[Marxism] Reclaim Lenin from "Leninists" and "Leninism"

Ozleft ozleft at optushome.com.au
Thu May 6 08:38:21 MDT 2004

Reclaim Lenin from "Leninists" and "Leninism". Part II.

A Critique of Doug Lorimer's article, The Bolshevik Party and 
"Zinovievism": Comments on a Caricature of Leninism, in Links (No. 24, 
pp. 96-112), and a few suggestions as to what an organisation drawing 
the useful lessons of Lenin's activity, experience and writings, might 
look like in modern conditions. How we might possibly get there from the 
present situation of a proliferation of Marxist sects. Part II of four 

By Bob Gould

Including some rare cartoons from the early Bolshevik movement and 
extracts from works of Bertram D. Wolfe, David Lane and Ernest Mandel.


A summary of the problems with Lorimer's Zinovievist approach to the 
history of Leninism

Lorimer's approach is completely textual. He takes quotes from Lenin at 
different points in Bolshevik history and strings them together to 
provide some kind of "proof" of a thesis that the essence of an 
abstraction he calls "Leninism" lies in a thoroughly authoritarian 
centralist type of party organisation functioning primarily from the 
leadership downward, and operating according to a type of cabinet 
solidarity within this leadership. All other significant aspects of 
Lenin's political method and practice are ignored in this account.

Lorimer ignores the actual history of Lenin's political leadership and 
practice and the kind of dynamic revolutionary organisation that Lenin 
refounded a number of times, the real essence of which was considerably 
more libertarian than Lorimer's text-based version.

Lorimer's account is spectacularly ahistorical. It ignores the 
demonstrated problem that emerged with the Stalinisation of the Russian 
Revolution: that over-centralisation, which seemed necessary to Lenin 
and Trotsky at the time of the ban on factions in the Communist 
movement, turned out to be a major factor in creating the conditions for 
the bureaucratisation of the revolution in the period of ebb. A failure 
to address these questions is an enormous defect in any overview of what 
useful lessons we might draw from Leninist practice for the future.

Mandel's views, which I've quoted above, are relevant here. This is an 
area of political analysis and inquiry that is extremely pressing in any 
serious refounding of the revolutionary socialist movement. History 
shows that over-centralisation of the revolutionary socialist movement 
leads in the direction of bureaucratisation and Stalinisation of 
revolutionary socialist parties in power.

Lorimer's formula, derived from his flat, ahistorical, textual reading 
of Lenin, has the effect in small socialist groups, in relatively 
non-revolutionary situations, of transforming them rapidly into sects 
similar in structure and ethos to small religious groups. In particular, 
the emphasis on overly rigid internal structures and of leadership 
cabinet solidarity has the effect of winnowing out more normal 
revolutionary elements and only retaining Committee People, who are 
totally focussed on the interests of their group as a propaganda 
organisation, as a thing in itself. This, in practice, removes the 
organisation from the problems of the class struggle and the real issues 
in the society in which they are operating. Lorimer's formulaic Big-L 
"Leninism" is one of the main things that contributes to the 
transformation of small Marxist groups into middle-class sects.

A personal note about considering and approaching Lenin's political legacy

As a young person in the 1950s, I fell in love with the political idea 
of Lenin and his activity. Later, breaking from Stalinism, I did what 
many do in breaking from Stalinism: I used Lenin texts to demystify the 
Stalinist misuse of Lenin. On the basis of my own reading of Lenin's 
writings, as pointed to by others who I respected, this was a useful 
approach as far as it went, and it was pretty well all that many of us 
had available at the time.

In the 1970s, I was a rather taken with Gerry Healy's turn to Lenin's 
Philosophical Notebooks. Despite Healy's exaggerated overstatement of 
Lenin's approach to philosophy, I still regard the Philosophical 
Notebooks as of considerable value, methodologically.

At a number of points in my life, usually at moments of political 
crisis, I've gone back to considering Lenin's legacy, which is always a 
useful thing to do, and this current inquiry, which is my most 
systematic overview so far of Lenin's work and legacy, is informed by a 
serious attempt to consider the new material now available to us.

I insist that that is the best way to approach the question usefully. 
The world has moved beyond any utility for Lorimer's archaic quoting of 
Lenin texts out of context. This approach is a pretty stupid way of 
approaching Lenin politically, now that we have so much useful material 
to work on.

For many years, I have conducted my bookselling business opposite Moore 
College, the powerhouse of Evangelical Christianity in Australia, and 
perhaps in the world, and I have become acquainted with the Evangelical 
Christian approach to something they call the personality of Jesus 
Christ, and the texts of the Bible, which they assert is the literally 
inspired world of God. They insist that everyone confront their notion 
of Jesus Christ on the basis of a curious book called the New Testament, 
which is a mixture of some scraps of historical fact, myth and allegory, 
which they insist on calling the literal truth about Jesus Christ.

When one considers cooly the history of Christianity, it is clear that 
Jesus Christ is a partly mythological figure, loosely based on the life 
of a political, religious and social agitator who was assassinated by 
the Roman state some time in the first century. Most Marxists and most 
materialists can see this easily, in relation to the history of 
Christianity, its origins and the personality of Jesus Christ. 
Nevertheless, the Stalinists, Zinovieviest and Lorimerist schools of 
Leninology approach Lenin's writings and the history of the Bolsheviks 
in a very similar way to the way literalist Bible Christians approach 
the history of Christianity, the Bible and the personality of the Christ 

This is a bizarre way to approach Lenin, cooly considered. Lenin is not 
a partly mythological figure like Jesus Christ. We now know more about 
him, and more about the history of the RSDP, the Bolsheviks and the 
Mensheviks, than we know about almost any other recent historical 
figures, or any historical figures, for that matter. A text-based, 
Evangelical-Christian-like, narrative about Leninism, such as Lorimer's, 
is an absurdity in the 21st century, an affront to the method of 
Marxism, and a great dishonour to the real value of the study of Lenin 
and his ideas and practice for Marxists.

Full: http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/LeninII.html

Part I: http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Lenin1.html

Parts III and IV will appear soon. They analyse the current practice of 
far left organisations, particularly the Australian DSP, ISO, Socialist 
Alternative and the Socialist Alliance in the light of Lorimer's 
narrative about Leninism and my response.

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