A discussion of Leninism

Shane Hopkinson s.hopkinson at cqu.edu.au
Tue Nov 19 07:01:35 MST 2002

Dear All

In this post I wanted to toss up some
ideas I've been reading lately and get
people's responses. Jonathon's post on
Leninism provided a useful vehicle for

From: Jonathan Strauss
Subject: A discussion of Leninism
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2002 20:42:51 -0800

       >Below is a copy of a book review I wrote, published in
       >Green Left Weekly, August 18, 1999, which I hope will
       >serve as an example of how a DSP member discusses some
       >of the issues that are addressed on Marxmail under
       >headings such as Leninism, Zinovievism and Cannonism.

       >1)      There is a slightly separate discussion going on on
       >Marxmail about the labour aristocracy. I intend to
       >make contributions on this. The point that should come
       >out of the review is that Lenin did not think the
       >“social conservatism” of the Western European workers
       >was “inherent”; instead he tried to establish its
       >material basis and the grounds on which it could be

  No one argues that it is inherent. Lenin wants to try and
  explain, in the first instance, the reason why the German Party
  voted for war credits - because he believed their revolutionary
  rhetoric. The question here is when did the German party cease
  to be the revolutionary organisation Lenin had taken it for? No
  I'm not looking for a specific date so much as raising the question
  whether it was ever really revolutionary despite having a Marxist
  program. Isn't Marx's Critique of the Gotha program a pointer in
  this direction?

       >2)      The points about support for the overthrow of
       >capitalist rule in Germany being more advanced than in
       >Russian at the start of their revolutions, while mass
       >support for the social transformation from capitalism
       >to socialism not existing in either, probably appear
       >to be contradictory. It relates to Thompson’s argument
       >about the European masses not being willing to
       >overthrow their electorally established regimes.

  This raises a second question. Has there ever been a revolution
  where people had the vote? Has there ever been a mass communist
  party where there was no Feudal absolutism? Perhaps in Italy?
  I am not denying the need for the end of capitalism - I just
  think we need to ask these questions.

       >3)      I have read Louis Proyect’s piece on the German
       >Communists and Zinoviev’s Comintern in the early
       >1920s. On that basis my point about the imposition of
       >party leaders would need to be qualified (and because
       >it was the German party, this would be an important
       >qualification). This doesn’t contradict the general
       >point I make, that even “Boshevisation” had varying
       >effects, however.

  Probably but it was part of the process of moving towards
  Comintermism. We don't need to make the judgement about
  whether Lenin et al were right to do what they did in the
  given circumstances but on reflection we can see that they did
  over-estimate the revolutionary potential of the masses. This
  may have been understandable but it was wrong. With the best
  will in the world the Russian experience could not substitute
  for the Germans learning on their own.

  There are many attempts to explain reformist consciousness
  but it seems to me that they assume what needs to be proved
  (ie workers are revolutionary but are stopped by leaders 'bribed'
  by imperial superprofits, or betrayed, ideologically blinded).
  Somehow this sidesteps the issue of needing to *convince* (rather
  than convert) them that they would be better off under a
  different system.

  Reformist consciousness exists throughout the working class,
  not just among a "labour aristocracy". Workers will naturally
  look to improvements in their conditions of life, but will not look to
  revolutionary means to achieve them unless their own experience
  of events leads them to draw such conclusions.

       4)      On “party Stalinism”, I wanted to point out it
       can’t be simplified to “a style of party management”.
       I don’t have another theory to offer, only an
       alternative idea to start an exploration from, which
       would involve looking at whether or not it, like
       social democracy, has a social base in a privileged
       part of the working class. The existence of Stalinised
       parties in the Third World doesn’t allow any glibness
       in applying this, however.

  Recently I wrote my PhD on Fanon who was involved in the
  Algerian revolution. He was one of the first in these
  independence struggles to argue that the elimination of
  the colonisers was not enough and they would only be
  replace by local others. Many looked to the Algerian revolution,
  which was led by people who said they were socialists, as
  a source of inspiration. With hindsight it is clear that
  the military seized power and attempted to modernise the
  country using the state but it was never 'socialist' it was
  a way of managing the bourgeois transition (industrialising
  agriculture, creating a proletariat, primitive accumulation)
  which they did fairly badly given their oil wealth.

  It has always seemed to me (before I was politically active)
  that the USSR was no model. When I talk about the USSR to
  people I stress the enormous achievement of taking what we
  would call a 'third world' country in 1917 to the status
  of a superpower. What is this but a alternate path to
  managing the bourgeois transition? I should add that it
  was different to Algeria in that there was a real workers
  democracy in Russia but that was crushed by the Stalinist
  counter-revolution. After that there is a process of
  primitive accumulation under the heel of bureaucracy which
  compresses the industrial revolution from a hundred or so
  years to less than 20, at unbelievable human cost, all
  carried out in the name of Marxism. Becoming it might
  be said part of the reason why the western working class
  rejected a revolutionary perspective.

Another point does it seem odd to people that Marxists whose
analysis is generally focused on structures use very
personalised views centred in particular individuals. As an
intellectual shorthand it alright since we know what we are
talking about (well usually... :-) but it kinda implies
that Marx, Lenin or Trotsky developed a body of doctrine
that we can refer to as an orthodoxy rather than them
engaging in concrete struggles and proposing solutions to
problems as they saw them. This adds I think too to the
tendency to view history as a struggle about ideas and
whether someone has the correct view (ie according say to
Lenin) and the other was the heretic who is expelled. This
lead to the failure to actually examine what happened.
Just one example - Lenin's vanguard model is said to be
the successful model why? because it worked for Lenin -
the fact that it has *never* been replicated doesn't
lead to the conclusion that maybe it was historically
specific (or a fluke) but to an examination of how X or Y
sold out.

Just some thoughts


PS I came across this book on line: Fred Halliday, 'Revolution and World Politics: The
Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power'. There aare some reviews of it but they don't say
much about the politics of the book - who is Halliday? What's his perspective like?

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