Lenin: Selected Writings on Revolution, Democracy and Socialism available in Hardcover
- Pub. Date:
- Pluto Press
This is an entirely new collection of Lenin's writing. For the first time it brings together crucial shorter works, to show that Lenin held a life-long commitment to freedom and democracy. Le Blanc has written a comprehensive introduction, which gives an accessible overview of Lenin's life and work, and explains his relevance to political thought today.
Lenin has been much maligned in the mainstream, accused of viewing 'man as modeling clay' and of 'social engineering of the most radical kind.' However, in contrast to today's world leaders, who happily turn to violence to achieve their objectives, Lenin believed it impossible to reach his goals 'by any other path than that of political democracy.'
This collection will be of immense value to students encountering Lenin for the first time, and those looking for a new interpretation of one of the 20th century's most inspiring figures.
About the Author
V.I. Lenin was a pivotal figure in twentieth century politics. He was a theoretician, revolutionary leader and activist. He wrote widely and Imperialism, his best known work, combines scholarship and biting political analysis.
Read an Excerpt
TEN REASONS FOR NOT READING LENIN
Paul Le Blanc
Lenin walks around the world,
This book draws together writings from someone generally acknowledged to have been one of the greatest revolutionary theorists and organisers in human history: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, whose intimates knew him affectionately as 'Ilyich', but whom the world knew by his underground pseudonym – Lenin. He was the leader of the Bolshevik wing of the Russian socialist movement, and this wing later became the Russian Communist Party after coming to power in 1917 through a violent revolution (though less violent than the French Revolution or the American Civil War).
For millions he was seen as a liberator. Appropriated after his death by bureaucrats and functionaries in order to legitimate their tyranny in countries labelled 'Communist', he was at the same time denounced for being a wicked and cruel fanatic by defenders of power and privilege in capitalist countries – and with Communism's collapse at the close of the Cold War it is their powerful voices that achieved global domination. This book challenges that.
Lenin lived and died long ago, so one could ask why we should bother reading him in our very different world. This is indeed a good question. Here are ten good reasons for not reading Lenin:
1. The world is as it should be and all is going well.
2. Freedom, creative opportunities, and community exist for all.
3. Each person has a decisive say in the decisions affecting his or her life.
4. Oppression and exploitation do not exist.
5. The unequal structure of wealth and power in our society and in our world has nothing to do with the problems of humanity.
6. It is easy to figure out how to make the world a better place.
7. The history of struggles by workers and oppressed people is a waste of time.
8. The popular revolution of 1917 in Russia was a meaningless diversion.
9. It's good just to rely on what others say about someone as complex as Lenin.
10. Realities of the present and possibilities for the future have nothing to do with what happened in the past.
You may find the present volume helpful, however, if you reject these ten propositions. To reject the propositions does not mean that Lenin is right about everything, of course – but it does suggest that his ideas may have relevance for those developing an understanding of our history and our time.
The interpretation of 'Leninism' repeated over and over and over by liberals and conservatives goes like this: Lenin was the architect of a 'party of a new type' – the revolutionary vanguard party, led by Marxist intellectuals who were determined to use the working masses as a battering ram to take political power to bring about a total transformation of humanity – with predictably inhuman results.
Indeed there are even Marxist-influenced democratic socialists who would argue that 'whoever wants to reach socialism by any other path than that of political democracy will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and political sense'. Are these the words of Keir Hardie or Rosa Luxemburg or Michael Harrington? No. Actually, these are the words of Lenin himself.
There are other collections of Lenin's writings, but this one is organised for the purpose of highlighting the commitment to freedom and democracy that runs through his political thought from beginning to end. It also stresses his coherent analytical, strategic, and tactical orientation that retains some relevance for our own age of 'globalisation'. It is hoped that this volume can help scholars and students comprehend more clearly the early strength and success of Lenin's Bolsheviks. Both the grandeur and the tragedy of the Russian Revolution and the early years of Communism can thereby be thrown into bold relief – in contrast to the murderous dictatorship that later crystallised under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. This book may also be of use to those with an activist bent, especially those among the oppressed and exploited majorities of the Earth, who hope to pick up the banner of struggle for genuine democracy, global justice, and a society of the free and the equal.
In addition to providing an extensive but readable sampling of Lenin's major ideas in his own words, this book contains a succinct biography that connects these ideas to the historical realities from which they emerged. More, it examines some of the important criticisms levelled at Lenin by a variety of scholars and political opponents, among others. It offers a substantial interpretative essay exploring additional links of texts to historical contexts. And there is a bibliographical essay for those who want to get a sense of what other books they might consult for more information.
Lenin: A Succinct Biography
The theory and practice of the vanguard party, of the one-party state, is not (repeat not) the central doctrine of Leninism. It is not the central doctrine, it is not even a special doctrine. It is not and it never was. ... Bolshevism, Leninism, did have central doctrines. One was theoretical, the inevitable collapse of capitalism into barbarism. Another was social, that on account of its place in society, its training and its numbers, only the working class could prevent the degradation and reconstruct society. Political action consisted in organizing a party to carry out these aims. These were the central principles of Bolshevism.
Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov was born on 22 April 1870 (10 April, according to the Old Style calendar then used in Russia) in Simbursk (later renamed Ulyanovsk), a provincial town on the Volga River. He was the third of six children in what was at first a relatively happy family. His father, Ilya Nikolaevich Ulyanov, was a respected director of public schools. His mother, Maria Alexandrovna Blank, was the daughter of a physician and taught her children a love of reading and music. His father died in 1886, and in 1887 his beloved older brother, Alexander, was arrested and hanged for involvement in an unsuccessful plot by revolutionary university students to assassinate Tsar Alexander III.
At the end of 1887, Lenin himself was briefly arrested for involvement in a peaceful demonstration against the oppressive tsarist regime and for membership in a radical political group. A brilliant student, he had just entered the University of Kazan, but his involvement in protest activities resulted in his immediate expulsion and banishment to a small village near Kazan, where he lived under police surveillance. In 1888 he was permitted to return to Kazan, but he was denied entry to any university and therefore embarked on his own rigorous course of study. In 1891 he passed law examinations at the University of St Petersburg. Lenin worked as a lawyer for only a few months before becoming a full-time revolutionary.
The Making of a Revolutionary
At the time when Lenin became a revolutionary, impoverished peasants made up about 90 per cent of Russia's population. An expanding class of wage-workers and their families, created through the country's substantial industrial growth in the late nineteenth century, made up another 7 per cent. There was also a small 'middle-class' layer of professionals and well-to-do businessmen (the bourgeoisie), and at the very top a powerful landed aristocracy capped by an absolute monarchy. The country was characterised by a complete absence of democracy, limits on freedom of expression, the persecution of all religious minorities outside the official Russian Orthodox Church, severe limitations on the rights of women, and oppression of more than 100 national minorities that inhabited the Russian Empire – a notorious 'prison-house of nations'. Such conditions generated many revolutionary currents.
Lenin was deeply influenced by earlier nineteenth-century Russian revolutionaries, especially the writer Nikolai G. Chernyshevsky, as well as by the underground revolutionary populist movement known as the People's Will (Narodnaya Volya). This current was made up of idealistic activists who specialised in clandestine methods and sought to organise a peasant-based revolution and to establish a socialist society that would be based largely on the traditional commune, sometimes known as 'the mir', that had existed in peasant villages throughout Russia. Lenin drew upon this tradition, especially in his underground organisational concepts, but he was most profoundly attracted to the Western European working-class orientation developed by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in such works as the Communist Manifesto, Capital, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, etc. This orientation had been most forcefully injected into the Russian revolutionary movement by Georgi Plekhanov. Lenin became an influential voice among Russian Marxists, through his study The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899) and many other works.
The Marxists argued that Russia was undergoing a capitalist transformation, that industrialisation was creating a factory based proletariat, and that this working class would become the most effective force in the struggle to overthrow tsarism. Instead of engaging in terrorist activities (assassinations, etc.) against the tsar and his officials, as the People's Will had done, the Marxists argued that the working class should build trade unions to fight for better working conditions and living standards, should organise mass demonstrations to pressure for broader democratic and social reforms, and should organise their own political party to lead the struggle for a democratic revolution. Such a revolution would clear the way for the economic and political development of Russia (presumably through a capitalist economy and democratic republic). Then, when the working class became the majority, the process would culminate in a second revolution with a socialist character. The workers would take control of the economy and run it for the benefit of all. The Marxists believed that workers in other countries should and would be moving in a similar direction.
The Rise of Bolshevism
In 1898, the Marxists organised the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) to advance their orientation. Later, in 1901–02, the Populists organised the competing Socialist-Revolutionary (SR) Party. Both parties joined the international federation known as the Socialist (or Second) International. Lenin aimed many polemics against the SRs, but soon he also developed serious disagreements with others in the RSDLP. In the pages of the newspaper Iskra ('The Spark'), Lenin, Plekhanov, Julius Martov, and others criticised the so-called Economists, who urged that workers should concentrate only on economic issues at the workplace and that leadership of the democratic struggle should be left in the hands of pro-capitalist liberals. Lenin and the other 'Iskra-ists' argued in favour of building a strong centralised party that would draw the various layers of the working class into a broad economic and political struggle to oppose all forms of oppression, overthrow tsarism, and advance the workers' interests.
Lenin popularised these ideas in What Is To Be Done?, published in 1902. The 'Iskra-ists' won the day at the second congress of the RSDLP, held in Brussels and London in 1903. But before the congress was over they themselves had split into two organised factions – the Bolsheviks (from the Russian bolshe, meaning 'more', since they had gained a plurality of votes) and the Mensheviks (from the Russian word menshe, meaning 'less'). This split was analysed in Lenin's One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (1904). The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, insisted on a more disciplined party than favoured by the Mensheviks, who became associated with Martov and Plekhanov. In addition, the Mensheviks favoured a coalition between workers and capitalists to overthrow tsarism, whereas Lenin (for example, in his 1905 polemic Two Tactics of the Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution) insisted that a worker–peasant alliance, and the subsequent creation of a 'democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry', would be necessary to achieve a genuinely democratic revolution in Russia.
In this period Lenin maintained a precarious existence in the revolutionary underground (where he married one of his closest comrades, Nadezhda Krupskaya, in 1898), in prison and Siberian exile, and in frugal circumstances as an exile outside Russia. He lived in Munich from 1900 to 1902, in London from 1902 to 1903, and in Geneva from 1903 to 1905. Lenin and Krupskaya played an essential role in co-ordinating the work of the underground Bolshevik organisation of the RSDLP, also facilitating the production and distribution of such revolutionary newspapers as Vperyod ('Forward') and Proletary ('The Proletarian').
From the 1905 Revolution to 1914
In 1905 a revolutionary upsurge sparked by a spontaneous uprising among the workers, after the tsar's troops fired on a peaceful demonstration in St Petersburg, and fuelled by hundreds of strikes and peasant insurgencies forced the tsarist regime to grant a number of important reforms, including greater political liberties and the creation of a weak parliamentary body called the Duma.
Although Lenin at first rejected participation in the Duma (he changed his position in 1906), he supported participation in the soviets (councils) of workers' deputies, spontaneously-formed democratic bodies arising in workplaces and workers' communities which had directed revolutionary activities. He also strongly favoured opening up the RSDLP, especially its Bolshevik wing, to a dramatic influx of radicalising workers. The political gap between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks narrowed, and the membership of the RSDLP soared. One left-wing Menshevik, Leon Trotsky, head of the St Petersburg soviet, even advanced (in articles written from 1904 through 1906) the idea of permanent revolution – that is, the concept that the democratic revolution would lead to workers taking political power with support from the peasants, initiating a transitional period to socialism, with the Russian revolution helping to generate workers' revolutions in more advanced industrial countries. While Lenin did not fully accept this notion at the time, it was later reflected in his perspectives for the 1917 revolution.
In late 1905 and throughout 1906, however, the forces of tsarist conservatism were able to stem the revolutionary tide and rescind many of the reforms granted earlier. Revolutionaries were once again forced underground or into exile, and many left-wing intellectuals became demoralised.
Differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks once again sharpened, yet Lenin also found himself in conflict with a group of Bolsheviks led by Alexander A. Bogdanov. These 'ultra-left' Bolsheviks denigrated trade union work and other reform activities (to which they counterposed 'armed struggle'), and also questioned the wisdom of the Bolsheviks running in elections and participating in the Duma. Lenin insisted that involvement in the Duma gave revolutionary socialists a powerful tool for legal agitation and education and that reform struggles enabled the working-class movement to grow in experience and political effectiveness. He wrote a philosophical work, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909), arguing against what he saw as serious philosophical revisions of Marxism being advanced by Bogdanov and others. At the same time, he was conducting a fierce struggle against the 'Liquidators', an influential current among the Mensheviks that wanted to replace all revolutionary underground organisational forms with strictly legal and reform-minded structures. Lenin was also sharply critical of 'conciliators', such as Trotsky and even some in the Bolsheviks' ranks, who attempted to maintain RSDLP unity. He had concluded that a cohesive and disciplined organisation, based on a revolutionary Marxist programme combining both legal and underground activity, could not be created by seeking compromises with socialists having a variety of orientations.
In 1912 Lenin and those who agreed with him definitively split with all other currents in the RSDLP and established their own distinct Bolshevik party. The new Bolshevik RSDLP published the newspaper Pravda ('Truth'). They had not only a coherent strategic orientation but, above all, a clear programme, highlighted by three demands: for an eight-hour work day, beneficial to the workers; for land reform, beneficial to the peasants; and for a democratic constituent assembly. These three demands were used to dramatise the need for a worker–peasant alliance in the democratic revolution. The Bolsheviks also had a serious and disciplined organisational structure that integrated legal reform efforts with revolutionary work. Between 1912 and 1914 Lenin's Bolsheviks outstripped all other currents in the Russian revolutionary movement, enjoying predominance among the organised workers.
Excerpted from "Revolution, Democracy, Socialism"
Copyright © 2008 Paul Le Blanc.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Table of Contents
TEN REASONS FOR NOT READING LENIN
by Paul Le Blanc
2. Lenin's Critics
3. His Time and Ours
4. Further Reading
LENIN'S SELECTED WRITINGS, 1895-1923
I. Marxist Program and Revolutionary Organization
1. 1895-6: Draft and Explanation of a Program of the Social Democratic Party
2. 1897-9: The Development of Capitalism in Russia
3. 1899: Our Program
4. 1899: Our Immediate Task
5. 1899: Fuse Socialism with the Workers' Movement
II. Birth of Bolshevism
6. 1900: The Urgent Tasks of Our Movement
7. 1902: What Is To Be Done?
8. 1903: To the Rural Poor
9. 1904: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Reply to Rosa Luxemburg
10. 1904: Against Subordination to Liberals
III. 1905: Challenges of the Revolutionary Upsurge
11. 1905: The Beginning of the Revolution in Russia
12. 1905: A Militant Agreement for the Uprising
13. 1905: Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution
14. 1905: Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers Deputies
15. 1905: Socialism and Religion
IV. Creation of the Bolshevik Party
16. 1906: Freedom to Criticize and Unity of Action
17. 1909: Break with Ultra-Left Bolsheviks
18. 1912: Final Break with the Mensheviks
19. 1914: Report to Brussels
V. Imperialist War, National Liberation, Revolutionary Democracy
20. 1913: The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx
21. 1915: Socialism and War
22. 1915: The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination
23. 1916: Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism
24. 1917: Statistics and Sociology
VI. 1917 Revolution
25. 1917: Letters on Tactics
26. 1917: The State and Revolution
27. 1917: To the Population: Take Power in Your Own Hands
28. 1918: Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly
VII. World Revolution
29. 1918: Letter to American Workers
30. 1919: The Third International and Its Place in History
31. 1920: Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder
32. 1921: Speech on Tactics of the Communist International
VIII. Reaching for Socialism, Resisting Bureaucracy
33. 1919: Tasks of the Working Women's Movement
34. 1919: Comments to Congress on Adult Education
35. 1920: On the Trade Unions
36. 1921: The Party Crisis
37. 1923: Better Fewer, But Better