By James Thompson

Revisionism and opportunism are tactics employed by the bourgeoisie to dilute and ultimately destroy the contributions of Marxism-Leninism to the progress of humankind. They use a variety of arguments to reduce the power of the working class and subvert its efforts to gain power in the form of a state which operates in the interests of workers.

In the past, the arguments went that bourgeois democracy eliminates the existence of classes, so that there is no more class struggle.

History, and particularly recent history has taught us that nothing could be further from reality.

More recently, revisionist arguments take the direction that it is hopeless to fight the capitalists at this stage, so that progressives must align themselves with the lesser of the evils expressed in capitalist political struggles.

Revisionists have historically argued for dropping the concepts of a vanguard party of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. the coming to power of the working class. Revisionists have also historically argued for dropping “Marxism-Leninism.”

The idea seems to be that if concessions are made to the bourgeois, they won’t be so hard on working people. Revisionists forget the old working class saying, “Give them an inch and they will take a mile.”

Obama’s many efforts to negotiate and make concessions to the right wing have shown us where that leads. Chamberlain’s concessions to Hitler took a similar course.

Lenin offers these thoughts on revisionism in the 1973 edition of his Collected Works, Volume 15, pages 29-39:

In the sphere of politics, revisionism did really try to revise the foundation of Marxism, namely, the doctrine of the class struggle. Political freedom, democracy and universal suffrage remove the ground for the class struggle—we were told—and render untrue the old proposition of the Communist Manifesto that the working men have no country. For, they said, since the “will of the majority” prevails in a democracy, one must neither regard the state as an organ of class rule, nor reject alliances with the progressive, social-reform bourgeoisie against the reactionaries.

It cannot be disputed that these arguments of the revisionists amounted to a fairly well-balanced system of views, namely, the old and well-known liberal-bourgeois views. The liberals have always said that bourgeois parliamentarism destroys classes and class divisions, since the right to vote and the right to participate in the government of the country are shared by all citizens without distinction. The whole history of Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the whole history of the Russian revolution in the early twentieth, clearly show how absurd such views are. Economic distinctions are not mitigated but aggravated and intensified under the freedom of “democratic” capitalism. Parliamentarism does not eliminate, but lays bare the innate character even of the most democratic bourgeois republics as organs of class oppression. By helping to enlighten and to organise immeasurably wider masses of the population than those which previously took an active part in political events, parliamentarism does not make for the elimination of crises and political revolutions, but for the maximum intensification of civil war during such revolutions. The events in Paris in the spring of 1871 and the events in Russia in the winter of 1905 showed as clearly as could be how inevitably this intensification comes about. The French bourgeoisie without a moment’s hesitation made a deal with the enemy of the whole nation, with the foreign army which had ruined its country, in order to crush the proletarian movement. Whoever does not understand the inevitable inner dialectics of parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy—which leads to an even sharper decision of the argument by mass violence than formerly—will never be able on the basis of this parliamentarism to conduct propaganda and agitation consistent in principle, really preparing the working-class masses for victorious participation in such “arguments”. The experience of alliances, agreements and blocs with the social-reform liberals in the West and with the liberal reformists (Cadets) in the Russian revolution, has convincingly shown that these agreements only blunt the consciousness of the masses, that they do not enhance but weaken the actual significance of their struggle, by linking fighters with elements who are least capable of fighting and most vacillating and treacherous. Millerandism in France—the biggest experiment in applying revisionist political tactics on a wide, a really national scale—has provided a practical appraisal of revisionism that will never be forgotten by the proletariat all over the world.

A natural complement to the economic and political tendencies of revisionism was its attitude to the ultimate aim of the socialist movement. “The movement is everything, the ultimate aim is nothing”—this catch-phrase of Bernstein’s expresses the substance of revisionism better than many long disquisitions. To determine its conduct from case to case, to adapt itself to the events of the day and to the chopping and changing of petty politics, to forget the primary interests of the proletariat and the basic features of the whole capitalist system, of all capitalist evolution, to sacrifice these primary interests for the real or assumed advantages of the moment—such is the policy of revisionism. And it patently follows from the very nature of this policy that it may assume an infinite variety of forms, and that every more or less “new” question, every more or less unexpected and unforeseen turn of events, even though it change the basic line of development only to an insignificant degree and only for the briefest period, will always inevitably give rise to one variety of revisionism or another.
The inevitability of revisionism is determined by its class roots in modern society. Revisionism is an international phenomenon. No thinking socialist who is in the least informed can have the slightest doubt that the relation between the orthodox and the Bernsteinians in Germany, the Guesdists and the Jaurèsists (and now particularly the Broussists) in France, the Social Democratic Federation and the Independent Labour Party in Great Britain, Brouckère and Vandervelde in Belgium, the Integralists and the Reformists in Italy, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in Russia, is everywhere essentially similar, notwithstanding the immense variety of national conditions and historical factors in the present state of all these countries. In reality, the “division” within the present international socialist movement is now proceeding along the samelines in all the various countries of the world, which testifies to a tremendous advance compared with thirty or forty years ago, when heterogeneous trends in the various countries were struggling within the one international socialist movement. And that “revisionism from the left” which has taken shape in the Latin countries as“revolutionary syndicalism”,[4] is also adapting itself to Marxism,“amending” it: Labriola in Italy and Lagardelle in France frequently appeal from Marx who is understood wrongly to Marx who is understood rightly.

We cannot stop here to analyse the ideological content of this revisionism, which as yet is far from having developed to the same extent as opportunist revisionism: it has not yet become international, has not yet stood the test of a single big practical battle with a socialist party in any single country. We confine ourselves therefore to that “revisionism from the right” which was described above.

Wherein lies its inevitability in capitalist society? Why is it more profound than the differences of national peculiarities and of degrees of capitalist development? Because in every capitalist country, side by side with the proletariat, there are always broad strata of the petty bourgeoisie, small proprietors. Capitalism arose and is constantly arising out of small production. A number of new “middle strata” are inevitably brought into existence again and again by capitalism (appendages to the factory, work at home, small workshops scattered all over the country to meet the requirements of big industries, such as the bicycle and automobile industries, etc.). These new small producers are just as inevitably being cast again into the ranks of the proletariat. It is quite natural that the petty-bourgeois world-outlook should again and again crop up in the ranks of the broad workers’ parties. It is quite natural that this should be so and always will be so, right up to the changes of fortune that will take place in the proletarian revolution. For it would be a profound mistake to think that the “complete” proletarianisation of the majority of the population is essential for bringing about such a revolution. What we now frequently experience only in the domain of ideology, namely, disputes over theoretical amendments to Marx; what now crops up in practice only over individual side issues of the labour movement, as tactical differences with the revisionists and splits on this basis—is bound to be experienced by the working class on an incomparably larger scale when the proletarian revolution will sharpen all disputed issues, will focus all differences on points which are of the most immediate importance in determining the conduct of the masses, and will make it necessary in the heat of the fight to distinguish enemies from friends, and to cast out bad allies in order to deal decisive blows at the enemy.

The ideological struggle waged by revolutionary Marxism against revisionism at the end of the nineteenth century is but the prelude to the great revolutionary battles of the proletariat, which is marching forward to the complete victory of its cause despite all the waverings and weaknesses of the petty bourgeoisie.

The complete article can be read at

Gus Hall instructs us on “Opportunism” in his book Working Class USA: The Power and the Movement (p. 95):

“In a period of ebb in social, political and economic struggles it is not always easy to judge what are necessary adjustments in tactics. And it is not easy to separate tactics that correctly reflect the new problems, the new relationship of forces of the ebb period, from actions that are motivated by an opportunistic retreat from the difficulties of struggle of such a period. What adds to the difficulty is that there are pressures for both.

Opportunistic retreat and a shift in tactics appear simultaneously because they are reactions to the same realities. It is further complicated by the fact that in most cases the paths of opportunistic retreat starts with very necessary and correct steps of tactical adjustment. Where one ends and the other begins is at times very difficult to determine because there also are periods when one individual can reflect a mixture of both and also because the rationale for a retreat often sounds very much like the rationale for a tactical shift.

The key word in determining one from the other is “struggle.” A correct tactical adjustment is not a shift away from struggle. It is a shift of tactics for and in struggle. Tactics after all have meaning only when they are an integral part of the struggle. On the other hand an opportunistic retreat is an edging away from struggle. It is a process of giving up positions, making unnecessary concessions, and all this without struggle. A correct tactical shift is to find a new path to struggle, while an opportunistic retreat is a way of avoiding struggle, and giving up positions, thinking this will placate the enemy.”

Gus Hall continues on page 228:

“In essence, opportunism is a policy of making unprincipled concessions to the capitalist class. Opportunism is always related in one way or another to the class struggle, which is not surprising because that is the hub of the relationship between the two classes. That is where the capitalist class presses for concessions. Opportunists invariably soften their stand on the class struggle and from that point onward there is a time of retrogression.

To dilute the concept of the class struggle is to downgrade the role of the working class. From that point on the idea of socialism becomes a conversation piece; the role of the working class in the struggle for and building of socialism is diluted to nothingness. The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is dropped, not because the words can be misused but because the concept of workingclass rule is objectionable to the capitalist class and those influenced by it. And, as is the case with at least one Communist Party, the opportunistic decay has reached the point of dropping Marxism-Leninism. When a Party leadership regresses to that level, perhaps dropping the claim to Marxism-Leninism is simply a reflection of the truth.

The idea that the working class is not able to develop intellectuals from its own ranks is turned into a coverup for anti-workingclass concepts.

In some cases this weakness leads to situations where middle-class, professional intellectuals tend to take over and hog the leadership of Communist parties in capitalist countries. Often they use the words “class struggle” and “working class” as clichés, but take no steps to make it possible for the workingclass cadre of these parties to be a factor in policy decisions.
Such leaders are not willing to accept the leading role of the working class in the field of thought or in their parties. They dilute the concept of class struggle. They downgrade the historic role of the working class. They eliminate the working class in the struggle for socialism and they do not think the working class is able to produce an intellectual.

The time has come to bury the idea that the working class is unable to think. In fact, Marxism-Leninism is a science so closely related to the rise of the working class movement that to eliminate the working class as a basic influence and participant in the further development of the science is like eliminating the heart in a living being.

The historic role of the working class was clearly placed by Marx and Engels: ‘Before the proletariat fights out its victories on the barricades and in the lines of battle, it gives notice of its impending rule with a series of intellectual victories.’”

Since the 99% movement is confronting the interests of capital, it is inevitable that it will face the cancers of revisionism and opportunism as all working class movements do.