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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: September 2012

4 - Revolutionary Revisionism and the Merging of Nationalism and Socialism

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Summary

As we saw in the last two chapters, democratic revisionism emerged in response to the inability of orthodox Marxism to explain or deal with many of the challenges of Western Europe's fin-de-siècle. Yet this was not the only revisionist challenge to emerge in response to orthodox Marxism's perceived problems during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, the most famous revisionist of this time was a figure who came not from Western Europe, but from its periphery – V. I. Lenin. Operating in a country in the early rather than later stages of capitalist development, Lenin found a doctrine that preached that socialism would develop only when economic conditions were ripe as unattractive as Eduard Bernstein and other West European socialists found it unbelievable. Having little faith in or patience with the inexorable unfolding of history, Lenin therefore also developed a strategy that was based on the primacy of politics rather than economics in the transition to socialism. Recognizing, in other words, that socialism would not come about simply because it was inevitable (or unwilling to wait around for such an eventuality to occur), Lenin concluded that it would have to be achieved as the result of human action. This realization Lenin shared with other revisionists; where he differed is in the conclusions he drew from this. Where democratic revisionists put their faith in the ability of an inspired majority to effect fundamental change through democratic means, in Lenin's revisionism historical materialism was replaced by the view that socialism could be imposed through the politico-military efforts of a revolutionary elite.