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Joseph Carter

A Legal Marxist

(August 1934)

From New International, Vol.1 No.2, August 1934, pp.63-64.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

by R. Palme Dutt
96 pp. London. Hamish Hamilton. 50¢.

Many biographies have been written of Lenin. The book under review, however, has a number of distinguishing traits. The author tells us in the introduction that

“... the study of Lenin’s life and work is only of value, not as an idle exercize in worship or denigration, in academic history or subjective criticism, but as a direct assistance in understanding the objective historical movement and in relation to the urgent world problems and tasks confronting us today” (p.8).

The careful reader approaches the book with a bit of caution; R. Palme Dutt is a leader of the British Stalinist Party! Yet the result is almost amazing. Lenin’s teachings are presented in complete abstraction from the more immediate “world problems and tasks confronting us today”; not a line is devoted to the disputes and events which have wracked the world communist movement for the past eleven years and led to the destruction of the revolutionary Third International; the names of Stalin and Trotsky are completely omitted in a biography of Lenin! Such is the legal Marxism of R. Palme Dutt.

In succinct form the author presents a popular sketch of the main teachings of Lenin, The Epoch of Lenin, The Life of Lenin, The Teachings of Lenin and The Heir of Lenin – the Communist International. The first chapter is reminiscent of the writings of Max Beer. Lenin is placed against the background of the development of Marxism. With broad strokes, the origin and teachings of Marx and Engels are excellently summarized in a few brief pages. The second chapter traces the struggle of Lenin for a Bolshevik party against the Russian “legal Marxists”, the “Economists”, and the Mensheviks. Discussing his defense of revolutionary internationalism during the World War and the Russian October, Dutt emphasizes Lenin’s conception that “the victory of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was the opening, the first stage, of the world socialist revolution” (p.54).

No less popular is his chapter The Teachings of Lenin. Here he again gives prominence to the internationalist character of Lenin’s teachings. Indicating that dialectic materialism is at their foundation, the author presents Lenin’s views on imperialism, on The Chief Task of Our Times – The World Revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the national and colonial problems, and the tactics and organization of the Revolution.

Nowhere does he openly defend the fundamental Stalinist conceptions. He presents Lenin’s teachings as though nothing had happened to them in the past decade. Let us briefly examine several of these controversial problems.

What has Dutt to say on the theory of completing a socialist society in one country (Russia) alone? In his chapter on the teachings of Lenin, not a word! Yet this, according to Stalin, is a fundamental teaching of Lenin.

But Dutt covers himself in two ways: first, by stating that he cannot cover all the questions, as for example the problems of socialist construction in the Soviet Union and second, by this innocuous reference in his chapter on the life of Lenin :

“In the spring of 1923 came a second and heavier attack. In May 1923, he wrote his last article, on Coöperation, pointing the way forward to ‘the establishment of a fully socialized society’ for which ‘we have all the means requisite’. ‘Of course we have not yet established a socialist society, but we have all the means requisite for its establishment.’ The unequal battle for life and consciousness dragged on over months. On January 21, 1924, he died” (p.61).

Dutt correctly presents Lenin’s article On Cooperation as an incidental writing. Stalin basis his entire revisionist theory on this article. Is Dutt unaware of the dispute and its import? Of course not! He prefers the role of a Legal Marxist in the camp of Stalinism!

In the section on National and Colonial Liberation Dutt does not even mention the Stalinists’ slogan of “the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, their conception of the alliance with the colonial bourgeoisie or their attitude towards workers’ and peasants’ parties. In a word, he closes his eyes to the experiences of China and India; he completely disregards the colonial theses of the Third International! For according to the Stalinists the slogan for a non-socialist “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” applies to all colonial and semi-colonial countries (China, India, Latin America, etc), to capitalist nations like Spain, and to such an imperialist power as Japan. And Dutt claims to expound the views of Lenin “in relation to the urgent world problems and tasks confronting us today”!

In order to avoid this paramount problem Dutt presents the disputes in the Russian social democracy in 1905 as merely between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. How about Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, his slogan for a workers’ government? The British Stalinist, Ralph Fox, in his recent biography of Lenin, fulminates against Trotsky on this and other scores. Dutt remains completely silent. Is this a “legal” protest against the historical abominations of Fox and other Stalinist scribblers?

Nor does Dutt fail to avoid the important problems of the trade unions and the united front. Surely such questions deserve at least a paragraph or so in even a brief sketch of Lenin. But to touch these problems would mean to state Lenin’s conceptions as against the Stalinists’ views or openly to avow Stalinism. Dutt preferred silence. Cowardly silence on the burning problems of the day.

The most important event since the Russian revolution and the founding of the Communist International, the victory of Fascism in Germany, is treated in an “optimistic” manner.

“‘Life will assert itself.’ In this basic understanding Lenin proclaimed his confidence in the final victory of the world socialist revolution, despite all reverses and temporary defeats, exemplified today in the temporary rule of Fascism in Germany, which can only pave the way for a new and deeper and finally victorious revolutionary upheaval.” (p.91.)

However, this historically true statement is meaningless unless its author offers a world workers’ party based on revolutionary Marxism which can lead to final victory. Dutt offers the Communist International of today as the “heir of Lenin”. On what grounds? We have seen how he avoids the fundamental disputes in the world communist movement of the last decade. We need but add that he does not quote a single document dated after 1923! Why should one accept the present Stalin-tern as the inheritor of the revolutionary Communist International of 1919-1923?

(In his bibliography Dutt includes Stalin’s writings and the current periodicals of the Third International. Will this be the reply to the “omissions” in the text?)

R. Palme Dutt has been a “legal Marxist” since the epoch of Stalinism. He has deliberately attempted to avoid the burning questions off the day. Not with complete success. After the victory of Fascism in Germany he whitewashed the Stalinist party of Germany for its capitulation. Now, when efforts are being made to build a Fourth International, a world party of revolutionary Marxism, he distorts the views of the Internationalist-Communists in his Labour Monthly by demagogic blending of the Centrist and the revolutionary movements for a new international.

Dutt’s legal Marxism is comparable to the position of Riazanov in Russia up to several years ago. The latter deliberately divorced himself from the burning political questions of the day in order to popularize the works and teachings of Marx and Engels. He abstained from the factional struggles in the Communist party of the Soviet Union and the Comintern but refused to become a mouth-piece for Stalinism or its cult. But even he could not last: he was framed up and exiled to Siberia.

Dutt is in a more difficult position. He is active in the political movement. His doom as a legal Marxist is a matter of a few months or so. He will be compelled to become an open, consistent and vociferous spokesman of Stalinism or be expelled as ... a counter-revolutionist.

Dutt’s Lenin may well be put on the Stalinist index expurgatorius. Some aspiring Stalinist “theoretician” is sure to review it and find “deviations”, “omissions” and “Trotskyist contraband” within it. Dutt will be compelled to repudiate or revise his writing.

In any case, a biography of Lenin not written in the spirit of the great revolutionist is not merely insufficient but dangerous. The legal Marxism of R. Palme Dutt is a scholarly cover for Stalinist revisionism and treachery.

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Last updated: 24.12.2005