After reading this article you will learn about the meaning, origin and development of Revisionism.
Meaning and Origin of Revisionism:
The COD defines revisionism in the following words:
A policy of revision or modification, especially of Marxism, on evolutionary socialist or pluralist principles. Again, it means the theory or practice of revising one’s attitude to something.
In ordinary or general sense revisionism denotes any type of revision or alteration or change of existing idea or dogma in the background of present situation. But in political science, especially in Marxism, the term denotes special meaning.
Marx and Engels completed their analysis and survey of capitalist society in general and its economic aspects in particular before the end of the nineteenth century. But the twentieth century witnessed far reaching changes in various sectors of the capitalist society and these changes in some cases or fields went against what Marx said and some Marxists and many non-Marxists viewed that these changes had falsified Marx’s views and conclusions.
Or they thought that Marx could not properly or correctly foresee the events or nature of the capitalist society. But these people simultaneously asserted their faith in Marxism. This situation created a peculiar problem for persons who had great faith in Marxism but changes in events or situation had shaken their faith in Marxism or inspired them to think about Marx’s doctrine in different line.
We, therefore, see that the concept of revisionism has a special meaning in relation to Marxism. Revisionism has a special reference to Marxist doctrine because of the fact that though many of the key ideas or aspects of Marx were confronted with a big question mark at the very beginning of the twentieth century many conservative or orthodox or dogmatic Marxists refused to shake their faith in Marxism.
We are of opinion that revisionism in Marxism has come to be associated with dogmatism, pragmatism and also, to some extent, with conservatism. This is so because many Marxists have come to believe that Marxism is universally correct. That is, in all capitalist countries Marx’s analysis and predictions have special importance and meaning.
Some opportunists or non-Marxists have distorted Marx’s views, conclusions and analyses to suit their own opinion and analysis Their claim is they want to update Marx’s views and in this way they are “modernising” Marx’s views and not abandoning them.
Hence revisionism does not mean abandonment of Marxism but its updation. Viewed from this angle revisionism connotes democratic and rationalist implication of Marxism. In other words, revisionism implies rationalisation of Marxism in the light or perspective of changes that are taking place.
Kolakowski is of opinion that from the second half of the 1950s the term “revisionism” came to be “used by the party authorities and official ideologists in communist countries to stigmatise those who, while remaining party members or Marxists, attacked various communist dogmas”. But the persons who use the phrase revisionism did not attach special meaning to it.
It is generally believed that revisionism is rational and democratic. During the dictatorial rule of Stalin there was no place of rationalism or democracy in party structure or state administration.
Hence revisionism has a special reference to Stalin’s autocratic rule and various interpretations of Marxism that cropped up after Marx’s death (1883) and especially the death of Engels (1895). In the mid-fifties of the last century communist ideology was disintegrated and this invited revisionism.
Development of Revisionism:
By the mid-fifties of the last century there occurred disintegration in the monolithic nature of communism and this disintegration was quite widespread. After the death of Stalin in 1953 the Marxists or communists began to think and interpret the basic tenets of Marxism in their own way and this finally led to a variety of interpretation. This means that pluralism got a secure place in the monolithic structure of communism.
Before the death of Stalin the last word about Marxism was absolutely monopolised by Moscow. After his death different people and the revisionists got free access to press and electronic media and through these they expressed their views about communism. This finally opened the way of multiplicity of opinion about what Marx and Engels said and what was the exact meaning of their view.
The revisionists were not foreign to Marxist ideology or Marxism. They interpreted Marxism by liberally quoting from Marx’s vast literature and because of this there was hardly any possibility to challenge the views of the revisionists.
At the same time there were sufficient reasons and arguments in the analysis and observations of the revisionists. Pluralism in thought may be regarded as the prime reason of the rapid development of revisionism.
Here it may be noted that revisionism does not mean abandonment of the basic tenets of Marxism or even thorough revision of Marxism. It may mean the updation of Marx’s basic ideas.
We have used the word “updation” of Marxism. It has a wider and deeper meaning. From the second half of the fifties of the last century a large number of states of Asia and Africa began to earn political freedom and immediately after independence many of them publicly expressed their loyalty to communism. But at the same time they made it clear their attachment or loyalty to nationalism or national interests.
That is, they did not hesitate to make minor changes or alterations in the basic ideas of Marxism or Communism. These alterations subsequently came to be called as revisionism. The leaders of the various communist parties of different countries began to treat communism in the background of their national questions.
The revisionists were not the opponents of communist party or Marxism. For example, Mao Zedong was not at all anti-Marxist. He applied the central concepts of Marxism-Leninism in China. The Thoughts of Mao therefore may be called a type of revisionism.
There was another factor behind the emergence as well as development of revisionism. It was believed that the Stalinist system and mode of administration committed certain mistakes which went against the basic ideas of Marxism; and these were needed to be rectified. But they did not suggest the banishment of Stalinism.
It was their view that Stalinism was curable and communist society could be democratised. These two views led to the development of revisionism-. If relaxation were not allowed to have a special place in communism ultimately it will face serious consequences. The ardent adherents of communism naturally accepted revisionism as a natural development of communist thought.
At the initial stage revisionism was not treated with an open heart. But subsequently its opponents thought that it should be accepted because revisionism in several ways strengthens the stand of communism.
It was also held that the purpose of revisionism was not to enfeeble the philosophy of communism or Marxism. In this way revisionism has found a secure position in the arena of communism.