variety of Marxism and the official political ideology of the Soviet Union and the countries of the Eastern Bloc
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Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology that became the largest faction of the communist movement in the world in the years following the October Revolution. It was the predominant ideology of most socialist governments throughout the 20th century. Developed in Russia by the Bolsheviks, it was the state ideology of the Soviet Union, Soviet satellite states in the Eastern Bloc, and various countries in the Non-Aligned Movement and Third World during the Cold War, as well as the Communist International after Bolshevisation.


  • The serious intellectual crisis of Marxism was not the reason for the collapse of the Communist states. However, the failure of what the Soviet Communists under Lenin and Stalin had fashioned and presented as the Marxist model for an economic system joined its political to its intellectual crisis. The Soviet Communist Party labelled Marxist-Leninist theory a ‘science’. Marxist-Leninist theory could, allegedly, predict outcomes but science cannot do so for human society. The contrast created a problem for Marxist-Leninist thinkers that was philosophical, methodological, epistemological and psychological. The sterility of intellectual thought surrounding Soviet Marxist-Leninism was profound. There was no infusion into Soviet Marxism from the Frankfurt School, or the relatively liberal Italian Communist Party, or the British Marxist School, or Latin American Liberation Theology, or Chinese developments towards a more liberal economic order. Soviet Marxist-Leninism remained ideologically autarkic until the late 1980s and, when it no longer chose to do so, it fell apart and Soviet Party members by the millions discarded their Party cards. Nevertheless, the collapse of Communism was largely due not to this intellectual failure, but to the specific political and economic circumstances of the 1980s. Moreover, the possibility of a different trajectory, and thus the value of counterfactual speculations that probe such possibilities, was exemplified by developments in China. There, the introduction of capitalism proved compatible with the Communist rule that was maintained by the availability of force and, in 1989, by the willingness to use it. As a further reminder that ideological issues should be set in context, the problems of Soviet Communism were to be matched in post-Communist Russia. The situation then, now capitalist (of a type) and democratic (of a form), was, in practice, like the earlier Communist system. There was a reliance on informal networks, personalised loyalty notably to Putin, and the exchange of favours, all of which sapped institutional effectiveness. As under Communism, assets were not properly costed, while private property was at risk.
  • Supporting glasnost (openness), Gorbachev was confident that the Soviet Union and the Communist Party would not only be able to survive these challenges, but would also be mutually strengthened by them. He was to be proved completely wrong. Instead, economic reform, in particular perestroika (restructuring), the loosening of much of the command economy, led, unexpectedly, to economic problems. These included inflation, which caused much popular unease, as well as hitting economic activity. There was also a major rise in the budget deficit. Shortages resulted in the stockpiling of goods by individuals and factories, and contributed to a breakdown in economic integration within the Soviet Union, including in the confidence on which systems of barter were based. There was nothing to buy. Perestroika also created pressure for political change. Indeed, Gorbachev’s economic and political reforms helped cause economic confusion and a marked increase in criticism that delegitimated the Communist Party and affected the cohesion of the Soviet Union. Opposition to Gorbachev was not only mounted by Party ideologues unhappy with, and worried about, the content and direction of change, but also came from reformers within the Party who were dissatisfied with the pace of change. Boris Yeltsin, like Gorbachev born in 1931, a reformer brought into the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party in 1981, was promoted under Gorbachev, becoming, in 1986, First Secretary of the Moscow City Party Committee and a Candidate Member of the Politburo, both important roles. However, Yeltsin fell foul of Yegor Ligachev, who supervised Party organs from within the Central Committee secretariat. Yeltsin attacked Ligachev, and also, in effect, Gorbachev, at the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1987. Yeltsin was removed from his posts, and clashed with Ligachev and Gorbachev when he pressed for political rehabilitation at the Party conference in 1988.
  • Marxist-Leninist states have perpetuated authoritarian institutions (the secret police, labor bosses, and the communist party) to maintain their power. The apparent effectiveness of such organizations (we‘re just as efficient as the Capitalists) masks the way that “revolutionaries” who pattern themselves after Capitalist institutions become absorbed by bourgeois values, and completely isolated from the real needs and desires of ordinary people. The reluctance of Marxist-Leninists to accept to accept revolutionary social change is, however, above all seen in Lenin’s conception of the party. It is a prescription to just nakedly seize power and put it in the hands of the Communist Party. The party that Leninists create today, they believe, should become the (only) “Party of the Proletariat” in which that class could organize and seize power. In practice, however, this meant personal and party dictatorship, which they felt gave them the right and duty to wipe out all other parties and political ideologies. Both Lenin and Stalin killed millions or workers and peasants, their left-wing ideological opponents, and even members of the Bolshevik party. This bloody and treacherous history is why them is so much rivalry and hostility between Marxist-Leninist and Trotskyite parties today, and it is why the “workers’ states,” whether in Cuba, China, Vietnam, or Korea are such oppressive bureaucracies over their people. It is also why most of the East European Stalinist countries had their government overthrown by the petty bourgeois and ordinary citizens in the 1980s. Maybe we are witnessing the eclipse of State communism entirely, since they have nothing new to say and will never get those governments-back again.
  • Since the Marxist-Leninists don’t build cooperative structures, the nucleus of the new society, they can only see the world in bourgeois political terms. They want to just seize State power and institute their own dictatorship over the people and the workers, instead of crushing State power and replacing it with a free, cooperative society. Of course, the party, they insist, represents the proletariat, and there is no need for them to organize themselves outside of the party. Yet even in the former Soviet Union the Communist Party membership only represented five percent of the population. This is elitism of the worst sort and even makes the Capitalist parties look democratic by comparison. What the Communist Party was intended to represent in terms of workers power is never made clear, but in true 1984doublethink” fashion, the results are 75 years of political repression and State slavery, instead of an era of “glorious Communist rule.” They must be held accountable politically for these crimes against the people, and revolutionary political theory and practice. They have slandered the names of Socialism and Communism.
  • Although the term owed its origins to Italian fascism, the first truly totalitarian regime had been in existence for more than a decade when the Depression struck. By crippling the American colossus for a decade and laying waste to its trading partners and debtors, the economic crisis seemed to vindicate the Soviet model. For, if Marxism-Leninism stood for anything, it was the prediction that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. Now it seemed to be doing precisely that. Understandably, the more the American dream turned to nightmare, the more people were attracted to the Russian alternative of a planned economy - insulated from the vagaries of the market, yet capable of feats of construction every bit as awesome as the skyscrapers of New York or the mass-produced cars of Henry Ford. All the totalitarian state asked in return was complete control of every aspect of life. Only in your dreams were you free from its intrusion, and even there the omnipresent demigod figure of the Leader was liable to intrude. The justification for this abolition of individual freedom was equality: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs, as the slogan put it. The aim was not just rapid industrialization; it was the 'liquidation' of the bourgeoisie and other property-owning classes. Yet, as George Orwell would later observe, on the Soviet 'Animal Farm' some animals turned out to be more equal than others. It did not take long for a 'new class' (as the dissident Yugoslav Milovan Djilas later called it) to spring up, composed of the elite functionaries of the totalitarian state. Their control over every aspect of economic life and their freedom from any kind of independent scrutiny or popular accountability made it easy to justify and pay for a whole range of Party privileges; the nomenklatura were also in position to enrich themselves unofficially through peculation and corruption.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p.  
  • Meanwhile, communism had promised a better life but failed to deliver. Marx insisted that the shifts in the means of production would increase inequality, provoke anger, and thereby fuel revolutionary consciousness within the "working class." He failed, though, to anticipate the kinds of shifts that would take place, for as post-industrial economies evolved they began to reward lateral over hierarchical forms of organization. Complexity made planning less feasible than under the earlier, simpler stages of industrialization: only decentralized, largely spontaneous markets could make the millions of decisions that had to be made each day in a modern economy if supplies of goods and services were to match demands for them. As a result, dissatisfaction with capitalism never reached the point at which "proletarians of all countries" felt it necessary to unite to throw off their "chains." That became clear during the Cold War, and it did so largely because western leaders disproved Marx's indictment of capitalism as elevating greed above all else. When set against the perversions of Marxism inflicted by Lenin and Stalin on the Soviet Union and by Mao on China—placing a ruling party and an authoritarian state in control of what was supposed to have been an automatic process of historical evolution—the effect was to discredit communism not just on economic grounds, but also because of its failure to bring about political and social justice. Just as a new world war did not come, so the anticipated world revolution did not arrive. The Cold War had produced yet another historical anachronism.
  • For the first two years at the psychology department, Arutyunyan was in hell. Endless hours were devoted to a subject called Marxist-Leninist Philosophy. This was a clear case of propaganda masquerading as scholarship, and while the young Arutyunyan might not necessarily have phrased it this way, she cracked the propaganda code. She developed a simple matrix on which any philosophy could be placed and easily appraised. The matrix consisted of two axes on a cross. One ran from Materialism (good) to Idealism (bad) and the other from Dialectics (good) to Metaphysics (bad). The result was four quadrants. Philosophers who landed in the lower left quadrant, where Metaphysics met Idealism, were all bad. Kant was an example. Someone like Hegel—Dialectics meets Idealism—was better, but not all good. Philosophical perfection resided in the upper-right-hand corner of the graph, at the pinnacle of Dialectical Materialism. Arutyunyan shared this matrix with several classmates, and now they had Marxist-Leninist Philosophy down.
  • Having failed in all their attempts to weaken and disrupt NATO, and having seen the Alliance growing in health and strength, the Soviet leaders decided some 12 months ago to change their tactics. The smile has been substituted for the frown. Good will visits all over the world have taken the place of isolation within the walls of the Kremlin. Stalin, whom the Soviet people had been taught to worship as a God, is now reviled as a tyrant; which the Free World always knew him to be. Fair words about "peaceful co-existence" and "relaxation of tension between East and West" have taken the place of bullying and threatening. If we could believe that these changes in tactics meant a real change of heart, how truly happy we would all be! But are we justified in basing our plans on that belief? Quite recently Khruschev himself gave us the answer. This is what he said: "The West say that the Soviet leaders smile, but that their actions do not match their smiles. But I assure them that the smiles are sincere. They are not artificial. We wish to live in peace. But if anyone thinks that our smile means that we abandon the teachings of Marx and Lenin or abandon our Communist road, then they are fooling themselves." In other words, the Soviet, on their own showing, maintain the ideology and ambition of world revolution.
  • Communism itself looks unlikely to return in the form it had in the USSR or in Maoist China. Indeed its restoration in any comprehensive fashion is surely inconceivable. It has been thoroughly discredited among intelligentsias and general publics even though grouplets of true believers will probably survive in liberal democracies or in many clandestine movements. Yet ideologies and politics can mutate and spread like a virus which counteracts every medical effort to pinpoint and eradicate it. So it has been with communism. Lenin and the Bolsheviks groped their way to the creation of their new kind of state. This became the stereotype for communist systems elsewhere; and the USSR itself underwent internal variation in subsequent decades. Communism also infected other movements for the transformation of society. The totalising ideas, institutions and practices of Marxism-Leninism had a profound impact on the political far right. The one-party, one-ideology state with its disregard for law, constitution and popular consent was implanted in inter-war Italy and Germany. Neither Mussolini nor Hitler acted only in response to communism; and the forced submission of society to comprehensive control took different forms in the USSR, Italy and Germany. But the importance of precedent is scarcely deniable. The objective of an unrestrained state power penetrating all aspects of life – political, economic, social, cultural and spiritual – was a characteristic they shared. The same phenomenon emerged in the secularist Baathist regime in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and appeared in the Islamist plans of Osama bin Laden as well as in the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
    • Robert Service, Comrades!: A History of World Communism (2010)
  • It is obvious: the division of Europe has become politically untenable: not because of Western "revanchism" to which Mr. Shevardnadze referred: not because of our interference in their domestic affairs. No. Simply for two reasons. First, because communism has failed as much in ideological as in economic and social terms. It is not able to solve the problems of modern industrialised societies in the age of global communication. And even more important: second, because you cannot suppress freedom forever. The natural aspiration of men to live and work freely is the driving force behind the historical process of change which we are witnessing. And no dictator or system - not even by using force - will be able to stop or prevent this dynamic change in the long-term. Of course, the Atlantic Alliance has played an historic role in creating the conditions for change: by a strategy of deterrence and coalition defence that made it clear to the Soviet Union that it could never hope to solve its problems through intimidation or further expansion; only in co-operation with us could peaceful political change in Europe be secured; by a policy of dialogue that also made it clear to the Soviet Union that we would be willing partners when the East was ready; on the basis of reciprocity and mutual trust, this Alliance would do its utmost to help the Soviet Union and its allies to become more peaceful, democratic and prosperous nations; finally, by our cohesion, our readiness to accept the roles, risks and responsibilities of the collective defence, our practice of working together for the good of all: these factors have created a dynamism and prosperity that have made clear, even now to its leaders, that old-style Communism has failed: the East cannot hope to catch up with the West on the basis of Marxist-Leninist ideology, but only through openness, pluralism, market forces, exposure to Western ideas and values.
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