Lenin

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  • #80963

    jondwhite
    Member

    This blogger claims Tony Cliff was wrong about Lenin and asks for the biography not to be reissued

    http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/mangling-the-party-vol-1-of-tony-cliffs-lenin-by-pham-binh/

    #87650

    ALB
    Member

    I started to read this but I’m afraid I didn’t get very far. As far as I can see the author is trying to rehabilitate Lenin by saying that he wasn’t really a Leninist but someone who favoured an open, democratic party (a leftwing Menshevik then?). I doubt it and it certainly upset other Leninists who insisted that he really did stand for a centralised, hierarchical vanguard party to lead the masses.  A couple of them quote Trotsky’s ridiculous statement (which could be said to be the essence of Trotskyism) that “The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”

    #87651

    robbo203
    Member
    ALB wrote:
    I started to read this but I’m afraid I didn’t get very far. As far as I can see the author is trying to rehabilitate Lenin by saying that he wasn’t really a Leninist but someone who favoured an open, democratic party (a leftwing Menshevik then?). I doubt it and it certainly upset other Leninists who insisted that he really did stand for a centralised, hierarchical vanguard party to lead the masses.

      While it certainly is the case that Lenin is rightly known for having stood for a “centralised hierarchical vanguard party to lead the masses” I wonder if the situation isn’t a bit more complicated than this?  After all the Bolsheviks emerged out of the split within the Russian Social Democratic party and so presumably would have had some sympathy for the Social Democratic ideal of a mass open Democratic party along the lines of SD parties in the  West – particularly of course the German SDP.  This is the point that Lars Li makes in his  Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? in Context  (2008) but the oppressive circumstances prevailing in Russia at the time “What is to be Done” was written induced Lenin to favour instead a quite different organisational model based on a small tightly knit body of professional revolutionaries and subject to a rigorously hierarchical command structure.  It was thus for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons that Lenin favoured this model.  What is to be Done (1902) does contain that notorious statement that has often been seized upon as evidence of Lenin’s intrinsic elitism: “We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without”    Hal Draper, in his classic paper The Myth of Lenin’s “Concept of The Party” or What They Did to What Is To Be Done?  (1990), asks rhetorically whether it was really the case that Lenin was saying that here that ” the workers cannot come to socialist ideas of themselves, that only bourgeois intellectuals are the carriers of socialist ideas” to which he gives the following answer:”Not exactly. The fact is that Lenin had just read this theory in the most prestigious theoretical organ of Marxism of the whole international socialist movement, the Neue Zeit. It had been put forward in an important article by the leading Marxist authority of the International, Karl Kautsky. And this was why and how it got into WITBD” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/myth.htm#section1)There are also direct quotes from Lenin that cast doubt on whether he stood straightforwardly for a kind of centralised conspiratorial Blanquist type organisation as opposed to a broad mass democratic open party.  For instance, in his letter in late 1916 to P.Keivsky he asserts that “socialism can be implemented only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which combines violence against the bourgeoisie, i.e., the minority of the population, with full development of democracy, i.e., the genuinely equal and genuinely universal participation of the entire mass of the population in all state affairs and in all the complex problems of abolishing capitalism” (Proletarskaya Revolutsi Nos. 7 (90), 1929).  Similar sentiments can be found in his more well known work The State and Revolution written in 1917.  Finally of course it should be mentioned that at least in early days of the Bolshevik revolution, the reality did not really conform to model of a tightly knit centralised disciplined party.  Even by early 1918 as  Robert Service notes  in his The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organsational Change, 1917-1923:  “The image of a disciplined hierarchy of party committees was therefore but a thin, artificial veneer which was used by Bolshevik leaders to cover up the cracked surface of the real picture underneath. Cells and suburb committees saw no reason to kow-tow to town committees; nor did town committees feel under compulsion to show any greater respect to their provincial and regional committees than before.” (p. 74). Of course a lot of this might have been due to the huge influx of new members unaccustomed to the ways of the old Bolsheviks I don’t wish to appear in any way to be apologising for Lenin and Leninist politics.  I think there was a strong streak of authoritarianism and elitism in him and in the whole Leninist model of political organisation and this came to the surface in the “organisational metamorphosis” that Service refers to that in due course overtook the Bolsheviks.  And that was not just the result of external circumstances like the Civil war: it was latent in Bolshevism itself. Still, I think this representation of the Leninist outlook needs to be counterbalanced with other representations which at least suggest a superficial dalliance with the idea of an open democratic mass party along the lines of the Western SD parties Robin

    #87652

    gnome
    Member
    robbo203 wrote:
    It was thus for pragmatic rather than ideological reasons that Lenin favoured this model.

    Doesn’t it really come down to the same thing in the end; faced with the circumstances in which Lenin and Bolsheviks found themselves in 1917 wasn’t it inevitable that the pragmatic circumstances would give rise to the ideological reasons?

    robbo203 wrote:
    What is to be Done (1902) does contain that notorious statement that has often been seized upon as evidence of Lenin’s intrinsic elitism: “We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without”    Hal Draper, in his classic paper The Myth of Lenin’s “Concept of The Party” or What They Did to What Is To Be Done?  (1990), asks rhetorically whether it was really the case that Lenin was saying that here that ” the workers cannot come to socialist ideas of themselves, that only bourgeois intellectuals are the carriers of socialist ideas” to which he gives the following answer:”Not exactly. The fact is that Lenin had just read this theory in the most prestigious theoretical organ of Marxism of the whole international socialist movement, the Neue Zeit. It had been put forward in an important article by the leading Marxist authority of the International, Karl Kautsky. And this was why and how it got into WITBD” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/myth.htm#section1)There are also direct quotes from Lenin that cast doubt on whether he stood straightforwardly for a kind of centralised conspiratorial Blanquist type organisation as opposed to a broad mass democratic open party.  For instance, in his letter in late 1916 to P.Keivsky he asserts that “socialism can be implemented only through the dictatorship of the proletariat, which combines violence against the bourgeoisie, i.e., the minority of the population, with full development of democracy, i.e., the genuinely equal and genuinely universal participation of the entire mass of the population in all state affairs and in all the complex problems of abolishing capitalism” (Proletarskaya Revolutsi Nos. 7 (90), 1929).  Similar sentiments can be found in his more well known work The State and Revolution written in 1917. 

    In What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin said: “the history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness”. Lenin argued that socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class by professional revolutionaries, drawn from the petty bourgeoisie, and organised as a vanguard party.John Reed, a sympathetic American journalist, whose famous account of the Bolshevik coup, Ten Days That Shook The World, was commended in a foreword by Lenin, quotes Lenin in a speech he made to the Congress of Peasants’ Soviets on 27 November, 1917:“If Socialism can only be realized when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years…The Socialist political party – this is the vanguard of the working class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative…” (Reed’s emphasis and omissions, Modern Library edition, 1960, p.15).But in 1879 Marx and Engels issued a circular in which they declared:”When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves. We cannot, therefore, co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic big bourgeois and petty bourgeois.”Nor is this an academic point, since the history of Leninism in power shows that allowing elites to rule ‘on behalf of’ the working class is always a disaster. Working class self-emancipation necessarily precludes the role of political leadership.In State and Revolution (1917) Lenin said that his “prime task is to re-establish what Marx really taught on the subject of the state”. Lenin argued that socialism is a transitional society between capitalism and full communism, in which “there still remains the need for a state… For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary”. Furthermore, Lenin claimed that according to Marx work and wages would be guided by the ‘socialist principle’ (sometimes this is reformulated as: “to each according to his work”.) Marx and Engels used no such ‘principle’; they made no such distinction between socialism and communism. Lenin in fact did not re-establish Marx’s position but substantially distorted it to suit the situation in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. When Stalin announced the doctrine of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (i.e. State Capitalism in Russia) he was drawing on an idea implicit in Lenin’s writings.In State and Revolution, Lenin gave special emphasis to the concept of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. This phrase was sometimes used by Marx and Engels and meant working class conquest of power, which (unlike Lenin) they did not confuse with a socialist society. Engels had cited the Paris Commune of 1871 as an example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, though Marx in his writings on this subject did not mention this as an example, since for him it meant conquest of state power, which the Commune was not. Nevertheless, the Commune impressed itself upon Marx and Engels for its ultra-democratic features – non-hierarchical, the use of revocable delegates, etc. Lenin, on the other hand, tended to identify democracy with a state ruled by a vanguard party. When the Bolsheviks actually gained power they centralised political power more and more in the hands of the Communist Party.For Lenin the dictatorship of the proletariat was “the very essence of Marx’s teaching” (The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918).As head of the new government Lenin was preoccupied with the chaos produced by an external war with Germany and an internal civil war. His response was to re-emphasise “democratic centralism” in which the “dictatorship of the proletariat” came under the increasingly totalitarian control of the vanguard party. However, since the number of people in any country who wanted socialism was very small (Russia especially), the Bolsheviks had no choice but to develop some form of capitalism. With his concepts of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the leading role of the vanguard party, and a transitional society of ‘socialism’, Lenin distorted Marxism and thereby severely damaged the development of a socialist movement. Indeed, Leninism continues to pose a real obstacle to the achievement of socialism.

    #87653

    robbo203
    Member
    gnome wrote:
    Doesn’t it really come down to the same thing in the end; faced with the circumstances in which Lenin and Bolsheviks found themselves in 1917 wasn’t it inevitable that the pragmatic circumstances would give rise to the ideological reasons?

     Well let me put it differently – did Lenin favour the model of the Party he proposed in WITBD over the model of the Party espoused by the Social Democratic movement in general as a matter of principle and irrespective of circumstances?   I dont think he did or, if he did, not all of the time. Mind you, having said that the Social Democratic parties of  Western Europe were not exactly models of democratic organisation.  They were all leadership-based organisations that fully satisfied Lenin’s  criterion that “no movement can be durable without a stable organisation of leaders to maintain continuity”  (What is to be Done).As to the rest of your post – yes I would not disagree at all with the conclusions you reach.  Leninism in all its varieties remains an obstacle to the achievement of socialism.  My point was a far more narrow one and had to do with specific form or political vehicle which Lenin advocated as a means to acheving his and the Bolshevik’s political ends cheers Robin

    #87654

    ALB
    Member

    Yes, Robin, I think a case can be made out for saying that up until WWI Lenin was a leftwing Social Democrat who argued that, under the autocratic political conditions of Tsarism, Social Democrats there had to organise as a hierarchical centralised party in order to overthrow the Tsarist regime, and that for Western Europe he accepted the German party’s model of an open, democratic party pursing a maximum programme (of socialism) and a minimum programme of reforms of capitalism, contesting elections, etc.The trouble is that he changed his position after 1917. He now said that the organisational form and tactics that he had advocated for the overthrow of Tsarism (which was not in fact how Tsarism ended as it collapsed more or less of its own accord; his tactics only worked to overthrow the weak government that emerged following this) should also be applied in Western Europe for the overthrow of capitalism.This is when he would have ceased to be a Social Democrat and became a Bolshevik. In which case The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky and Leftwing Communism An Infantile Disorder are the  significant texts of Leninism. I suppose this means people like Phan Binh can mount some sort of a case for their view as long as they ignore Lenin’s post-1917 writings and of course practice. But it makes them leftwing Social Democrats to the disgust of Leninists who remain true to his post-1917 position.

    #87655

    jondwhite
    Member

    lars t lih misinterprets leninargue the commune

    #87656

    Ed
    Member

    Thanks for the link Jon great article

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