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Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) Socialist Education Series - Leninism: An Autopsy of a Failed Politics.

Lenin and Democracy.

Although Lenin and Leninism are now utterly discredited there are still those who cling to the absurd political belief of a professional elite leading the working class to Socialism.

To understand the failure of Lenin and Leninism we first need to consider the claims of Lenin about democracy.

His claim centres on Louis Blanqui. Blanqui was born in Puget-Theneirs. A member of the Carbonari society since 1824 he took an active part in most republican conspiracies during this period taking part in the July Revolution of 1830. In 1839, a Blanquist inspired uprising took place in Paris, in which the League of the Just, forerunners of the Communist League participated. Implicated in the armed outbreak of the Societe des Saisons of which he was a leading member, Blanqui was condemned to death in 1840 a sentence later commuted to life imprisonment.

It was Blanqui who popularised the idea of conspiratorial armed revolt by a small minority and the creation of a dictatorship to overthrow capitalism.

In their young days Marx and Engels had favoured the idea of armed revolt and gave as an example the revolutions of 1848.

And in 1857 Engels and Marx were full of hope that the developing economic crisis would be the signal for a working class uprising. As it happens the crisis passed off with hardly any political response from the working class. But Engels tells Marx that this was to be the great clash between Capital and Labour and he tells Marx that he was busy studying military tactics in order to be ready for it (LETTERS, 15.11.1857, Moscow page 86).

But later in life with greater experience both Marx and Engels changed their minds about armed revolt.

In 1895, in his Introduction to Marx’s “CLASS STRUGGLE IN FRANCE”, Engels wrote:

The rebellion of the old style, the street fight behind barricades, which in 1848 gave the final answer has become antiquated”.

Engels gave two reasons for his change of mind. The first was the technical development of the armed forces in the hands of the State authorities.

The second reason was that the seizure of political power by a minority would not achieve Socialism because the establishment of Socialism requires the understanding and support of the great mass of workers.

Engels wrote that whilst it is a question of “the complete emancipation of society” the working class themselves “must participate and understand what is at stake and why they must act”. In short, a majority of workers must attain class consciousness and take political action as Socialists for Socialism to be possible.

And Engels drew the logical conclusion that to win over the working class to the case for Socialism requires “long and persistent work”.

So much for the views of Marx and Engels.

Now, where did Lenin stand in this? What was his position on the necessity for the great mass of workers to understand about Socialism?

Lenin totally rejected this core Marxian principle.


In his book “WHAT IS TO BE DONE”, published in 1902, Lenin discussed the idea that the workers would understand Socialism. He said that there was a distinction between Social Democratic consciousness and trade union consciousness. He said that Socialist ideas could not come from the working class. Socialist ideas could, he believed, only derive from the educated representatives of the propertied class; the “intelligentsia”. The working class could only gain trade union consciousness and that was as far as they could go (see Panthar ed. p. 80).

And it was Lenin who said:

If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not get Socialism for about 500 years”. (Quoted in TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD, J. Reed p. 263).

Blanqui and Lenin

Now what about Blanqui and Lenin? Lenin was accused by Bernstein of being a Blanquist and vigorously repudiated the charge. You can read this in “ON THE EVE OF OCTOBER” written by Lenin in October 1917 (See COLLECTED WORKS page 799-800).

Lenin’s answer to Bernstein was that the coming Communist seizure of power was not based on a “conspiracy” and not based on a Party of Intellectuals (the membership of the Bolshevik Party was quite small). But it was based “on the advanced class” and evidence of this he said was because they had got the support of “a majority of the workers and soldiers of the capitals” (that is, Petrograd and Moscow).

So the Bolsheviks did succeed in seizing power, due as Trotsky admitted, to the fact that they were faced by a government army that was disintegrating and did not want to fight.

But Lenin’s argument is a species one. Getting political power in exceptional circumstances is one thing but to be able to use that power to establish Socialism is quite a different matter.

Blanqui’s argument had been that the armed minority seizes power and then, as Engels said in the Introduction to THE CIVIL WAR IN FRANCE:

“ …to maintain power until they succeeded in sweeping the mass of the people into the revolution and ranging them round the small band of leaders. This involved, above all, the strictest, dictatorial centralization of all power in the hand of the revolutionary government” (p. 15 Moscow 1971).

And remember, that for the reasons already quoted, Engels later repudiated this political doctrine as “antiquated”.

But it was precisely this Blanquist tactic that Lenin was following.

The great mass of the Russian population were peasants and were not the slightest bit interested in the establishment of Socialism

The slogan of the Russian Communist Party was not Socialism but “Peace, Bread and Land”. The implications were that if they supported the Bolsheviks the Peasants would be fed and get land from which to farm.

When it met on 18 July 1918, out of 707 elected deputies the Communist Party had only 175 deputies. A clear minority. So it was immediately dissolved by Lenin and the Bolsheviks by armed force.

The argument put up by the Bolsheviks to defend their coup d’etat was that between the election and the meeting of the assembly the Communists believed that the electors had changed their minds. The Bolsheviks let it be believed that fresh elections would be held in the future but they never were.

So Lenin was in practice a Blanquist not a Marxist despite what he said.

The constituent assembly based on democratic elections was replaced by Soviets with the voting rigged to give the Communist Party the majority.

And from1917 (up until 1991when the Communist Party lost power) there had been only one legal political party in Russia. Everyone had a vote but the only candidate was drawn from a list of Communist Party members or was approved by the Party and was allowed to stand. Lenin and Leninism proved a theoretical and practical failure. The dictatorship of the Communist Party and its monopoly on whom and who could not be elected bought Socialism no nearer. It was the action of men like Lenin who acted as an anchor break on the development of Socialism not the working class.

In fact, it was members of the working class, who, two years later, in 1904 after the publication of WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, went on to establish the Socialist Party of Great Britain with a Socialist programme. The SPGB rejected the need for leaders and accepted Marx’s principle that the establishment of Socialism had to be the work of the working class alone. And the Party argued that workers could be persuaded to accept the Socialist case.

The SPGB also rejected, on Marxian grounds, that Socialism had been established in Russia in 1918.

Lenin and Marx

Lenin totally rejected a basic principle stated by Marx in the Preface (1867) to the first edition of CAPITAL VOLUME I.

Marx had laid down the principle that one nation can and should learn from others. Specifically that the continental nations should learn from the development of the ruling class in England.

Even when a society has begun to track down the natural laws of its movement – …it can neither leap over the natural phases of its development nor remove them by decree. But it can shorten and less the birth-pangs…” (page 92 Pelican ed).

Lenin especially repudiated the whole of this sound analysis.

Instead of Russia learning from England, Lenin claimed to be showing how industrially backward Russia could teach all the industrially advanced nations.

And he and the Bolsheviks tried to evade the “successive phases of its natural development” by means of bold leaps and legal enactments.

A crude, reactionary and “antiquated” politics was exported by the Bolshevik dictatorship from Russia into the advanced capitalist countries to be enthusiastically embraced intellectuals all falling over themselves to lead the working class to an similar form of capitalism.

Lenin was not a student of Marx but an awful warning of what happens when a bogus Marxist thinks he can ignore the scientific principles of Marx, ignore history, ignore the consequences of having to formulate policy in an industrially backward country and impose industrial development by dictatorship, the secret police, political prisons and repression.

Socialism and the working class are still bearing the brunt of this failure today.

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