dialectics, the labor theory of value, the theory of alienation in capitalist society, commodity fetishism and so forth, and the two provided highly detailed economic works to back their political and social beliefs. In regards to Engels’ contribution to Marxism, after Marx’s death Engels continued editing and expanding upon their work. Marxism would later be expanded even further by Marxists such as Lenin.


Marxism-Leninism is the extension of Marxism through Lenin’s ideas, but also through Stalin. This calls for a vanguard party, or a revolutionary party of highly organized revolutionaries to help spearhead class consciousness and organize the people in order to better achieve a socialist society. Lenin knew that Russia’s conditions were not suitable for a “pure Marxist” approach, and therefore scientific correction to Marxist theory that could be applied to better suit changing conditions of society was necessary. Like “pure” Marxism, Leninism is against reformism as the means of achieving communism because of its inherent contradictory nature. Only through revolution can communism be achieved under the leadership of the vanguard party. In the Soviet Union, the dictatorship of the proletariat was governed through decentralized direct democracy practiced through councils called Soviets. The workers themselves retained political power in the form of Soviet/proletarian democracy. As Lenin called it in The State and Revolution: “An immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the rich… Suppression by force from democracy for the exploiters and oppressors of the people.” The Bolsheviks took the leading role in the struggle for the working class. They were against nationalism and exploitative elements. Stalin would further expand on Lenin’s ideas with the belief of socialism in one country and the theory that exploitative elements can arise within socialism and must be combated against via the theory of aggravation of class struggle under socialism. Not only did Stalin show how socialism in one country could work, but Hoxha of Albania did as well. Marxism-Leninism marks the most scientific and correct theory of Marxism/communism, and in practice it meant an increased focus on agriculture and industry in order to sustain a socialist state.


Anarchism, like communism, calls for the abolition of monopolies and imperialism and for a more socially-based system. Therefore, the end goal of anarchism is essentially a communist society (unless we’re referring to anarcho-capitalists of course) but how communism is achieved is where Marxists and anarchists differ. Historically, Bakunin, an anarchist, and Marx were initially close comrades. The two split because of differing viewpoints; Bakunin disagreed with the notion of dictatorship of the proletariat. Many anarchists may well disagree with the theory, but their conceptions are false and inaccurate. Anarchism, like communism, has broad implications. Mutualists for example support market socialism, which of course is revisionist and contradictory and not truly socialist. Most importantly, anarcho-communists may believe immediate transition to communism is necessary, which demonstrates a lack of understanding and maturity; the results of attempting to jump ahead into communism without first establishing a proper revolutionary party, a proper socialist nation, and then expanding socialism throughout nations, and all without understanding Marxist theories (e.g. dialectical materialism) will result in potential failure. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that labor unions are the organizations that help achieve communist society. Communists and anarchists have been seen cooperating in riots, protests, strikes and so forth to weaken capitalism. The vanguard party ultimately suppresses anarchism as a left form of petty-bourgeois ideology, however, and ultimately anarchism remains immature and idealistic when compared to Marxism.


There is essentially no such thing as “Stalinism.” The term is used primarily to discredit supporters of the line of Joseph Stalin and the USSR. The proper term for Stalin’s beliefs is still Marxism-Leninism, as he expanded further on Lenin and Marx’s ideas. Sometimes the bourgeois try to argue that “Stalinism” is a form of government in which rapid industrial and agriculture development occurs, or even that “Stalinism” is an ideology or even a mindset, but this is a falsehood. On the subject of his personal works, Stalin’s “Marxism and the National Question” of 1913 provided insights into the Marxist theory of the nation and national struggle and was praised by Lenin.


Maoism is a Marxist-influenced ideology developed by Mao Tse-Tung, also known as “Mao Tse-Tung Thought.” Maoism differs in numerous ways from Marxism-Leninism. Mao stated that revolution can be made by the rural peasantry in colonized countries and by the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry within imperialist countries. This is to say, Maoism isn’t necessarily the idea of alliance between workers and peasants, but the alliance of classes that would benefit from the revolution, which include national bourgeoisie. Maoism essentially states that everyone can become a part of the Party regardless of their social class; this leaves room for opportunism and those who have not developed class consciousness to infiltrate the Party, unfortunately. Maoism calls for rural guerrilla warfare via protracted people’s war, in which the people themselves fight for the development of socialism. Maoism upholds the idea of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which furthermore states that people should spread communism and join the Party to influence the culture from a capitalist/feudalist society into a socialist era. However, masses of people who are not class consciousness can weaken the communist base of such an idea. In China, this happened when violence broke out and the Party began to lose control.

Maoism also calls for the theory of New Democracy, according to which the socialist stage of development is reached through a decades-long period of state-capitalism and the collaboration between several classes. Some supported this approach, upholding it as a new development of Marxism and the application of Marxism to colonial, neo-colonial and semi-feudal countries. Others were more criticial of the long-lasting nature of such a theory as well as the theoretical possibility of several classes being in power or state-capitalism peacefully transitioning to socialism. Enver Hoxha notes in Imperialism & the Revolution: “According to ‘Mao Tse-Tung Thought’, a new democratic regime can exist and socialism can be built only on the basis of the collaboration of all classes and all parties. Such a concept of socialist democracy, of the socialist political system, which is based on ‘long-term coexistence and mutual supervision’ of all parties, and which is very much like the current preachings of the Italian, French, Spanish and other revisionists, is an open denial of the leading and indivisible role of the Marxist-Leninist party in the revolution and the construction of socialism.” Maoism has as its outlook an anti-dogmatic viewpoint and throughout the 1960-1976 period subtly traded knowledge on Marxism for knowledge on Mao and his "outstanding" contributions to Marxist theory. The rightward shift and pro-US stance of the Mao and the Chinese Communist Party in the early 70's (which went into full swing after Mao's death in 1976), split the international Maoist movement into revisionist yet progressive sections, social-democratic sections and a Third-Worldist section. The Cultural Revolution, however, is generally supported by all Maoist lines even though it liquidated the CCP and went against the proletariat. There are reasons to support Maoism because of its correct stances, but also because of Maoism’s incorrect and unique stances it can become negated with error.


“Hoxhaism” as a distinct ideology does not exist, but is rather a word sometimes used to describe the supporters of the line of Enver Hoxha, the Albanian leader who portrayed himself as a defender of Marxism-Leninism. Seeking to uphold Marxist-Leninist theory, Hoxha defended Stalin from revisionist attacks and expressed his disdain for Brezhnevism, Titoism, Eurocommunism, Maoism, "anti-dogmatic" movements and other covers for revisionism and social-democracy. “Hoxhaists” refer to themselves as Marxist-Leninists.

Historically, one may have called themselves pro-Hoxha or pro-Albania, but Hoxha himself rejected the label of “Hoxhaism.” Marxism-Leninism in practice in Albania meant strict anti-revisionism; therefore Albania became rather isolated from the rising revisionism of Soviet Union and post-Maoist China. There was much focus on the development of industry and agriculture within Albania. Essentially, “Hoxhaism” is the same as Marxism-Leninism without the revisionist trends taken by the Chinese leadership. Although “Hoxhaism” does incorporate some of the same developments that Maoism does, such as more mass involvement with the political party, ultimately it sticks to Marxism-Leninism. Nonetheless, "Hoxhaists" and Maoists have often worked with one another or joined in the same parties.


Another colloquial word, "Brezhnevism" is a blanket term for supporters of the later Soviet Union and the pro-Soviet line. This form of thinking is a revisionist yet at first alluring ideology based around the belief that Khrushchev was a rightist deviator from Marxism-Leninism but that Brezhnev put a halt to this continued trend and consolidated socialism. It has come to mean basically “Pan-Socialism,” which can be aptly defined as “if a world leader claimed to be socialist and [probably] wasn't named Tito, then he or she probably was, and if he or she claimed to lead a socialist nation under Marxist-Leninist guidelines, then so much the better.” Of course, even this definition is not comprehensive, since many pro-Soviet parties have begun rehabilitation of Tito and Yugoslavia. Brezhnevites generally state that Leonid Brezhnev, Joseph Stalin, Hugo Chavez, Deng Xiaoping, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Nicolae Ceausescu, Enver Hoxha, Mao Zedong and many others were all genuine in their communist views, but that the latter two specifically made mistakes and/or moved too far towards the ultra-left when they split with the USSR. They condemn "Hoxhaism" and Maoism as “sectarian” and its analysis of state-capitalism as ultra-left and en route towards the road of rightism. Similarly, they deny the concept of social-imperialism and defend the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan in particular as fully justified, while also defending present-day China as socialist. They respond to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 with disdain, supporting the government's move against the students.

Brezhnevism is strong as a movement primarily because it allows for the acceptance of virtually all communist lines as acceptable and adopting an appealing "call to arms" towards all segments of Marxism-Leninism to unite towards revolution. In the process however, it ignores the fact that Marxist-Leninists do call for unity, just not unity for the sake of unity. Brezhnevites are also engaging in meaningless talk when they discuss "sectarianism," since the issue of whether China is socialist or not (among many other things) can in no way be viewed as a minor issue. Brezhnevism also has at its basis a welfarist appeal to emotion. What makes a country "socialist?" Well, first it claims to be socialist, and it is led by a communist party of some sort. It also provides for the people (however varied the "provisions" be, from the DPRK to Cuba to China). Clearly, the "great concern" a country has for its citizens magically makes it socialist when such is backed up by socialist rhetoric, if we are to believe the Brezhnevites. When this fails, of course, they go into a Trotskyist-like "defense of the gains of the revolution," condemning all criticisms of a "socialist" country as attempts at "counterrevolution."  

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 has produced a specific, inclusionist tendency which was open to both Brezhnevites and (most) Trotskyites, known as Castroism. Not dependent upon the USSR for its rise to power, the Cuban "Communists" pushed forward progressive reforms, but US suspicions forced the Cubans into the Soviet camp, and Castro became a committed Soviet ally. The fall of Soviet state-capitalism in 1991 allowed for a flourishing of Castroist ideology, which is a mixture of idealism, pro-social-imperialist Soviet Brezhnevism and a "humanist" outlook. Most Castroites delude themselves with grandoise visions of guerrilla warfare in the manner of Che Guevara, and tend to be open to revisionist regimes and leaders while shying away from "dogmatism" and "Stalinism." Castroists can also be semi-Maoists, and oftentimes their love of Foco merges with Maoist ultra-left phraseology. In the end, however, Castroism is the most clear example of petty-bourgeois mentality within the left today; of a person so disconnected from the proletariat that he must mythologize him and have dreams of epic battles between himself—on the side of the proletariat—and the exploiters.  

Castro took on the line of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, even making liberal capitalist reforms similar to Gorbachev. When Castro first explained his theories in 1953, nationalism and social justice were stressed, but not socialism. Castro merely “became” a Marxist in 1961 to gain the support of the revisionist Soviet Union, which led to him being merely a puppet. Progressive forces were encouraged by Castro to participate in anti-imperialism, but without the will for a vanguard party. The revolutionary movement was successful in removing the Batista regime, and the people gave and still gave high support to this revolution. From there, the goal of Cuba was not truly to achieve socialism. In regards to the economic policies taken by Castro, Guevara himself argued against these capitalist policies and was critical of such actions.

As for Che Guevara himself, it is the opinion of the APL that unlike Castro, Guevara was a Marxist-Leninist who merely made mistakes, particularly his theory of foco. Through proper organization against a country's army, Che states, the conditions that make a revolution possible can be put into place by the vanguard movement and popular forces, which retain the advantage in a non-urban area. "Focoism" is the theory of guerrilla techniques by small armed units launching attacks from rural areas in order to incite dissent and form fronts from popular discontent. Che had support for both Mao and Stalin's methods. Sadly, when Guevara attempted focoism in African countries, it failed, since it was not suitable for a universal model and was dependent on extremely unique conditions within Cuba.


The key theoretical points of Trotskyism are that socialism in one country is an impossibility and opposition to “Stalinism” is paramount within the movement. The theory of permanent revolution also inherently assumes all nations develop on the same route, which they clearly do not. Internationalism is acceptable by Marxist-Leninists, but we recognize the possibility or necessity of building socialism strongly in one country first. Regarding historical figures and previous socialist societies, according to Trotskyists Stalin represented the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy and was the gravedigger of the revolution. However, Trotskyism is by no means entirely hegemonic within its own ranks, and there a number of different lines and disagreements that need to be examined and kept in mind. On the right-wing, Trotskyists of the Sam Marcy type (called “Marcyite”) generally defend the USSR and other states as "degenerated" (the USSR) and/or "deformed" (the Warsaw Pact), meaning that these states were led to some extent by bureaucracy, but remained basically within the dictatorship of the proletariat. The “left-wing” of Trotskyism, Cliffites broke with orthodox Marcyite Trotskyism on the issue of supporting the Soviet Union and condemned the "Stalinist" USSR, Eastern Bloc states and China all as state-capitalist for their entire existence, rejecting both the "degenerated" and "deformed" analysis. In the middle there are also various anomalies like pro-Cuba Trotskyists. Trotskyism is arguably the most noticeable current in the Western world due to its appeal among sections of the petty-bourgeois youth and due to misinformation about Soviet history.

Utopian Socialism

This label may also include generally progressive academics and non-Marxists who claimed to be socialists, including "champagne socialist" historical figures such as Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. It is used historically to refer to movements in the time of Marx and Engels that identified as socialist. The notion of Utopian socialism is grounded in idealism, or the belief that thought creates reality and not the other way around. Utopian socialists essentially ignore class struggle and ultimately tailor their visions of society to the aristocracy, not the working class and the people themselves. The notions of Utopian socialism are reminiscent of Marx’s primitive communism; Utopian socialism becomes too grounded in nostalgia and petty romanticism and not scientific doctrine. It wasn’t until the 1700s that Utopian socialists began realizing the need for scientific development, but even these changes were less radical and again less scientific than Marxism. Marx and Engels noted the positives of Utopian socialists, and there was without a doubt some influence of this movement within communist literature, but ultimately Marx and Engels denounced the Utopians as too idealistic. Engels wrote extensively about the subject in his work Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Left-Communism & Council Communism

Council communism as a theory argues for democratic worker councils to be established in the workplace. Left-Communism is against reformism, but also inherently anti-Leninist and anti-vanguard party. They oppose the idea of planned economies and are considered "ultra-left" by Marxist-Leninists, with more similarities to anarchism rather than Marxism. Lenin criticized the council communists in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. It should be noted that the word "soviet" means council in Russian and that the worker's councils in the Soviet Union retained high levels of political control. In fact, these workers councils, or soviets, retained high levels of political influence throughout the Soviet Union’s existence. The movements of council communists that arose within the Soviet Union and Europe were often divided and unorganized themselves; council communism is rejection of Leninism and is by its nature unorganized.