Please read the short essay, or just click the answers to these simple questions. You may need to *enable popups.
1. A lot of historical writings are polemics. "Ante-Duhring," for example, is against a guy named Duhring. The writer is arguing against something or somebody. Against whom is Stalin polemicizing in this booklet?
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What Is a Leninist?
"Leninism is Marxism of the era of impeialism and the proletarian revolution." --J.V. Stalin
J.V. Stalin, "The Foundations of Leninism." Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1975
Available free on line from http://marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/foundations-leninism/index.htm
Many Marxists argue strongly that students must study all the 19th and 20th century classics in their original form. This 128 page booklet is one of the easier ones to read. To save time or just for an overview, though, you might like this short lesson. You can read the essay below, or just try working the questions on the side. Or go back and forth between them.
In my opinion, one would profit from doing our lesson on "Imperialism" before reading this booklet or doing this lesson.
I found Stalin's booklet interesting because it answered some of my own questions:
This 1924 booklet is not just a tribute to Lenin after his death, but a thorough study. Stalin begins on page 2: "Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular."
V.I. Lenin taught that imperialism was necessarily the last stage of capitalism. He argued for a strong, disciplined party of revolutionaries. Although he encouraged other progressive organizations, he said that, "...trade unions and cooperatives, parliamentary parties and the parliamentary struggle-- have proved to be totally inadequate." He taught that the imperialist powers would carry out world wars against one another. Further, he believed that the billions of people in the non-industrial world were natural allies of the workers' movement.
On page 27, Stalin writes: "...under imperialism wars cannot be averted, and that a coalition between the proletarian revolution in Europe and the colonial revolution in the East in a united world front of revolution against the world front of imperialism is inevitable."
On page 29 "Formerly, it was the accepted thing to speak of the proletarian revolution in one or another developed country as of a separate and self-sufficient entity opposing a separate national front of capital as its antipode. Now, this point of view is no longer adquate. Now we must speak of the world proletarian revolution for the separate national fronts of capital have become links in a single chain called the world front of imperialism, which must be opposed by a common front of the revolutionary movement in all countries." Leninism doesn't say that revolution must come where industrialization is the most developed. Rather, he asserts, "The front of capital will be pierced where the chain of imperialism is weakest, for the proletarian revolution is the result of the breaking of the chain of the world imperialist front at its weakest link..."
Even though Marx and Engels spoke for strong revolutionary parties, and even though they helped form and lead the First International -- The Workingmen's Association -- most of us nowadays think of Lenin as the main advocate of a disciplined revolutionary party. Stalin quotes Lenin on page 22, "Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement."
One interesting aspect of a Leninist party was called "self criticism." We hardly ever use the term any more, but we still use the concept. It means that a party of activists must necessarily make mistakes as well as successes. We have to constantly re-evaluate to sort out which is which and to guide our future actions.
Some of the detractors opposing the Russian Revolution believed that conscious revolutionary activity was not really necessary, because socialism would inevitably replace capitalism sooner or later. Stalin blasted such non-thinking intellectuals on page 24: "The theory of spontaneity is the theory of belittling the role of the conscious elements in the movement, the ideology of 'khvostism,' the logical basis of all opportunism. In practice, this theory, which appeared on the scene even before the first revolution in Russia, led its adherents, the so called 'Economists,' to deny the need for an independent workers' party in Russia, to oppose the revolutionary struggle of the working class for the overthrow of tsarism, to preach a purely trade-unionist policy in the movement, and, in general, to surrender the labour movement to the hegemony of the liberal bourgeoisie."
From 1917 hence, the world socialist movement has been divided over Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Many of those who opposed the revolution felt that electoral work was really all that was necessary. Stalin referred to such people collectively as "the Second International" and a lot of even-less-friendly names. He says on page 17, "...where and by whom has it been proved that the parliamentary form of struggle is the principal form of struggle of the proletariat?"
Throughout the booklet, he says that the so-called socialists of the Second International place far too much emphasis on electoral work and would be helpless in a revolutionary situation. Further, he accuses them of making this error for the basest of reasons -- to further their own individual interests. In other words, if a so-called socialist could get elected to some minor political office, with a big salary, by denying revolutionary activity, he/she would do it and would therefore condemn himself/herself forever to one of the worst adjectives in the Marxist dictionary: "opportunist!"
Page 36 explains that Lenin believed that a capitalist revolution could pass into a workers' revolution, which is what happened in 1917 in Russia. At the same time, "...Lenin fought the adherents of the 'permanent revolution' not over the question of uninterruptedness, for Lenin hmself maintained the point of view of uninterrupted revolution, but because they underestimated the role of the peasantry, which, is an enormous reserve of the proletariat, because they failed to understand the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat."
Stalin is often blamed for the "theory of "socialism in one country." It holds, his detractors say, that Stalin did not want to have socialist revolution spread to other countries, but was opportunistically devoted only to the Soviet Union at the expense of other nations. But this booklet seems to argue for internationalism. Stalin writes, "After consolidating itspower and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society. But does this mean that it will thereby achieve the complete and final victory of socialism, i.e., does it mean that with the forces of only one cout=ntry it can finally consolidate socialism and fully guarantee that country against intervention and, consequently, also against restoration? No, it does not. For this the victory of the revolution in at least several countries is needed. Therefore, the develpment and support of revolution in other countries is an essential task of the victorious revolution."
Does this need for revolutions in other countries help explain the eventual implosion of the Soviet Union? Could we say that Stalin knew, in 1924, that socialism in one country was not workable?
Stalin was the main leader of the Soviet Union from around 1928 until his death in 1953. More than any other communist, he gets blamed for the harsh term "Dictatorship of the Proletariat." In this booklet, Stalin credits Lenin with implementing the idea, but it's well known that the idea came from Marx and Engels. Lenin and then Stalin put it into action. Lenin's everyday role in the Russian Revolution was to explain Marxism and hold people to it!
Stalin quotes Lenin as affirming that capitalism is not defeated just because the workers take over a state. In fact, he affirms that it is much stronger because it has more resolve and because it has such strong allies in other states. Consequently, workers must use their new power exactly the same way that the capitalists had used it -- to suppress the enemy class.
Stalin quotes Lenin on page 44: "The dictatorship of the proletariat is a most determined and most ruthless war waged by the new class against a more powerful enemy, the bourgeoisie, whose resistance is increased tenfold by its overthrow...."
Page 47: "The state is a machine in the hands of the rulilng class for suppressing the resistance of its class enemies." It's noteworthy that Stalin got this from Lenin, but Lenin got it directly from Engels. Stalin continues, "...all hitherto existing class states have been dictatorships of an exploiting minority over the exploited majority, whereas the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the exploited majority over the exploiting minority."
Stalin writes his agreement with Engels that the state will eventually wither away. He goes further and says that the Leninist party will also wither away when class society has been demolished. And yet, the actual history of the Soviet Union appears to have kept them in the "dictatorship of the proletariat" mode throughout their 70+ year existence. Is that too long? Was it necessary? Is it explained by the general failure of revolutionary socialism in other industrialized countries?
Those who did not want to use the dictatorship of the proletariat, who did not want to overthrow and suppress the capitalist class, constituted a minority in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The Russian word for minority is "menshevik." The word for majority is "bolshevik." Stalin writes on page 46, "The Mensheviks and opportunists of all countries who fear dictatorship like fire and in their fright substitute the concept 'conquest of power' for the concept dictatorship usually reduce the 'conquest of power' to a change of the 'cabinet,' to the assertion of power of a new ministry..." "...governments of this kind inevitably remain governments of capital in disguise."
On page 48: Stalin argues against the idealistic notion of "pure democracy." "...is a bourgeois disguise of the indubitable fact that equality between the exploited and exploiters is impossible.""Under capitalism, the exploited masses do not, nor can they ever, really participate in governing the country, if for no other reason than that, even under the most democratic regime, under conditions of capitalism, governments are not set up by the people but by the Rothschilds and Stinneses, the Rockefellers and Morgans. Democracy under capitalism is capitalist democracy, the democracy of the exploiting minority, based on the restriction of the rights of the exploited majority and directed against this majority."
Page 49: Quoting an obscure statement from Marx, opportunists like to say that Marx thought that Britain and America might become socialist without overthrows. Stalin says that is because Marx was writing before imperialism became a world phenomenon. After imperialism took hold everywhere, then the overthrow of all imperialist nations became necessary, Stalin says. "Today, said Lenin, in 917, in the epoch of the frirst great imperialist war, this qualification made by Marx is no longer valid."
Even people who hate Stalin credit him as the expert on the right of oppressed nations to overthrow their oppressors. On page 75 he writes, "The national question is a part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat." This is the guideline for determining whether or not to support a minority nationality's struggle to overthrow and/or secede from a larger nation.
Page 76: "This does not mean, of course, that the proletariat must support every national movement, everywhere and always, in every individual concrete case."
This is a great question of historical and current importance. Should revolutionaries support, for example, the Irish against the British during World War II? The Kurds against the Turks today? The "National of Islam" within the United States? The Basques against the Spanish? The Ukranians against the Russians? The Libyan insurrection, armed and aided by imperialism, against the Qadaffy regime? The Sunnis against the Shiites in Iraq? The Albanians against the Serbs? The armed insurrection in Mali against the French? The South against the North in the Civil War? The Texans who wanted to secede from the United States after President Obama was elected to a second term?
Page 77: "...they are appraised not from the point of view of abstract rights, but concretely, from the point of view of the interests of the revolutionary movement." This is materialism over idealism. It isn't the idealistic notion of 'freedom of oppressed peoples' but the materialist understanding of how a given national struggle affects the overall interests of the workers' revolution. So we wouldn't have supported the South against the North in America's Civil War, and neither did Marx and Engels.
Page 85: "The mortal sin of the Second International was not that it pursued at that time the tactics of utilizing parliamentary forms of struggle, but that it overestimated the importance of these forms, that it considered them virtually the only forms; and that when the period of open revolutionary battles set in and the question of extra-parliamentary forms of struggle came to the fore, the parties of the Second International turned their backs on these new tasks, refused to shoulder them."
Stalin continues hammering against the socialists of his day who opposed the Russian Revolution: "...the parties of the Second Internatiuonal are unfit for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, that they are not militant parties of the proletariat, leading the workers to power, but election machines adapated for parliamentary elections and parliamentary struggle."
"The party is an inseparable part of the working class."
The need for a powerful and disciplined socialist party has divided activists before and after Lenin's time. Stalin quotes Lenin several times to demonstrate the need for such strength and claims proudly that, without such strength, the Russian party would never have succeeded in 1917. Part of that discipline, says Stalin, is that factional activity must be outlawed from the party and those who practice factionalism should be summarily expelled. Page 118: "...it follows that the existence of factions is compatible neither with the Party's unity nor with its iron discipline."
"Of course, the parties of the Second International, which are fighting against the dictatorship of the proletariat and have no desire to lead the proletarians to power, can afford such liberalism as freedom of factions, for they have no need at all for iron discipline."
On page 119: Stalin quotes Lenin as saying the Second Intrnational is "quite philistine" and are "the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real channels of reformism and chauvinism."
He argues that having such middle class elements within the party is certain death, and that they must be expelled. He argues further that the theory that they can be overcome ideologically is "a rotten and dangerous theory..." On page 120, Stalin says, "Our Party succeeded in achieving internal unity and unexampled cohesion of its ranks primarily because it was able in good time to purge itself of the opportunist pollution..."
Stalin credits two sources of a successful Leninist style of work:
1. Russian revolutionary sweep
2. American efficiency.
Page 124 "American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognizes obstacles..." "But American efficiency has every chance of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled practicalism if it is not combined with Russian revolutionary sweep."
The last 3 pages are excellent notes and glossary.
The book is dedicated "To the Lenin Enrollment." Page 108 says "Recently, 200,000 new members from the ranks of the workers were admitted into our Party." Not every communist agrees that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union should have opened its doors so wide immediately after Lenin died. The effect had to have been to dilute the voting strength of the seasoned revolutionaries with new people, some of whom would opportunistically tend to vote with leadership without question. Not every communist agrees with the near-deification of Lenin by putting his body on display, either.
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