Sunday, February 05, 2017

What kind of revolution: Marx or Lenin? (2)

 Lenin's views on revolution were fundamentally different from Marx's and when Leninist revolutionary theory is put into practice the result has been not socialism but state capitalism as happened in Russia, China, Cuba, etc. An examination of Lenin's theory of revolution will prove our point.

The revolutionary elite

 Very early in his political activity Lenin formulated two theories that were always to remain central to his views. Firstly, he argued that the working class by its own efforts was incapable of wanting and understanding socialism. Secondly, following on from this, Lenin held that socialist consciousness would have to be brought to the working class from outside, from a tightly organised revolutionary organisation under a strong centralised leadership. This party was to be composed of full-tine professional revolutionaries, drawn mainly from the bourgeois intelligentsia.

 Lenin's view that workers by their own effort could only reach a “trade union consciousness”, and that socialist consciousness could only cone from outside the capitalist-worker class struggle, is in complete contradiction to Marxism. Marx, as we've seen, always stressed that the working class had to free itself, and that socialist understanding developed in the working class as a result of workers' experiences and struggles in capitalism . Similarly, Lenin's idea of an exclusive,hierarchically organised revolutionary party, in which the leadership would, have great power, goes completely against Marx's advocacy of open democratic organisation.

 We hold that the means used and the end aimed at are inextricably linked. If elitist authoritarian means are used, then an elitist authoritarian society will be the result. If an egalitarian democratic society is aimed at, it can only be achieved by a self-conscious majority, democratically organised without any leadership which could become a future ruling class.

Bourgeois revolution for Russia

 It is not too well known that in all his revolutionary activity up to April 1917 Lenin was advocating, not a socialist revolution for Russia, but a bourgeois revolution which would establish a capitalist republic. Correctly applying Marx's materialist conception of history to the Russian situation, Lenin rejected the possibility of an immediate transition to socialism, because of the lack of economic development and the insufficient degree of socialist consciousness among the workers. Since he considered that the Russian capitalists were too weak to smash Tsarism and its fetters on capitalist development themselves, Lenin advocated that the Bolsheviks should take power, establish a bourgeois republic with political democracy, and then become a revolutionary opposition within that republic, building up support for socialism.

Distortions of Marxism

 However in April 1917 Lenin declared himself to be in favour of the viewpoint which he had previously scornfully rejected – adopting Trotsky's “permanent revolution” theory, he urged that the Bolsheviks prepare to seize power with the aim of immediately taking socialist measures. Again, Lenin was rejecting the Marxist position. As he had himself argued earlier, the degree of economic development and socialist consciousness needed for socialist revolution did not exist. In advocating socialist revolution for backward Russia Lenin was adopting the policy of the 19th century insurrectionists whom Marx and Engels had strongly criticised.

 At the same tine as he took up the permanent revolution theory Lenin introduced a distinction between Socialism and Communism. He stated that the coming revolution would establish not communism, but socialist society, a system which would persist into the foreseeable future, and in which there would still be the state, the wages system, and production for sale. This was of course a further distortion of Marx who had used the terms socialism. and communism interchangeably. It does, though, perhaps show that Lenin really still recognised the validity of the Marxist argument that backward countries could not be the starting point for socialist revolution. For,while he advocated the immediate establishment of socialism, Lenin had now redefined socialism so as to make it mean in effect a form of state capitalism – which was all that could be established in Russia at that time. It was obvious that the Bolsheviks could only seize power by an armed insurrection and Lenin attempted to give this policy Marxist theoretical justification by claiming that Marx considered it impossible for the proletariat to come to power without smashing the state machine. In fact, as we've seen, Marx recognised that in some circumstances the proletariat would be able to peacefully capture the state machine and then smash/dismantle its oppressive and undemocratic features.

The dictatorship of the proletariat = the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks

 Marx sometimes referred to the political transition period between capitalism and communism, in which the democratically organised working class used political power to dispossess the capitalists, as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin, in addition to differing from Marx on the length of time that he envisaged the state existing after the revolution, developed a completely different concept of the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Instead of the extremely democratic set-up Marx advocated, he re-defined the dictatorship of the proletariat as the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party, which actually meant the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party leadership. Not long after their seizure of power the Bolsheviks started to suppress all opposition, left-wing as well as right-wing, and verbal and written oppositions as well as anti-Bolshevik actions.

 We, in contrast, while recognising that violence would have to be used against a minority who first used violence against the socialist majority, are in favour of the freest and fullest possible expression of ideas both before and after socialist revolution. We totally oppose all censorship. Thus, Lenin's views on the revolution are basically contradictory to Marx's theory of revolution in many respects - even though Lenin claimed to be a Marxist. How is this to be explained ?

The historical role of Leninism

 Lenin's theory of revolution was developed in an industrially backward, basically feudal society, that was ripe not for a socialist, but for a bourgeois revolution. Lenin up to 1917 had advocated that the Bolshevik Party should take power to carry through this capitalist revolution.

 In 1917 the Bolsheviks did take power, and though they did so proclaiming that they were establishing socialism, they were prisoners of Russia's backwardness and could do no more than develop capitalism, as Lenin had earlier advocated. However, the Bolsheviks did not relinquish power to a traditional capitalist government. Justifying their rule on the grounds that it was the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Bolsheviks have retained power, and over the years their leaders became a new ruling class, collectively controlling and thus in effect owning the means of production, and performing the same role as the private capitalists in the West. Thus, historically Leninism has been an ideology used in the building up of state capitalism in backward areas of the world. Its insistence on the need for hierarchical organisation and a revolutionary elite, and its denial of the possibility of the working class itself developing mass revolutionary consciousness, stamp it as belonging to the era of bourgeois revolutions.

 Lenin's concept of revolution has no relevance for socialist revolution in modern industrially advanced capitalism – and if a Leninist party seized power the only result could be the establishment of some type of state capitalism.

Revolutionary change today

 It is vital that when abolishing present-day exploitation we do not substitute a new form of exploitation. The only sure guarantee against this is a revolution made and controlled by the self conscious majority of the working class.

As Marx put it "The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves."

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