2000s >> 2003 >> no-1187-july-2003

Letter: Lenin – “Shoot the Idlers”

Dear Editors,

Yes indeed, Lenin did say, “One out of every ten idlers will be shot on the spot” (Gary Cubbage’s letter, June Socialist Standard). This is from his “How to Organise Competition” written in December 1917, well before Stalin or the market economy of the NEP had provided Trotskyist excuses. It is also quoted in the article, “Lenin & Blanqui, Victims of Self-Deception” in the Nov/Dec 1984 issue of “Socialist Comment” journal of the WSPA.

In researching that article and checking through the three volumes of the Moscow edition of Lenin’s Selected Works, I was struck by the numerous times that Lenin made statements that differed depending on the type of audience. One of the most significant is his address to the Conference of Political Education Workers in 1920 admitting that it is a “utopian view that workers are ready for socialism” contrasting with his more optimistic statements to a wider audience.

This demonstrates the opportunism forced on leaders trying to capture and hold onto power, and to influence events in the face of working class lack of understanding, cooperation and support. And the Russian working class was, in addition, a minority class.

Of course, if majority understanding existed it would negate the need for leaders anyway and change the whole concept of the revolutionary capture of political power and its implications, and to come back to Gary’s letter, also of the question of ‘the lazy man’.

Latter-day Leninist parties have learned little from Lenin’s experience as revealed in his writings, of trying to deal with those problems to which he, his tactics and his hopes ultimately succumbed. A few months before his death, a disillusioned Lenin admitted, ‘we lack enough civilisation to enable us to pass straight on to socialism”. Coining a new confusing definition of the system in Russia, he bemoaned the fact that “Not a single book has been written about state capitalism under communism. It did not occur even to Marx to write a word on this subject; and he died without leaving a single precise statement or definite instruction on it”. Why Marx should have written instructions for running state capitalism Lenin doesn’t say.

In thus finally, and perhaps unwittingly acknowledging the vast gap between his and Marx’s concept of a post-capitalist revolutionary society, Lenin also gives the lie to those of his followers who hold the opposite view – that they corresponded.

Lenin’s life should be read as a cautionary tale by would-be revolutionaries, although it could provide a few drastic pointers to those seeking to organise competition.

Yours fraternally,

William Robertson

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