Lenin defined opportunism simply as: "an alliance between a section of the workers and the bourgeoisie, directed against the mass of the proletariat." This commonly expresses itself with workers, the proletariat allying with the national bourgeois. Famously, many socialist parties during World War II, such as the German KPD, sided with their nation's capitalists instead of being again the war like Russia's more successful communist party, the Bolsheviks.
Opportunism is a type of revisionist tendency that involves sacrificing the long-term interests of the proletariat to favor short-sighted and momentary interests, usually of a minority section of the working class, or even for personal gain. Opportunists constantly change their political position to exploit certain circumstances according to the political climate, without firm and solid principles behind their words and actions. It often involves the upper strata of the proletariat allying with the bourgeoisie against the rest of the proletariat.
Right opportunism is a revisionist struggle within the Marxism-Leninism movement. Right opportunism is the watering down of the movement by switching its goals from system change, like with the dictatorship of the proletariat to incremental and reformist goals. Under capitalism, all rights won by workers are in a constant state of decay, liable to be taken away as soon as cracks in pro-worker movements emerge.
Left opportunism is separated from right opportunism in the aspect that, unlike right opportunism, which often includes a turning-away from Marxist theory, left opportunism commonly includes the extreme adherence to particular parts of scientific socialist thought, and not to the creation and defense of applied Marxism, as seen in socialist states. Left opportunism often is at the expense of praxis (the practice of revolutionary theory), creates dogmatism (the rigid adherence to particular revolutionary ideas, even if they are not suited to one's material conditions), and promotes factionalism (the division of the revolutionary movement). Left opportunism is most commonly seen with the left-communists, Maoists, and Hoxhaists.
Factionalism is nothing more than the undisciplined collaboration of a group of individuals who, for reasons other than legitimate ones grounded in sound theory, design a plan outside the general view of the party and then agree to act in concert in order to accomplish this plan. In the Communist Party of the United States of America this has occurred two major times. The first being lead by Earl Browder, the second being led by Sam Webb.
- “Opportunism means sacrificing the fundamental interests of the masses to the temporary interests of an insignificant minority of the workers or, in other words, an alliance between a section of the workers and the bourgeoisie, directed against the mass of the proletariat.”
Vladimir Lenin (1915). The collapse of the Second International.
- Andy Blunden. Encyclopedia of Marxism: 'Opportunism'. Marxists Internet Archive.
- “The opportunist does not betray his party, he does not act as a traitor, he does not desert it. He continues to serve it sincerely and zealously. But his typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, he is politically short-sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to the momentary, transient and minor interests.”
Vladimir Lenin (1906). The Russian radical is wise after the event.
- “Once again Parvus’ apt observation that it is difficult to catch an opportunist with a formula has been proved correct. An opportunist will readily put his name to any formula and as readily abandon it, because opportunism means precisely a lack of definite and firm principles.”
Vladimir Lenin (1902). What is to be done?.
- “The economic basis of “social-chauvinism” (this term being more precise than the term social-patriotism, as the latter embellishes the evil) and of opportunism is the same, namely, an alliance between an insignificant section at the “top” of the labour movement, and its “own” national bourgeoisie, directed against the masses of the proletariat, an alliance between the servants of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, directed against the class that is exploited by the bourgeoisie. Social-chauvinism is a consummated opportunism.”
Vladimir Lenin (1915). Opportunism, and the Collapse of the Second International. Marxists Internet Archive.
- Paul Saba (1979). Left opportunism, not dogmatism. Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line.