Centrist Marxism

English: Heading of an ILP letter

The material on centrist Marxism was removed from the Wikipedia article on Centrism, so I have created a new article on the former. It is very much a work in progress, so anyone reading this who is a Wikipedia editor, please work on it. It started like this:

Centrism has a specific meaning within the Marxist movement, referring to a position between a revolutionary and reformist position. For instance, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) was seen as centrist because they oscillated between advocating reaching a socialist economy through reforms and advocating revolution. The members of the so-called Two-and-a-half and Three-and-a-half Internationals, who could not choose between the reformism of the social democrat Second International and the revolutionary politics of the Communist Third International, are exemplary of centrism in this sense; instances are the Spanish Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), ILP and Poale Zion.

Revolutionary Marxists often describe centrism in this sense as opportunistic, since it argues for a revolution at some point in the future but urges reformist practices in the mean time; Libertarian socialists and anarchists view any reformism as political opportunism because they view reformism as incapable of effecting structural changes to social organization.[1]

The term “Centrism” also denotes positions held by some of the Bolsheviks during the 1920s. In this context, “Centrism” refers to a position between the Right Opposition (which supported the New Economic Policy and friendly relations with capitalist countries) and the Left Opposition (which supported an immediate transition to a socialist economy and world revolution). By the end of the 1920s, the two opposing factions had been defeated by Joseph Stalin who eventually gained enough support from members of the factions through the application of various ideas formed by the factions’ various leaders. (i.e. Leon TrotskyNikolai Bukharin, etc.)


John Cornford

The Marxist Internet Archive, as I noted here, are undertaking the wonderful task of adding Brian Pearce’s regular column, Constant Reader, from the 1950s, to their great collection. A couple of items caught my eye. This is from March 1959:

John Cornford’s warning

A useful book on this subject is ‘John Cornford: A Memoir’, edited by Pat Sloan (1938). It consists of selections from the writings of the young man to whom the socialist movement in the universities in that period owed more than to anybody else, together with contributions by people who knew him.

Cornford was killed in action in December 1936, fighting with the International Brigade in Spain. His writings while in Spain suggest that, had he lived, his Marxist approach would have brought him into conflict with Stalinism.

For Cornford the struggle in Spain was ‘a revolutionary war’.

‘In Catalonia at least the overwhelming majority of the big employers went over to the fascists. Thus the question of socialism was placed on the order of the day.’

The Communist Party should ‘force recognition from the government of the social gains of the revolution’.

Cornford feared that the party was ‘a little too mechanical in its application of People’s Front tactics. It is still concentrating too much on trying to neutralize the petty bourgeoisie – when by far the most urgent task is to win the socialist workers…’

And this is from the following week:

Cornford and the anarchists

An error crept into one of my quotations from Cornford last week – an error which it is particularly worth correcting, as it weakens the point of the passage quoted.

It was not the ‘socialist’ but the ‘anarchist workers’ that Cornford thought the Spanish communists should concentrate on winning.

Though he had no time for anarchism, Cornford saw that the main body of militant workers in the principal industrial region of Spain, around Barcelona, were anarchists, and, being a sincere communist, that meant for him that the party’s task was first and foremost to get among those workers, establish close ties with them, and win them for Marxism.

The line actually taken by the Stalinists was first to stick a label on the anarchist workers (‘uncontrollables’, the 1937 equivalent of ‘Left adventurists’), then to work up a pogrom spirit against them among the followers of the Communist Party, and finally to attack and decimate them, using an armed force recruited among former policemen and the middle class.

Very relevant to what we were talking about here.


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