[Marxism] Reclaim Lenin from "Leninists" and "Leninism"
ozleft at optushome.com.au
Wed Mar 17 19:51:49 MST 2004
By Bob Gould
"It is true that prior to the October Revolution Lenin had agitated for
[a] strictly disciplined party of professional revolutionaries as the
condition sine qua non for the conquest and maintenance of power.
Nevertheless, throughout his career, including the five years of his
active life after the victory of October, Lenin never managed to organize
such a "monolithic" party. Nor was it ever more than a pious wish with him
which he constantly violated. Bolshevism, born of polemics and
factionalism, flourished throughout the twenty years of its Leninist
period on arguments and dissensions. It was only after Lenin's death,
after Stalin's ruthless police measures had strangled the Bolshevik party,
after the red colour of pulsing life had been drained from its veins, that
it assumed the rigidity of a mummified corpse."
L. Trotsky, Trotsky's Notebooks, 1933-35, Writings on Lenin, Dialectics
and Evolutionism, Philip Pomper and Yuri Felshtinsky, pp. 27-28. This
book, by Pomper and Felshtinsky, is a very important piece of original
scholarly research. The two editors have done a very systematic job of
collating Trotsky's notes from 1933-35, which are in the Trotsky papers at
Harvard University. These notes particularly relate to matters of
philosophy and natural science, and to Trotsky's attitude to Lenin during
the period when he was preparing to write a major biography of Lenin,
which unfortunately never happened. The notes from Trotsky's papers give
considerable insight into Trotsky's thinking about events in which he had
been an important participant.
"The day before the conference, we arranged a meeting of the active
workers of the Helsingfors Committee, at which we decided on the general
plan for conducting the conference and also on the agenda. It was decided
to propose S.A. Garin as chairman of the conference, as he was the most
prominent and best known figure in Helsingfors. But as Garin could not be
present at the conference all the time, it was decided to put the general
guidance of the conference in my hands by electing me as deputy chairman.
"In the Committee, there were two points of view on the question of the
political situation, one more moderate, approaching the point of view of
Comrade Kamenev at that time, and the other more revolutionary, based on
the famous thesis published by Lenin immediately on his arrival from
abroad. The representative of the first point of view was Kirill Orlov,
and of the second, Antipov. In order to deal with all sides of this most
important point of the agenda, it was decided to have both points of view
submitted, and let these two speakers deal with the question.
"The conference opened the next day in the hall of the house of the
Governor-General. A large number of delegates was present. There were
representatives from almost every ship stationed in Helsingfors. There
were also many guests among whom was the figure now well known to me --
the notorious Khilyani [Khilyani was a Menshevik]. However, this time he
discreetly kept in the background."
A. Ilyin-Genevsky, From February to October, pp. 41-42. (Published in
English in the Soviet Union, c.1926)
The above observation by Trotsky in the mid-1930s, in which he draws harsh
lessons from the development of Stalinism, is in sharp conflict with the
lessons drawn by Doug Lorimer in Links, 24. Ilyin-Genevsky's account of
the relatively public Helsingfors conference of the military supporters of
the Bolshevik Party adds further weight to Trotsky's case. That was the
party that led the revolution in all its turbulent, contradictory
The discussion of Marxist organisation is not exactly new territory.
Nevertheless, on a world scale we are now in a position to illuminate
general theories of "Leninism" from the common practices and experiences
of dozens of "Leninist" groups, organisations and parties. This historical
record stretches from the time of the first codification of "Leninist"
doctrine, essentially by Zinoviev in the early to mid-1920s, through its
counter-revolutionary Stalinist perversion, to the experience of various
modern "Leninist" sects, up to the present. It's a singular tribute to the
revolutionary memory of Lenin and Trotsky, and lesser, but still
important, revolutionaries such as James P. Cannon and Zinoviev, that
across the planet, militants of organisations large and small, and
numerous individuals, should be discussing their organisational ideas and
political perspectives with intense enthusiasm.
Also attached is a bibliography of important books on Lenin and Leninism.
This article also contains a discussion of a recent upheaval in the DSP
youth group, Resistance, and a current dispute in the Australian Socialist
Alliance. In two parts, Part II to follow soon.
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