by André Brandão (translated by @tropicalML)
Translator’s Note: This article was originally published by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB). I have tried to make this translation as faithful as possible to the original text. It was clearly written with the Brazilian context in mind but I think many of its arguments apply to other countries. While I have a decent amount of experience in translating from English to Portuguese, this is the first time I’ve done the opposite, so feel free to communicate any mistakes I’ve made via Twitter.
The potential and the historical limitations of the proliferation of Marxism-Leninism in the Brazilian youth
Recently, there has been a greater spread of Marxism-Leninism among the Brazilian youth. This process has been determined by multiple factors, mainly by an objective aspect and two subjective ones: the deepening of the Brazilian economic crisis — a reflection of the systemic crisis of the order of capital — which has intensified the dynamics of class struggle and exposed the bourgeois character of our state and its political operators; the decline in hegemony of the conciliatory political forces, whose project, which until then had been successful, involved a management of Brazilian capitalism that pacified the subordinate social sectors; and the growing political action of the proletarian class organizations, which have been gradually, in a revolutionary way, rebuilding popular struggles in the country.
Communists are aware of the importance of this new element for changing the course of class struggle in the country. We learned from Marx that “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.”i However, in order for this current movement of Marxism-Leninism in the Brazilian youth to become in fact a material force, it needs to overcome the limitations conditioned by our historical time.
We live in a specific stage of development of the bourgeois order: late capitalism, also known as neoliberalism or flexible accumulation. This stage is marked by socio-historical circumstances that profoundly modify human life: the globalization of capitalism, which has reached almost all borders; the development of technologies that change our relationship with time and space-time (computers, internet, cell phones, satellites, commercial airplanes…); the advancement of the commodification of knowledge and other spaces in social life; the financialization of the economy (which chooses the growth of fictitious capital as an escape route for the self-expansion of capital); productive restructuring, which divided and precarized the workforce (see the phenomenon of outsourcing), etc.
This new moment in the order of capital requires the formation of its own cultural logic: “the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas ’’ ii. Postmodernityiii would be the cultural logic developed to exercise this functionality, as a means of integrating today’s social individuals uncritically to the current commercial and productive imperatives, promoting a form of consciousness that tends towards self-centeredness, relativism, fragmentarism, inconstancy, etc.
We, subjects forged in this historical time, however much we criticize postmodernity, its disastrous impacts and the decadent theoretical lines that legitimize it, will still present its sequels through our own education, just as we sometimes reproduce elements of the structural oppression that we fight so much, which can only be fully buried with the overthrow of their material supports.
About the possibility of a “revolutionary identity”.
Reproducing postmodern cultural logic, many people have resorted to the revolutionary theory of the proletariat as an individual response to the impacts of the contemporary identity crisis. It is in this sense that several times Marxism-Leninism has erroneously appeared to the youth: simply as an identity, a kind of new social tribe to participate in. It is a mercantile absorption of the theoretical construction that aims to overcome the capitalist mode of production.
It has become common to adopt a ‘‘Soviet’’, or ‘‘revolutionary’’ identity as a way to demonstrate some political radicalism. We see more and more people uncritically worshiping historical personalities and symbols of the communist struggle as if they were religious figures worthy of devotion. Deep down, there is no problem in alluding to any of this, to some extent it is even right for a communist to stir historical symbols of the proletarian struggle, to recognize the importance and contributions of great communist figures, or to claim and defend the legacy of socialist experiences, which were so defamed by historiography and the bourgeois media.
Yet, condemnable is the moment when these expressions are exacerbated and the way in which these ideas and symbols are agitated acquires a fetishistic character, separating several people from the communist struggle due to their self-centered behavior. It is no coincidence that these are the same people who usually aggressively attack the “right-wing poor [pobres de direita]”, as if class consciousness fell freely from the sky and there was no dominant ideology forming us all.
Many of these individuals try to join some current of the history of the proletarian movement, as if they were entering some neo-Pentecostal church, or some new urban tribe. They are inserted in debates such as that of Stalin x Trotsky, or Althusser x Lukács, or even Hoxha x Mao Zedong, not because they are really interested in the practical consequences of each side of these dichotomies, but because they want to assume the identity of any of these positions, being part of a niche, gain a feeling of belonging. As a result, sometimes much needed debates are vulgarized, they neglect the concrete study of antagonistic positions — or even of their own positions! — and harass anyone who sympathizes with the other position, or even someone who has not yet formed a position.
There is also the growth of a certain academicist identity, which occurs when the approach of Marxism-Leninism happens not because of the real intention of inserting itself in the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, but rather to develop a kind of individual scholarship. Such an erudition process is aimed at by this type of individual so that he can be seen as an intellectual reference, someone that his peers can highlight as an “enlightened”, “brilliant” figure, almost a “theoretical messiah’’. With this, the person could obtain social or academic prestige, or both.
About this, comrade Ho Chi Minh once wrote:
“To study Marxism-Leninism is to learn the spirit in which one should deal with things, with other people and with oneself. If means to study the universal Marxist-Leninist truths in order to apply them creatively to the practical conditions of our country. We must study with a view to action. Theory must go hand in hand with practice.
But some comrades only learn by heart a few books on Marxism-Leninism. They think they understand Marxism-Leninism better than anyone else. Yet, when faced with practical problems, they either act in a mechanical way or are thrown into confusion. Their deeds do not match their words. They study books on Marxism-Leninism but do not seek to acquire the Marxist-Leninist spirit. They only want to show off their knowledge, not to apply it to revolutionary action. This is also individualism.”iv
Having this type of position in the face of academicism does not mean incurring a practical deviation. The praticista/pettifogging practitionerv, who can also be understood as a kind of identity, is one who is convinced that the fundamental factor of political struggle is practice for practice’s sake, regardless of the theoretical orientation that directs it. In this case, the criterion for valuing an organization would not be the way in which it builds the overcoming of the exploitation of the human being by the human being, but the merely quantitative total of its political actions, regardless of its bias.
We know where this type of perspective leads: it is precisely the decadent groups that defend class conciliation who engage in this type of vision the most, as a way of sustaining some political relevance for themselves. Today, with the result of this type of action, perpetuating the oppressions, exploitations and domination of the capitalist mode of production, we are already aware that this is not the way to liberate the proletariat and the subordinate sectors of the social fabric. As Lenin would say, “without revolutionary theory, there is no revolutionary movement”vi.
We can never lose sight of the pedagogical aspect of Marxist-Leninist action. A communist cannot be an impediment for the masses to join the movement that will bring about their emancipation. We must always establish the possible conditions for more and more comrades to see the importance of organizing themselves to overcome the bourgeois world. Many people turn away from communism because of the distorted way in which the movement is presented: either because they do not identify with the fetishist image spread by some, or because they are repressed by academic discourse, or because they are unable — by working, by studying, for being mothers, etc. — to follow the imperatives of ‘practice’ [praticismo].
We need to move away from this fetishist and self-centered stance that treats Marxism-Leninism as mere identity. Communists cannot develop an ideal specific identity. The communist movement is the movement for the emancipation of the working class. Bearing this in mind, we should be aware that there cannot be a crystallized Marxist-Leninist identity, precisely because there is no ‘‘proletarian identity”. The working class has no unique way of dressing, behaving, making art, etc. Those opposing perspectives have only one destiny to follow: the path of exotification of the working class and its struggles.
We can only speak indirectly of a revolutionary identity. In fact, communists must show themselves organized, disciplined, solidary, waving and spreading the flags of the historic project of the working class and behaving as fighters against the oppressive repercussions of class society. But this type of behavior does not appear due to a revolutionary identity ideal, but as a result of the structuring principles of Marxism-Leninism: those that substantiate its praxis.
Marxism-Leninism as Praxis
To really join the communist struggle, it is not enough to have a new individual posture, be it identity or conscience. The radical transformation of reality will not come through thought or particular acts. Our individual actions closed in on themselves are limited not only by being conditioned by the objective social determinations that the society that forms us imposes, but also by the very insufficiency that our isolated action has to affect the social complex that we want to overcome.
Liberation, in our perspective, is a historic, materially effective act, which can only be developed in praxis, that is, in that type of action that is consciously transforming. There is an interesting dialectic here: as we saw at the beginning, Marxist-Leninist theory can only become a material force if it seizes the working class, if it becomes the theoretical weapon of the revolutionary subject of our historical time. On the other hand, the political action of the masses becomes revolutionary only if it is theoretically oriented by the revolutionary science of the proletariat.
We communists, as components of this collective subject, can only enter the struggle for the socialist revolution, for the ‘real movement that overcomes the current state of affairs’’vii, if we develop a revolutionary practice. And for that, it is not possible to treat Marxism-Leninism as a mere commercial fetish, to be used as an identity. We only join the communist struggle when we really assume the principles of Marxism-Leninism in our militant practice. Only acting with discipline, without fear of criticism and self-criticism, deeply studying the reality around us in the light of our theory, recognizing the need for democratic centralism, drawing up a correct political line, linking deeply with the masses, and, last but not least, serving the people and their historical project with all the firmness and fidelity necessary for such an activity, is that we can indeed fight for the overcoming of capitalism.viii
iiQuote from The German ideology, by Marx and Engels. Chapter III of the tome on Feuerbach goes into the dynamics of the dominant ideology over us.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_The_German_Ideology.pdf page 21.
iiiOn the phenomenon of postmodernity, the main source here is Perry Anderson’s book The Origins of Postmodernity, a rigorous historical compendium of elements from this new moment in capitalism.
vTranslator’s note: As far as I was able to establish, there is no commonplace translation for the term used here in portuguese. The translation of praticismo as “practicism” or other sorts of similar words do not convey the meaning that is usually ascribed to this word in Brazilian marxist circles. It could be vulgarly understood as a neglect of revolutionary theory that overemphasizes practice/militancy for its own sake, as it is probably understood from context, but I’ve chosen to translate it “pettifogging practice” because this is translated as praticismo in Lenin’s conclusion to “What is to be Done?” (1902), even though the meaning is not exactly the same in Lenin’s work and contemporary marxist literature in Brazil. Lenin’s quote: “Not the lofty contempt for practical work displayed by some worshipper of the “absolute” is characteristic of this period, but the combination of pettifogging practice and utter disregard for theory.”
vi The book What is to be Done? in which this quote is present, is another fundamental theoretical source for Marxism-Leninism
vii Another quote from The German Ideology.
viii The influence from On Revolutionary Morality is evident here.
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