On Revisionism

An occasional series on Marxist theory, by J L Samboma

Marx was not writing dogma or eternal truths. He was a writing a blueprint to change the world. I sometimes perceive the materialist conception of history, which he propounded with his good friend Fred Engels, as a lens through which to observe the world – and the lens still works after all these years. On this point Marx himself wrote:

"If the designing of the future and the proclamation of ready-made solutions for all time is not our affair, then we realise all the more clearly what we have to accomplish in the present - I am speaking of a ruthless criticism of everything existing, ruthless in two senses: The criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be."

In material existence phenomena are always in a state of flux, in a state of becoming - the old is dying and the new is being born. Thought is a part of material existence and is a part of this dialectic; it cannot, by definition, be otherwise. In this evolution, this natural process of becoming, the germ of the old is retained in the new, which is all that is required; the father becomes the son. Revisionism is the bastard son. The product of revisionism lacks the germ of the old, its DNA is that of a bastard.

I agree entirely that we should not label developments as revisionist just because they deviate from the original. However, if we shun from rightly calling developments revisionist just because they follow on from some aspects or premises of the original, or have an outward appearance which resembles the original, or resembles something which could have been derived from the original, then how do we differentiate between revisionism and genuine organic development of the original idea?

Revisionism should be equated with heresy, I would argue. Revisionism that is not heresy is not called revisionism. It is called organic development (of the original idea). The relationship between Lenin and Marx, I believe, illustrates this. Leninism is Marxism developed further. It would be a mistake to call Leninism Marxist revisionism. Working back to the DNA analogy, Lenin is Marx's baby. Kautsky is the bastard child who grew up in the Marx household. My use of the DNA analogy was to illustrate the point that theoretical development from the original idea has to be guided by first principles.