A challenge to Leninism
It’s frustrating that the terms “Marxists” and “Socialist” seem to get bandied around far too much these days, with their real meaning lost, and that we in the Socialist Party have to contend with other parties claiming to be socialist, when they most certainly are not. These various “Marxist-Leninist” parties (SWP, Militant, Socialist Alliance, Scottish Socialist Party, etc) claim they are socialists, but their conception of socialism has nothing to do with common ownership, production for need or Marxist economics. They appear to hold to the title of “Marxist” as some kind of badge of honour, but reject the actual real views of Marx and instead align themselves with the works of Lenin.
These parties often criticise us by claiming (as, recently, on the World Socialist Movement discussion forum) that our members don’t get involved in the class struggle, as in the issues of low pay and unemployment. For members to become more visible on these issues in their unions, etc would be a plus, but the danger must be avoided of getting too caught up in such issues and losing track of the actual aim of our party, the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by a democratic association of peoples, world socialism.
Leninist groups pursue the tactic of trying to reform capitalism by concentrating on adjusting it, in order to become more popular among workers. This is a wasted effort, since the entire system is based on a minority exploiting a majority. To expend all energy in demands for a more amicable capitalism is not what socialists should aim for, as, even in the event of success, the primary evils of capitalism would still remain i.e. production for profit, extraction of surplus value and all the other unfair and sickening features of modern capitalism. The main effort of socialists should be aiming for socialism itself.
In any event, any gains made in the class struggle for better pay and conditions are still open to being eroded by the inevitable capitalist counter-attack, and without a socialist understanding, the workers will not be able to climb out of the rut of capitalism. So the cycle would continue, with workers making some gains, but then the capitalist class launches a counter offensive by either attacking the gain itself or attacking from some other direction. Workers do have to engage with the issues of pay and work conditions, but the main issue is the overthrow of capitalism, not picking away at it and then having your own gains eroded sooner or later. In thinking of the class war as an actual war, the drive for a socialist understanding in the working class and the creation of a socialist society should be the main front, demanding the most effort, while everyday issues of pay and conditions and defending the gains that have been made would be a secondary front.
It is open to speculation what many of these “socialist” groups are actually aiming for outside of immediate issues. Since they describe themselves as Leninist, it is perhaps worthwhile to take a closer look at Leninism in practice. Often little is known about Lenin by the rank and file of these groups, because he has been surrounded by an almost god-like mythic persona, but with a little research it’s easy to uncover his anti-socialist views and actions. Once the myths are dispelled from this man that these parties hold in such high regard, it can shed some light on what sort of society they themselves envisage.
Lenin was from a privileged family. His main passion seemed to be for the politics of Chernyshevsky, the author of a novel entitled What is to be done? which inspired Lenin’s work of the same title. He also admired the ways of the “Peoples Will”, an anti-Tsarist revolutionary group, known for its acts of violence against the established order, and its vanguardist ideas. So we can see here where his ideas of a vanguard party stemmed from. It is very likely that Lenin never cared for socialism in the real sense, simply desiring to harness the discontent of the masses into smashing the old social order that had rejected him and then placing him in charge of a new regime.
The very act that many of these so-called socialist groups hold up in reverence, the storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd in November 1917, was not done by a mass of politically aware workers, but by a few hundred Bolshevik soldiers in the dead of night. While they claim that this was a spontaneous seizure of power by the workers, what can be seen is that it was timed to occur before the Soviet Congress could convene, and so guaranteeing Bolshevik supremacy in the soviets and little chance for a free democratic vote on the form any new government should take. This ties in with the Leninist notion of “democratic centralism”. It’s very plausible that if the Soviet Congress had had a free vote, the Bolsheviks would have had to share power with their arch-rivals the Mensheviks. It was also likely that Lenin himself would have been kept out of office due to the mistrust that many of the Mensheviks and other anti-Tsarist revolutionaries justly held him in. Clearly, Lenin could not allow this; to have had to share power with people who challenged and disagreed with him would have been intolerable for a man such as himself. To not even have any power in the event of other parties demanding he be left out of the new government was his nightmare.
So now, when we hear certain left wing parties praise Lenin and the USSR when he ruled it, and look with disdain upon our methods of seeking a democratic socialist understanding among the working class, let us remember the society their idol, Lenin, created, and ask ourselves “Was that Socialism? Is that what we want?” The answer is of course no. No worker should wish to relive the nightmares and mistakes of the past.