The 22nd of April this year marked the 151st birth anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, one of the greatest revolutionary personalities of the 20th century.
The Central Committee of the Communist Ghadar Party of India has decided to mark this occasion by publishing a series of essays on Lenin and Leninism, the first of which appears below.
I: Lenin and the October Revolution
Lenin was born to educated parents in Simbirsk, Russia. His father was a school teacher. From a very young age, Lenin displayed a voracious appetite for learning. He joined Kazan University as a student of law. He soon plunged into the revolutionary student movement, participating in Marxist study circles.
Marx and Engels had discovered the laws of development of capitalist society. They had proved scientifically that the development of capitalist society, and the class struggle going on within it, must inevitably lead to the fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat. It must lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the last form of class power whose mission is to eliminate all class distinctions and usher in a classless communist society, with socialism being its initial phase. In order to fulfil its historic mission, the proletariat needs a vanguard party to lead it.
A group called Narodniks were influential among the revolutionary youth at that time. They propagated the view that the principal role in the revolution would be played by the peasantry and not the proletariat. They represented the interests of rich peasants, who were called kulaks. Some among the Narodniks promoted the idea that individual “heroes”, their ideas and courageous acts played the key role in social development. They considered the role of the masses of people as being insignificant. They organised plots to assassinate individual members of the ruling elite, including the Russian emperor, known as the Czar.
Lenin defended and elaborated the fundamental conclusion of Marxism that it is the struggle between classes, and not any action of individual heroes, which leads to qualitative change in society. The proletariat, those who own no means of production and have to live by selling their labour power, is the class which can bring about the revolutionary transformation of society at its present stage. It is the class which is growing and has a future, whereas the peasantry is bound to disintegrate, with a minority rising to the ranks of the bourgeoisie and the majority joining the ranks of the proletariat.
Lenin opposed the path of individual terrorism and the notion that heroes play the critical role in the development of society. Outstanding individuals may become non-entities if their ideas and wishes run counter to the needs of developmentof society, to the needs of the class which spearheads revolutionary change at any particular time. The reverse is also true. An individual may become outstanding if his or her ideas and wishes correctly express the needs of society and of the foremost class.
Lenin understood that the role an individual can play is to contribute to the best of his or her ability to the task of building the vanguard party capable of leading the proletariat to carry out its revolutionary mission. He played this role in an exemplary manner.
The European working class parties which were part of the Second International were organised for the parliamentary struggle. They were not parties capable of leading the working class to seize political power by force. Lenin argued for the creation of a party of professional revolutionaries, recruiting the most militant and class-conscious workers as its members. It must be guided in all its work by the most advanced theory. It must never deviate from the goal of leading the working class to capture political power in its hands.
Lenin waged a determined and protracted struggle to establish and build such a party on Russian soil. Initially, the party was known as the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. It later came to be known as the Communist Party of Soviet Union (Bolshevik), or Bolshevik Party in short form.
At the close of the 19th century, the local organizations of the working class, local committees, socialist groups and Marxist study circles were in a state of ideological confusion and organizational disunity. There was an influential group of people within these circles who had their own press and were trying to justify, on theoretical grounds, the lack of organizational cohesion and the ideological confusion. They considered the creation of a united and centralized political party of the working class to be unnecessary and artificial. They preached “economism” – that is, the idea that the working class must focus only on its economic demands. They argued that political matters must be left to the bourgeoisie and its party of liberal democracy. This trend of economism had to be defeated in order to establish a united and centralised party of the proletariat.
In his book called What is to be Done?, published in 1902, Lenin explained how economism serves the bourgeoisie. By keeping scientific socialism and revolutionary political consciousness out, this trend was assisting in spreading bourgeois ideology in the working class movement.
Lenin elaborated the idea of a new kind of party fit to lead the proletariat in its struggle to capture political power. It must be the vanguard, the class conscious and organised detachment of the proletariat, which leads the entire class. It must be the highest of all forms of organisation of the working class. He put forward the plan to establish an all-Russia political newspaper as the first and essential step towards building such a party.
The First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party had been convened in 1898 but it had not led to a united proletarian party. It had not adopted a common program or a set of organisational rules. The Second Congress, held in 1903, succeeded in adopting a revolutionary program, as defined by the group around Lenin. The fundamental aim of the program was to overthrow Czardom, carry through the bourgeois-democratic revolution to completion and proceed to the socialist revolution. Immediate demands included the establishment of a democratic republic, an 8-hour working day and confiscation of landed estates.
A crucial issue over which intense struggle took place at the Second Congress was the question of the rules for party membership.
Lenin and his supporters insisted that it is not enough for a member to support the program of the party and pay regular membership dues. It is also essential for every member to work under the discipline of one of the party organisations. Only then will all party members come under one uniform discipline and act as one unified force.
Martov and his supporters, which included Trotsky, opposed this requirement that every member must work under the discipline of a party organisation. They argued that many bourgeois intellectuals will not join the party in that case. Lenin and his supporters argued that it was better that those opposed to discipline do not become party members.
The conflict over the rules for party membership divided the delegates at the Second Congress into two groups. The group headed by Lenin was called Bolshevik (majority) while the opposing group was called Menshevik (minority). The organisational principles which the Bolsheviks fought for were elaborated in Lenin’s book called One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (May 1904).
The conflict between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks was not only over organisational principles but also over the political line to be followed. They had divergent, in fact opposite conceptions of the strategy and tactics of the revolution in Czarist Russia, where no democratic revolution had yet taken place. The majority of the population consisted of peasants, who were oppressed and looted by big landlords with the support of the Czarist state. Rapid growth of large-scale capitalist industry was leading to rapid growth in the size of the proletariat. There was no recognition of the rights of workers or of peasants by the Czarist state.
The Mensheviks argued that the democratic revolution must be led by the bourgeoisie, and only after a bourgeois democratic republic is established will it be possible to advance towards proletarian rule and socialism. They cautioned the proletariat not to act in a revolutionary manner as it will scare away the liberal bourgeoisie.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued that the democratic revolution must be led by the proletariat, which must forge a close alliance with the peasantry and isolate the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie was more opposed to the workers and peasants coming to power than to the Czarist regime. The proletariat must win over the majority of people to its side, by playing an active and leading role in the democratic struggle, against the oppression by feudal landlords and against national oppression under the Czarist regime. These principled revolutionary tactics were elaborated in Lenin’s famous book called Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (July 1905).
The period 1905 to 1907 was a revolutionary period in Russia. The economic crisis of 1900-03 had aggravated the hardship of the toiling masses. The war against Japan, which broke out in 1904, intensified the people’s hardship even further. More than 1,20,000 soldiers of the Czarist army, sons of peasants and workers, lost their lives or were wounded and captured by the enemy in the war against Japan. This added fuel to the discontent of the masses.
Masses of workers marched to the Winter Palace on 9th January, 1905, with a Petition addressed to Czar Nicholas II. Many of them carried Church banners and portraits of the Czar. The Czar ordered his troops to open fire on the unarmed workers’ procession. Over a thousand workers were killed and more than two thousand wounded on that day. The streets of St. Petersburg ran with workers’ blood. The massacre on that Bloody Sunday awakened the workers and peasants all over Czarist Russia. It sparked a revolutionary uprising all over the country. Workers’ political strikes were followed by mass protests by peasants. Soldiers of a naval battleship revolted against the Czarist regime and joined hands with the revolutionary workers.
Fearing the revolution, the bourgeoisie persuaded the Czar to grant various concessions, including the setting up of a Duma (parliament). Once the war against Japan was over and the Russian state had regained its strength, the Czar began to take revenge on the revolutionaries. Hundreds of fighters for workers’ and peasants’ rights were arrested, tortured and put to death, starting in 1908. Lenin had to leave the country and live abroad, hidden from the Russian government.
Analysing the reasons for the defeat of the revolution of 1905, the Bolsheviks identified the absence of a worker-peasant alliance as a major factor. Another major factor was that the working class, which was the principal and foremost force of the revolution, lacked unified leadership. With the vanguard party split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, the proletariat could not become the leader of the revolution. Among the external factors was the help received by the Czarist regime from the West-European imperialists in crushing the revolution. The foreign monopoly capitalists feared for their investments in Russia and for their huge profits. They also feared that a revolution in Russia could give rise to revolution in other countries.
The developments of 1905-08 showed that the Bolsheviks knew how to advance when the situation demanded it. They had learned to advance in the front ranks and to lead the whole people in attack. They also learnt how to retreat.
In the difficult conditions that prevailed during the period of reaction and repression, the Bolsheviks made use of the slightest legal opportunity to maintain their connections with the masses, including trade unions, sick benefit societies and the platform of the Duma (parliament). They learnt how to retreat in an orderly way when the situation took an unfavourable turn, without panic or commotion, so as to preserve their cadres, rally their forces, and prepare to resume the offensive against the enemy.
The Mensheviks spread panic when the tide turned against the revolution. They called for the liquidation of all illegal party organisations. Many who were known as Marxist intellectuals wanted to “improve” Marxism, by getting rid of some of its fundamental principles. This trend was aimed at spreading demoralisation within the ranks of the party. Some of the intellectuals who had deserted Marxism went so far as to advocate the founding of a new religion. To give a fitting retort to these renegades from Marxist theory, to tear the mask from their faces and thoroughly expose them, and thus safeguard the theoretical foundations of the Marxist party, became an urgent necessity. This necessity was addressed by Lenin’s book called Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, published in 1909.
By the end of the year 1911, the Bolsheviks could sense that another rise in the revolutionary tide was on the horizon. The protracted struggle led by Lenin to establish a united vanguard party had succeeded in winning over almost all revolutionary communists to the Bolshevik program and plan. However, the continuation of diehard opportunists like the Mensheviks within the party was preventing the creation of a party of a new type, free of opportunist elements and capable of leading the proletariat in a struggle for power.
The Sixth All-Russia Party Conference held in Prague in January, 1912, expelled the Mensheviks. This opened the path to build and strengthen the party of the new type, the Leninist type, based on democratic centralism, with steel like unity in its ranks.
Armed with a splendid mass workers’ paper called Pravda, the Bolshevik Party recruited and trained a new generation of revolutionary workers. By the year 1917, it had emerged as the most advanced and the most organized detachment of the working class, with steel like unity in its ranks, around the revolutionary Line of March.
The Bolshevik Party led the first successful socialist revolution in human history. It led the workers, peasants and soldiers of Russia to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie and establish a Soviet state in November 1917 (October in the Russian calendar).
On 7th November, 1917, the revolutionary workers, soldiers and sailors stormed the Winter Palace. They arrested the representatives of the Provisional Government. They occupied the Ministries, the State Bank as well as the railway stations, post and telegraph offices. Led by the Bolshevik Party, the working class captured political power in Russia.
On the following day, the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies approved an Appeal to Workers, Soldiers and Peasants, declaring that the Congress of Soviets has taken political power into its hands. The Congress adopted a Decree on Peace, bringing to an end Russia’s participation in the First World War. It adopted a Decree on Land, which deprived the landlords of hundreds of crores of acres of cultivable land and turned them over to peasant committees. It set up the first Soviet government headed by Comrade Lenin, who was elected as Chairman of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars. The Soviet government took steps to convert mines, steel plants, machine factories and banks, from being the private property of capitalists into social property of the people.
The October Revolution shook the world and threw the entire capitalist class into panic. It was the first time in history that the rule of an exploiting minority was not just replaced by the rule of another exploiting minority, as had happened in the case of bourgeois democratic revolutions in European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries. The rule of the bourgeoisie was replaced by the rule of the hitherto exploited majority, led by the proletariat. The means of production were converted from being the private property of capitalists and landlords into the social property of the entire people or the common property of collectives.
The October Revolution gave birth to a state whose function was to ensure that all forms of exploitation, and exploiting classes, are eliminated once and for all. The forward march of socialism in the Soviet Union, with workers and peasants enjoying steady increase in their standard of living, inspired the proletariat and oppressed peoples of all countries to take to the path of revolution and socialism.
Analysis of the Epoch
The Bolshevik Party carried out its work at a time when major abrupt changes had taken place on the world scale. Capitalism had developed into imperialism, a global system of exploitation and plunder by monopoly finance capital. The operation of the laws of capitalism was modified by the dominant role played by a few monopolies in the majority of commodity markets and financial markets on the world scale. The territory of all continents had been captured by one or other imperialist power, and now only a re-division among such powers was possible.
Lenin led the Bolsheviks in analysing the changes that had taken place, guided by the science of Marxism. He led a determined struggle against the anti-Marxist views of several so-called veteran Marxists of that time. Karl Kautsky, a leading member of the German Social-Democratic Party and considered an authoritative Marxist theoretician, claimed that the development of capitalist competition into monopoly points to the possibility of a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism and communism.
Lenin exposed the fallacy of Kautsky’s so-called theory. He defended the Marxist conclusion that the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat cannot be reconciled peacefully. It can be resolved only through a revolution that overthrows bourgeois rule by force and establishes proletarian rule. Imperialism creates the objective conditions for such a revolution to be carried out.
Lenin’s analysis of imperialism, guided by the science of Marxism, led to the further development of that science. It led to the definition of imperialism as the highest and final stage of capitalism, when all its contradictions come to a head. The law of uneven capitalist development results in repeated changes in the balance of power between rival imperialist states. It leads to armed inter-imperialist clashes for the re-division of the world. This makes the world front of imperialism vulnerable to revolution, and to a breach in this front becoming possible at the weakest link in the global imperialist chain.
Lenin and the Bolshevik Party identified one of the defining characteristics of this imperialist stage of capitalism to be the thoroughly reactionary nature of the bourgeoisie on the world scale. When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto, they had highlighted the progressive role played by the bourgeoisie in the early phase of development of capitalism, when it fought against feudal privileges and for civil liberties. In the imperialist stage of capitalism, the bourgeoisie unites with all kinds of backward forces to block the path to proletarian revolution. It strives for the restriction of political rights and civil liberties.
The Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks had opposite answers to the question: What kind of political system and state should replace the Czarist autocracy? The Mensheviks wanted a bourgeois democracy to be established, similar to the kind of systems existing in Britain, France other advanced capitalist countries. The Bolsheviks argued for the necessity to establish a new kind of power, a proletarian democracy which would exercise dictatorship over capitalist exploiters.
Response to Imperialist War
The analysis of imperialism as a stage of capitalism when the bourgeoisie is driven to wage wars for re-dividing the world was proved correct by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
The war placed the Bolshevik Party in a difficult position because of the betrayal of the international proletariat by the major working class parties of Europe. The Bolshevik Party waged an uncompromising struggle against this betrayal and in defence of the unity of the workers of all countries in their struggle against imperialism and the bourgeoisie.
Prior to the outbreak of the war, an Extraordinary International Socialist Congress was held at Basel on 24-25 November, 1912. The parties which participated in it included, apart from the Bolshevik Party, the Labour Party of Britain and the social-democratic parties of France and Germany. The Basel Congress published a Manifesto laying down the principles for the proletariat of all countries to oppose the inter-imperialist war that was under preparation.
The Basel Manifesto stated that it is the duty of the working classes and their parliamentary representatives in the countries involved to “exert every effort in order to prevent the outbreak of war”. It also stated that in case war should break out anyway, it is their duty to “utilize the economic and political crisis created by the war to arouse the people and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.”
When the war broke out in 1914, the leaders of the working class parties of Western Europe did not stick to the Basel Manifesto. They supported the war efforts of their respective imperialist governments. They called on the proletariat to support the bourgeoisie of its own nation in the name of “Defence of the Fatherland!”
British and French workers and peasants were mobilised to fight against their German class brothers. German workers were told by their party leaders that Russians are their enemies.
The Bolshevik Party waged a stern and uncompromising struggle against the betrayal of the Basel Manifesto by the leaders of the Second International. It exposed and condemned them as social-chauvinists, meaning socialist in words and supporters of national chauvinism and imperialist war in deeds. It defended and implemented the agreed upon decision to do everything possible to turn the imperialist war into a civil war to overthrow bourgeois rule.
The First World War brought immense suffering to the Russian workers, peasants and their sons in the Czarist army. Acute shortage of food and massive unemployment led to increased discontent among the people. The Bolshevik Party worked to channel this discontent against the Czarist regime, the bourgeoisie and the unjust war being waged for imperialist aims.
In February 1917, a revolutionary mass uprising overthrew the Czarist regime and established a Provisional Government. The Bolshevik Party analysed the developments and concluded that due to the inadequate preparation of the proletariat and its allies, the revolutionary uprising had placed political power in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The soviets were under the influence of leaders who asked them to place their faith in the democratic section of the bourgeoisie. For the aims of the revolution to be achieved, political power had to pass into the hands of the proletariat, allied with the peasants and all other oppressed strata. The Bolshevik Party worked patiently and persistently to convince the workers and peasants, organised in their soviets, about the necessity to take all power in their hands.
By transferring all power into the hands of the soviets, the October Revolution laid the foundation of an entirely new state, the Soviet state.
Application of Marxist theory of the State
The October Revolution was the first example of a social revolution that was guided by the Marxist theory of the state and revolution. It provided a practical demonstration and proof of the fundamental conclusion of Marxism, that the class struggle will inevitably lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat, whose function is to ensure that society is liberated from all forms of exploitation and class distinctions.
The first attempt of the class of proletarians to capture political power had taken place in 1871. Workers established a form of state power called the Paris Commune. Even though the workers of Paris could not hold on to power for long, the summing up of their experience led to the further development of revolutionary theory. Marx and Engels drew the important theoretical conclusion that the proletariat cannot lay hold of the readymade bourgeois state machine and use it for achieving its aims. The proletariat has to get rid of the bourgeois state and build a new state power, an instrument of rule by those who work. Lenin led the Bolshevik Party in defending and implementing this all important thesis of Marxism.
The Bolshevik Party nurtured and developed the institution which the revolutionary masses had given birth to in 1905, namely, the soviets of workers’ deputies. A Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was a form of popular political organisation of industrial workers. It was a council of tried and tested fighters of the working class, selected and elected by the workers themselves from among their peers. The idea of Soviets lived in the minds of the workers and was brought to play in February 1917, during the revolutionary uprising that overthrew the Czar.
Following the February uprising in 1917, the Bolsheviks plunged into the work of strengthening soviets of workers, peasants and soldiers in different parts of the country. They used the forum of the soviets to convince the masses of people that none of their burning problems will be solved by the provisional bourgeois government which had replaced the Czarist monarchy. To guarantee peace, land and bread, it is essential for the worker-peasant alliance to take political power in its hands. Through painstaking work carried out between February and October, the Bolshevik Party won support for the slogan: All Power to the Soviets!
Following the October Revolution, the soviets became organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They provided a mechanism for workers, peasants and soldiers to participate actively in setting the agenda for society. Soviet democracy emerged as a system far superior to bourgeois democracy, as measured by the degree of participation of citizens in public decisions. Socialism emerged as a superior system in which it is possible for those who work to enjoy the fruits of their labour, without any form of exploitation, oppression or discrimination. The new state and economic system attracted worldwide attention at a time when capitalism was caught in a deep depression.
The analysis of imperialism as the highest and last stage of capitalism, the eve of the proletarian revolution, the experience of applying Marxism to lead the proletarian class struggle in the conditions of imperialism, the experience of the October Revolution, of Soviet democracy and the construction of socialism in the first quarter of the 20th century, were all summed up by the Bolshevik Party after the demise of Lenin in 1924. This summing up by the Communist Party of Soviet Union, with Stalin at the head, led to the conclusion that the science of Marxism has developed further, to Leninism.
Leninism is defined as Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution. It is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution, in general, and the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in particular.
It is mandatory for anyone interested in opposing imperialism and working for the emancipation of the proletariat and oppressed peoples to be guided by Leninism. The path of the October Revolution, of the proletariat rallying peasants and other oppressed strata in a struggle to overthrow the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and build a socialist system under the dictatorship of the proletariat, remains the only true solution to the problems facing society, in India and on the world scale.