Feb 17, 2014
On the ninetieth anniversary of Lenin’s death, it is important to recall just what Leninism represented for the workers movement. This is especially true considering how much the term “Leninism” has been misrepresented, falsified, and emptied of its original meaning. It has been used to support policies that were the exact opposite of what Lenin had advocated and the opposite of the policies that allowed the Russian Revolution to succeed, the first victorious workers revolution in history. The falsification of Leninism by Stalin and his successors in the USSR has had devastating effects on the revolutionary workers movement and continues to do so today.
Capitalism’s defenders and hypocritical apologists continue to hate Lenin because he translated into action the heritage of Marx and Engels. Even in Lenin’s time, there were those who wanted to keep that heritage confined to library shelves. Resisting alien class pressures, Lenin fought to create the necessary tool for the emancipation of the working class: a fighting party composed of militants entirely devoted to the workers revolution – the Bolshevik Party.
He refused to remain in a unified party with the Mensheviks, who claimed to be more open but were in fact only more open to the pressures and influences of the bourgeoisie. Lenin made this decisive organizational choice starting in 1903. Because of this choice, Lenin was denounced as a sectarian, including from within the socialist movement before World War I.
Ideological discussions in defense of Marxism against all sorts of “new ideas” had an immense importance in arming militant workers in Russia both politically and practically. Equally important, those militant workers needed to be organized independently in their own party in order to lead the working class to victory when a revolutionary situation arose. It was a party in which militants and leaders were selected according to their devotion to the cause of the socialist revolution – that is, to the defense of the interests of the international working class.
When the revolution first broke out in Russia in 1905, neither Lenin nor the Bolshevik Party launched it. It was an uprising of the people whose initial spark was the bloody repression of a workers demonstration led by an Orthodox priest. However, Bolshevik militants were in the front lines of the general strike and in the establishment of the soviets (workers councils) that followed. And their party had no hesitation about militarily organizing the workers of Moscow when the workers, showing their determination, decided to confront the Tzar’s troops. Once the revolution’s offensive stage fell back, the Bolshevik Party, following Lenin’s lead, proposed to continue fighting the class enemy, including, eventually, at the electoral level. The elections and the Duma served as a tribune from which to address and respond to the demands of the working masses.
The Bolshevik Party was a fighting party, disciplined in its action, but it was also democratic, contrary to the lies told by its enemies both then and now. When Lenin found himself in the minority within his own party over the question of whether to participate in the elections after 1905, he deferred to the majority decision. He continued to defend his position, however, which ultimately won over the party ranks.
Lenin fought with intransigence to build this party of revolutionaries, contrary to what was happening in other countries. As a consequence, it was practically the only European party to maintain the banner of internationalism and socialism when World War I first broke out. The Bolshevik Party refused to rally to its national bourgeoisie as did the vast majority of European socialist parties and unions. But Lenin was not a pacifist: the party called on the masses, in their greatest moment of despair, to transform the imperialist war into a workers insurrection to overthrow the bourgeoisie.
The existence of such a party allowed the revolution that started in February 1917 in Petrograd to go up to the end of its possibilities, permitting the working class to come to power in October. Without the Bolshevik Party and Lenin, who was its most well-known leader, the revolution could not have triumphed. Temporarily hesitant, the party was re-oriented towards the pursuit of the workers revolution after Lenin directed a few letters and addressed the party in a speech in April 1917. The Menshevik leaders and their allies in government, on the other hand, cast themselves as defenders of “democracy,” which, in reality, meant a defense of the bourgeoisie.
To quote Rosa Luxemburg, the Bolshevik Party had “dared.” It was again Lenin who, with certain difficulties, convinced the party to take the step from which there was no turning back: to prepare in October 1917 for an armed insurrection to transfer power to the soviets of workers, peasants, and soldiers. To do so, he had to oppose many of the party’s historic leaders, who did not dare to cut all ties with the old world.
The millions of Russian workers and peasants who made the revolution successfully resisted the combined capitalist forces who sent troops to crush the first workers state. They did so under the leadership of Trotsky, who created and led the Red Army.
Lenin, like Marx before him, saw the need to go up to the end of the possibilities offered by the period to overturn the established order. And he conceived it within the framework of the struggle by the international working class for a new socialist society. Using the prestige conferred on them by the victory of the October Revolution in Russia, Lenin and Trotsky worked to establish the Third International, proclaimed in 1919 when the Russian Civil War was in full swing. In order to mark a break with the social-democratic parties that had gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie in 1914, the Communist International, the worldwide party of the revolution, called for the creation of revolutionary communist parties in every country.
It was tragic that the international working class and its militants did not have the time to build experienced parties with mass roots before the revolutionary wave that followed the end of World War I fell back. The absence of such parties proved fatal for the European workers revolution, despite the courageous fight of millions of workers and peasants, notably in Germany, Finland, and Hungary, from 1918 to 1923. With the complicity of the social-democratic leadership, the German bourgeoisie assassinated the most capable revolutionary leaders of Germany, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, whose credit in the eyes of the population would have opened the door for the construction of a powerful communist party.
This defeat of the European working class had catastrophic consequences. In the USSR, it accelerated the degeneration of the workers revolution, which was left isolated in a backwards country. The victory of the bureaucratic reaction and the installation of a Stalinist dictatorship dug a ditch of blood cutting off the ideas and traditions upheld by Lenin and carried on after his death by the Bolshevik militants grouped around Trotsky. Stalinism was a monstrous caricature of what Lenin had built. One of the results of this betrayal was the transformation of the Stalinist parties into guardians of the bourgeois order alongside the social-democrats.
Today, in the United States as in other countries, the working class remains deprived of parties that represent its political interests. As the current crisis deepens, as the class warfare carried out by the international bourgeoisie intensifies, it is vital for the future that new generations reconnect with the revolutionary heritage of the workers movement dating back to its origins.
The working class cannot regain confidence and defeat the bourgeoisie without becoming conscious of its historic mission and giving new life to revolutionary communist parties, like the one that Lenin devoted his life to building.