Foundations of Leninism

Chris Burford cburford at
Wed Oct 2 00:15:54 MDT 1996


The source I used for the quote is "Lenin and Trotsky -- What They Really
Stood For: Reply to Monty Johnstone (Moscow)" by Alan Woods and Ted Grant,
Colombo 1972. The February date they give for the writing doesn't seem
implausible, since the texts were originally lectures, and had to be
written, given and edited for publication before being published.


Thanks. Checking out certain key bits of evidence in this way would
have to be a serious part of arguing over marxist history even
though people would remain protagonists for one viewpoint against
another. (I am trying to think what a marxism-history list would
look like.)

The early date of February seems to me to be puzzling if the lectures
were given in April and May at the Sverdlov University.
Perhaps there was another talk elsewhere. Presumably
Woods and Grant just give the reference as "Foundations of Leninism"
so it is not possible to identify where the whole text is.

I think we also have to consider that the passage you quoted was
written down during the talk by persons unknown, of political
persuasions unknown. How it was translated into English may
also be a source of variance.

If the original Russian was changed, I do not think this is
evidence of "censorship". As you say, it would be normal for lectures
to be edited for publication.

I see no problem in conceding that the passage as you quote it
appears to you closer to Trotsky's position than the official passage.
It is normal as a polemic unfolds that the different sides
clarify and demarcate their positions better.

I had not in fact realised that Foundations of Leninism had gone
through many additions until you mentioned it. My 1945 English
language edition of Problems of Leninism says it is the eleventh
edition of that collection, which includes Foundations of Leninism.

To produce a summary of Lenin that is concise and comprehensive is
an enormous task. Essentially it is a collective task, and
probably cannot entirely be done by one person. I do not see anything
sinister in assuming that Stalin may have received comments both
informally and from official sources - some sort of archivist? in
polishing the text. I understand from a remark by Monty Johnstone
at a talk last year, that at least a third (?) of Lenin is still

The challenge I suggest that Foundations of Leninism presents to
Trotskyist critics, is that its main features were presented
within a few months of Lenin's death at the time of a
fierce struggle in the Bolshevik party and subsequently was used for
several decades as a summary of Lenin's main positions.

It is not easy for Trotskyist critics to demonstrate that this text
is at variance with Lenin's published works.

On the specific passage, Hugh has already done what I had intended
to do myself. To put the sentences side by side. In my opinion
the official version is the fuller.

Hugh has a point where he
says that version is more open to "creative" interpretation. I think
this version makes more sense if you bear in mind the actual situation
and a process of trying to express the actual situation more
accurately, in Leninist terms. The orthodox version, while still concise,
as a summary has to be, reflects IMHO (IMHO, because I am not trying to say
this is the only  interpretation, but it illustrates an
interpretation that might be held by a reasonable reader)
a Leninist position.

I think there are limits to what can be achieved by
placing the sentences side by side on the screen in this fashion.
Hugh's analysis is so detailed that it loses me in places, with
remarks such

"The "no" has become ambiguous."

"Here again, the "therefore" is unfocused. "

Some scholars will have to take this up, and
have the Russian text(s) available to allow for
differences brought in by different English translations
which would also have to be taken into account.

I cannot deny that Hugh may have a point lying behind remarks such
as 'the "therefore" is unfocussed' but I do not think he
can sustain an effective case that the changes are the result
of censorship, and I think he loses the wood for the trees.

I think the trees are clearer in the official edition, and I think
they are Leninist trees, whether you or I agree with them or not.

1) the reference to proletarian power and not just government is
in conformity with the Leninist view that a revolution is not just
changing governments but changing the state.

2) caution about the final victory of socialism or the
complete and final victory of socialism is wise in view of
the capitalist encirclement, and ruthless attack on this first
socialist state by nazism in the 1940's. But that should not be
counterposed to the desire to build that socialist state as
effectively as they knew how, to the extent that by May 1924
the delegates of several hundred thousand Bolsheviks voted
for the position represented by Stalin and not a single
delegate voted for Trotsky's position.

3) the shift towards a more differentiated formulation about
the nature of solidarity makes sense. As the post world war
revolutionary tide receded, the most important solidarity was
in hampering capitalist interventions, and during the second world
war, promoting a more active united front against nazi Germany,
particularly by the campaign to open the second front.

I find Hugh's approach fundamentally tending to idealism. I doubt
he will change his view but the way he argues shows IMO
a failure to engage in concrete reality. He summarises:

"So, in the first piece we have clear focus on the impossibility of
achieving socialism in one country, whereas in the second we have a
confusion of diplomatic needs with the needs of building socialism."

Now both texts, even if you accept the authenticity of the version
Hugh gave, and for which Woods and Grant presumably have only
a sparse footnote, refer to the impossibility of guaranteeing
etc the *final* victory of socialism. Nothing is gained
by summarising this as "the impossibility of socialism in one

Secondly, reference to "confusion of diplomatic needs" by
Hugh fails to accept in concrete reality that a major part of
campaigning against intervention would have to focus on
diplomatic questions, if by that is meant state policy: eg would
the "democracies" of France and England give assistance to
the democracy of Republican Spain. Would England and France enter
into a trustworthy alliance against nazi aggression, or were they
hoping that Germany would attack and defeat Russia rather than

Hugh will be not be surprised that I consider he has failed
to demonstrate that in 1924 (ten years before the murder of Kirov)
the delegates of the Bolshevik party failed to support Trotsky
as a result of machiavellian censorship of Lenin or Stalin's
true position.

But Foundations of Leninism has 9 sections. There are plenty of
subjects on which Trotskyist critics of Stalin could try to
demonstrate that the work departs from Lenin's views.
I increasingly doubt that that can easily be demonstrated.

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