Reclaim Lenin from “Leninists” and “Leninism”. Part II


Part I

Bob Gould

Part II of 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. Some further incidents and events from Bolshevik history that undermine Lorimer’s retrospective centralist schema about “Leninism”

Lorimer discusses the expulsion of the Menshevik liquidators from the Russian Social Democracy in 1912. This is a crudification of the events at the Prague conference of the RSDLP. He does not even mention the existence of the Pro-Party Mensheviks, who, according to Lenin, made up a majority of the Menshevik faction, although not of its leaders.

Lorimer should have a careful look at Brian Pearce’s article, Building the Bolshevik Party, Some Organisational Aspects. At the Prague conference, the line of division was between, on the one side, most of the Bolsheviks and the pro-party Mensheviks, led at that time by Plekhanov (the chairman of the Prague conference), and on the other the Liquidators, who were mainly Mensheviks.

The group that was expelled wasn’t the Mensheviks, as such, but the Liquidators. After the conference, the Bolsheviks and the pro-party Mensheviks merged, although Plekhanov himself did not join the merged organisation. The fused Russian Social Democracy after 1912 was thus an amalgamation of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. There is no hint of these circumstances in Lorimer’s carefully dishonest-by-omission account, which is designed to give an imaginary picture of Bolshevik monolithism.

Later, writing about the Zimmerwald period, Lorimer quotes with approval Lenin’s irritation at the idea of publishing the ideas of Bukharin and Radek on the national question in the Bolshevik press. But despite Lenin’s irritation the discussion on the national question continued in the public arena and Lenin was often himself in a minority, despite the general correctness of his views.

The argument over national self-determination even persisted into the period after the October Revolution, and again Lenin was initially in the minority to the centralising, Great Russian views of Bukharin and Radek, who opposed national self-determination. He eventually won through and achieved a majority to incorporate the principles of national self-determination into the laws of the new Soviet state. Lenin, on the national question, had no respect for mistaken majorities in the Bolshevik Party.

Later, the debate over the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk also proceeded among the Bolsheviks in the most public way. Mass-circulation Bolshevik and Soviet dailies carried the views of both sides. Once again, Lenin was initially in the minority, but he wisely fought on until he achieved a majority, which was decisive for the immediate survival of the Soviet state.

At the height of this dispute the Left Communists in Petrograd produced their own daily paper, Kommunist in addition to putting their views in Pravda and other forums. They elaborated their own platform on issues such as workers’ democracy, the national question, industrialisation and the trade unions.

Even after the Seventh Party Congress in March 1918, the Left Communists continued to organise, and won control of the Moscow Party Committee. They published their own factional party paper in Moscow. The Seventh Congress voted to represent the Left Communists on the Central Committee. It was standard Bolshevik practice to include oppositional groupings and views in leadership bodies in proportion to their support.

Lenin attacked the Left Communists not for their public expression of their views, but because they wouldn’t take their place on the Central Committee. Later, the dispute at the Tenth Party Congress in 1921, around the role of the trade unions, was completely public.

The Workers Opposition, around Kollontai and Shlyapnikov, defended the total independence of the trade unions from the Soviet state. Trotsky, on the other extreme, favoured the incorporation of the trade unions into the state and the militarisation of labour. Lenin occupied a careful intermediate position, and his view was victorious in the debate, though he was initially in a minority.

E.H. Carr, in The Bolshevik Revolution, has this to say:

“To give an impression of the unparalleled extent of the debate a few of its principal landmarks may be recorded: On 24 December, 1920, Trotsky addressed a monster meeting of trade unionists and delegates to the eighth All-Russian Congress of Soviets – his speech was published the following day as a pamphlet … Throughout January 1921, Pravda carried almost daily articles by the supporters of one or another platform”. (E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol. 2, Harmondsworth, 1966, p 224)

The reality is that the rich and complex, relatively public internal life of the Bolshevik Party was brought to an effective end by the ban on factions. This became the greatest mistake in the history of the communist movement. Lorimer asserts his opposition to the ban on factions in a formal way, but the whole spirit of his emphasis on centralisation, as against the actual practice of the Bolshevik movement during its heroic period, has the effect of implying that the ban on factions was inevitable.

That’s certainly the kind of view Zinoviev held during his presidency of the Comintern, and put forward in his History of the Bolshevik Party, on which the DSP relies in its internal education program. As recently as January 2004, the DSP leadership was using photocopied extracts from Zinoviev’s book as part of its educational program for Resistance members, conducted at the Chippendale headquarters, in Sydney.

The Zinoviev-Cannon-Doug Lorimer-John Percy approach to the history of the Bolshevik Party completely miseducates those who are subjected to it systematically about the real ethos of Lenin’s Bolshevik organisation. To Lenin, organisational ideas were deeply important but they stemmed from political necessity. They were an attempt to elaborate organisational arrangements that would advance the socialist revolutionary process.

Lenin changed his organisational views on a number of occasions. For instance, in 1902 in What is to be Done? Lenin elaborated the idea of socialist organisation and consciousness coming into the working class from outside. Fairly quickly, he implicitly moved away from that approach in its fullest application to fight the Committee Men in 1905, with the aim of opening up the Bolshevik Party to the revolutionary masses. The formula of democratic centralism, on which Lorimer and others like him lean so heavily, is only mentioned in the works of Lenin four times, in the roughly half of the 30,000-odd pages of Lenin’s Collected Works that are online at the Marxists Internet Archive, which includes all of Lenin’s most important texts.

For Lenin, his organisational ideas, which changed and developed depending on circumstances, were intimately linked to political necessities, both long-term and immediate. The idea that he had some kind of immutable, unchanging organisational schema is a myth, and the most dangerous Lenin myth of all because it was a very major part of the ideological justification for Stalinist degeneration. For Lenin, while his organisational ideas as they stood at any stage of development were important, nevertheless they were secondary to political necessities and imperatives.

This is the only way it is possible to comprehend Lenin, who, when he was in a majority, usually leaned heavily on his rights as the main leader of the majority, but when in a minority often behaved like an effective factional whirling dervish until he achieved a majority. To Lenin, any organisational schemes, even his own, were in the final analysis subordinate to the political issues.

Lenin would have reacted with immense and visceral hostility to the outlook of the leaderships of current Marxist sects, who reduce the whole alleged lesson of Lenin’s political life and activity to a few crude organisational schemas directed at cementing their power and control over tiny sects, which are peripheral to the workers movement largely because of these leaderships’ sectarian posture towards the workers movement.

As I point out in Part I, Doug Lorimer’s approach to “Leninism” is that of a scholastic Red Professor, and bears methodological similarities to both the Zinoviev school of the mid-1920s, and even the later Stalin school of “Leninism”.

Doug Lorimer pays little attention to context and relies almost totally on Lenin texts, mostly taken out of context, with the sole object of creating a mythological picture of the political development and practice of the Bolshevik Party. Lorimer systematically highlights instances in which it could be said that Lenin opposed public discussion of political differences in the Bolshevik faction, and later in the Bolshevik Party.

To do this Lorimer, in the style of all “Leninist” epigones,
tries to create the image of an always omniscient Lenin, superconsciously guiding a process of onward and upward development towards the final political product — an idealised Bolshevik Party and communist movement achieved in the period of the first four congresses of the Comintern.

The political purpose of this mythologising on Lorimer’s part is the pedestrian one common to this whole school: the justification of ultra-authoritarian political practices — in this case of Lorimer’s own smallish group in a relatively stable capitalist country. It is only possible to maintain this view by dramatically neglecting the substantial literature about the development of the Bolshevik movement. Lorimer particularly ignores good political biography of Lenin, such as Tony Cliff’s useful four-volume Lenin, Bertram D. Wolfe’s Three Who Made A Revolution, and Trotsky’s biographical notes on Lenin, methodically disinterred by Philip Pomper from the Trotsky papers at Harvard University.

The mythologising in which Lorimer and others like him engage does the political memory of Lenin’s creative revolutionary flexibility no honour at all. All these epigonic schools create a plaster saint Lenin who nowhere touches earth.

Lorimer makes big play of, and overstates, the difference between the Bolshevik faction of the broad RSDLP and the Bolshevik Party after 1912. To some extent Lenin himself helped create part of the myth surrounding the definitive break of 1912, but it remains a myth nonetheless. Talking about another stage in development, Tony Cliff puts this kind of issue as follows:

The fact that it took Lenin nearly a year to persuade the Bolshevik deputies to break away from the Mensheviks gives a very different picture from the commonly accepted one of Bolshevism as a totalitarian organisation under his dictatorship. In fact, Lenin had to fight again and again to convince his own members, one might even say, to colonise his own party. (Lenin Vol. 1, chapter 17, Building the Party, Tony Cliff, Pluto Press)

In reality, the RSDLP and the Bolshevik faction, and the later Bolshevik Party were reshaped a number of times in the period before the Russian Revolution, both by Lenin’s activities and leadership and by the activities of others, all affected by objective developments.

A number of the splits and divisions, for instance the 1903 split, weren’t deliberately planned or engineered by anybody, including Lenin. They happened when different temperaments and formulations collided. In the 1903 split, the crystallisation of tendencies happened after the event. In addition, in a very short space of time, Lenin came into sharp conflict with his own most vehement supporters, the Committee Men, who had found their personal interpretation of Lenin’s ideas in What is to be Done? so appealing, but were flummoxed when Lenin swung over to the idea of an open mass party during and after 1905. Marcel Liebman outlines some of this in his article Lenin in 1905. A revolution that shook a doctrine.

Cliff writes that Lenin recolonised the party a number of times. Betram D. Wolfe makes the point that Lenin almost immediately broke with his initial supporters of 1903, who became conciliator Bolsheviks in 1904. Lenin came rapidly to rely on Krassin and the newly recruited Bogdanov, and on Lunacharsky (later one of Trotsky’s Mezrahontsi, is he a “beta Bolshevik” too?).

Wolfe makes the point that Lenin’s close collaborators at this point included a number of emigre writers and literary people who had a certain penchant for rhetorical ultraleftism. At this point, when the Russian Revolution of 1905 was surging forward, Lenin did not regard a tendency to agitational ultraleftism as a major immediate problem. At the first conference of the united RSDLP at Tammerfors, Lenin was one out in the Bolshevik faction in opposing abstention from the first Duma, but he didn’t make a big issue of it at that point.

At the next big conference at Tammerfors, it appeared to him that boycottism had become more dangerous, and he voted, once again one-out in the Bolshevik faction, with the Bundists and Mensheviks to participate in the Duma. Lenin was so offside with the majority of the Bolshevik faction that he wasn’t nominated for the Central Committee at the London RSDLP conference in 1907. He got himself elected later, when he’d reasserted his influence in the Bolshevik faction by lobbying the Bolshevik committees and securing their support against the decision of the conference. It was at this point that he began moving towards a a break with Bogdanov, Krassin and Lunacharsky because their ultraleftism had become a fetter on the further development of the Bolshevik faction and the RSDLP as a whole.

By that time the RSDLP had become an enormous mass organisation, with more than 100,000 members represented at the two Tammerfors conference and the London conference. Each of these conferences had 200-300 delegates, compared with the small number (a brief look at One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back indicates there were 56) at the 1903 conference, at which the split occurred.

Like most of Lenin’s theoretical turns, Lenin’s turn to philosophy in attacking Bogdanov and the Machists was precipitated in the first instance by the political needs of the moment. It obviously dawned on Lenin that he had to develop his understanding of Marxist philosophy to combat the idealist philosophy of Ernest Mach, which Bogdanov was introducing into the Bolshevik ranks.

Nevertheless, Lenin’s initial foray into philosophy was crude and deterministic, and even his sister, who idolised him and acted as one of his political agents, found it to be a very abrasive work. One feature of Lenin that is appealing and instructive, and that contemporary revolutionaries ought to imitate, is demonstrated by the evolution evident in his initial and later forays into philosophy.

Obviously the limitations of Materialism and Empirio-Criticism eventually became evident to Lenin, and a few years later, in 1914-16 he made a further, deeper and altogether more useful systematic inquiry into the sphere of the philosophy of Marxism by returning to the sources, particularly to Hegel.

Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, while difficult, mark a real development of Marxist method, Marxist philosophy and of the skills required for using Marxism as a method of inquiry and political analysis to guide concrete political activity. Cliff Slaughter, Raya Dunaevskaya, Peter Jeffries and the Russian Ilyenkov, as well as George Novack, Trotsky and Mandel provide a useful picture of the insights that Lenin pioneered in his Philosophical Notebooks.

While not acknowledging what a barbaric philosophical approach he’d adopted in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin turned his hand to correcting the error in his later work on Marxist philosophy in 1914-16 (contained in volume 38 of Lenin’s collected works). Despite the way Gerry Healy crudified this work, Lenin’s mature work on philosophy remains an important part of the theory of Marxism and is in sharp contrast with his early crude approximation. This kind of dramatic turn was at the heart of the actual practice of Lenin the man, the revolutionary, the philosopher and the Marxist theoretician, rather than the idealised, all-knowing, permanently fully developed and conscious caricature so assiduosly cultivated by all epigones.

Lenin eventually concluded that it was necessary to refound the movement once again, and he threaded his way through to the 1912 conference by finding new close collaborators, Kamenev and Zinoviev, and breaking decisively with the ultraleftism of Bogdanov, etc. He also made a bloc on his right with the pro-party Mensheviks, led by Plekhanov.

He chose, at the 1912 conference, which was in fact a very small conference, to dub that conference a full conference of the RSDLP and to proclaim the exclusion of the Liquidators from the party. The decisive character of this division shouldn’t be overstated, however. Lenin said privately that many of the ultraleft Bolsheviks would return to the party and that proved to be the case in 1917, when many of them returned to the Bolsheviks via the Mezrahontsi group. In the fusion with the Mezrahontsi in 1917, the Bolshevik Party and the Mezrahontsi negotiated as equals for a fusion, and the fused organisation adopted a new name, the Communist Party.

It suits Lorimer’s centralist aspirations to take up Lenin’s rhetoric about the decisive breakthrough represented by the Prague Conference. Nevertheless, despite Lorimer’s use of Lenin’s description of the split, this division, viewed historically, was not as complete or decisive as Lenin said or Lorimer desires. This is demonstrated by the subsequent fusion with the Mezrahontsi as relatively equal partners in 1917, in which context a large number of the people the Bolsheviks split with in 1912 returned to the united party. What is so useless, politically, about Lorimer’s version is its one-dimensional thinness achieved by relying only on selected Lenin texts rather than a serious political and sociological overview of the development of Bolshevism.

The question is brutally posed in this form: either the “Red Professor” Lorimer’s scholarship is hopelessly narrow and incomplete or he deliberately chooses to ignore any detailed description of the actual developments because this detailed description is no use to his centralist schema. It is to address the enormous gaps in Lorimer’s narrative, which is mainly based on Lenin texts, that I’ve included some lengthy extracts from Bertram D. Wolfe and David Lane.

Bertram D. Wolfe’s account of Lenin and the Bolsheviks between 1905 and 1917

Extracts from Three Who Made a Revolution

Bertram D Wolfe’s Three Who Made a Revolution contains a unique summary of developments in the Bolshevik Party between 1903 and 1917. Wolfe was a member of the Lovestone faction of the US Communist Party, and was in fact Jay Lovestone’s closest intellectual associate. He was of Russian Jewish background, so he understood a lot about the cultural ethos in which Bolshevism and Menshevism developed. He read Russian and spoke it a bit, and he attended several Comintern congresses during the Zinoviev period. When he wrote the book, he had shifted politicially to an anti-Communist outlook but, nevertheless he retained his considerable admiration for Lenin — with, however, no illusions.

Since Wolfe wrote his book, we have the benefit of much more hindsight and a great deal of new Lenin material from the previously closed Soviet archives, which supplements Wolfe’s narrative and generally doesn’t contradict it. Wolfe’s book is very useful in getting an accurate picture of the developments, and is in striking contrast with the one-dimensional narratives about Lenin characteristic of both the Stalinist and Zinovievist schools.

Lenin had been learning, too, from the merciless bombardment to which his organisational views had been subjected by Plekhanov, Trotsky, Parvus, Rosa Luxemburg, Axelrod and Martov. His resolute and tidy mind, reacting as always against the slackness and disorganisation of the Russian intellectual, was still attracted to centralism and direction from above. He was still sure that the top leadership was somehow guaranteed to be the most devoted, the most skilled in Marxian science, the most fitted to decide issues and pick subordinates. He still insisted as before that the Central Committee should have the power to select or add to the Local Committees and confirm or reject all local selections. But the mass stirrings in Russia, no less than the bitter debate, had schooled him in the necessity of giving ground on the questions of democracy, the elective principle, the safeguarding of some measure of local autonomy, the right of opposition, the protection of a minority. He felt now that his rigid organisation must be loosened up to admit thousands and tens of thousands without such close scrutiny as in the past, In short, his one-sided emphasis on centralism was now reformulated as the bifurcated term: “democratic centralism”. How much of democracy and how much of centralism would go into the compound was a question which would be answered differently in differing periods. The time would come when democracy would be once more swallowed up in centralism, but for the moment his problem was to reeducate the “hards” and authoritarian centralists he had indoctrinated and gathered around him, and to persuade them to accept some measure of democracy. Once more he had recourse to a Party congress, that is, a convention of his own faction posing as the leadership of the entire Party. There he could convince and reorient his own followers, correct the agrarian program, amend the Party constitution to correct the error Martov had written into it as Article I at the Second Congress, renew his contact with Russia, put the idea of armed insurrection on the order of business, rearm his faction and the Party for the new day of open mass activity of millions. “The Congress,” Lenin wrote, “must be simple — like a war council — and small in numbers — like a war council. It is a Congress to organise war.” Whatever his followers may have thought, he did not mean war against the Mensheviks. It took place in London from 25 April to 10 May 1905, with only Bolsheviks, conciliators and neutrals present. The Mensheviks held a simultaneous “conference” in Geneva. Lenin prepared for his Bolshevik convention with his characteristic thoroughness, as indeed, he had need. The “Leninists” he himself had trained in centralism, professional revolutionism and “hardness” had learned his dinned-in formulae by rote. Many of them had been attracted by the very authoritarian rigidity of those formulae. Now, in the name of “the traditions of Bolshevism” and “true Leninism”, they resisted all his sweeping proposals for change. Lenin would have to refight this ominous battle again and again at every critical juncture in the history of his party, for, while it was easy to teach definite formulae, it was not easy to impart the spirit of realistic flexibility with which he himself approached the changing world. What would happen to a party thus nurtured when its authoritative leader was not present, or when his voice should be stilled forever? But since, as Freud has put it, “in the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his immortality”,
it never occurred to Lenin to pose such a question. To him, the organisational changes he now advocated were important not so much to meet the Menshevik criticisms halfway as to prepare the Party for open public life and imminent revolution. For months he had been firing away at the premature sclerosis which seemed to have taken possession of the Bolsheviks in Russia. “Really, I often think that nine-tenths of the Bolsheviks are really formalists [reads a typical letter] … One must recruit among the youth more magnanimously and boldly, more boldly and more magnanimously and still more magnanimously and still more boldly, without fearing them. Forget all the old cumbersome ways, the respect for titles, etc. … Give every subordinate committee the right, without many conditions, to write leaflets and distribute them (it is no great misfortune if they make breaks: we will ‘gently’ correct them in Vperod) The events themselves will teach in our spirit … Organise, organise and once again organise, hundreds of circles, push the usual hierarchical committee follies entirely into the background. It is wartime … Else you will perish with the honours of Komitetchiki [Committee Men — the word of scorn in later years would become Aparatchiki — Apparatus Men] with the official seal imprinted upon you … ” [Letter of 4 February 1905]

At the Congress his forebodings turned out to be more than justified. He stormed at his erstwhile followers, took the floor again and again and again, employed irony, ridicule, indignation, interrupted others while they were speaking, made a general nuisance of himself.

“I could not sit still [he explodes at one point] and hear it said that there are no workers available who are fit to be committee members The question is being postponed. Plainly there is a sickness in the Party.”

At another point: “The Party does not exist for the Party Council, but the Party Council for the Party … In all constitutional lands the citizens have the right to express lack of confidence in this or that official or official body. This right cannot be taken from them … Who is the judge in the handling of a dispute between the Party Council and the Local Committees? Under free political conditions our Party can and will be built completely on the principle of election … Even under absolutism the application of the electoral system in much greater measure than at present would have been possible.”

His old followers could not recognise him! Almost singlehanded he succeeded in introducing a number of sweeping changes into the Party Constitution. The first was of course the repeal of Section 1, the celebrated “loose” definition of membership which Martov had succeeded in putting through at the Second Congress. But the others were all in the spirit of those who had been his critics at the Congress: the safeguarding of the autonomy of the locals against Central Committee alteration of their composition; approval of the widespread introduction of the electoral principle; the protection of minorities; their right to oppose and criticise the Central Committee; their right to issue oppositional literature and have it circulated by the Party smuggling apparatus, provided one-sixth of the locals requested it. But when Lenin pointed out that at this Congress of the “party of the proletariat” there was only one delegate who had ever worked in industry, and he proposed to pump fresh blood into the local organisations by making mandatory a majority of working men on each local committee (“I would greatly favour a rule that in our committees for every two intellectuals there should be eight working men”) his astonished following of professional revolutionaries or komitetchiki voted down his proposal as impractical and likely to dilute the revolutionary clarity of the Bolshevik organisation. Vladimir Ilyich was in a towering rage, which diminished only after a few days of reflection had persuaded him that the bubbling, overflowing life that was churning up the stagnation of ages would likely wash this encrustation away also. The Mensheviks, too, were almost wholly professional revolutionary intellectuals, but their theory predisposed them to look upon the new period as one which would bring millions into “public life” and lead to the formation of a “broad, non-partisan or supra-partisan organisation of the working masses”, out of which a new and broad and truly working-class socialist party might grow, to replace the narrow conspirative organisation of intellectuals. It was this predisposition of the Mensheviks which gave them a decisive leadership in the Soviet of 1905 and in the new trade unions which sprang up.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
At the Congress, Lenin had to agree to considerable relaxation of control from abroad. The new Central Committee was made up of Lenin, Krassin, Bogdanov, Rykov, Postalovski, with Essen, Rumyantzev and Gusev as alternates. Of all these, only Lenin remained in Geneva as “Foreign Representative: and editor of the official organ, Proletarii. Two secretaries were chosen, Krupskaya for the Foreign Centre and Stasova for the Russian.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
when the first number of the Menshevik popular daily, Nachalo, appeared, the Bolshevik Novaya Zhizn wrote: “We welcome a comrade in the struggle. The first issue is notable for the brilliant description of the October strike written by Comrade Trotsky.” And Lunacharsky records in his memoirs that when Lenin heard someone say: “The star of Khrustalov is setting; today the strong man of the Soviet is Trotsky,” he responded after a moment: “Well, Trotsky has won this by his tireless and striking work.”
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Lenin was an unusual compound of revolutionary temperament with an acute sense of actual reality. He was more reluctant than the Menshevik leaders, and slower by many months, to realise that the fortress could not be taken by storm. When he did recognise it, he found himself almost alone in his own camp. For several years he had to conduct a struggle with the majority of his colleagues to make them grasp the true state of affairs and abandon slogans, tactics, gestures appropriate only to a time of open warfare. All through 1906 and early 1907 he vacillated between sturdily realistic appraisal and too easily reviving hope. A big Socialist fraction in the Second Duma (although almost three-quarters were Mensheviks); strikes among backward workers who had not participated in the earlier ones; peasant riots, more numerous in the spring of 1906 than in 1905; a belated mutiny of peasants-in-uniform at Kronstadt and Sveaborg; all the lingering fires that flared in the peripheral regions of the great empire when the blaze at the centre had died — each of these in turn was taken by Lenin as a sign of renewal. By temperament, by creed, by obligation, he would rather err on the side of hope than miss an opportunity because of too easy despair.

“Revolutionary Social Democracy [he wrote in the middle of 1906] must be the first to enter on the path of the most decisive and relentless struggle, and the last to have recourse to methods which are more roundabout.”

So his creed. But still his sense of reality bade him prepare for the resumption of the roundabout path.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
“indeed [wrote Lenin in April 1906] if we look at the matter from the point of view of the departure of the Social Democrats from their ‘normal’ road, we will see that a period of ‘revolutionary whirlwind’ shows more and not less closeness and ideological unity in the social democracy. The tactics of the epoch of ‘the whirlwind’ did not increase the distance between the two wings of Social Democracy but brought them closer together, in place of the former differences there arose unity of views on the question of the armed uprising. The Social Democrats of both factions worked in the Soviet of Workers Deputies, these unique organs of embryonic revolutionary power. They appealed together to the soldiers, the peasants, to enter into the Soviets. They issued revolutionary manifestoes together with the petty-bourgeois revolutionary parties. The previous controversies of the pre-revolutionary epoch gave way to agreement in practical matters. The rise of the revolutionary wave removed the differences, compelling the acceptance of fighting tactics, brushing aside the question of the Duma, placing the question of an uprising on the order of business … In the Northern Voice, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks together called for a strike and an uprising, together called upon the workers not to give up the fight until the power was in their hands. The revolutionary situation itself suggested the practical slogans. Differences of opinion concerned only details in the estimate of events. For instance, Nachalo regarded the Soviets as organs of revolutionary self-government, while Novaya Zhizn looked upon them as embryonic organs
of revolutionary power, uniting the proletariat and the revolutionary democrats. Nachalo inclined to a dictatorship of the proletariat; Novaya Zhizn stood for the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, [Lenin: Collected Works, Third Russian Edition, Vol. IX, pp. 123-4. This article was originally published legally in St Petersburg in April 1906.]

That was the high point of friendliness on Lenin’s part. But the same actions which had called forth Lenin’s enthusiasm had awakened Axelrod’s chagrin, Martov’s abulia, Plekhanov’s doubts and Martynov’s remorse.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Not so Lenin. At all times he strove to keep his faction apparatus tuned up for possible rupture, or alternatively, for the more effective imposing of his views upon the united party. Yet he too felt the force of the demand for unity, and became for the nonce in his own fashion that, to him, most detestable of political beings: a “conciliator”. By the end of 1905, finding their lower units everywhere fused, the two leaderships set up a provisional “Parity Executive Committee” with an equal number from each side, to prepare a joint unification congress. Krassin, Lalayants and Rykov represented the Bolsheviks; Krokhmal, Taresevich and Jordanski the Mensheviks. When the government suppressed their two daily papers, they set up a common daily with a joint editorial board: Lunacharsky, Bazarov and Vorovsky, Dan, Martynov and Martov. Inside the fused locals Bolshevik and Menshevik leaders presented rival platforms and ran rival sets of delegates for the unification congress. Thus they would determine its decisions, and their relative shares in the united leadership.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
Even in 1905, when the boycott tactics were first adopted, Lenin was reluctant to accept them. But at the Bolshevik Conference which was held at Tammerfors, Finland, in December 1905, he was startled to find his whole faction lined up against him! Here is Joseph Stalin’s report of that episode, as given to a little party in 1920 to celebrate Lenin’s fiftieth birthday: “The debate — at Tammerfors — opened, and the provincial members, Siberians and Caucasians, led the attack. What was our astonishment when, after our speeches, Lenin intervened and declared himself in favour of participating in the elections. But then he saw his mistake and took his stand with the faction, We were stupefied. The effect was electric. We gave him a great ovation.”

Lenin did not reply at his birthday party but during the course of that same year, 1920, he took occasion to make it clear in a pamphlet that he thought that not he but “the Siberians and Caucasians” had been mistaken at Tammerfors. Why then had he gone along? Was it because he feared to be cut off from his followers? That was part of it. For the next four years that fear would make Vladimir Ilyich tread warily, until he had mustered enough strength for his conception of Duma activities so that he could expel (and he actually did expel) all the recalcitrant revolutionary romanticists from his faction. But in December 1905, at Tammerfors, there had been special reasons for yielding to the “Siberians and the Caucasians”. At that moment, the Duma was to Lenin a very secondary matter. He let himself be persuaded by the very unanimity of his conference delegates that they were expressing — how he longed to believe it! — the temper of the masses themselves. If it were but so that the masses had no faith in the Tsar’s Manifesto, with its promises of Duma, Constitution, and civil liberties! Perhaps his followers were so unanimous because they had come right from the localities where the masses were planning, arms in hand, to overthrow the Tsar and write their own consitution. This attractive idea was the easier to accept because, even while the Tammerfors Conference was in session, the Moscow insurrection began. It was the crack of pistols and rifles there, and not the attack of “Siberians and Caucasians”, by which Lenin had let himself be seduced. But by the time he got to Stockholm for the unity Congress he knew he had been mistaken to yield. For several years — the next four, to be exact — the Duma question would overshadow all others, and would put Lenin into opposition both to the majority of his own faction and, for different reasons, to the Mensheviks. His faction were in love with that splendid moment when they had appealed to the masses to ignore the Tsar’s concessions and, by insurrection, convene a constituent assembly. In Trotsky’s tart words, they had observed that lightning is accompanied by thunder, and therefore concluded that if they kept making a noise like thunder, the lightning would strike again. Lenin’s stern sense of realism told him that the days of direct storm were over, which alone could justify the departure from the Marxist tradition of participating in parliamentary elections. Hence he voted with the Mensheviks for participation, though it threatened to separate him from the faction he had formed. Yet he could not agree with the Mensheviks either, for it seemed to him that they set too high a value on the Duma. He would make it a mere sounding board for revolutionary propaganda, a forum where revolutionists, clothed with special immunities and powers of attracting national attention, could denounce the Tsar’s “parliamentary comedy” and could talk over the heads of fellow-deputies and ministers to the masses outside the Duma, rallying them to extra-parliamentary actions, strikes and demonstrations. The Mensheviks. however, took the “parliamentary comedy” as serious drama.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
“History has shown [wrote Lenin in October 1906] that the convening of the Duma brings with it the possibility of useful agitation … that inside we can apply the tactics of an understanding with the revolutionary peasants. It would be ridiculous to close our eyes to reality. The time has come now when the revolutionary Social Democrats must cease to be boycottists.”

“History has shown” — that was Lenin’s way of admitting that he had been proved wrong and learned something. But his followers were never so ready as he to go to school to Mistress History. Once more he had to fight on two fronts: against the irreconcilable among his followers (and that meant most of them), to drag them, reluctant, into the election campaign; and against the Menshevik-controlled Central Committee, which proposed an electora1 bloc with the Kadets against the Rightist parties.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
We shall have to bear in mind, too, that Lenin is not always as “rock-hard” as he would like to appear. There were times when he would restrain his polemical language out of other considerations than “the limits set by criminal law”. Chief of these other considerations would be the feeling, often neglected but never fully abandoned, that the working class must in the long run be educated by political controversy, to a deeper understanding of its position and tasks. As for the restraints of the criminal law, these would vanish when his party became the government and made the law. We shall have to ponder then what would happen to this doctrine, especially when the doctrine was taken up by lesser men with less ingrained humaneness, and less concern for the long-run effect of polemics upon the understanding of the masses, or when it was adopted by the leaders of other Communist parties, lacking the counter-balancing humane tradition of the old Russian revolutionary intelligentsia.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
A new cry arose for boycott of the Duma. The Social Revolutionary Party reverted to boycott, while Lenin’s faction overwhelmed him once more. This was a “cardboard, comic-opera Duma”, they cried, and the Constitution was now a mere fraud. What self-respecting revolutionary could so humiliate himself and so deceive the masses as to participate in such undemocratic elections, play a role in such a farce, pretend that anything could be accomplished in such a travesty on the idea of popular representation? But Lenin knew no finical pride as to the kind of institution in which he would work if he could thereby serve the revolution. “In a pig-sty if necessary,” he told his comrades. Moreover, he had been studying Stolpyin and his manoeuvres with increasing respect. Here was an opponent worthy of his steel, a man who, with opposite intentions, but from similar premises, was doing much what Lenin would have done had he been a champion of the existing order and an enemy of the revolution.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
The Central Committee (under Lenin’s control since the London Congress) called an All-Russian Conference in July 1907 to consider Stolypin’s coup d’etat and prepare for the elections to the Third Duma. Though he had just captured the Central Committee, Lenin again lost control of his own faction. Out of fifteen Bolshevik delegates, fourteen were for boycott! The lone dissident was Lenin. They deposed him as spokesman and chose Bogdanov to report for them. Once more, as at Stockholm, Lenin voted with the Mensheviks. Poles, plus Bundists, plus Mensheviks, plus Lenin, outvoted the Bolshevik delegation. All through 1908 the conflict smouldered in the faction, in forms too complicated to follow in detail. At times it seemed as if Lenin had persuaded a majority to participate in the elections. But then the fight broke out in a new form because they wanted to recall those Deputies who were chosen (fourteen of the eighteen Mensheviks) for not acting in a sufficiently intransigent fashion. This trend Lenin dubbed
otzovism (“recallism”, from the Russian word for recall). Or they wanted to present an ultimatum to the socialist Duma Deputies, which could only lead to the resignation of the Deputies either from the Party or from the Duma. This trend received the name of “ultimatism”. All these boycottist and semi-boycottist trends rallied around the personality of the philosopher Bogdanov, who had succeeded Krassin as the number-two man in Lenin’s troika, and who now threatened to oust Lenin from domination in his own faction. Among those who sided with Bogdanov were Lunacharsky, Gorki, Krassin, Bazarov, former Bolshevik Duma leader, Alexinsky, the historian, Pokrovsky, the future GPU chief, Menzhinsky, the historian of the Party, Lyadov, the future Comintern leader, Manuilsky, and many others whom we shall meet again. Not until the middle of 1908 did Lenin win a slender majority (eighteen to fourteen) in Moscow, and as late as 1909 he was still in a minority in Petersburg. Only when he felt strong enough and had built himself a new troika (the first three-man leadership had been Lenin-Krassin-Bogdanov; then Lenin-Taratuta-Dubrovinsky; Lenin-Malinovsky-Zinoviev; Lenin-Zinoviev- Kamenev; then, in wartime, Lenin and Zinoviev, did he expel without ceremony or any constitutional warrant all the boycottists, recallists and ultimatists from his faction. Under what conditions we shall see in a succeeding chapter (Chapter 29, Lenin as Philosopher). Ultimately, all but two of these dissenters returned to the fold as more unconditional followers than before. Only Bogdanov remained aloof because of his independent temperament and deep differences on philosophical matters. The other permanent loss was Alexinsky, who became a bitter enemy of Bolshevism. However, at the high tide of the boycottist movement in 1907, Lenin had been so alone that even the future constituents of his troika Zinoviev and Kamenev, were lined up for a while against him.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
So vast an assemblage, so noisy and quarrelsome, including Caucasians in sheepskin hats and bearded working men in Russian blouses and ten Deputies from the Second Duma, over 300 delegates in all, representing over 150,000 members, could not contrive to meet in secret in some tiny cellar hole, unbeknown to the police. First the whole variegated army filtered into Denmark with the intention of meeting in Copenhagen. But the democratic city fathers took fright and banned their meeting out of deference for Denmark’s ruler, who was uncle to Russia’s Tsar. London was their next choice, but how to get funds to transfer 300-odd people to England? Angelica Balabanoff and Gorky proved to be more than interested spectators now, for the former secured a substantial donation from the German Social Democratic Party and Gorky raised additional funds in London. The ousted Congress found shelter in the Brotherhood Church in Whitechapel belonging to a Christian Socialist group under the leadership of Ramsay Macdonald, a church — as Gorky noted — “unadorned to the point of absurdity”. Having lent their building for what they conceived to be a convention after the British fashion — two or three days to settle all issues — the congregation spent the next three weeks trying to get this convention-in-permanence to adjourn, if not sine die, at least long enough for Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Sunday service.
· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
“Cost what it may!” Yet still he hoped, or so he assured Gorky, that they could continue to maintain the tactical bloc while they had it out in philosophy. But in truth the bloc itself was in a bad way, and Lenin was slowly coming to the conclusion that a split was necessary. In December 1905, he had let “the Siberians and Caucasians” override him on the Duma question, because it seemed unimportant in the face of imminent armed uprising. In 1907, at the July Conference of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks to consider elections to the Third Duma, fourteen out of fifteen Bolshevik delegates (all but Lenin!) had been for boycott and they had named Bogdanov instead of him as spokesman for the faction. All through 1908 this nagging conflict smouldered and f1ared up again: now as “boycottism, now as otzovism or ‘recallism’, now as ultimatism”. Not till the middle of 1908 did Lenin win a slender majority on tactical questions in Moscow, and not until 1909 in Petersburg. The group which thwarted him on tactical reconversion from the period of storm to the period of calm, were men who had originally been attracted to him by his call for armed uprising and seizure of power. Those formerly big issues had become remote and marginal for Lenin now, while the questions of Duma elections, and practical trade union work, had become urgent and central. His associates were poets like Lunacharsky, philosophers and scientists like Bogdanov and Bazarov, historians like Pokrovsky, novelists like Gorky, romantic revolutionists in politics for whom Lenin’s extremism was attractive, “softs” for whom a “hard line” possessed irresistible fascination. When they came to Lenin, he appeared to occupy the extreme red end of the Social Democratic spectrum. Now that from more sombre circumstances he deduced soberer slogans and devices, shifting his place in the tactical spectrum to match the blue realities of the period, he lost much of his attractiveness and seemed to them unfaithful to “true bolshevism or Leninism”. But Lenin knew that to repeat the same slogans of armed uprising and seizure of power now would be to lose contact with the masses and with reality. Their “true bolshevism” was to him but a caricature. In this Lenin was wiser than any philosopher, more attuned to social moods than any novelist, poet, or historian in his faction. The time had come, he concluded, to bring his old associates to their senses or to sweep them aside, lest his group perish from neglect of the real possibilities and the actual tasks before it. Since the independent and self confident Bogdanov was the leader of the heterogeneous bloc that stood in his way, Bogdanov must be discredited. Perhaps the faction would listen to him on tactics after he had discredited his opponents on the ground of philosophy. He could get off his chest the long-suppressed disagreements on philosophical matters; he could strike a blow, albeit a trifle late, for orthodox Marxism against this heterodoxy, and contribute to the counter-offensive against ideological decay and reaction.

David Lane’s The Roots of Russian Communism

The Roots of Russian Communism by David Lane, then a lecturer in social and political studies at Cambridge (Martin Robertson, 1975), provides something of the sociology of the Russian Social Democratic party, both Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. Lane used biographies of Russian Social Democrats available in the Soviet archives to put together an overview of a thousand of them and construct a sociological picture. This overview is a useful supplement to Bertram D. Wolfe’s political narrative of Russian Social Democracy.

Juxtaposing Wolfe’s narrative and Lane’s sociology provides a more rounded picture, which underlines the dead-end intellectual poverty of Lorimer’s selective, text-based approach to Lenin.

The party split was often not paralleled by two formal organisations in Russia until the autumn of 1904 (or even the spring of 1905, as in Moscow); in Siberia and other places the two factions operated within the same organisational structure during the 1905 Revolution. For the revolutionary activist and those drawn into the revolutionary crowds it would be wrong to emphasise factional and party divisions — except, perhaps, where national or racial differences existed. The masses, who had largely been apolitical and apathetic, were swept into revolutionary activity following the lead of the politically articulate and organised. In these conditions a movement based on a Leninist theory of organisation had a great advantage. Within the RSDLP the intensity of the factional struggles varied regionally, being stronger in the south than in the north. In practice, the “internal democracy” of the local groups reveals no consistent differences between the factions in 1905. At the lowest levels of the party organisation, there was little conscious awareness of policy differences. Nevertheless, by the autumn of 1905, the popular image of the factions in the localities was beginning to differ. The propaganda of the Bolsheviks, especially in Moscow, advocated more extreme measures and many Social-Democratic local leaders and activists were aware of policy differences between the factions. An investigation of factional activity suggests greater militancy by the Bolsheviks. In 1905, while the Mensheviks emphasised the development of trade-union groups, the Bolsheviks were more prone to lead revolutionary activity. The Bolsheviks’ attempts to seize power, often supported by the Mensheviks, were strategically wrong and failed. Though both factions had sympathisers (as distinct from active members) from all social strata, the Second Duma elections show that the Bolsheviks were much more dependent on working class support than their more widely based Social-Democratic rivals.

Current theories of “mass society”, which explain the rise of revolutionary movements in terms of the “socially isolated members of all classes” are not apposite to the rise of the Bolshevik faction. The leadership of both factions was predominantly drawn from the upper strata of society — the Mensheviks having more men of “townsman” social origin and the Bolsheviks rather more of the gentry — thus confirming Lipset’s hypothesis that the local leaders of radical movement come, not from the “socially marginal” or “deviants” but from men already having status in the community. The rapid change from rural to urban forms of life causing social dislocation contributed to the growth of the Bolshevik faction: at least it had relatively more men of peasant origin among the rank and file. The Mensheviks, even in areas of very rapid growth, did not seem able to recruit the peasant urban newcomers into their ranks. Though there were no firm Social-Democratic organisations in the countryside, by 1905 there were circles in some rural areas, such as Tver and Moscow. The many town workers still linked to the village may have identified revolutionary attitudes and Social-Democracy with an urban way of life and as opinion leaders influenced their peasant peers. This has important implications for the study of communist revolutionary movements of the twentieth century. The distinction made by Barrington Moore between “those who provide the mass support for a revolution, those who lead it and those who ultimately profit from it [who] are very different sets of people” is not a good one. The Bolshevik rank and file, even in 1905, were drawn to a considerable extent from men born in and still having connections with the countryside. One should not lightly assume that “the peasants” were a homogeneous unit supporting “revolution” but opposing the Social-Democrats: they were fragmented and some of their number made up the Bolshevik party. The social organisation of the Russian countryside was affected by the processes of industrialisation. The local studies suggest that regional factors affected the allegiance of the peasant newcomers in the towns, who were Bolshevik in Ivanovo-Voznesensk and Socialist-Revolutionary in Moscow: the active Bolshevik membership, however, was not only drawn from peasants freshly exposed to town life. The existence of a socialist circle or of a more intangible “tradition” of Social-Democratic activity would in itself seem to be an important factor determining later strength. Among the workers in the very large factories, at least in St Petersburgh and Ekaterinoslav, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and not the Social-Democrats were the ones who had the most support.

This phenomenon is probably explained by the industrial structure. A “mixed” industrial structure (such as Moscow) tends to segmentalise the working class: labour-intensive unskilled industries attract urban immigrants perpetuating “islands” of peasant norms and values, whereas capital-intensive industries demanding skilled and literate workers promote a social consciousness based on a given workers’ stratum. In homogeneous industrial structures (one-industry towns such as Ivanovo) immigrants are absorbed more quickly by the urban culture and, where economic conditions are conducive, a wider class consciousness may more readily develop. A definite regional pattern of affiliation to the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions had emerged: the Bolsheviks being concentrated in the Russian-speaking areas; the Mensheviks, being in the south and Caucasus, were composed, to a large extent, of the national minorities. This may have been started by the large number of Jews in the Menshevik elite which, once established, perpetuated itself. When considering the problems of national integration in developing societies, Almond and Coleman have pointed out that communal, ethnic, religious and racial differences are barriers to assimilation into a national society. Such differences too may affect the possibility of organising a political party on a national scale. National, racial and ethnic groups with different traditions, solidarity and antagonism, provided a basis for a plural or federal political structure, which was contrary to the Bolshevik notion of an all-Russian centrally controlled socialist party. The Menshevik demand for more autonomy to local units was related to their local factional strength, to their support among the national minorities and across economic class lines. Their demands for a more decentralised form of party, for more “democracy” in local units were closely related to the social structure of the Menshevik faction and to the political interests of its leaders. The regional division was not only due to nationality factors, the economic structures of the regions also differed.

While it has been suggested that the support for revolutionary Marxist parties is derived from workers in growing industries, and for the more moderate Social Democrats from workers in stable industries, this research suggests the opposite. Bolshevik support tended to be in the economically depressed areas where the older factories were situated, whereas the Mensheviks were concentrated in areas of very rapid economic growth. It is well-known that southern Russia and the Caucasus developed rapidly after 1880. The relative rates of growth for the different regions (measured by the percentage increase in the numbers of employed workers) were — Bolshevik areas: Moscow 289 per cent, Vladimir 288 per cent, Kostroma 718 per cent, Yaroslavl 380 per cent, Perm 230 per cent. Menshevik areas: Ekaterinoslav 41 times, Area of the Don Army 61 times, Kherson 9.7 times, Kiev 175 per cent. (St Petersburg’s rate of growth was good). These figures bring out that the rapidly developing areas were less responsive to the Bolsheviks. Indeed, one might expect areas of relative deprivation such as Moscow to be more susceptible to production uncertainty and falling living standards, which would create a basis for labour unrest. This research confirms the hypothesis advanced by J.C. Davies that revolutionary outbursts are likely to occur after a prolonged period of economic and social development followed by a period of reversal. It would also fit the Marxist notion that political upheavals by the working class are related to economic impoverishment. It is also interesting to note that Bolshevism took root among the older, more “traditional” Russian working class.

In the late nineteenth century, in the Moscow and Vladimir provinces over 80 per cent of the workers were permanently employed in factories and dependent on factory work. Whereas, in Kharkov and Kiev provinces (areas of Menshevik supremacy) only 48.78 per cent and 42.5 per cent respectively of the factory workers were permanent. The Bolsheviks tended to be in areas of established large-scale factory production. On figures collected between 1886 and 1893, in Kiev (Menshevik), for example, 92,005 men were employed in 4417 factories, while in Moscow 213,128 were in only 1225 factories. Vilna had a very large proportion of permanent workers — though in very small works, on average only eleven strong. As E.P. Thompson has pointed out when discussing Birmingham industry in the early nineteenth century, small scale industrial enterprises tend to mute class antagonism, for in times of recession masters and journeymen are similarly affected. The more gradual social scale characteristic of such industrial areas is a general factor inhibiting political radicalism. Lipset has argued that a locality based on an “isolated” industry tends to develop support from left-wing extremist parties. The Ivanovo-Voznesensk area was Bolshevik not only because it was based on the textile industry but also because it was economically deprived. The fact that many were employed in one industry means that a crisis affects a large number of people — unlike mixed industrial areas. But economic crises linked to a dominant or “isolated” industry do not always result in social solidarity or class consciousness. Other factors operated in Baku, which prevented the development of class consciousness: it was relatively easy for the unemployed to return to their villages and national and racial groups existed through which discontent was articulated. The industrial structure in terms of the size and ownership of individual firms varied regionally. In Ivanovo, the textile industry — Russian-owned and vertically
integrated — not only created conditions blurring differences between workers, but also uniting employers. In St Petersburg, the industrial structure included a large number of firms in different industries and in the Donbass many were foreign-owned and foreign-managed. Such firms, with relatively more enlightened management relations, ready to negotiate with workers and more prepared (and able) to pay a “fair wage” may have encouraged the development of a more moderate Social-Democratic party. The Bolsheviks were strongest in areas where industry was mostly Russian-owned (the central economic area and the Urals); the Mensheviks in areas where many foreign firms were being set up (the Ukraine, the Caucasus and to a lesser extent, St Petersburg).

Ernest Mandel’s balance sheet on some aspects of Big-L Leninism

Lorimer does a considerable disservice to a proper balance sheet on the Bolshevik experience by concentrating on the alleged disciplinary aspects of “Leninist” organisation surrounding the Marzaktion in Germany. As I’ve pointed out in Part I, this approach is so damaging ideologically because it implicitly treats the Stalinisation of the Russian Revolution as relatively unimportant, and not worthy of careful or close examination in this context.

All that matters to Lorimer is precedents that can be used to justify the political practices of his tiny DSP monolith. Tony Cliff has demystified a lot of this effectively in his four-volume Lenin.

Another major intellect in the Trotskyist movement, Ernest Mandel, is also interesting on these questions. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mandel was involved in a complex and interlinked series of arguments and debates with both the Zinovievists of the American SWP, Jack Barnes and Co, then including the Australian DSP, and also Nahuel Moreno and his substantial organisation in Latin America.

Mandel was critical of a crudification of the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and disagreed strenuously with Moreno on the necessities facing the Bolsheviks in the early years of the Russian Revolution. This robust discussion proceeded at a pretty high political level on both sides, and exists in the USec internal bulletins of that time. The Morenists in exile in Colombia published a little hardback book, in English, of Moreno’s contribution. The core of Mandel’s views on these questions is expressed in the following quote, from a lengthy article by Mandel on revolutionary strategy in Europe, in the 100th issue of New Left Review, November 1976-January 1977.

If I have not answered the question about whether parliamentary organs are necessary, it is because I think that is an essentially tactical matter. We should not treat it as a question of absolute principle, and it will not necessarily be answered in the same way in every country. If a parliamentary organ is used in an attempt to repress and “roll back” the self-organisation of the masses, then it is a clear instrument of counter-revolution, and we have to take a position accordingly (such was the case in Portugal last year, as it was in Germany in 1918 and in Russia after October 1917). It should not be forgotten that Rosa Luxemburg took a quite unambiguous position against the transfer of power to the Constituent Assembly in Germany. She — and the Spartacist delegates to the First Congress of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils — opposed the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, arguing instead for the maintenance of the sovereignty of the Congress of Councils as the only representative organ of power of the German working class. But once that sovereignty is established, then it is not a question of principle whether there should be a parliamentary organ to deal with secondary matters. Its usefulness is not all that clear to me, but the answer will depend on the national political tradition of the various countries and on the role such an organ might play as an arena of struggle between the major cultural and ideological currents. What is essential is that political and economic power should be firmly and genuinely in the hands of the armed workers organised in soviets. Trotsky’s own thinking on this question underwent an unquestionable evolution, which we have to continue. Like Lenin, Trotsky combined two elements in the period 1920-21. One the one hand, in order to defend soviet power in extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, they took decisions — with an iron determination that we cannot but approve of — which led them introduce measures that broke in practice with soviet democracy, and they assumed full responsibility for this. Going further than Trotsky, Lenin declared in 1920 that the Soviet state was no longer a healthy workers’ state, but a workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations. He was absolutely lucid about this and did not aim to deceive anyone. Of course, one can discuss whether one particular measure or another was justified in the given conjuncture, but that is not the essential point.

However, there was also a second, infinitely more dangerous aspect to their actions in this period. This was their attempt to give some of these measures a general theoretical foundation that is quite unacceptable. For example, Trotsky wrote in 1921 that soviet democracy is not a fetish, and that the party can exercise power not only in the name of the working class, but even in exceptional circumstances against the will of the majority of the class. We should be incomparably more cautious before adopting formulations of that kind, because we know from experience that in such a situation it is a bureaucracy rather than a revolutionary minority that will come to exercise power against the majority of workers — a fact that Lenin and Trotsky were themselves to recognise a year later. As far as theory is concerned, the year 1921 was the nadir of the Bolsheviks’ history, and Lenin and Trotsky made a whole number of errors.

All you have to do is read Trotsky’s later writings to understand that he became aware of these errors. At the end of his life, he said that he did not want to discuss whether the banning of factions in the Party was inevitable, but that what was clear was that it assisted the establishment of the Stalinist regime and the bureaucratic dictatorship in the USSR. What is that if not de facto self-criticism? Moreover, when Trotsky said in the Transitional Program of 1938 that he was in favour of freedom for all soviet parties, he had undoubtedly drawn the conclusion that the lack of such a constitutional right opens the door to the use of the argument: “You are a potential party”, against any faction, and of: “You are a potential faction”, against any current or tendency. In that direction, it is not only socialist democracy that is stifled, but also inner-party democracy. In the period 1936-38, Trotsky had become fully aware of the inner logic of such positions, and was implicitly undertaking a serious self-criticism. In our own thinking on the question, we should not let ourselves be restricted by an uncritical defence of decisions taken under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.

I think that the Bolsheviks were wrong in 1921. They should not have banned the Menshevik Party; they should not have banned the anarchist organisations; and they should not have suppressed multiple slates in elections to the soviets after the end of the Civil War. The paradox is quite striking: during the Civil War the Bolsheviks allowed themselves the luxury of an opposition in the press and in the soviets, but once the war was over they made an error of judgement. They thought the main danger following the introduction of the NEP was a political resurgence of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, which would threaten the restoration of capitalism in the short term. That was an error of conjunctural analysis, but it was no less an error. The peasantry was much too dispersed and demoralised to pose an immediate threat to soviet power. (Of course, in the long term, as the Left Opposition pointed out, this analysis was correct, and six years later in 1927 the danger became acute). But in 1921 the main danger was not bourgeois counter-revolution; it was depoliticisation of the working class and the rapid process of bureaucratisation. The measures taken at the time assisted and developed that process. We should have the courage to recognise that this was an error and that the Opposition slogan of 1923: “Extend rather than reduce soviet democracy”, was valid from 1921 onwards.

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. Against Doug Lorimer’s Bible Leninism!

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 word 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 Stalinist, 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 figure.

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.

The cartoons below were produced by some bright-eyed satirists who were involved in the Russian Social Democracy around the time of the 1903 Congress and had a wide circulation in Social Democratic circles. The Russian Bolsheviks and Menshviks of that time had a sense of humour.


I. One of our scouts (the tom-cat’s colleague) reported that Purry-Murlyka was hanged. Our underground went wild. So we decided to bury the tom-cat, and Klim, our court poet (commonly called Mad-tail) nimbly cooked up the funeral oration in the Central Organ. Onufrii himself, the all-wise rat, crawled forth from his dark hole (a small dialectics barrel serves him as house) into the light of day and he addressed us thus: “O you silly mice! You have obviously forgotten my Vademecum … I am an old rat and well versed in the habits of cats. Look, Purry-Murlyka is hanging, but without a rope, and I see no fatal noose around his neck … Woe! I sense this funeral will not end well.” We, however, laughed and began to prise the tom-cat’s paws off the beam, when his claws suddenly opened and he fell and thudded to the floor like a sack. We all fled into corners and watched in terror … what next?

II. Purry-Murlyka did not move. We then began to skip and jump in a frenzy and pulled the tom-cat about … Out of sheer joy, Onufrii, the all-wise rat, lapped up the heady liquor of dialectics and immediately forgot all about Purry-Murlyka’s claws, or even about the “theatrical phrase in pseudo-classical style”. He hugged a little mouse who had not completed as much as three years of high school, yet was no less addicted to dialectics than Onufrii, and was recognised by all mice as the rat’s legitimate heir. Hugging the little mouse, Onufrii took him for a dance to the tune of Le chat en miniature. (One of our leading mice is the tom-cat’s namesake and is mighty proud of this). Klim, our poet, climbed on to Purry-Murlyka’s body and there began to read his funeral oration; over and over again we burst into Homerical laughter. This is what he said: “Once upon a time there lived a Purry-Murlyka — red-skinned he was, whiskered like a Turk he was, mad he was, and possessed of Bonapartism he was — for which he was hanged. Underground, rejoice!”

III. He had only just uttered the last two words, when all of a sudden our deceased woke up. We all scattered to the winds! A terrible slaughter began. A smart little mouse that had danced the can-can with the old rat — tail-less as he returned home. Unfortunate Onufrii forgot all about those treacherous little doors, jammed his tail, and hung over the small barrel where he was wont to hide whenever cornered. His old bosom friend only whispered, “I foresaw it all,” and expired. Le chat en miniature and the luckless poet became Purry-Murlyka’s breakfast.

Thus our feast ended in tragedy.


While Plekhanov, his private parts covered by a fig leaf — “dialectics” — labours hard to pull long-eared Martov and his Menshevik friends, Axelrod (crayfish), Dan (snake), Potresov (frog) and Trotsky (dragonfly) out of the swamp, A.S. Martynov, the former editor of the semi-economist Rabochee Delo, who has joined the Mensheviks and allegedly dominated their minds, drags them down into the mire. Lenin, hands on his hips, stands on the dry path that leads to the rising sun of the proletarian revolution and looks on.

Plekhanov: “O God, what torture! — I hardly pull one youngster out by his hears when this man-like monster has already caught another and drags him down into is vile quagmire. Thus I wallow perpetually in this cursed swamp, and if I do not watch out, I shall sink right up to my crown!”


Headed by M.N. Liadov, V. Rozenberg (Alexandrov), N. Volsky-Valentinov, S.L. Gusev and V. Bonch-Bruevich, Bolshevik party members humbly beg the Menshevik-controlled editorial board of Iskra to publish their declaration. In the editorial office of Iskra, Plekhanov and Martov, seated — Trotsky, on the phone — L.S. Humenfeld (technical secretary), leans over the table — F.L. Dan, who recently joined Iskra, stands behind Plekhanov — Vera Zasulich and Paul Alexrod are in frames hanging on the wall, like roi fainéants. Plekhanov: “What is this! Wholesale action? Hey! Secretary! Ask these fellows for their passports …”


Tags: , ,

One Response to “Reclaim Lenin from “Leninists” and “Leninism”. Part II”

  1. Joe Dough Says:

    You are delusional. Sorry.

    Look again, but this time closely, at the Prague Conference (and not at gobbldegook from the sixties) – 18 delegates, 2 Mensheviks who would seem to have got on the wrong train – which is clearly a last ditch effort to salvage a platform for a tiny, marginal party.

    Now look at the wider, Russian context (and the size of the “Proletariat” in this wider context). You might also want to look at the difference in support for the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the “Social Democrats” when delegates were voted for in the different Dumas. Clearly a democratic path for the Bolsheviks would not lead to the kind of power that they were looking for.

    It is also instructive to look at Stalin and how he found himself on the Central Committee during this time (time when he was still in exile and about to spend 4 more years in exile). What does it say to you about the breadth and depth of the Central Committee that it elected as its prime mover in Russia a man that was in prison and destined to remain there for the next four years? Same story for Sverdlov.

    Also, whilst I am about it, it might be remembered that “liquidators” was a code word for those that wished to ban “illegal activities” such as arson attacks, extortion and – famously – the Tiflis bank robbery (nearest equivalent Northern Bank Robbery in 2005, Northern Ireland).

    The exclusion of the Liquidators was, directly, a defence of these activities (largely carried out by Caucasians) by a man who had essentially alienated, in one way or another, every other significant Marxist leader in Russia (exiles and emigrés).

    To think of all this – in 2004 – in terms of the struggle for an absent working class, one that was to lead to the consequences in terms of astronomical figures of wrecked lives suggests, indeed an Alice in Wonderland capacity for fantasy.

    Perhaps, however, over the last 5 years or so, you have managed to undertake an autocritique that has enabled you to see the Bolsheviks more clearly as a confederation of gangsters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: