Lenin for Today
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This chapter is a polemic against the "best known theoreticians of Marxism" namely Georgi Plekhanov (1856-1918) and Karl Kautsky (1857-1938) who were the leading thinkers of the Second International (1888-1914). Basically it is against Kautsky (13 pages)-- Plekhanov gets 1 page. Lenin thinks the collapse of the Second International was brought about by opportunism (abandoning the long term goals of the party for short term advantages) which was fostered by the evasion of discussion on the relation of the state to the social revolution and vice versa. This "evasion" has persisted to the present day. The well known A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (Second Edition) edited by Tom Bottomore, for example, has no entry on "opportunism" and does not even list it in the index. The entry on The State and Revolution does not even mention it.
The first public reaction to the idea of reactualizing Lenin is, of course, an outburst of sarcastic laughter: Marx is OK, even on Wall Street, there are people who love him today - Marx the poet of commodities, who provided perfect descriptions of the capitalist dynamics, Marx of the Cultural Studies, who portrayed the alienation and reification of our daily lives -, but Lenin, no, you can't be serious! The working class movement, revolutionary Party, and similar zombie-concepts? Doesn't Lenin stand precisely for the FAILURE to put Marxism into practice, for the big catastrophe which left its mark on the entire XXth century world politics, for the Real Socialist experiment which culminated in an economically inefficient dictatorship? So, in the contemporary academic politics, the idea to deal with Lenin is accompanied by two qualifications: yes, why not, we live in a liberal democracy, there is freedom of thought... however, one should treat Lenin in an "objective critical and scientific way," not in an attitude of nostalgic idolatry, and, furthermore, from the perspective firmly rooted in the democratic political order, within the horizon of human rights - therein resides the lesson painfully learned through the experience of the XXth century totalitarianisms.
What is tolerance today? The most popular TV show of the fall of 2000 in France, with a viewer rating two times higher than that of the notorious Big Brother reality soap, is C'est mon choix (It's my choice) on France 3, a talk-show whose guest is each time an ordinary (or, exceptionally, wellknown) person who made a peculiar choice that determined his or her entire lifestyle. For example, one of them decided never to wear underwear, another constantly tried to find a more appropriate sexual partner for his father and mother. Extravagance is allowed, solicited even, but with the explicit exclusion of the choices that may disturb the public (say, a person whose choice is to be and act as a racist is a priori excluded).
One of the motives of the workers joining and leading the February 1917 revolution, which established the duma – the Russian parliament – and which overthrew the Tsar was for the control of industry by the workers themselves. The system of soviets – workers’, soldiers’ and sailors’ councils set up during the Revolution organised the control of industry, including the railways, factories and other services. Lenin initially supported and looked forward to the management of industry by the workers themselves through elected councils, with the managers merely their paid officials. He wrote
IMMEDIATELY AFTER the accession of Hitler, Trotsky wrote that the issue presenting itself to the masses was no longer Bolshevism versus Fascism but Fascism versus Democracy. Our subsequent critique of the Popular Front might make it appear that we had perversely abandoned this view when Moscow adopted it. That would be a complete misunderstanding. We rejected the whole conception of the Popular Front precisely because it was impotent to combat fascism. The struggle for the democracy vital to the workers could not be waged in a bourgeois alliance for the maintenance of a corrupt parliamentary regime and decaying capitalist social order. The Popular Front was a gigantic piece of political blackmail. The liberal bourgeoisie of France said to the workers: we shall collaborate with you and keep de la Roque and Doriot out, we shall let you have your unions and political parties, provided only that you quit the militant struggle against private property and the wage system, against militarism and imperialism. Otherwise we shall have to let the fascists restore order.
Lenin discusses these two topics in section four of chapter one of The State and Revolution (1917). This section begins with a long quote from Engels’ 1870’s work Anti-Dühring. The quote begins with “The proletariat seizes state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with. But thereby it abolishes itself as the proletariat, abolishes all class distinctions and class antagonisms and abolishes the state as state.”
Failure to understand the intense hostility to socialism on the part of the Leninist intelligentsia (with roots in Marx, no doubt), and corresponding misunderstanding of the Leninist model, has had a devastating impact on the struggle for a more decent society and a livable world in the West, and not only there. It is necessary to find a way to save the socialist ideal from its enemies in both of the world's major centres of power, from those who will always seek to be the State priests and social managers, destroying freedom in the name of liberation.
Curated by jean lievens
Economist, specialized in political economy and peer-to-peer dynamics; core member of the P2P Foundation
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