What “Marxist-Leninists” fail to understand: the pitfall of ‘AES’ politics

Among the various types of reaction and revisionism that exist in the First World today are the “Marxist-Leninists”, also informally called “tankies” by other revisionist elements. While anarchists, trotskyists, “Maoists”, “democratic socialists” and others support U.S. intervention in the Third World, either directly or indirectly, the “Marxist-Leninists” are most often uncritically flag-waving and labeling “socialist” any movement that calls itself as such. The latter group is preferable to the former in that it recognizes imperialism as the primary contradiction and seeks to oppose it, but being better than imperialism is not good enough. Class struggle does not end with anti-imperialism.

Most “Marxist-Leninists” today argue that Cuba and the DPRK are socialist countries. Some go further and argue that China, Vietnam, Laos, and other governments which are ruled by parties calling themselves “Marxist-Leninist” are also socialist states. Some will argue that these are “socialism-oriented market economies”. The arguments are most often based on AES – “actually-existing socialism”. This is a set of arguments from the Warsaw Pact countries in the 1960s as justifications for their state-capitalist policies, that the policies were only what the countries in question could actually do given their level of development. This argument would be taken up by the Asian communist/natlib movements one by one as their justification for capitulation to capital. China today has slogans such as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”, “the Chinese Dream”, “the Two Hundreds”. The common theme among all of these is that China will achieve communism by developing its way to become a First World country. Through the most vicious capital accumulation practices, China will reach communism. Does this not sound problematic? Who is benefiting from economic development in China? Are the millions of sweatshop laborers, migrant workers and peasants the winners here? With the growing economy there is also growing inequality, which is so severe that it has become a trope among neo-liberal economists. This is similarly the case in Vietnam and in Laos, China’s neighbors to the south who also claim to be “socialist” but are in fact capitalist economies. To claim that these countries are “socialist” today is to ignore their policies based in class struggle and independent development back in their revolutionary periods in the 20th century, and how these countries have regressed since then. If the “Marxist-Leninists” who uphold the Chinese government of today as “socialist” don’t believe that the “American Dream” is genuine for Americans, why would it be that the “Chinese Dream” is genuine for the Chinese people? There isn’t much of a dream in 12+ hour workdays, pay cuts, corrupt unions, racism, unaffordable healthcare and education, commercialization and capital investments in Africa and Latin America. There are similar stories for Vietnam and Laos, two countries that Obama visited happily in the last year of his presidency.

With the corruption and inequality in China, Vietnam and Laos apparent, many “Marxist-Leninists” desperately cling to Cuba and the DPRK as the last strongholds of socialism. A personality cult around Fidel Castro is propped up, and Juche is considered a “revolutionary” and “Marxist” ideology, even though it is more so based in reactionary nationalism. What is the “socialism” of these countries? The “Marxist-Leninists” list various social-democratic reforms such as free healthcare, free education, etc. and the numerous accomplishments of Cuba in becoming a “doctor state”. No one denies that Cuba has made tremendous progress in its masses’ health through these accomplishments, but this is not socialism on its own. There can be no actual argument made for Cuban socialism, especially in light of the growing private sector and capital investments by imperialist countries. In fact, Cuba never was socialist. While Fidel Castro was a charming figurehead with anti-colonial fame from Cuba’s involvement in African and Latin American natlib struggles, he was not a communist. In fact, he explicitly said he was not a communist until Cuba started receiving Soviet aid. Only then did he opportunistically begin calling himself a “Marxist-Leninist”. So is Kim Jong-un a communist? No. None of the figureheads from the Kim family until now were or are communists. The Juche ideology is nationalist. The policies of Pyongyang are rooted solely in national defense and not proletarian internationalism. It’s a state-capitalist country moving ever closer towards a market system.

There are no socialist states today. There have not been any since the 1970s. What remains of the 20th century communist movements today is being wiped out completely. Yes, this is in part due to wrecking and outside intervention, but also due to obsolete theory. Marxism-Leninism and Maoism both ultimately failed in the 20th century, due primarily to the structural problems and errors that they failed to address, and to attempt to apply the exact same failed theories to the completely different material conditions today is unscientific and simply religious. The failures should be acknowledged and sought to be addressed, they should not be repeated. “Marxist-Leninists” like to quote Michael Parenti and William Blum when pressed on the defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union, who overemphasize the wreckerism and the foreign intervention efforts that socialist countries faced, but while these threats existed they were only one part of the story. The internal contradictions with regards to agriculture, industry, class struggle, collective leadership, etc. are hardly mentioned. The Soviets were simply perfect or near-perfect on all of these. Then why did their country move to social-imperialism and then disintegrate? Because wreckers and spies. This is great-man nonsense.

“Marxist-Leninists” believe they are “scientific” in comparison to anarchists and trotskyists, yet they are just as shortsighted in their understanding of class struggle. This problem could be rectified, if they made efforts to move beyond the dogmatism. Their occasional lip service to “understanding the errors and avoiding them” is meaningless in the face of their usual activity. Those who cannot move beyond the slogans and flag-waving cannot be considered scientists.

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