Lenin on “the struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism”

It was, however, different with Bolshevism’s other enemy within the working-class movement. Little is known in other countries of the fact that Bolshevism took shape, developed and became steeled in the long years of struggle against pettybourgeois revolutionism, which smacks of anarchism, or borrows something from the latter and, in all essential matters, does not measure up to the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle. Marxist theory has established—and the experience of all European revolutions and revolutionary movements has fully confirmed—that the petty proprietor, the small master (a social type existing on a very extensive and even mass scale in many European countries), who, under capitalism, always suffers oppression and very frequently a most acute and rapid deterioration in his conditions of life, and even ruin, easily goes to revolutionary extremes, but is incapable of perseverance, organisation, discipline and steadfastness. A petty bourgeois driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism is a social phenomenon which, like anarchism, is characteristic of all capitalist countries. The instability of such revolutionism, its barrenness, and its tendency to turn rapidly into submission, apathy, phantasms, and even a frenzied infatuation with one bourgeois fad or another—all this is common knowledge. However, a theoretical or abstract recognition of these truths does not at all rid revolutionary parties of old errors, which always crop up at unexpected occasions, in somewhat new forms, in a hitherto unfamiliar garb or surroundings, in an unusual—a more or less unusual—situation.

–Lenin, “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder” (1920)

For my money, there’s plenty to recommend in left anarchism at this conjuncture; while it’s often reflexively anti-Bolshevik, there are plenty of Marxist anarchists with quite cogent analyses of the contemporary condition. However, it’s the petty bourgeois variants that you really have to watch out for, especially in the capital of middle-class individualism, the U.S.A. Knee-jerk anti-authoritarianism, individualist punk nihilists, and most alarming, the libertarian and “anarcho”-capitalist ideologies popular among self-styled rebel economists and dissident political scientists — these have a more immediate hold among a (white) America increasingly disenchanted with neoliberal empire. These are the ideologies (and “infantile” is still as apt a descriptor as any) that need to be fought as much as — perhaps more than — liberalism, whose hypocrisy and impotence are already on full display to everyone.

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2 Responses to Lenin on “the struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism”

  1. Sean says:

    This is great!

    Where do I find Marxist Anarchism?

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