Why does Lenin hold such an honoured position in the lexicon of socialist leaders? A century later, what can we learn from his teachings?
22 April this year marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the inspirer of the great proletarian socialist revolution in Russia, the leader of the Russian and world proletariat. We publish this article in tribute to his earth-shaking contribution to the cause of world proletarian revolution and the struggle for the overthrow of world imperialism.
VI Lenin fought all his life against opportunism in the working-class movement, in Russia as well as in the west. He exposed and fought against the German socialist Kautsky’s degeneration into opportunism, making a concrete analysis of every important question at issue, drawing clear and definite lines of demarcation between Marxism and Kautskyism, between the Marxist position and the plethora of tendencies within the socialist movement that conciliated with opportunism and thus stood in the way of successfully making a socialist revolution.
Lenin delved deep into the root causes of the emergence of Kautsky’s degeneration, bringing them into the broad light of day – not allowing any considerations of diplomacy (for Kautsky was the acknowledged leader of world socialism at that time), tactics or expediency to inhibit his thorough exposure of this dangerous trend, for he knew only too well that any gains made by ‘tactical’ manoeuvres are not worth a farthing if into the bargain they bring strategic losses and even the negation of basic principles.
Had it not been for Lenin’s exposure of Kautsky’s opportunism during the first world war, the gigantic proletarian opposition to social democracy a few years later would have been out of the question. The result would have been widespread confusion in the working-class movement, accompanied by organisational stagnation.
After Lenin’s death, Josef Stalin maintained that because of Lenin’s services in the defence of Marxism against social-democratic opportunism, because of his development of Marxism on such questions as proletarian revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, party organisation, etc, the science of Marxism should be called Marxism-Leninism; and in this Stalin was absolutely right, for such was Lenin’s contribution to Marxism – to its general treasury.
Leninism, far from being merely a Russian phenomenon, became an international phenomenon rooted in the entire international development.
Lenin applied Marxism to Russian conditions in a masterly way. He helped restore the revolutionary content of Marxism, which had long been suppressed by the opportunists of the Second International. Above all, he took a giant leap forward, developing Marxism further under the new conditions of capitalism and proletarian class struggle.
This is how Stalin defined Leninism: “Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is a theory of proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.” (JV Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism, 1924, Introduction)
Leninism is characterised by its exceptionally militant and revolutionary spirit, which can be explained by two causes: first, that Leninism was born of the proletarian revolution, the imprint of which it could not but bear; second, that it grew and gained strength in the struggle against the opportunism of the Second International.
The Second International followed the line of opportunism in practice, while paying lip service to Marxism in theory. As Stalin put it: “The opportunists adapted themselves to the bourgeoisie because of their adaptive, petty-bourgeois nature; the ‘orthodox’, in turn adapted themselves to the opportunists in order to ‘preserve’ unity with them, in the interests of ‘peace within the party’. Thus the link between the policy of the bourgeoisie and the policy of the ‘orthodox’ was closed, and, as a result, opportunism reigned supreme.” (Ibid, chapter 2)
Instead of an integral revolutionary theory, there prevailed eclectic, contradictory propositions and scraps of theory. Instead of a revolutionary policy, there was flabby philistinism and contemptible parliamentary scheming and diplomacy. Instead of a correction of mistakes and of tactics on the basis of the party’s own mistakes, every attempt was made to evade difficult questions and to gloss over them.
As a new era of imperialist wars and of revolutionary proletarian battles drew nearer, the old methods, parliamentary and trade union, were patently useless and powerless “in the face of the omnipotence of finance capital”. (Ibid)
It thus became a matter of the utmost importance to “overhaul the entire activity of the Second International, its entire method of work” and to drive out all philistinism, renegacy, social-pacifism and social-chauvinism; to throw out all that was rusty and antiquated in the arsenal of the Second International and to forge new weapons.
Without the fulfilment of this task, the proletariat would have been completely unarmed in its struggle against imperialism. Stalin added: “The honour of bringing about this general overhauling and general cleansing of the Augean stables of the Second International fell to Leninism.” (Ibid)
Leninism insisted on restoring the breach between theory and practice, through testing the theoretical dogmas of the Second International in the crucible of living practice. It insisted that the policy of the parties belonging to the Second International be tested, not by their slogans and resolutions, but by their actions.
And it insisted on the reorganisation of all party work around new revolutionary lines, in order to train and prepare the masses for the revolutionary struggle.
Finally, it insisted on the necessity of self-criticism within the proletarian parties, in order that they may learn from their own mistakes. In this context, Lenin wrote in his pamphlet Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder:
“The attitude of a political party towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it in practice fulfils its obligations towards its class and the toiling masses.
“Frankly admitting a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the circumstances which gave rise to it, and thoroughly discussing the means of correcting it – that is the earmark of a serious party; that is the way it should perform its duties, that is the way it should educate and train the class, and then the masses.” (1920, chapter 7)
A party, according to Leninism, is to be judged not by its pompous slogans and declarations but by its practice.
On the eve of the first world war, at its conference in Basel, the Second International, knowing full well that war was then impending, passed a resolution declaring “war against war”. A little later, as the war began, the parties of the Second International gave the workers a new slogan – to slaughter each other at the altar of the glory of their imperialist fatherlands.
The contrast between the policy of the Second International and that of the Leninist policy of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war for the overthrow of one’s own bourgeoisie makes starkly clear not only the baseness of the opportunism of the leaders of the Second International but also the magnificent grandeur of the method of Leninism.
The Bolsheviks generally, and Lenin in particular, were often accused by their opportunist opponents in Russia, as well as in the Second International, of being guided by their factional struggles and always putting fundamental problems of the Russian revolution in the forefront.
Doubtless, the Bolsheviks put in the forefront the fundamental problems of the Russian revolution. These, however, were the fundamental problems of the revolution everywhere – not just Russia.
Problems such as the question of theory, the attitude of the Marxist party towards the bourgeois-democratic revolution, of the alliance between the working class and the peasantry, of the hegemony of the proletariat, of the significance of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary struggles, of general strike, of the passing of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into the socialist revolution, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of imperialism, of the self-determination of nations, of the liberation movements of the colonial and oppressed peoples and of the necessity for the proletariat to support these movements.
The Bolsheviks put forward these problems as the touchstone on which to judge the revolutionary consistency of the parties of the Second International.
They were right to do so. Nay, they had a duty to do so, because all these problems were also the fundamental problems of the world proletarian revolution, to which the Bolsheviks subordinated their policy.
The Russian revolution was no private affair of the Bolsheviks or the Russian proletariat. Lenin had realised very early on that the revolutionary centre was beginning to shift from the west to Russia, and that the outcome of the Russian revolution would have world-historic significance.
As early as 1902, in his pamphlet What Is to be Done?, Lenin wrote:
“History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks that confront the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark not only of European but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat.” (Chapter 1A)
Nearly 120 years have passed since these words were written and history has eloquently confirmed Lenin’s words. However, it does follow from this that the Russian revolution was “the nodal point of world revolution; that the fundamental problems of the Russian revolution were … the fundamental problems of the world revolution”. (JV Stalin, Some questions concerning the history of Bolshevism, January 1934)
Let us now briefly look at some of these fundamental problems of Leninism.
Lenin constantly insisted that the proletariat should recognise the role of revolutionary theory. “Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement,” he wrote in What Is to be Done? (Chapter 1D)
He understood better than anyone else the importance of theory, for theory alone can give the movement confidence, purpose and direction. As early as 1902 he pointed out: “The role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory.” (Ibid)
This does not mean that theory should be separated from practice, for “theory becomes purposeless if it is not connected with revolutionary practice, just as practice gropes in the dark if its path is not illumined by revolutionary theory”. (JV Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, 1924, chapter 3)
Lenin waged a merciless struggle against the ‘theory’ of spontaneity, the ‘theory’ of worshipping the spontaneity of the labour movement, as an opportunist theory which repudiated the leading role of the party of the proletariat, a ‘theory’ which dragged the party of the proletariat to tag along at the tail end of the spontaneous working-class movement.
The leading proponents of this ‘theory’, the Economists, went to the extent of denying the need for an independent party of the proletariat. Lenin’s What is To Be Done? demolished this ‘theory’ and furnished the theoretical foundations for a genuinely revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat.
Lenin’s theory of proletarian revolution
According to Lenin, imperialism (monopoly capitalism) intensifies all the contradictions of capitalism to the extreme. In the heartlands of capitalism, finance capital makes the yoke of monopolies unbearable, thus serving to exacerbate the resentment of the working class against the foundations of capitalism, and bringing the masses to the proletarian revolution as their only salvation.
Second, the export of capital, which is such a characteristic feature of monopoly capital (finance capital), leads to the transformation of capitalism into a world system of financial enslavement and colonial oppression of the overwhelming majority of the population of the world by a handful of ‘advanced’countries, thus splitting the global population into two camps: the handful of countries that exploit and oppress the vast masses of dependent and colonial countries, and the huge majority inhabiting the oppressed world.
All this leads to the intensification of the contradiction between imperialism and the oppressed countries, resulting in the growth of the movements of revolt against imperialism on the external front.
Third, the uneven development of capitalist countries, and the resultant frenzied struggle for the redivision of the world between those countries that already possess territories and those claiming a ‘fair share’, leads to imperialist wars as the sole means for restoring the disturbed ‘equilibrium’ – the intensification of the struggle on the third front, the interimperialist front.
Hence Lenin’s conclusion: that wars cannot be averted under imperialism. Hence also the inevitability of a coalition between proletarian revolution in the imperialist countries and the anti-imperialist movements in the oppressed countries in a united revolutionary front against the world front of imperialism.
Combining all these conclusions into one general conclusion, Lenin observed that: “Imperialism is the eve of the socialist revolution.” (Preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, April 1917)
According to Lenin’s theory, with the development of capitalism into imperialism, individual national economies have ceased to be self-sufficient units; they have become links in a single chain of the world economy; that imperialism is a global system of financial enslavement and oppression of the vast majority of the world’s population by a handful of imperialist countries.
This creates the objective conditions for revolution to break out in countries that are not particularly advanced in terms of industrial development because the system in its entirety is ripe for revolution.
As a result, the chain of the world imperialist front may break in any one country or another depending on where the chain is at its weakest. Hence the victory of the revolution is possible in one country, even a relatively backward country (as for instance Russia in 1917).
Dictatorship of the proletariat
“The fundamental question of every revolution is the question of power,” said Lenin. The aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat is to overthrow the bourgeoisie and break its resistance; to organise construction; and to arm the revolution, organising the army against foreign enemies in the struggle against imperialism.
The dictatorship of the proletariat spans a whole historical epoch. It cannot result in complete democracy for all – it institutes democracy for the majority and dictatorship over the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat cannot result from peaceful development of bourgeois society and bourgeois democracy; it can only arise as a result of the smashing of the bourgeois state machine.
With the appearance of Soviet power, the era of bourgeois-democratic parliamentarism draws to a close and a new chapter in world history – the era of proletarian dictatorship – is ushered in.
The Republic of Soviets is thus the political form so long sought and finally discovered, within the framework of which the economic emancipation of the proletariat, the complete victory of socialism, must be accomplished. (Theses on the constituent assembly, December 1917)
The peasant question
Leninism has three slogans on the peasant question, each corresponding to a different stage of the revolution: (a) the peasantry during the bourgeois-democratic revolution; (b) the peasantry during the proletarian revolution; and (c) the peasantry after the consolidation of Soviet power.
Those who are marching and preparing to assume power cannot but be interested in the question of who are their real allies. In this sense, the peasant question is part of the general question of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and is thus one of the most important problems of Leninism.
Some people maintain that what is special about Leninism is its stance on the peasantry. This is not true. “The fundamental question of Leninism, its point of departure, is … the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the conditions under which it is to be achieved, of the conditions under which it can be consolidated.” (JV Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, chapter 5)
The peasant question, since it concerns the question of who are the allies of the proletariat in its struggle for power, is a secondary question, deriving from the question of state power.
During the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the struggle was between the Cadets (the liberal bourgeoisie) and the Bolsheviks (the proletariat) for influence over the peasantry. The Cadets were attempting to win over the peasantry and to reconcile it to tsarism. During this stage of the revolution, therefore, the Bolsheviks concentrated their fire on the Cadets.
During the proletarian revolution, the struggle was between the so-called Socialist Revolutionaries (petty-bourgeois democrats) and the Bolsheviks for influence over the peasantry – a struggle to win over the majority of the people by ending the war. But to end the war it was necessary to overthrow the provisional government – to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and the power of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks who were compromising with the bourgeoisie.
After the consolidation of Soviet power, the task was to win over the majority of the peasantry for socialist construction. Lenin was correctly of the view that a peasantry that had received peace and land at the hands of the proletariat could be mobilised to build socialism through the cooperatives.
“State power over all large-scale means of production, state power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured leadership of the peasantry by the proletariat, etc – is not this all that is necessary for the building of the complete socialist society from the cooperatives, from the cooperatives alone, which we formerly looked down upon as huckstering and which from a certain aspect we have the right to look down upon as such now under the NEP?
“Is this not all that is necessary for building a socialist society? This is not yet the building of a socialist society, but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for this building.” (On cooperation, January 1923)
The national question
In the period of the Second International, the national question was seen as being confined to a few European countries – ie, Poland, Hungary, Ireland, etc. The vast majority of subjugated peoples in Asia and Africa remained outside the purview of the Second International.
Leninism broke down the wall between whites and blacks, Europeans and Asians and Africans; between the ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’ slaves of imperialism. With this, the national question was transformed from being an internal state problem into a general international problem – a problem of the liberation of oppressed peoples in the colonial and dependent countries from the yoke of imperialism through self-determination and complete secession.
With this slogan of self-determination, Leninism educated the masses in the spirit of internationalism. It brought the national question from the realm of high-sounding declarations to the solid ground of the utilisation of the revolutionary potentialities of the national movements for advancing the movement of the proletariat for the overthrow of imperialism.
It thus transformed the revolutionary national-liberation movements into a reserve of the revolutionary proletariat.
The revolutionary character of the national movements does not presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement or a republican programme.
Thus, according to Leninism, the world is divided into two camps: (1) the camp of a handful of imperialist exploiting and oppressing nations, which possess finance capital and exploit the majority of the population of the globe; (2) the camp of the oppressed and exploited hundreds of millions around the world.
The interests of the proletarian movement in the developed countries and the national-liberation movement call for a union of these two forms of revolutionary movement in a common front against imperialism – against the common enemy.
Without such a front, the victory of either is impossible. “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.” (Speech by Friedrich Engels, November 1847)
The union between the revolutionary proletarian movement and the national-liberation movements can only be voluntary – on the basis of mutual confidence and fraternal relations amongst the people.
“If a [Marxist] belonging to a great, oppressing, annexing nation, while advocating the amalgamation of nations in general, were to forget even for one moment that ‘his’ Nicholas II, ‘his’ Wilhelm, George, Poincaré, etc, also stands for amalgamation with small nations (by means of annexations) … such a Marxist would be a ridiculous doctrinaire in theory and an abettor of imperialism in practice.
“The weight of emphasis in the internationalist education of the workers in the oppressing countries must necessarily consist in their advocating and upholding freedom of secession for oppressed countries. Without this there can be no internationalism.
“It is our right and duty to treat every Marxist of an oppressing nation who fails to conduct such propaganda as an imperialist scoundrel.” (The discussion on self-determination summed up, July 1916)
The wars of national liberation against imperialist domination are just wars, and it is the duty of every proletarian revolutionary in the imperialist countries to support such wars and to work for the defeat of his own ruling class. Any other stance would be a total betrayal of the principles and ideals of socialism, for:
“The revolutionary movement in the advanced countries would in fact be nothing but a sheer fraud if, in their struggle against capital, the workers of Europe and America were not closely and completely united with the hundreds upon hundreds of millions of “colonial” slaves, who are oppressed by that capital.” (Speech at the second congress of the Communist International, August 1920)
Strategy and tactics
The period of domination of the Second International was characterised by parliamentary forms of struggle, whose importance it overestimated. Only in the period of revolution could an integral strategy and elaborated tactics for the struggle of the proletariat be worked out.
It was in this period that Lenin brought out into the light of day the brilliant ideas of Marx and Engels on strategy and tactics, which had been suppressed by the opportunists of the Second International. He developed them further and supplemented them with new provisions, working them all into a system of rules and guiding principles for the leadership of the class struggle of the proletariat.
His works such as What Is to be Done?,Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, The State and Revolution, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky and ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: an Infantile Disorderconstitute priceless contributions to the general treasury of Marxism, to its general arsenal.
The strategy and tactics of Leninism constitute the science of leadership in the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.
Stages of the revolution and strategy
Strategy is the determination of the direction of the main blow of the proletariat at a given stage of the revolution; the elaboration of a corresponding plan for the disposition of the revolutionary forces. This is how Lenin’s teachings on strategy and tactics worked during the various stages of the Russian revolution:
First stage: 1903 to February 1917
The objective at this stage was the overthrow of tsarism and the destruction of the survivals of medievalism. The main force of the revolution in this period was the proletariat and its immediate reserves, the peasantry.
In this stage, the direction of the blow was the isolation of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, which was attempting to bring the peasantry under its wing and liquidate the revolution by a compromise with tsarism.
“The proletariat must carry to completion the democratic revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of the autocracy and paralyse the instability of the bourgeoisie.” (Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, 1905, chapter 12)
Second stage: March 1917 to October 1917
The objective during this stage was to overthrow imperialism and withdraw from the imperialist war. During this period, the proletariat was the main force of the revolution and its immediate reserves were the poor peasantry.
The direction of the blow in this period was the isolation of the petty-bourgeois parties – the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks – which were trying to win over the toiling masses of the peasantry and liquidate the revolution by a compromise with imperialism.
“The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyse the instability of the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie.” (Ibid)
Third stage: After the October Revolution
The objective of the revolution during this stage was to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country, using it as a base for the defeat of imperialism in all countries. The main forces of the revolution in this period were the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country and the revolutionary movement of the proletariat in all countries. The main reserves of the revolution were the semi-proletarian and small peasant masses in the developed countries and liberation movements in colonial and dependent countries.
The direction of the main blow in this period was the isolation of petty-bourgeois democrats and isolation of the parties of the Second International, which formed the main support for compromise with imperialism. The plan for the disposition of forces in this period was the alliance of the proletarian revolution with the liberation movements of the oppressed peoples.
Tactics determine the line of conduct of the proletariat over a comparatively short period of the ebb or flow of the movement. They are a part of the strategy, subordinated to it and serving it.
Changes in the form of struggle are accompanied by corresponding changes in the form of organisation. The point is to put to the fore precisely those forms of struggle and organisation which are best suited to the conditions during the ebb or flow of the movement, and thus facilitate and ensure the bringing of the millions to the revolutionary front, organising also their disposition at the revolutionary front.
The aim must be to locate at any given moment the particular link in the chain of processes which, if grasped, will enable the proletariat to keep hold of the whole of the chain and to prepare the conditions for achieving strategic success.
“It is not enough to be a revolutionary and an adherent of socialism or a communist in general. One must be able at each particular moment to find the particular link in the chain which one must grasp with all one’s might in order to keep hold of the whole chain and prepare firmly for the transition to the next link.” (The importance of gold now and after the complete victory of socialism, November 1921)
The revolutionary party of the proletariat must know not only how to advance, but also how to retreat in good order when the circumstances so require.
“The revolutionary parties,” said Lenin, “must complete their education. They have learnt to attack. Now they have to realise that this knowledge must be supplemented with the knowledge of how to retreat properly.
“They have to realise – and the revolutionary class is taught to realise it by its own bitter experience – that victory is impossible unless they have learnt both how to attack and how to retreat properly.” (‘Left-wing’ Communism, chapter 3)
The purpose of any retreat is to gain time, to disrupt the enemy, and to gather force in order later to assume the offensive. The signing of the Brest peace treaty in 1917 is a model of this strategy as it gained the Bolshevik party time to take advantage of the conflicts in the imperialist camp, to disrupt the enemy forces, to maintain the support of the peasantry, and to gather sufficient forces in preparation for the offensive against the counter-revolutionary generals Kolchak and Denikin.
“In concluding a separate peace,” said Lenin at the time, “we free ourselves as much as is possible at the present moment from both warring imperialist groups, we take advantage of their mutual enmity and warfare, which hinder them from making a deal against us, and for a certain period have our hands free to advance and consolidate the socialist revolution.” (On the history of the question of the unfortunate peace, January 1918)
Three years after the Brest peace, Lenin returned to the subject, saying: “Now even the biggest fool [Trotsky being the chief of these fools] can see that the ‘Brest peace’ was a concession that strengthened us and broke up the forces of international imperialism.” (New times and old mistakes in a new guise, August 1921)
The workers’ party
According to Leninism, the party of the proletariat is the advanced detachment of the working class, possessed of the best elements and an advanced theory.
It must be ahead of the masses and see further than the working class; it must lead the proletariat and not drag at the tail end of the spontaneous movement. Only such a party can divert the working class from the path of trade unionism.
No army at war can do without an experienced general staff if it does not want to be doomed to defeat. The revolutionary party of the proletariat constitutes precisely such a general staff. The working class without a revolutionary party is an army without a general staff.
“We,” said Lenin, “are the party of a class, and therefore almost the whole class … should act under the leadership of our party, should adhere to our party as closely as possible.
“It would be Manilovism [smug complacency] and ‘khvostism’ [tailism] to think that any time under capitalism almost the whole class, or the whole class, would be able to rise to the level of consciousness and activity of its advanced detachment … No sensible Marxist has ever yet doubted that under capitalism even the trade union organisations (which are more primitive and more comprehensible to the undeveloped strata) are unable to embrace almost the whole, or the whole, working class.
“To forget the distinction between the advanced detachment and the whole of the masses which gravitate towards it, to forget the constant duty of the advanced detachment to raise ever-wider strata to this advanced level, means merely to deceive oneself, to shut one’s eyes to the immensity of our task, and narrow down these tasks.” (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 1904, Chapter I)
The party is the organised detachment of the working class. It must imbue the millions of unorganised non-party workers with the spirit of discipline in the struggle, with the spirit of organisation and endurance. But the party can fulfil these tasks only if it is itself the embodiment of discipline and organisation.
Lenin’s formulation of the first paragraph of the Bolshevik party rules embodies this concept. According to it, the party is the sum total of its organisations, and the party member is a member of one of the organisations of the party.
It denies self-enrolment so as to prevent the party from being inundated with professors and high-school students and thus degenerate into a loose, amorphous, disorganised body lost in a sea of ‘sympathisers’ that would obliterate the dividing line between the party and the class and thus thwart the party’s task of raising the unorganised masses to the level of the advanced detachment.
“From the point of view of Comrade Martov,” said Lenin, “the borderline of the party remains quite indefinite, for ‘every striker’ may ‘proclaim himself a party member’. What is the use of this vagueness? A wide extension of the ‘title’. Its harm is that it introduces a disorganising idea, the confusing of class and party.” (Ibid)
The Leninist party is a single system of these organisations, with higher and lower bodies, with subordination of the minority to the majority.
“Formerly,” said Lenin, “our party was not a formally organised whole, but only the sum of separate groups, and therefore no other relations except those of ideological influence were possible between these groups. Now we have become an organised Party, and this implies the establishment of authority, the transformation of the power of ideas into the power of authority, the subordination of lower Party bodies to the higher Party bodies.” (Ibid, Chapter O)
Fighting against wavering elements like Martov, who at the second congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) opposed Lenin’s formulation of the party rules, he wrote:
“This aristocratic anarchism is particularly characteristic of the Russian nihilist. He thinks of the party organisation as a monstrous ‘factory’, he regards the subordination of the part to the whole and of the minority to the majority as ‘serfdom’ … division of labour under the direction of a centre evokes from him a tragicomical outcry against people being transformed into ‘wheels and cogs’ …
“Mention of the organisational rules of the party calls forth a contemptuous grimace and the disdainful remark that one could very well dispense with rules altogether.
“It is clear, I think, that the cries about this celebrated bureaucracy are just a screen for dissatisfaction with the personal composition of the central bodies, a figleaf …
“You are a bureaucrat because you were appointed by the congress, not by my will, but against it; you are a formalist because you rely on the formal decisions of the congress, and not on my consent; you are acting in a grossly mechanical way because you plead the ‘mechanical’ majority at the party congress and pay no heed to my wish to be co-opted; you are an autocrat because you refuse to hand over the power to the old gang [the ‘gang’ referred to was composed of Axelrod, Martov, Potresov and others, who would not submit to the decisions of the second congress and accused Lenin of being a ‘bureaucrat’].” (Ibid)
The Leninist party is the highest form of class organisation of the proletariat. It is the rallying centre of the finest elements of the working class, whose political leadership must extend to every other form of organisation of the proletariat.
That is why the opportunist theory of the ‘independence’ and ‘ neutrality’ of non-party organisations, which breeds independent members of parliament and journalists isolated from the party, narrow-minded trade-union functionaries and cooperative officials who have become philistines, is wholly incompatible with the theory and practice of Leninism.
The party is the instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat – an instrument in the hands of the proletariat for achieving and consolidating state power.
“The dictatorship of the proletariat,” said Lenin, “is a stubborn struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of old society.
“The force of habit of millions and tens of millions is a most terrible force. Without an iron party tempered in the struggle, without a party enjoying the confidence of all that is honest in the given class, without a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, it is impossible to conduct such a struggle successfully.” (‘Left-wing’ Communism, chapter 5)
The party is the embodiment of the unity of will of the workers, unity incompatible with the existence of factions. Hence Lenin’s insistence on the “complete elimination of all factionalism” and the “immediate dissolution of all groups, without exception, that have been formed on the basis of various platforms”, on pain of “unconditional and immediate expulsion from the party”. (Resolution on party unity, 1921)
Elsewhere, he wrote: “In the present epoch of acute civil war, the Communist party will be able to perform its duty only if it is organised in the most centralised manner, if iron discipline bordering on military discipline prevails in it, and if the party centre is a powerful and authoritative organ, wielding wide powers and enjoying the universal confidence of the members of the party.” (The terms of admission into the Communist International, 1920)
And further: “Whoever weakens in the least the discipline of the party of the proletariat (especially during the time of its dictatorship) actually aids the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.” (‘Left-wing’ communism, chapter 5)
The party becomes strong by purging itself of opposition elements. A source of factionalism is its opportunist elements – the “stratum of bourgeoisified workers or the ‘labour aristocracy’ who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their entire outlook, is … the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie.
“For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, the real channels of reformism and chauvinism. (Preface to the French and German editions of Imperialism, 1920)
Style of work
The Leninist style of work represents a specific and peculiar feature in the practice of Leninism, which creates a special type of Leninist worker.
Leninism is the school of theory and practice that trains a special type of worker and creates a special Leninist style of work. It combines Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency. Revolutionary sweep is the life-giving force that stimulates thought and propels things forward, opening up new perspectives. Without such revolutionary sweep, no progress is possible.
However, on its own revolutionary sweep stands every chance of degenerating into empty phrasemongering if it is not combined with professionalism and efficiency. That is why Lenin emphasised: “Fewer pompous phrases, more plain, everyday work … less political fireworks and more attention to the simplest but vital facts of communist construction.” (A great beginning, June 1919)
On the other hand, such workaday efficiency stands every chance of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled practicalism if it is not combined with a wide revolutionary sweep.
“The combination of Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism in party and state work.” (JV Stalin, Foundations, chapter 9)
Lenin’s fight against opportunism
Leninism was born, grew up and became strong in its relentless struggle against opportunism of every variety.
As early as 1903-4, when the Bolshevik group took shape in Russia, Lenin pursued the line aimed at a rupture, a split, with the opportunists both in Russia and in the Second International. Not surprisingly, then, the Bolsheviks were abused by their opportunist opponents as ‘splitters’ and ‘disrupters’.
The Bolsheviks pursued this line long before the imperialist war (from 1904-12). In 1903, the left-wingers in the German social-democratic party, Rosa Luxemburg and Alexander Parvus, came out against the Bolsheviks on the question of the party rules, accusing them of betraying ultra-centralist and Blanquist tendencies.
In 1905, on the question of the character of the Russian revolution, Luxemburg and Parvus invented the semi-Menshevik scheme of permanent revolution (a distorted version of the Marxian scheme of revolution), characterised by the Menshevik repudiation of an alliance between the working class and the peasantry, opposing the Bolshevik scheme of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.
Subsequently, this semi-Menshevist scheme was picked up by Leon Trotsky and turned into a weapon of struggle against Leninism.
The Bolshevik support for the liberation movement of the oppressed and colonised nations on the basis of self-determination, and the creation of a united front between the proletarian revolution in the advanced countries and the revolutionary-liberation movement of the peoples of colonies and oppressed countries invited abuse from the opportunists of the Second International.
For this line of theirs, the Bolsheviks were baited like mad dogs. Even the German lefts opposed the Bolsheviks on this. Naturally, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, strongly criticised the German lefts for this approach of theirs; any other course of action would have been a betrayal of the working class, a betrayal of the interests of the revolution, a betrayal of communism.
The consistent and thoroughly revolutionary internationalism of the Bolsheviks is a model of proletarian internationalism for the workers of all countries.
The alliance between the proletariat of the advanced countries and the oppressed peoples of the enslaved countries is a question of emancipating the oppressed peoples, a question of emancipating the labouring masses of non-proletarian classes from the oppression and exploitation of finance capital.
Thus Bolshevism is not only a Russian phenomenon; it is “a model of tactics for all”. (Lenin)
The international significance of the October Revolution
In this context, the following points are worthy of note:
1. The October Revolution, unlike all previous revolutions (except for the short-lived Paris Commune) did not merely replace one type of exploitation by another; it put an end to all exploitation.
2. It caused a breach in the front of imperialism and ushered in a new era of proletarian revolution in the countries of imperialism.
3. It ushered in the era of Soviet democracy and put an end to bourgeois parliamentarism; it showed the world that the proletariat can not only destroy the old but also build a new society, thus setting a contagious example.
4. It shook the rear of imperialism by breaking the chains of national and colonial oppression under the flag of internationalism, thus unleashing an era of colonial revolution.
5. Before the October Revolution, the world was supposed to be divided between inferior and superior races, between blacks and whites, according to which only the superior white races were the bearers of civilisation and were the natural rulers of the world. The October Revolution shattered this legend forever.
6. The October Revolution jeopardised the very existence of world imperialism and created a powerful base for the world revolutionary movement. The result of the October Revolution has been that capitalism can never recover the ‘equilibrium’ and ‘stability’ that it possessed before the revolution. The October Revolution created a beacon which has illumined the path of the labouring masses ever since.
7. The October Revolution was a revolution in minds as well, a revolution in the ideology of the working class; it represented the victory of Marxism over reformism, of Leninism over social-democratism. From then on the only vehicle and bulwark of Marxism has been Leninism.
The above, then, were the achievements of Leninism and of the October Revolution. These were badly damaged by the triumph of Khrushchevite revisionism at the 20th party congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which eventually led to the collapse of the once great and glorious Soviet Union, and brought in its train, albeit temporarily, the destruction of the base of the world revolution, casting over the social and political life of the proletariat and the oppressed peoples the gloom of unbridled reaction.
In marking the 150th anniversary of the great VI Lenin’s birth, that giant of revolutionary thought and action, we must remember Lenin’s injunction as to the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism and conducting a ruthless struggle against it:
“Most dangerous are those who do not wish to understand that the fight against imperialism is a sham and a humbug unless it is inseparably bound up with the fight against opportunism.” (Imperialism, chapter 10)
Finally, we greet hundreds upon hundreds of millions of proletarian and labouring masses all over the world on Lenin’s birthday and join them in their celebrations of this great occasion, and we pledge ourselves to revive the theory and practice of Leninism and devote ourselves to the cause of overthrowing imperialism and ending all exploitation through proletarian revolution.
Our day will come, and there shall be celebrations in our street.