Negation of the Negation

The Nepali revolution has not won, but neither has it lost. There does not seem an imminent danger to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-Maoist)-led government, yet also the government does not seem completely safe. Some believe the Nepali revolution signals the first of a new cycle of revolutions inspired by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Others believe the Nepali revolution signals the last of the cycle of revolutions inspired by the Bolsheviks in Russia. We may think of this cycle as starting in Russia, then China, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, etc, through to Peru and Nepal. I think the latter correct-future revolutions must take a different form, and move away from the Bolshevik or Marxist Leninist model of revolution. Thus far, Marxist Leninist revolutions in the various countries have ended the ‘feudal relations of production’, and replaced it with ‘capitalist relations of production’. Simply put, the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban etc revolutions have created modern capitalist nation states, not communism. I think the leaders of the CPN-Maoist implicitly recognise this, hence Finance Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s statement in the US to ‘leave communism to our grandchildren’. The limitations of the Nepali revolution show the limitations of the Marxist-Leninist theory as well as practice.

Contradictions in Historical Materialism

The science of Marxism has, indeed, discovered the laws of society that can explain how one form of society changes into another form of society. Marxist historians have revolutionised the study of history in every area, from the early origins of humanity to the modern world. Historical materialism can explain and shed light on all periods of human history. Historical materialism does not seem able, however, to explain itself. In those periods of history when Marxism itself played a decisive and dominant role; historical materialism does not seem able to explain nor understand. This seems a contradiction inside the Marxist system, and the inability to resolve this contradiction prevents the Communist movement from advancing ahead. For example, Marxists constantly say that the ‘masses are the real creators of history’, as an explicit challenge to the ‘great man’ hypothesis of bourgeois history. However, in all the Marxist-Leninist revolutions we see again the ‘great man’; the great Lenin, the great Stalin, the Great Mao etc, without whom the revolution would not have succeeded. This seems a glaring contradiction. Again, consider the following questions about the USSR

Did the revolution create a socialist state?

If so, when did the USSR turn into a capitalist state?

The Khrushchev line parties claim socialism ended when the USSR collapsed. Maoist and Hoxha line parties claim that Khrushchev ended socialism by turning away from the line of Stalin. Trotsky line parties claim that Stalin ended socialism, and Stalin himself represents the counter revolution by turning away from the line of Lenin. Nobody dares to criticise the great Lenin.

Marxists seem unable to analyse the USSR with any kind of objectivity, and instead of analysis we get a ‘party line’ that passes for analysis. If one reads or listens to an account of the Russian revolution by parties or historians that ‘uphold’ Stalin, the role of leaders such as Trotsky, Bukharin or Radek do not merit mention or study. They do not mention the Moscow trials of the 1930s. They tell a story of the ‘good guy’ Stalin saving the revolution from the ‘bad guys’ such as Trotsky, only for the evil Khrushchev to cunningly reverse all the gains made by Stalin.

Likewise, in Trotskyist accounts, they simply show us with the reverse picture; the ‘good guy’ Trotsky outwitted by the villainous Stalin. Just as the ‘Stalinists’ keep an ominous silence regarding the Moscow trials; likewise the Trotskyists keep an ominous silence regarding the Kronstadt rebellion against the Bolsheviks and Trotsky’s role in this tragedy. It seems to me that Trotsky’s criticisms against Stalin seem correct, but Stalin’s criticisms of Trotsky also seem correct. They both seem correct and both seem incorrect. International revolution was impossible and socialism in one country was impossible, as socialism in one country turns into its opposite, state capitalism and finally just capitalism. Marxism-Leninism has not gone further.

Marxism-Leninism has not properly addressed the following problems:

1) The Bolsheviks smashed the Tsarist feudal state, and created a new ‘workers state’. Why didn’t the revisionists or bourgeoisie smash this so-called ‘workers state’ in turn when they reintroduced capitalism?

2) In China, the Communists also smashed the old feudal state and created a new ‘workers state’. However, Deng Xiaoping and his successors seem quite able to use the ‘workers state’ for capitalism. How?

3) In the USSR, why did the masses seem unable to tell the difference between a revolutionary line and a counter-revolutionary line, or the difference between the line of Lenin and that of Stalin, and the line of Stalin from that of Khrushchev?

4) Likewise in China, why did the masses seem unable to tell the difference between the revolutionary line of Mao Zedong and the gang of four, and the revisionist line of Deng Xiaoping?

The simplest and best explanation is simply that the Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and Vietnamese revolutions were bourgeois revolutions, and not proletarian revolutions. I think the Nepalese revolution can change the feudal relations of production and introduce capitalist relations through agrarian reform or revolution. If the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese etc revolutions created modern capitalist states, then why should the Nepalese Communists, following their examples, go further?

Party Vs Class

The bourgeois nature of all the forms of Marxism-Leninism seems clearest in the form of organisation. The Leninist idea of a centralised, authoritarian, hierarchical party led by professional revolutionaries, a party that seeks to centralise all power in one organisation, proves extremely effective for an underground struggle, such as an urban insurrection or a Peoples War. However, this form of party, a ‘democratic centralist’ party, does not belong exclusively to Marxist-Leninists. Any political ideology can use this form of organisation for any ends whatsoever. In Nepal, many of the Terai and Madhesi armed groups, some led by former Maoist commanders, use the ‘democratic centralist’ form of party. The LTTE in Sri Lanka and many other nationalist and even Islamic groups across the world also use the ‘democratic centralist’ form of organisation. Even some NGOs and multi-national companies use this form of organisation. Undoubtedly, this form of organisation proves extremely effective for struggle. Otto Ruhle, a German Marxist of the early 20th century, in a provocative essay entitled ‘The struggle against Fascism begins with the struggle against Bolshevism,’ argued that Hitler and Mussolini only copied the Bolshevik model for their Fascist ideology, because the party and state structure of Fascism bears remarkable similarities, in form, to the Bolshevik party and state. Mao Zedong seemed aware of this, as he often warned that if the political line of a Communist party changes, the party itself can turn into its opposite, a Social Fascist party, or Fascism presenting itself as Socialism. A Fascist party and a Communist party share the same form of organisation, but the ideological content appear as opposite. Mao seemed aware that the ‘democratic centralist’ party would centralise not just power in one place, but also wealth in one place, in the party itself. Thus, after a revolution, the new bourgeoisie would emerge from inside the party. Mao did not seem able, however, to condemn the ‘democratic centralist’ form of the party, probably because he himself led such a party! Simply put, ‘democratic centralism’ is not very democratic, but very centralised.

The Marxist-Leninist tendency to centralise all power in one place, in one person, has proved both effective and ineffective. This tendency seems effective in countries like Nepal, where many people can neither read nor write, and the political tradition demands a single strong leader. In the leader, the people find a reflection of themselves, a leader who can say what they wish to say, and lead them to where they cannot go themselves. However, this form of leadership causes many problems, as the leader becomes more than human, and the person of the leader becomes inseparable from the political line. The tendency of the leader to put their own families and friends in positions of power and to not know ‘when’ to leave power presents a big problem. The failure of Cuba, after the long reign of Fidel Castro, to find another leader apart from Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother, represents a failure of this tendency. The examples of North Korea and Zimbabwe also testify to this failure.

This tendency, taken to its extreme, such as with Chairman Gonzalo and the Shining Path of Peru, has proved tragic. When the Peruvian state captured Chairman Gonzalo and other central committee leaders of the PCP (Communist Party of Peru), their entire struggle collapsed. Even now, the remnants of the Shining Path go on and on about the great leader Chairman Gonzalo, even thought Gonzalo now resides in a top security prison and cannot even lead himself to the toilet. From tragedy we move to farce, and the strange behaviour of Chairman Bob Avakian, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA. Even though Chairman Avakian has not led any kind of Peoples War or any major revolutionary struggle, he has declared a ‘new synthesis’ that goes beyond Marx, Lenin and Mao. Chairman Avakian claims to have a made a ‘break in epistemology’, yet seems to have never studied the works of Russell, Wittgenstein, Husserl, Heidegger and other philosophers of the 20th century, or even distinguished Marxist philosophers such as Lukacs, Gramsci, Ilyenkov etc. RCP USA comrades describe Chairman Avakian as ‘the American Lenin’ (which, I presume, would make Lenin the Russian Avakian…) and sometimes even praise god for Chairman Avakian. Needless to say, nobody outside of the RCP USA actually believes this nonsense, and the RCP USA resembles a strange cult rather than a real Communist party. Ground Control to Chairman Bob… Dr. Bhattarai, after the Maoist victory in the CA elections, compared Chairman Prachanda to Lenin and Napoleon. I think this seems correct, if we understand that both Lenin and Napoleon turned their countries into modern nation states. This is the limit of Marxism Leninism and this form of leadership. For a Proletarian revolution, I believe we need a new form of organisation.

I do not claim to know ‘what’ this new form of organisation take, but I can say what form it should take:

1) The culture and practice of Marxist-Leninists seems stale and completely lacking in creativity. Consider the number of labels Marxists use to criticise other Marxists: ‘opportunist’, ‘revisionist’, ultra-leftist’, ‘rightist’, ‘dogmatist’, ‘pragmatist’, ‘Stalinist’, ‘Trotskyist’ ‘petit bourgeois anarchist’ etc. If we do not like another’s ideas, we can dismiss them as ‘eclectic’, metaphysical’, ‘idealist’ etc. So many labels, so little thought. If we view the Marxist-Leninist system as a type of game, with certain rules, we observe the following: Comrade A says to Comrade B that X and Y must be done. Comrade B asks why. Comrade A then quotes from Lenin to justify his assertion. Comrade B says to Comrade A that he misunderstands Lenin, and accuses him of misquoting Lenin, taking Lenin out of context, and comes up with a counter quote from Lenin. Comrade A responds by giving the context in which Lenin said such and such thing. Comrade B accuses Comrade A of misunderstanding the context, and so on and so on and so on. Frankly, even though Marxists claim Marxism to be science, this kind of practice does not seem very scientific. Rather, it resembles the kind of theology practiced by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the ‘peoples of the book’. An unquestioned assumption behind this kind of argumentation in the Communist movement is the belief that Marx and Lenin were unquestionably right, simply because Marx is Marx and Lenin is Lenin, and the Russian revolution ‘succeeded.’ Frankly speaking, the longer and longer the Bolshevik revolution fades into the past, the less and less convincing the tales and legends of the great Lenin will seem.

2) I believe that this emphasis on the great names, on forming a party on the basis of Marxism-Leninism, Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, Trotskyism etc seems completely ridiculous. Consider the number of Communist parties in Nepal; 1) CPN-ML 2) CPN-UML 3) CPN-MLM 4) CPN-MLM Prachanda Path 5) CPN workers and peasants party 5) CPN-ML unified 6) CPN-unity centre Masal 7) CPN-Masal revolutionary left wing 8) CPN-Masal and no doubt many others. L & M, however, are a brand of cigarettes.

3) Marxists seem to already know, without studying, that Marx and Lenin defeated their opponents, and so do not revisit the old debates. The one-sidedness of this seems clear, as we have read what Marx said about the Gotha program, but few have actually read the Gotha program. We have read Marx’s criticisms of Feuerbach, but we have never read Feuerbach. We have read Marx’s criticisms of Bakunin and Proudhon, but have never read Bakunin or Proudhon. Let us take the last, Marx’s criticisms of Bakunin, the Anarchist leader of the First International.

Marx argued that the working class in the advanced capitalist countries of England, France, and Germany would lead the revolution. Bakunin disagreed and argued that workers in these advanced countries would not revolt, and considered them as forming a ‘labour aristocracy.’ (Lenin took over Bakunin’s idea of ‘labour aristocracy,’ and developed it.) Bakunin believed that the revolution would take place in Russia, and peasants would play a major role. This is what happened, and the revolutionary role of the peasantry seems clear in Nepal. Marx argued that the First International should have a single line and program, his own line and program, and all the chapters of the First International should follow this line. Bakunin rejected this, and argued that individual chapters should have their own program and line, and that the International should not seek uniformity. The demand for one and only one political line as the basis of unity does not allow for unity; this is clear. Marx argued that the proletariat needed a centralised party to represent their interests, while Bakunin argued that a centralised political party of the proletariat would simply turn into the new rulers over the proletariat. This happened in Russia, China and other places. Now, in the 21st century, we can see that Marx’s criticisms of Bakunin were correct, but Bakunin’s criticisms of Marx were also correct. Both are correct and both are incorrect.

Orthodoxy-Bulleh Shah did not follow the laws of Islam. He and his disciples did not fast during Ramadan, and were often seen drunk. One day, a great Ulema, or Muslim religious leader, came to meet Bulleh Shah. The Ulema stated that he was an orthodox Muslim and had studied in the famous Al-Azhar University in Egypt and was a follower of the Sunna of the Prophet Mohammed. Bulleh Shah replied to the Ulema: ‘You may be an orthodox Muslim, but I am an unorthodox Muslim, I am so unorthodox, I am not even a Muslim!’

Roshan Kissoon is an international freelance journalist who has worked with the Maoists in Nepal. Read other articles by Roshan.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 24th, 2009 at 10:44am #

    i am mot sure that roshan equates industrialiazation with capitalism.
    one can’t equate wealth/money in america with wealth/money in USSR.
    it is obvious that russia without communism wld have not needed to be industrailized to survive or tp prevent an aggression against it.

    but russia was ruled by communists thus had lethal enemies. china is ruled by communists; thus it needs to acquire good weapons to abide.
    it can be done via industrialization only.

    as US wld never sell china their best weapons. today, as gaza had shown any land can be pulverized just from air alone with minimal casualties.

    wld cuba with nuclear weapons be so hounded by haters of socialism? probably not as it cld threaten US not only with own wmd but wld arm other socialist lands with wmd.

  2. lichen said on January 24th, 2009 at 3:47pm #

    Yes, marxism, trotskyism et all is stale, tired, outdated, and lacking in creativity. It is just another abstract political ideology, which is bound up with intellectual treatises and based on old things. I’m glad we have things like the World Social Forum now where, especailly in the beginning, creative, new solutions to the left of marxism, have come out. Furthermore, if you don’t take into account the essential human rights of children that need to be protected by making corporal punishment and all degrading, humiliating behavior and emotional abuse towards them illegal, then you will never have a society where people care enough to see everyone’s legitimate economic equality and right to democracy; to schools run democratically by the students, families run with democracy, workplaces run with democracy, local democracy trickling power up.

  3. kalidas said on January 24th, 2009 at 4:05pm #

    Speaking of “revisionist,” weren’t the “Bolsheviks” known, all those years ago, as the “Jewish Bolsheviks?”
    And where oh where did they go?
    Just wondering..

    Just because something seems like or actually is anti-semitic, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

  4. Jack said on January 24th, 2009 at 7:02pm #

    While I sympathize with socialists, the regurgitated hermetic mysticism of the Dialectic (and its offshoots, such as the laughable “negation of the negation”) is the primary reason why socialist theory has always resulted in fragmentation, schism and abject practical failure.

  5. Rahb said on January 24th, 2009 at 10:12pm #

    Any ideal clung to without regard for the present situation is an extreme and does not recognize the world of constant changes in which we live. It is surely doomed. Likewise with systems based on our selfish greed (freemarket capitalism etc.), arrogance (extreme nationalism etc.), fear or hatred (propaganda states/ most places)… Murray Bookchin reminded us often that we must learn from the past and move on. To truly produce new ideas we need solid education, completely open communication between people and a transparent unbiased media available to the masses. Bakunin made some good points about the near impossibility of accomplishing that for the poor in any system. Even in places that education is “free” today, for the poor this is not exactly “free”. How can one work 2 or 3 jobs, or go without proper nourishment and rest, but still truly grasp his education? Sadly the democratic centralist structures tend to be easiest on our somewhat inherent beastly nature – we have drones relying (as they have no, time, energy, interest, or what have you) on betas (who may have some interest in a larger area of influence than average Joe drone, but mostly an interest in advancing) to communicate and influence the alpha, who inevitably is interested primarily in his/her own well being… Large centralized governments can never be truly transparent either (which is necessary if it has any hope of representing the values of its people) simply because the area of coverage exceeds the average drones area of concern and understanding – If I live in Mexico and my country extends to Nepal but I’ve never been nor have close friends and family past the Caribbean, how can I know how the government will work best in Nepal? Even in USSR, the ideas, values, and concerns of a Lithuanian are not necessarily the same (nor should they necessarily be) as a person in Afghanistan… Transparent government can also only happen when the people recognize their governing bodies. In capitalism the corporation ends up being the alpha. Once a corporation determines a certain percentage of the population’s income and where they are able to shop (i.e. Walmart)/ distribution of wealth and product in general, or is in control of resource distribution for a community, etc. they have essentially purchased a constituency (something that sorely needs to be recognized in “democratic” societies of the west). Then there is the issue of government and media controlled masses who have no clue what their own values actually are, so on and so forth.
    Perhaps working in our small communities to provide basic necessities would be possible in the west and once excesses are developed those could be passed on to communities outside of that and so on, free of charge. The small communities could also produce their own currency, introduced slowly to be used for necessities (i.e. at first – for housing and electricity, both of which can be created easily by most communities with the right know how – then for food, also producible in most western communities – eventually taxes while central government still exists etc.) , the currency would of course be earned by providing support for the community and would allow for paying off debt, funding for medical needs etc., it may even address some of Kalidas’ concerns. This again would require open and available education but I think if it is introduced at the right pace for the individual community based on their specific needs and values (once identified) there could even be a chance of that. Working in smaller communities would also deal with transparency issues if done correctly. Long term, idealistically, central government would be there for peaceful dispute resolution and not much else… -that’s a long way off.
    Sorry for the length of this comment – There are a ton of things that this doesn’t address and it seems idealistic on the surface; unfortunately, without creating an even longer novel I can’t expand much… Right now I’d say the main thing is that, we continue to get those creative and intellectual juices flowing, think outside the box, encourage others to think independently and get informed + involved as well. Then maybe someday people will change for the better and get things happening. Peace!

  6. Andrew F said on January 25th, 2009 at 2:37pm #


    The chosen title aptly epitomises this article – white is black if we choose to associate whiteness with the colour black and so on. That’s an absurdity to all us familiar of properties such as ‘whiteness’ and of what is black, but to someone ignorant of both this would sound as a logically valid sentence. My point is that Marxist economics offers the scientific tools (observations, principles, concepts etc) to understand the dynamics at play in our societies – it’s not a dead dogma that may only relate to the set of circumstances that begot it.

    How else are we to understand the value the worker produces for his/her employer, and how else are we to understand the question of property?

    The economic neoliberal paradigm capitalises on notions of personal fulfillment whereby (Starbucks) latte-sipping, i-pod-grasping, GAP-attired, aspirationist individuals pursue their happiness in whichever way they please so long as they cause no real harm to others [please forgive the caricature]. In reality, however, it conveniently glosses over the iniquities that arise in every field of its endeavours – be it the curtailing of the provision of welfare measures, liberalisation of internal markets, rules against subsidies (forcing hitherto agriculturally self-sufficient states to import wheat from the US for instance) and so on. If for you Marxism is no longer relevant, could you kindly please elucidate as to which, therefore, is the more valid and cogent narrative through which we are to understand the world around us, that’s to say, what’s the alternative narrative that offers answers to the questions: what is social injustice and what forms does it take; why does it matter; is it morally neutral, positive, or negative; what are the remedies against its forms and so on?

    Or are the above questions irrelevant or simply the wrong ones to the answers available?

  7. bozh said on January 25th, 2009 at 4:03pm #

    the best explanation i can come up with, wld be to suggest that 50,000 0r 100,000 years ago we were living in an egalitarian clan or a larger group of people.
    and i suggest that because of our interdependency we have survived to this day.
    no one was a dependency nor independency. survival of a group may have dependent on a few dark or black tenager girls.
    we the whites are here today because our ancestors have adapted to their hot environment by acquiring black skin.
    blacks and darkies don’t survive, we don’t survive. and if some blacks hadn’t ventured out, we wldn’t have darkies today; and we wldn’t have whites unless some darkies spread out to cooler regions.
    however, a great evil befell us at some point of time; probably 10-20 td yrs ago: supremacism.
    and ever since we have been enslaved/enserfed/despised/abused. thnx

  8. Andres Kargar said on January 27th, 2009 at 1:33am #

    Just to clarify a few points raised in this article:

    1) A ‘worker state’ is not an economic system (as would be capitalism or socialism). It might refer to the transition period from one to another (e.g. capitalism to socialism), but it does not entail a stable and dominant mode of production.

    2) History moves in zigzags and not a straight line. European history has many examples of temporary retreats back to feudalism.

    3) Compared to the time it took feudalism to transition to capitalism and even the period capitalism has been around, the efforts of the Marxist-Leninists in building a socialist state is like the blink of an eye. Lenin himself did not believe that socialism could be established in a single country and was counting on the working class in other Western countries to rise up. When these revolutions did not materialize, Lenin realized that the revolutionary situation occurs more in the weakest links of the capitalist system (thus Nepal).

    4) Social upheaval and revolution takes different forms in different countries, mainly depending on the level of development of the productive forces (and not the genius of the revolutionary leadership). A socialist revolution in France, obviously does not look anything like the one in Nepal or Afghanistan, but those in Nepal or Afghanistan, in the absence of concrete proletarian forces and the presence of peasants will have their limitations (even though conditions are riper in those countries for social upheaval than in France).

    5) There are a lot of attacks on Marxist-Leninists for their mistakes or failed attempts at constructing socialism. Few, however, look with the same eye to the disastrous state of Western European social democrats who, in the name of labor, keep selling out the working classes to their bourgeoisie. Does Gordon Brown (and the British Labor Party) in any way represent labor? And the German social democrats? Are European citizens able to avoid the disasters of capitalist crises because of their social democracy? Apparently not.

  9. bozh said on January 27th, 2009 at 9:32am #

    i suggest that ” socialism” means a given societal structure but antipodal to a fascist/plutocratic/american structure of society.
    the word “capiatalism” refers to manufacturing/producing/selling.
    thus, whatever the structure, we’d still work, invent tools, produce, sell. thnx

  10. Rosa Lichtenstein said on January 30th, 2009 at 10:09am #

    Jack above links to my site, but I would not want comrades to think that what he has posted represents my views.

    While I agree with much that he says, my opinion is that while there are several reasons why Marxist parties the world over have split continually for well over a hundred years, dialectical materialism isn’t one of them. What I do claim is that this mystical theory has made a bad situation worse.

    I explain why here:

  11. jon hampden said on February 11th, 2009 at 4:58am #

    this is anti communist anti marxist reactionary petit bourgeois propaganda. long live marxism leninism