[Marxism] What is to be done

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Feb 12 06:12:16 MST 2016

Dr. Welton,

In your long diatribe against Lenin on CounterPunch today, you turn 
"What is to be Done" into some kind of original sin:

"In his educational treatise What is to be Done? (1903), Lenin 
formulates the pedagogical relationship between educator (socialist 
intellectual) and those to be educated (peasants and proletariat) in 
bluntly instrumental and directive terms.

"This famous (or infamous) text can be situated in the years between 
1872 and 1905 that were marked by the absence of revolution. The 
existing revolutionary parties held gradualist and economistic beliefs, 
and Lenin could not see any way forward without 'vanguard' subordination 
of the working class to the Leninist educator."

You don't seem to understand that Lenin's ideas on the revolutionary 
party were a direct application of the model of the German Social 
Democracy. Lenin wrote:

"Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add 
to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because 
Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in 
furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in 
championing every protest against tyranny...It intervenes in every 
sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter 
of Wilhelm's refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor 
(our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the 
understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with 
liberalism!); in the matter of the law against 'obscene' publications 
and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of 
professors, etc., etc."

Lenin's main point is that the Social Democrat should not aspire to be a 
trade union secretary, but instead the "tribune of the people." This 
tribune will "react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no 
matter where it appears, no matter what stratum of people it affects; 
who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single 
picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to 
take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth 
before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in 
order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of 
the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat."

Lenin's example of one such tribune is the German Social Democratic 
leader Wilhelm Liebnecht. The German Social Democracy was Lenin's 
*model* for what was needed in Russia. This type of party did not exist 
in Russia and it was his goal to build one.

You cite a number of enemies of Lenin in your diatribe including Maurice 
Brinton whose citation of Lenin's 1918 article "The Immediate Tasks of 
the Soviet Government" supposedly sealed the fate of the Russian 
Revolution and prepared the way for Stalin:

“Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses 
unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process.”

I am not sure what it is that you teach but history does not seem to be 
your forte. Lenin's article was written during the civil war when the 
USSR was invaded by 8 imperialist armies, including the USA. This was 
resulted in the death of 7 to 12 million people, mostly civilians, 
according to the Wikipedia article on the Russian civil war.

Once the civil war was over, the Soviets dropped war communism like a 
hot potato and moved toward the NEP which hardly maps to Maurice 
Brinton's nightmare. Of course the NEP led to a series of other problems 
that arguably strengthened Stalin's hand. In any case, the best way to 
understand what happened in the USSR is not by quoting libertarian 
communists like Maurice Brinton that sound great one paper. Rather it 
requires an engagement with the social and economic forces that acted 
mercilessly on Lenin and all attempts in the 20th and 21st century to 
build an alternative to capitalism. The lesson that can be drawn is that 
socialism requires a global framework if it is to succeed. Lenin's 
writings and even the fitful attempts of the Comintern to provide such a 
framework are still useful for those of us who remain inspired by the 
1917 revolution.

Although I am happy to see CounterPunch, a website that unfortunately 
gives far too much space for people who obviously admire Stalin and 
Stalin Jr. (Vladimir Putin), publish your article, it is a disservice to 
socialism. My recommendation to you is to read Neil Harding's "Lenin's 
Political Thought" to get a handle on what Lenin believed as opposed to 
the funhouse mirror of Maurice Brinton et al.

Have a nice day.

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