The Ongoing Fights Among Lenin, Martov, Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao; and How Stupid It Is
Mao Zedong died in 1976. The other titled characters were long gone decades earlier. And yet, young “revolutionaries” of today are still spending their time and resources arguing about them instead of dealing with the awful crises at hand. As early as this Summer, a world-wide economic crisis may begin. An ice shelf may drop into the ocean and drown millions of people who live on coastlines. The Supreme Court may take away our legal right to strike. State legislatures are clamping down on all aspects of democracy. Fascism may take us into its icy grip. And young people are still arguing about Lenin, Martov, Stalin, Trotsky, and Mao!
V.I. Lenin was the pen name of the revolutionary who created a split in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in the early part of the 20th century. He insisted that revolutionaries had to recognize that the people ruling Russia, and the people ruling all nations, had to be fought and removed from power. Martov and his followers believed that no such fight was necessary, or if it was necessary, it would be wiser to put it off and wait for a more propitious time. Lenin’s group eventually took the name “communist,” while Martov’s followers continued with “social democrat.”
Lenin believed that the war against the ruling class was necessary and had to be ruthless. His followers emphasized “necessary” and Martov’s emphasized “ruthless” in their arguments over the ensuing years. Following the success of Lenin’s formulation in 1917, the split continued around the world. The Leninists believed that class war was inevitable; the Social Democrats believed in gradualism and, specifically, that they could eventually be elected to power through conventional democratic processes. There are still a few communists in America and a few more social democrats, especially since social democrat Bernie Sanders stirred the pot with more-or-less independent campaigns in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Party primaries. Incidentally, I’m not sure what will happen with the American social democrats now that Bernie has endorsed Joe Biden for 2024. I think I can explain that.
When fascism triumphed in Germany, the social democrats blamed the communists and the communists blamed the social democrats. Each of them said that they could have united in the 1932 German elections and out-polled Hitler, and each of them says, to this day, that it’s the other’s fault. There’s a pretty good treatment of that election on Wikipedia. I think it shows that no such coalition was ever possible. The social democrats did not even run in that election. They supported General Paul Von Hindenberg in the erroneous belief that he could stop both Hitler and the communists.
When the beleaguered Soviet Union eventually collapsed, the social democrats said “we knew it all along,” and the communists said, “they lasted 7 decades against overwhelming odds!” That was 3 decades ago, and yet the arguments continue.
Stalin, Trotsky and Mao enthusiastically supported Lenin’s view. Trotsky was deported around 1928 and started his own world movement that said, basically, “Lenin was right, but Stalin ruined it.” Over the years, they even began saying that Trotsky had never supported Lenin’s ruthless Red Terror, but he did.
Stalin certainly supported the Red Terror and continued similar policies as head of the Soviet Union until he died in the early 1950s. Mao of China sincerely supported the Soviet Union until he started a split in the early 1960s. After that, he encouraged a worldwide “Maoist” movement based around the idea that “Mao Thought” was the only prescription for revolution. They were quite popular among students for a while.
I think Bernie Sanders was probably right to endorse Joe Biden for president in 2024. The danger of fascism is too near and too awful for anybody to deliberately split the electorate. Biden is no revolutionary and, some would say, neither is Bernie; but working families need to get past the 2024 elections without instituting fascism, and all of us should be able to agree to that.
The funny part
Ironically, all the aforementioned historical figures called themselves Marxists. Even though they argued against each other and, in some cases, even killed each other, all through history, they all claimed the same ideology. All of them claimed that they were adamantly opposed to the bosses who run things. If they really were Marxists, one would think that they would take to heart one simple sentence from the best-known work of Marx and Engels, “We communists have no interests outside those of the working class.”
It isn’t very hard to figure out the interests of the working class, both short term and long term. It wasn’t hard in the old days and is certainly not difficult today. Working families need better living standards and more democracy. Both are being threatened by the bosses who are running things. Worldwide, the bosses are slashing living standards and democracy. The process, often called “the race to the bottom,” grows more clear every day. Working families around the world, to one degree or another, are trying to fight back, but they desperately need coherent revolutionary leadership.
But the leaders are too busy arguing with one another about things that happened last century.
I’m on KNON.org’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They post my “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts on their websight and, long term, on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, just look at my personal web site. BTW, I just posted my 4th Sci-Fi novel there.