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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the scientific system of philosophical, economic, and sociopolitical views that constitutes the world outlook of the working class; the science of the cognition and revolutionary transformation of the world, the science of the laws of development of society, nature, and human thought, the science of the laws of the revolutionary working-class struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, and the science of laws of the constructive activity of the working people in building socialist and communist society.

The founders of Marxism-Leninism were K. Marx and F. Engels, and an outstanding contribution to its development was made by V. I. Lenin. Marxism-Leninism has been enriched through the theoretical work of the communist and workers’ parties. “Marxism-Leninism is the single great revolutionary doctrine, the guiding star of the working class and toilers throughout the world at all stages of their glorious battle for peace, freedom, and a better life and for the creation of a truly just society, communism. Its great and creative powers of transformation stem from its indissoluble link with life, its continual enrichment through a comprehensive analysis of reality” (Declaration of the Conference of Representatives of Communist and Workers’Parties, 1960).

Marxism as the scientific expression of the fundamental interests of the working class arose in the 1840’s, when the antagonistic contradictions of capitalist society became sharply apparent and the working class appeared in the historical arena as an independent political force. Marx and Engels were the creators of the scientific world outlook of the working class and of the program, strategy, and tactics of its revolutionary struggle. They critically reexamined and creatively reworked the preceding achievements of mankind’s scientific and social thought and drew conclusions from the class struggle and the revolutionary movement of the toiling masses.

Marxism-Leninism represents the logical outcome of the forward movement of progressive human thought and marks the greatest revolutionary change in its development. The most important theoretical sources of Marxism were German classical philosophy, British political economy, and French Utopian socialism. Marxism adopted a fundamentally new approach to solving practical and theoretical problems, giving a scientific answer to the main questions posed by social development, primarily the development of capitalism and the working-class movement. It overcame the idealism, antihistoricism, and contemplative attitude of earlier social thought. The most important distinctive feature of Marxism is that it not only explained the world but also defined the conditions for changing the world and the means of changing it, thus transforming socialism from a Utopia to a science. This became possible through the extension of materialism to the interpretation of social history, the creation of historical materialism, and the organic blending and creative development of materialism and dialectics. “The application of materialist dialectics to the reshaping of all political economy from its foundations up, its application to history, natural science, philosophy, and to the policy and tactics of the working class—that was what interested Marx and Engels most of all, that was where they contributed what was most essential and new, and that was what constituted the masterly advance they made in the history of revolutionary thought” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 264).

Having arisen as a revolutionary working-class theory, Marxism was first tested in the revolutions of 1848–49 in Western Europe. After these revolutions Marx and Engels concentrated on promoting the ideas of scientific communism, preparing proletarian revolutionary cadres in every country, and marshaling the forces of the international proletariat for further revolutionary struggle. This period was marked by the founding on Sept. 28, 1864, of the revolutionary international working-class party under Marx and Engels’ leadership, called the International Workingmen’s Association. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, large Social Democratic proletarian parties were formed in a number of European countries.

The spread of Marxism in the international workers’ movement encountered bitter opposition both from overt opponents, such as the Bakuninists and Proudhonists, and from conciliatory and opportunistic elements within the Social Democratic parties, the revisionists, including E. Bernstein and M. Adler. Revisionism arose in the working-class movement as a manifestation of the influence of bourgeois ideology on the least revolutionary, comparatively well-to-do strata of the working class, the so-called labor aristocracy. Another source of revisionism was the ideology of the petit bourgeois elements in the proletarian party, who were halfhearted and vacillated between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Marxism also waged a resolute struggle against dogmatism and sectarianism, which likewise seriously injured the workers’ movement.

Among the many outstanding exponents of Marxist ideas were P. Lafargue, W. Liebknecht, A. Bebel, F. Mehring, G. V. Plekhanov, and A. Labriola.

Marxism underwent further creative development in the theoretical works and practical activity of V. I. Lenin, the brilliant continuator of Marx and Engels’ work who raised the Marxist revolutionary doctrine to a new and higher level. Having absorbed Marx and Engels’ theory, Lenin developed it creatively and with concrete application to the conditions of a new historical epoch. Lenin’s struggle and work constitute the Leninist stage in the development of the revolutionary theory of the working class, rightly called Marxism-Leninism. Leninism is “the Marxism of the age of imperialism and proletarian revolutions, the age of the collapse of the colonial system and the victory of the national liberation movements, the age of humanity’s transition from capitalism to socialism and the building of communist society” (K 100-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia Vladimira Il’icha Lenina: Tezisy Tsk KPSS, 1970, p. 5).

Marxism-Leninism consists of three organically interrelated and mutually conditioning elements: philosophy (dialectical and historical materialism), political economy, and scientific communism.

Dialectical and historical materialism is the philosophy of the working class and its vanguard, the communist party. It is the science of the general laws of the development of nature, society, and thought and constitutes the theoretical foundation of communism. Marxist-Leninist philosophy proceeds from the assumption that the world is material: all that exists is matter in motion in various forms, the highest of which is human society. The universe is unitary and develops according to objective laws that are independent of human consciousness but that become known through social activity, both practical and scientific. Man makes his own history; however, the course of social development is not determined by the free will of individuals but is governed by the material conditions of their lives and is subordinated to the laws that manifest themselves in the activities of the popular masses. By coming to know these laws and acting in accordance with them, mankind can consciously influence the course of social development.

In Marxism-Leninism society was interpreted for the first time as an integral social organism within whose structure may be distinguished the forces of production, the relations of production, and the spheres of social life determined by them—politics, law, ethics, and the state, as well as philosophy, science, art, and religion. The unity and interaction of these elements constitute society at a particular stage of history—a socioeconomic formation. The development of formations and the replacement of one formation by another constitute the process of society’s forward movement toward communism. The core of Marxist philosophy is materialist dialectics, the general methodology of a truly scientific knowledge of society and nature. Materialist dialectics is revolutionary and critical, regarding each stage in the development of society as a transitory one. Its most important aspect is the doctrine of contradiction, the law of the unity and struggle of opposites, which reveals the source of the self-movement and development of phenomena and processes.

Lenin made a great contribution to Marxist philosophy in working out such major problems as the theory of reflection, the theory of knowledge, and the doctrine of truth and in providing a deeper understanding of the laws and categories of dialectics. In his works Lenin provided classical examples of the application of materialist dialectics to important problems of social development, politics, and proletarian class struggle: he analyzed objective conditions and elaborated the question of the role of the subjective factor in the historical process—the significance of the creative initiative of the masses, social classes, political parties, and individuals—and he substantiated the great importance of scientific theory in the revolutionary movement. Lenin not only defended Marxist philosophy against the attacks of the revisionists but also summed up and interpreted philosophically the achievements in the natural sciences after Engels.

Marxist-Leninist political economy arose out of Marx’ dialectical-materialist analysis of the capitalist society of his time. Marx thoroughly elaborated and substantiated the labor theory of value and discovered the law of surplus value. This great discovery was, in Lenin’s words, “the cornerstone of Marx’ economic theory” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, p. 45), for it revealed the essential character of the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. Marxist-Leninist political economy investigates the objective laws of the development of social production throughout human history. It demonstrates the transitory nature of the capitalist mode of production and the inevitability of its collapse and replacement by a new social formation, communism.

Marx and Engels showed, on the basis of a wealth of historical data, that the most important moving force in social development, beginning with the disintegration of the primitive communal formation, has been the struggle between antagonistic classes. They theoretically substantiated the revolutionary role of the working class, whose historical mission is the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of communism, which ensures the conditions necessary for the free and full development of each individual. The practicable means of abolishing capitalism and effecting the transition to communism are the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In order to achieve the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, eliminate all exploitation of man by man, and emancipate all toilers, the working class enters into an alliance with all toiling and exploited people. Marx and Engels demonstrated that between the capitalist and communist social formations there is a transitional period during which the proletariat, having acquired state power, must direct the development of all aspects of social life toward the new society. They taught that a necessary condition for success in the struggle to overthrow capitalist oppression and for the victory of the proletarian revolution and communism was the unification of the proletariat of different countries and nations against the bourgeoisie of all countries and nations, in-as-much as the goal of the proletariat throughout the world is the same—communism. In view of this, internationalism is a principle of proletarian organization and struggle.

In order to accomplish the proletarian revolution, the working class must organize and consolidate its ranks and create its own militant revolutionary party, bringing together its best and most advanced forces and leading the toilers in the struggle for the victory of communism. The first such party, the Communist League, was created by Marx and Engels in 1847.

Lenin made an invaluable contribution to Marxist economic theory. He showed that capitalism had entered the last and highest stage of its development—imperialism—and revealed the specific features of imperialism and its economic and political essence. He established that the state-monopoly stage of capitalist development constitutes the material preparation for the revolutionary transition to socialism. Lenin discovered the law of uneven development among capitalist countries in the age of imperialism, from which he drew the highly important theoretical conclusion that the victory of the proletarian revolution and of socialism was possible at first in several or even in a single country, since the proletarian revolution could not take place simultaneously in all the advanced capitalist countries, as Marx and Engels had thought.

An important contribution to Marxism-Leninism was Lenin’s elaboration of the theory concerning the growth of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution. Lenin creatively expanded the doctrines of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the leading role of the working class, of the proletariat’s allies in the revolution, primarily the peasantry, and of the forms of class struggle. Proceeding from the theoretical tenets of Marx and Engels, Lenin created an integral doctrine concerning the party of the working class as the highest form of the workers’ revolutionary organization. He thoroughly elaborated the party’s theoretical and organizational foundations, the norms of party life, and the principles of party leadership. Under his guidance the working class of Russia created a new type of party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Lenin worked out the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie and the principles of the fight against revisionism, dogmatism, and right and “left” opportunism. The national question holds an important place in Marxism-Leninism. The main principles for a proletarian solution to this question were established by Marx and Engels, who showed that the national question is subordinate to the tasks of the proletarian class struggle for emancipation and explained the necessity for supporting national liberation movements directed against reactionary forces and classes. Lenin developed these propositions, criticized the theories and programs of the reformists and opportunists, and emphasized the necessity for free self-determination of nations on all issues, including the right to secede and form an independent state. He considered the unification of the working people of all nations in a common struggle for democracy and socialism to be the most important aspect of the national question. He revealed the connection between the national and colonial questions and showed the possibility of a noncapitalist path of development for colonial and dependent countries.

On the basis of Marx and Engels’ tenets concerning the future communist society and its two phases of development, Lenin worked out the question of the basic features of the transitional period from capitalism to socialism, the question of the methods and means of building socialism and communism, and the question of the basic laws of social development in the epoch of socialism and communism.

The victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917 and the creation of the first socialist multinational state was the greatest triumph for Marxist-Leninist theory, marking the beginning of a new historical epoch in mankind’s development.

After Lenin, the CPSU and the fraternal communist parties continued to develop Marxist-Leninist theory. Proceeding from Lenin’s tenets and applying and developing them creatively, the CPSU led the Soviet people to the victory of socialism and is directing the construction of communist society in the USSR. The CPSU worked out the problems concerning the possibility of building socialism in a single country, surrounded by capitalist countries; the methods, the means, and the tempo of socialist industrialization; the methods and forms of collectivization in agriculture; the methods and means of implementing a cultural revolution in the country; and the objective laws governing the building of socialist society and the gradual transition to communism. The party defended its line in an uncompromising struggle against right and “left” opportunism and nationalistic deviation.

The achievements of socialist construction in the USSR and the defeat of fascist Germany and imperialist Japan, in which the Soviet Union played the decisive part, contributed to the success of popular-democratic and socialist revolutions in a number of European, Asian, and Latin American countries, to an upsurge in the national liberation movement, and to the collapse of the colonial system of imperialism. These most important developments served as new, practical confirmation of the truth of Marxist-Leninist theory. The historical situation that arose after World War II, the formation of the world socialist system, the intensification of the crisis of the capitalist system, the unfolding of the scientific and technological revolution, and the tasks of socialist and communist construction required the further enrichment of Marxism-Leninism. A major precondition for the creative development of Marxist-Leninist theory was the CPSU’s success in overcoming tendencies toward dogmatizing theory and divorcing it from practice. However, the party also opposed attempts to equate theory and practice, which would have led to a downgrading of theory and a violation of the principle of the unity of theory and practice.

The CPSU has accomplished a great deal in studying major complex economic and sociopolitical problems of socialist society in the USSR. Together with the other fraternal communist parties, it has worked out fundamental questions of the development of the world socialist system, investigated new phenomena in contemporary capitalism, and worked on important problems of the world revolutionary-liberation movement. This theoretical work has significantly enriched Marxism-Leninism. Among the major creative contributions to Marxist-Leninist theory are the 1961 Program of the CPSU, the resolutions of the congresses and Central Committee plenums of the CPSU, the party documents on the 50th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, on the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth, and on the 50th anniversary of the USSR, the documents of the international conferences of communist and workers’ parties, and the documents of fraternal communist parties.

At the present time Marxism-Leninism provides theoretical generalizations from the experience of socialist and communist construction in the USSR and other socialist countries, reveals the laws of development of the world socialist system and the means and methods of creating the material and technical basis of communism, and shows the nature of the present stage of capitalist development. It defines the prospects for the growth and development of the international revolutionary movement of the working class and the national liberation struggle of the colonial and dependent peoples, as well as the forms of transition to socialism in different countries, and outlines the methods and means of putting into practice the Leninist policy of peaceful coexistence between the two opposing social systems and safeguarding world peace.

In analyzing the development of Soviet society, the CPSU has shown that the main achievement of the profound socioeconomic changes has been the construction of a developed socialist society. On the basis of the fundamental changes in the economic, social, and intellectual life of society a new historical community has come into being—the Soviet people. The developed socialist society is characterized by the harmonious development of the economic, sociopolitical, and cultural spheres of life. It has a strong material and technical base, created by the all-round development of the national economy and the application to production of the latest advances in science and technology. Typical of the developed socialist society are high and stable rates in the growth of social production and of labor productivity and mature social relations formed on the basis of the fully dominant socialist ownership, the elimination of all exploitative elements, and the consolidation of the Marxist-Leninist world outlook and social, political, and ideological unity within the society. The socialist principle of distribution according to the quantity and quality of labor has been firmly established in the developed socialist society. The political superstructure of developed socialism is a state of the entire people.

At the present time, the task of creating the material and technical base of communism is being solved in the USSR, a complex and multilevel task. The CPSU has emphasized the need to develop and apply modern methods of planning and management and ways of increasing the efficiency of the national economy and the need to improve material and moral incentives. Long-range planning, which determines the main direction of the country’s economic development over many years, plays a major role. The task posed at the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU of combining the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution with the advantages of the socialist economic system is of great programmatic importance.

In the developed socialist society, a new social structure of friendly classes and social strata has evolved. Class lines are being effaced, social homogeneity is being consolidated, and a new man is being formed under the influence of objective conditions and communist upbringing. The emergence of the Soviet people—embodying the brotherhood of the workers of more than 100 nations and nationalities, united by common interest, aims, and ideals and a common ideology—is the result of the creative application and development of Marxist-Leninist principles in solving the national question and the result of the drawing together of the peoples of the USSR and their cohesion and unification in the course of socialist and communist construction.

Developing the Leninist doctrine of the party, the CPSU has shown that an important objective law of development of socialist society is the ever greater leading role of the Communist Party. This law manifests itself with even greater force in the stage of communist construction because of the greater scope and diversity of the people’s creative activity and the increased complexity of the domestic and international tasks in developing Soviet society.

Together with the other communist parties, the CPSU works out fundamental problems concerning the development of the world socialist system, the operation of the general laws of socialist construction, and the embodiment of these laws in the specific conditions of various countries. The CPSU and fraternal parties of the socialist countries study the laws and tendencies of the international socialist division of labor, the principles of socialist integration, and other questions related to the overall development of the world socialist system. In contemporary Marxist-Leninist theory considerable attention is given to the analysis of new phenomena in capitalist society—important for developing the program, strategy, and tactics of the revolutionary and national liberation movement and determining the foreign policy of the socialist countries.

In its efforts to adapt to the conditions of struggle between the two opposing systems and to use the achievements of the scientific and technological revolution, modern imperialism has acquired certain new features. Its state-monopoly character has intensified, as reflected in government encouragement of monopolistic concentration of production and capital, in the redistribution of an ever larger share of the national wealth for the benefit of monopolies, in the state financing of industrial development and scientific research, in the drawing up of national economic development programs, and in the policy of imperialist integration. However, state-monopoly regulation is incapable of restraining the elemental forces of capitalism. The present scientific and technological revolution, while speeding up the process of the socialization of the economy, also leads to the reproduction of social antagonisms on an even larger scale and to the rise of new contradictions in capitalist development. These developments are responsible for the increasing instability of the capitalist system, for profound social and political crises, for increased revolutionary consciousness among the masses, and for a growing wave of class battles in the citadels of capitalism. The crisis of contemporary state-monopoly capitalism is a general one, manifesting itself in every sphere—economics, politics, ideology, and morality.

One of the clearest manifestations of this crisis is the collapse of the colonial system of imperialism, caused by the rise in the national liberation movement. In many countries the struggle for national independence has developed into a struggle against exploitative social relations. Of great importance for the workers’, communist, and national liberation movement is the theoretical elaboration of problems concerning the convergence of the democratic and socialist tasks of revolutionary struggle today, the combination of peaceful and nonpeaceful forms of revolution, and the possibility of a noncapitalist path of development for the former colonial countries.

Marxism-Leninism is the international basis for the revolutionary strategy and tactics of the communist and workers’ parties and for the international solidarity of the fighters for the proletarian cause. While noting the importance of taking into account the specific historical features and the unique aspects of the situation in which each proletarian party must function, the classical exponents of Marxism-Leninism always upheld the unity of the international tactics of the communist movement. Lenin emphasized that the task of communists “consists in learning to apply the general and basic principles of communism to the specific relations between classes and parties, to the specific features in the objective development toward communism, which are different in each country and which we must be able to discover, study, and predict” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 41, p. 74). Developing Lenin’s tenet, the international conferences of communist and workers’ parties in 1957, 1960, and 1969 declared that the general laws of development of the socialist revolution, socialist construction, and socialism should be applied “taking into account the specific historical features of each country and the interests of the socialist system as a whole” (Programmnye dokumenty bor’by za mir, demokratiiu i sotsialism, 1961, p. 49). This is one of the ways in which the uniqueness of each country’s development along the path to socialism is expressed. Although this development takes place “on the basis of general laws,” it “unfolds in different forms, reflecting concrete historical conditions and national characteristics” (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskich i rabochikh partii: Dokumenty i materialy, Moscow, 1969, p. 305).

A major task of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and of all the fraternal communist parties is the struggle to preserve the purity of Marxist-Leninist theory. As the experience of the revolutionary struggle has shown, the strength of the international communist movement lies in loyalty to Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism. Throughout its history, the CPSU has struggled against all forms of departure from Marxist-Leninist theory, against all manifestations of right and “left” opportunism. The International Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties held in June 1969 stressed the need to “strive for the triumph of Marxism-Leninism and to struggle, in accordance with concrete circumstances, against right-opportunist and left-opportunist distortions in theory and policy, against revisionism, dogmatism, and left-sectarian adventurism” (ibid., pp. 328-29).

Contemporary revisionism has advanced the thesis of pluralistic Marxism, of the legitimacy of different interpretations of Marxism that supposedly can all be true at the same time. The advocates of this form of revisionism contrast the views of Marx and Engels and of Marx and Lenin. They attack the Leninist stage of Marxist development with particular fury, denying the international significance of Leninism and Lenin’s role as a great contemporary theoretician. However, all the non-Leninist or anti-Leninist interpretations of Marxism either prove to be a form of petit bourgeois revolutionism or represent outright concessions to bourgeois ideology and a departure from basic Marxist-Leninist tenets, primarily the rejection of the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the proletarian revolution. One of the most pernicious of the contemporary anti-Leninist trends is Maoism, a petit bourgeois, nationalist perversion of Marxism-Leninism.

The CPSU emphasizes that criticism of bourgeois and revisionist attacks on Marxism-Leninism is much more convincing when based on an active and creative development of Marxism-Leninism and of all social sciences. “The theoretical elaboration and timely practical solution of new problems raised by life are essential to the successful movement of society toward communism. Theory must continue to illuminate the way for practice and help detect and eliminate obstacles and difficulties hindering successful communist construction. The party regards as its most important duty the further development of Marxist-Leninist theory by studying and drawing general conclusions from new phenomena in the life of Soviet society and from the experience of the world revolutionary working-class and liberation movement and the creative combination of the theory and practice of communist construction” (Programma KPSS, 1972, p. 118).

Historical experience attests to the great vitality of Marxism-Leninism, a powerful means not only of the cognition but also the revolutionary transformation of the world.

The International Conference of Communist and Workers’ parties held in Moscow in 1969 stated that the entire experience of world socialism and of the working-class and national liberation movement has confirmed the international significance of Marxist-Leninist doctrine (Mezhdunarodnoe Soveshchanie kommunisticheskikh i rabochykh partii, Moscow, 1969, p. 332). Marxism-Leninism is the scientific foundation for the activity of communist parties at every step along the road to the great goal of communism. It is one of the most important moving forces in socialist and communist construction and in the molding of the new man. Marxism-Leninism is spreading ever more widely in the world and is playing a crucial role in the confrontation between socialism and capitalism and the development of the world revolutionary process.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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