Differences between Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, and Maoism
One core influence of Lenin (and something that actually shows that he was more than a politician to this day), is an understanding of the capitalist system as an imperialist project. Capitalism cannot be contained within a state and is necessarily a global project. The share in the world, after all, is much larger than what can be achieved domestically. But an interest in other markets cannot go without clashing with those markets’ already established economies (or even better, if there aren’t any, the new market can be dominated). Global competition thus creates only a handful of businesses dominating the markets. These business, in turn, form cartels, and not only for market manipulation, but also for dominating the primary resources. The outcome is the familiar exploitation of the third world by the first world states.
But there is more. In Lenin’s estimation, business in the home-country would be too dominant to be resisted by the government. They would in fact be able to dictate what the government does, either through bribery or through monopoly on certain goods (say, steel). Together, business and government would then be able to engage in global conflicts for primary resources, exploiting large portions of the world population. That is, capitalism ultimately requires an exploitative system in order to maintain its dominating position over other countries (hence imperialism). It either exploits labour, or it exports capital to sustain its colonial grip.1 If it fails in doing any of these through its function as a capitalist system, it resorts to bribery of politician, labour union leaders, strike organisers, etc. Lenin’s argument may be outdated on some points, but others are quite penetrating to this day.2
(Lenin pretty much wrote everything he thought about, which results in roughly 45 volumes. I doubt there are many people who have read all of them, and I am certainly not one of them. So this brief note on his deviation and similarity with Marx would do, I hope.)
Trotsky’s main force was twofold, the revolution ought to be global (á la Marx) and it has to be permanent/continuous (á la Jefferson). I will return to the first point in relation to Stalinism later. On the question of permanent revolution, which is Trotskyism’s main characteristic, we should first note what he takes from Marx. The notion of permanent revolution comes from the end of the 1850 Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League. Marx and Engels end the Address with the following words:
Although the German workers cannot come to power and achieve the realization of their class interests without passing through a protracted revolutionary development, this time they can at least be certain that the first act of the approaching revolutionary drama will coincide with the direct victory of their own class in France and will thereby be accelerated. But they themselves must contribute most to their final victory, by informing themselves of their own class interests, by taking up their independent political position as soon as possible, by not allowing themselves to be misled by the hypocritical phrases of the democratic petty bourgeoisie into doubting for one minute the necessity of an independently organized party of the proletariat. Their battle-cry must be: The Permanent Revolution.
The view of Marx and Engels is that there is always going to be some level of concession made by those who welcome any kind of progress. These people would disregard the final aim and settle for whatever it is that is offered by the other side – after all, any kind of progress is better than no progress; alternatively, they would settle for the intermediate stage with an aim to go further later, but inadvertently jeopardising the final aim. The problem with this kind of thought is that it does not truly change anything politically, because it maintains the status quo of power relations. The changes are not at the level of political power, but at best of temporary socio-economic position (like higher wages, or safety equipment):
it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has conquered state power and until the association of the proletarians has progressed sufficiently far – not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world – that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers. (ibid., my emphasis)
This passage is precisely something Trotsky elaborates on in his work (The Permanent Revolution). Trotsky follows on the point of permanent and international revolution, but with some (minor) differences. One point of difference is that it is possible to move from one stage of the revolution to another without intermediate stages (i.e. from an almost feudal state that Russia was to one where the working class are in power, without the intermediate stage of petty bourgeois capitalism). Another is the importance of the global character of revolution – or as Lenin called its counterpart: that capitalism is imperialism. It should be noted that for this reason, many Trotskyists thought of him as a return to original Marxism:
Trotskyism is not a new movement, a new doctrine, but the restoration, the revival of genuine Marxism as it was expounded and practiced in the Russian revolution and in the early days of the Communist International (J.P. Cannon, History of American Trotskyism).
- This is a delicate matter, but at the same time something that has become rather obvious since the last financial crisis. Lenin analyses the amount of foreign capital in national banks (in Russia at the time, 3/4 of the Russian bank capital came from France, Germany and Britain) and makes a connection with the earnings of this foreign capital to the domestic share. The conclusion is quite simple: the investors will take the profits, naturally; but they will also maintain a system of dependency upon their capital with the industry (oil, metallurgy and cement industry). Fast forward to present day financial crisis in, say, Greece and the picture becomes quite clear: if Greece wants to get out of the financial crisis, it has to accept the conditions of the foreign investors, but by doing so, it has to give up on its share of the profit unconditionally and thus remain dependent on the foreign capitcal ad infinitum.
- Additionally, he is the main influence on what Popper calls ‘the problem of demarcation’ (i.e. the difference between science and pseudo-science) – they are so close, that wants to call it plagiarism….