Comments on Paresh Chattopadhyay's article -- "How They Stood Marx On His Head"

Sudeb Mitra

Professor Paresh Chattopadhyay (PC) is an important scholar on Marx. 

This is a very interesting article — the (part of the) title “How They Stood Marx On His Head” is the most important part of this article. My humble criticism is — why is it that the author took such a long time to write clearly about how the Bolshevik capture of power turned Marx upside down? 

We know that he has published a lot on this subject, but, as far as I know, NOT with the accurate subtitle “how they stood Marx on his head”!!! 

This article should be widely circulated and discussed. I am glad that “Frontier” has published this on its website. My request — when things get “normalized”, this article (properly edited/its minor typos corrected) should appear on a Frontier print edition, possibly as a part of the Autumn Number 2020.

I have some comments, except the obvious point that the article was not carefully edited; there are some bad, but minor typos.

1. The author has clearly argued that the Bolshevik capture of power in 1917 was NOT a proletarian/socialist revolution. Party ideologues will find this FACT very hard to digest. But, the author’s arguments are clear and solid. 

2. When the author talks about “how they stood Marx on his head” — particularly, how Lenin turned Marx upside down, he should have been a little more precise and specific. WHICH Lenin is he talking about? As we understand now, there was NOT ONE Lenin — Lenin had many contradictions. The author is absolutely correct (let his former comrades fume) when he talks about Lenin, and the Bolsheviks, who captured power in 1917. But the author also noted (briefly) the Lenin of “April Thesis”! However, there was yet another Lenin — who wrote “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”, and especially, “On the so-called Market Question”. This particular piece is a much neglected one — it’s probably the best place to learn about Marx’s “Reproduction Schemes” (and Lenin was only 23 years old when he wrote this brilliant essay). PC is a careful scholar, and therefore, he should have introduced his (Bengali) readers to this important, but much neglected work of Lenin.

And Lenin wrote this much BEFORE Luxemburg wrote her magnum opus. PC knows all this VERY well — but perhaps not his readers.

3. The not-so-informed reader may get the wrong idea that Lenin and Pannekoek diverged on EVERYTHING.

Let the anarchists have fun with this — but, serious students of Marx should study the interesting points of convergence of Lenin and Pannekoek, when BOTH of them were criticizing Luxemburg’s magnum opus.

Interested readers should read Lenin’s 1893 essay. PC knows all this — I am very sure he would have been more careful when preparing a comprehensive paper. 

4. PC’s important critique of Lenin’s “State and Revolution” — very important — even anarchists think that this was one of Lenin’s “most libertarian works.” PC has nicely punctured this myth. Any society BASED on wage-labour cannot call itself “Socialist.” Any careful student of Marx should understand PC’s cardinal point: 

"This clearly indicates the presence of wage labour in Lenin”s socialism, and hence,  he has stood Marx on his head for whom the presence of wage labour is a necessary and sufficient condition of CAPITALISM.

Marx was so clear on this matter — “and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.” (Marx: “Inaugural Address of The International Working Men’s Association”). And we also know Marx’s famous remark: “Instead of the conservative motto: ‘A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work!’ They ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: ‘Abolition of the wages system!’

Therefore, PC is absolutely correct to claim that Lenin/Trotsky and the Bolshevik capture of power in 1917 (and the subsequent events)
turned Marx upside down. 

5. In his discussion on Lenin’s “State and Revolution” PC was emphatic to show the fundamental differences between Marx and Lenin. 

For whatever reasons, (lack of space, I guess) he forgot to mention the positive part of Lenin’s work. Let me quote from PC’s book “Marx’s Associated Mode of Production.” In the Introduction, PC writes, “Kelsen quite rightly credits Lenin with having restored the original libertarian position of Marx and Engels on this question, in his polemic with the ‘revisionists’ in April 1917 that there would be no state in communism.” Lenin rescued the original stand of Marx and Engels, but, YES, in practice, he and his followers did the opposite. PC could have touched this point (in two/three sentences). 

6. Finally, on his quotes from Rosa Luxemburg: these are very well-known and all anti-Bolsheviks love to quote these famous words. 

The reader may get an impression that these important observations were made AFTER the Bolshevik capture of power. This is wrong. 

Way back in 1904, when Lenin still didn’t become “The Great Lenin”, this brilliant Marxist (Rosa Luxemburg) wrote the following:

"If we assume the viewpoint claimed as his own by Lenin and we fear the influence of intellectuals in the proletarian movement, we can conceive of no greater danger to the Russian party than Lenin’s plan of organization. Nothing will more surely enslave a young labor movement to an intellectual elite hungry for power than this bureaucratic straightjacket, which will immobilize the movement and turn it into an automaton manipulated by a Central Committee.”

And she added, "Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.” 

How prophetic she was! (

Professor Paresh Chattopadhyay knows everything that I’ve written here. My suggestion is that he should write a revised article, with EXACTLY the same title, addressing the points above, and clearly specifying WHICH Lenin turned Marx upside down. PC knows all this — but giving more details would help his readers.

Thanks for this excellent article. It should be widely circulated, read, and discussed.

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Jun 25, 2020

Sudeb Mitra

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