From The Militant, Vol. III No.4, 25 January 1930, pp. 1 & 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Every class society not only produced the movement working for its destruction, but the directing genius with whose name the movement is associated. Luther, Napoleon, Cromwell, Lincoln, Bismarck, Robespierre – each of them marks a turning point in society. They are men who were at once the made and the makers of history. But these men, their contemporaries and predecessors, were limited by the very nature of the milieu. While their names are associated with the progress of society in one way or another, they were all the banner-bearers of classes which, in liberating themselves from the fetters of a ruling class, enslaved others in turn. The Great Men of the Proletariat The fundamental difference between the great men of bourgeois history and all preceding societies, and the great men of the proletarian revolution is that the latter, in the movement for working class freedom from capitalist class rule, finally liberate all of humanity from class society and open up an entirely new historical era. For this profound social reason, the leaders of the proletarian revolution already tower above all the doers of the past, and the niche they occupy in history still to be written will make them even more prominent. And of these leaders, one of the greatest – if not the outstanding man among them all – is Lenin.
Without capitalism and without the revolutionary proletariat, there could be no Lenin. He was the child of their present and the father of the future. The symbol of the final struggle, he presided over the dying writhings of the one and the painful birth of the other. The struggle between the new and the old therefore stamped his whole life and work.
No article can pretend to give even the briefest resume of his life. It can only mention its most prominent and characteristic features, those that raised Lenin far above the shoulders even of his fellow-fighters and made his name the shibboleth of a world movement.
Foremost in Lenin was his unswerving confidence in the victory of the proletariat, organized and led by its most conscious and determined section, the revolutionary party. For more than twenty years he devoted himself to the formation, clarification and strengthening of the principal arm of the Russian working class, the Bolshevik Party. He persistently pointed out that the working class as grouped together by capitalist production, without organization, or even with the elementary organization of trade unions, cooperative groups, etc. could carry on a defensive struggle against the daily encroachments of the capitalist class, but never the successful struggle for power. It was a cardinal point in his work, tested and proved in life in 1917, that only by possessing an organized political vanguard, a party embracing the most active, devoted and clearest elements of the class, embodying and crystallising all the experiences of the struggle, serving as a guide and leader, could the working class rise to the position of the ruling class and free itself from exploitation. With Lenin, the revolutionary proletarian party was the only door through which the working class might enter the realm of power and maintain itself there.
The 1917 revolution in Russia – the greatest experience of the international working class – demonstrated the validity of Lenin’s life work. The Bolshevik party was the instrument that brought order out of capitalist chaos and installed the working class as master of one-sixth of the earth. The Bolshevik party successfully repulsed not only the attacks of the enemy in the country but also the armed intervention of the imperialist world from without. The Bolshevik party successfully organized production and set into motion the wheels of industry that had been jammed by the imperialist and civil wars. The Bolshevik party initiated the formation of the Communist International, the mightiest weapon with which the international working class could be equipped to fulfill its mission in the period of preparing the world revolution.
It is necessary to emphasize, particularly in the present day, that Lenin’s conception of the revolutionary party was not that of a sect separated from the working class as a whole, living a life of its own outside the domain of the living struggle, pursuing special interests of its own. A mass movement for the sake of numbers was no fetish with him, for he was pre-eminently a fighter who could swim against the current of prevailing opinion. What was essential for him was a party basing itself on the interests of the whole working class so that the strength necessary for victory could be mobilized. He always proceeded from the standpoint of the requirements of the main task: the dictatorship of the proletariat, to which all others must contribute.
Just as the proletarian party was considered by Lenin to be the principal arm of the working class, so the theories of Marxism were considered the granite formation and strength of the party. Revolutionary theory was his most powerful weapon, and in the struggle against those who endeavored to revise Marxism Lenin produced many of the fundamental works of the movement today. He contributed more than any other man to the fact that
“Russia attained Marxism, the only revolutionary theory, by dint of fifty years’ travail and sacrifice, through the greatest revolutionary heroism, the most incredible energy and devotion, in seeking, educating practical experience, disappointment, checking and comparison with European experience.”
His regard for theory and unshakable belief that it is only by proceeding from it that the practices of the movement could be correct deserve special emphasis in the struggle today, when an entirely different spirit prevails in the official Communist parties. It is a characteristic of the departure from the teachings of Lenin that has taken place in the movement since his death, that the “leader” of the Communist International and the Russian Party today is one whose ignorance of Marxist-Leninist theory yields only to his contempt for it. It is characteristic of the alienation of the official movement from Leninism that it has allowed to prevail such anti-revolutionary “theories” as socialism in one country, joint workers’ and peasants’ parties, the subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie in the colonial revolution and the “socialist development” of the rich peasantry to mention only a few of the “contributions” made to Marxist thought by Stalin, since Lenin died.
Just as pernicious as ignorance, from. Lenin’s point of view, is the contemptuous light-mindedness with which new-fangled “theories” are formulated one day only to be substituted by equally “novel” conceptions the next day, a system that has degraded all the theoretical thought in the movement today and transformed it into a sleight-of-hand game for jugglers and scamps. For the neo-Leninists of Stalin’s school, theory is no longer an instrument, a guide to action, a subject for considered reflection, a weapon against the enemies of the proletariat inside and outside the movement. It has been converted into convenient and constantly changed formulae, recast and readapted to “justify” each new blunder and crime of the leadership.
The essence of Leninism is the application of the teachings of Marx and Engels to the period of imperialism and proletarian revolutions. The theories of Lenin are just as little “Russian” as those of Marx were “German”. The favorite argument of the social reformists and revisionists in past decades – and even now – has been that while Marxism might be applicable to Europe, or to Europe of the last century, it did not apply to the United States, for example, or to Europe today. The argument of all national and social reformists today, of those to whom the name of socialist or revolutionary still applies only because of past associations, is that Leninism might be suitable for “backward Russia” but that it does not apply to highly developed industrial countries. The arch-type of this school is the Austrian social democracy. The new and shame-faced converts to this idea are the Right wing groups in the Communist movement. For them, Lenin’s essence lies not so much in his internationalism as it does in his “exceptionalism”. A recent article by one of the Right wing spokesmen even speaks of “Lenin the Exceptionalist”!
It is of course unnecessary to share the conception of the present Communist party leadership, according to which the stage and rate of development of the situation in every country is unchanged and unchangeable – an enormous idiocy which only strengthens the hand of the Right wing – in order to reject out of hand the vulgar national “Communism” of the latter. What essentially characterized Lenin was not his emphasis upon the national peculiarities of the struggle in each country, but the fundamentally international features of the Communist party. On more than a hundred occasions, Lenin underlined the fact that while there were differences in the stage of development of the various countries, the basic tenets of Bolshevism were universally applicable despite these differences.
“We have now considerable experience, of an international scope, which pretty definitely establishes the fact that some fundamental features of our revolution are not local, not peculiarly national, not Russian only, but that they are of international significance. And I say ‘international significance’ not in the broad sense of the word; not some features, but all fundamental and secondary features are in the sense of their influence upon other countries, of international significance.” (– Lenin, our emphasis [no emphasis visible in original printed text – MIA])
The spokesmen for the opposing viewpoint used to be Hillquit, Longuet, Wallhead, Crispien and Bauer. Later on, they were Lazzari, Frossard, Phillips Price and Levi. Today they are Thalheimer, Sellier, Huber and Lovestone. And while these names are mentioned, let it be added that Lovestone is one hundred percent correct when he writes in a recent number of his paper that while he and his co-thinkers are condemned for “exceptionalism” in every part of the world, it is not only practised but is the official theory of Stalin in the Soviet Union in the form of “socialism in one country.”
In spite of either Stalin or Thalheimer, Leninism and internationalism are as inseparable as Leninism and “national communism” are incompatible. The man who stands out in his work is not so much Lenin the Russian Bolshevik, but Lenin the international revolutionist who led the Left wing in the Second International, who laid the foundation stone for the Third, who poured out his vitriolic denunciation upon the heads of traitors who gave lip-service to “internationalism” and sent their followers into the trenches in order to defend their “national interests”; Lenin the internationalist, who considered the Russian revolution as a temporary outpost of the world’s working class, a fortress to be defended at all costs until the workers of other countries could save it for socialism by overthrowing their own bourgeoisie.
That it is necessary to emphasize and argue these features in Lenin’s theoretical in that fact. Stalinism can exist only at the expense of Leninism. It can live only by concealing or lying about Lenin’s views.
Nowhere in history can a parallel be found to the six years of misrepresentation to which the official apparatus has subjected Lenin. Not even the falsification of Marx by the reformists before the war can equal – for cynical distortion, for disloyalty, for deliberate organized and outrageous lying – the campaign by Stalin-Bucharin-Zinoviev to devitalize Lenin. The most incredible enormities have been committed in an attempt to cover up the sins of Centrism and the Right wing in the Communist movement with the name of Lenin. So deeply ingrained in this horrible desecration have the Stalinist functionaries become that they can calmly reprint an article from [the of]ficial and solemnly accepted version of Lenin, his work and his views.
It is in this abominable falsification of Lenin, that the greatest danger lies to the revolutionary movement. The big problem now is to unearth Lenin’s truth from beneath the garbage of falsehood and revision and to re-establish it as the guide of the movement, just as Lenin re-established the principles of Marxism in spite of their emasculation by the Kautskys of the world. That task has ben assumed by the International Leninist Opposition. It is being carried out under the leadership of the greatest living revolutionist, L.D. Trotsky, the closest comrade of Lenin, the exiled warrior who provokes venomous fear of those who floated to the top in the swamp of centrism and inspires a deep regard and devotion to Bolshevism in every proletarian fighter. Not only on the anniversaries of Lenin, but every day in the year, the militants in our ranks will reconsecrate themselves to this task, for without being equipped with the teachings of Lenin the proletariat is unarmed and helpless, and cannot accomplish its destiny. In the struggle for Bolshevism carried on by the International Opposition, Lenin and Leninism live.
By the stability of the Central Committee, of which I spoke before, I mean measures to prevent a split, so far as such measures can be taken. For, of course, the White Guard in Russkye Mysl (I think it was S.E. Oldenburg) was right when, in the first place, in his play against Soviet Russia he banked on the hope of a split in our party, and when, in the second place, he banked for that split on serious disagreements in our party.
Our party rests upon two classes, and for that reason its instability is possible, and if there cannot exist ,an agreement between these classes its fall is inevitable. In such an event it would be useless to take any measures or in general to discuss the stability of our Central Committee. In such an event no measures would prove capable of preventing a split. But I trust that is too remote future, and too, improbable an event, to talk about.
I have in mind stability as a guarantee against a split in the near future, and I intend to examine here a series of considerations of a purely personal character.
I think that the fundamental factor in the matter of stability – from this point of view – is such members of the Central Committee as Stalin and Trotsky. The relation between them constitutes, in my opinion, a big half of the danger of that split, which might be avoided, and the avoidance of which might be promoted in my opinion, by raising the number of members of the Central Committee to fifty or one hundred.
Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated an enormous power in his hands; and I am not sure that he always knows how to use that power with sufficient caution. On the other hand comrade Trotsky, as was proved by his struggle against the Central Committee in connection with the question of the People’s Commissariat of Ways and Communication, is distinguished not only by his exceptional ability – personally he is to be sure, the most able man in the present Central Committee, but also by his too far-reaching self-confidence and a disposition to be far too much attracted by the purely administrative side of affairs.
These two qualities of the two most able leaders of the present Central Committee might, quite innocently, lead to a split, if our party does not take measures to prevent it, a split might arise unexpectedly.
I will not further characterize the other members of the Central Committee as to their personal qualities. I will only remind you that the October episode of Zinoviev and Kameneff were not, of course, accidental, but that it ought as little to be used against them as the non-Bolshevism of Trotsky.
Of the younger members of the Central Committee, I want to. say a few words about Piatakov and Bucharin. They are, in my opinion, the most able forces (among the youngest), and in regard to them it is necessary to bear in mind the following: Bucharin is not only the most valuable and biggest theoretician of the Party, but also may legitimately be considered the favorite of the whole party; but his theoretical views can only with the very greatest doubt be regarded as fully Marxist, for there is something scholastic in him (he never has learned, and I think never fully understood the dialectic.)
And then Piatakov – a man undoubtedly distinguished in will and ability, but too much given over to the administrative side of things to be relied on in a serious political question.
Of course, both these remarks are made by me merely with a view of the present time, or supposing that these two able and loyal workers may not find an occasion to supplement their knowledge and correct their one-sidedness.
December 25, 1922
Postcript: Stalin is too rude, and this fault, entirely supportable in relations among us Communists, becomes unsupportable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another man who in all respects differs from Stalin only in superiority – namely, more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc. This circumstance may seem an insignificant trifle, but I think that from the point of view of preventing a split and from the point of view of the relation between Stalin and Trotsky which I discussed above, it is not a trifle, or it is such a trifle as may acquire a decisive significance.
LENIN January 4, 1923
Last updated on 20.8.2012