Jack Fitzgerald

The Passing of Lenin

Source: Socialist Standard, April 1924.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain
HTML Markup: Michael Schauerte
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

One of the significant facts brought into prominence by the great war was the intellectual bankruptcy of the ruling class of the Western World. A gigantic field of operations and colossal wealth at their disposal, failed to bring out a single personality above the mediocre, from England and Germany down the list to America and Roumania. The only character that stood, and stands, above the Capitalist mediocrities, was the man lately buried in Moscow—Nikolai Lenin.

The senseless shrieks of the Capitalist henchman against Lenin was itself evidence of their recognition of their own inferiority. All the wild and confused tales that were told by the agents of the master class (from Winston Churchill to Mrs. Snowden) to suggest that Lenin was “the greatest monster of iniquity the world has ever seen,” largely defeated their object, to every person capable of thinking clearly, by their sheer stupidity and extravagance.

One result of this tornado of lies was to cause a corresponding reaction on the other side. The various groups of woolly headed Communists, inside and outside of Russia, began to hail Lenin a new “Messiah” who was going to show the working class a new quick road to salvation. Thus does senseless abuse beget equally senseless hero-worship.

From sheer exhaustion the two-fold campaign has died down in the last year or two, even the “stunt” press only giving small space to Lenin and Russia.

Lenin’s sudden death, despite his long illness, has brought forward a flood of articles and reviews entirely different in tone from those that greeted his rise to power.

The shining light of modern Conservatism—Mr. J. L. Garvin—does not know whether Lenin was famous or infamous, whether he was a great man or a great scoundrel, so, wisely, leaves the verdict to posterity to settle.

A Fabian pet, Mr. G. D. H. Cole, in the New Statesman, for the 2nd February, makes the claim that Lenin’s great work was the “invention of the Soviet”! It is difficult to understand how the editor of a journal, supposed to be written for “educated” people, should have allowed such a piece of stupid ignorance to have passed his scrutiny. The word “Soviet” —that seems to have mesmerised some people—simply means “Council.” Every student of Russia knows that the “Council” has been an organic part of the Russian Constitution since the middle of the 16th century. But there may be another explanation of Mr. Cole’s attitude. As one of the leaders of that hopeless crusade to turn back the hands of the clock (known as “The Guild System”) he sees around him the ruins and the rubbish of the various experiments in this system and maybe he hopes by claiming Russia as an example of “Guildism” to arouse some new enthusiasm for further useless experiments. His hopes are built on shifting sands.

Michael Farbman, in the Observer, Jan. 27th, 1924, takes a more daring and dangerous line. He claims to understand Marx and Marxism, and yet makes such statements as:

When Lenin inaugurated the Dictatorship of the Proletariat he obviously was unhampered by the slightest hesitation or doubt as to the efficacy of Marxian principles. But the longer he tested them as a practical revolutionist and statesman the more he became aware of the impossibility of building up a society on an automatic and exclusively economic basis. When he had to adopt an agrarian policy totally at variance with his Marxian opinions, and when later he was compelled to make an appeal to the peasants’ acquisitive instincts and go back to what he styled “State Capitalism,” he was not only conscious that something was wrong with his Marxian gospel, but frankly admitted that Marx had not foreseen all the realities of a complex situation. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the greatest value of the Russian Revolution to the world Labour movement lies in the fact that it has replaced Marxism by Leninism.

The above quotation has been given at length because it not only epitomises Mr. Farbman’s attitude but also that of many so-called “Socialists.”

It will, therefore, be a matter of astonishment to the reader unacquainted with Marx’s writings and theories to learn that almost every sentence in that paragraph either begs the question or is directly false.

In the first sentence we have two assertions, One that Lenin established the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” the other that this is a “Marxian principle.” Both statements are deliberately false.

Lenin never established any “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”whatever that may mean—but only the Dictatorship of the Communist Party which exists today. In the whole of Marx’s writing that he himself saw through the press the phrase Dictatorship of the Proletariat does not occur once! This, of course, Mr. Farbman knows well.

The next sentence contains a phrase that Mr. Farbman may know the meaning of, but which is idiotic nonsense from a Marxian standpoint. To talk of a Society “on an automatic and exclusively economic basis” is utterly in opposition to all Marxian teachings.

If Lenin ever made the statement attributed to him in the sentence that follows— “that Marx had not foreseen all the realities of a complex situation” —which is at least doubtful as no reference is given, that would only show Lenin’s misreading of Marx.

But the last sentence is a gem. Not only has the Russian revolution not displaced Marxism by Leninism (for as showed above Marxism never existed there) —it has displaced Leninism by Capitalism.

To understand Lenin’s position, both actually and historically, it is necessary to examine the conditions under which he came to the front. Early in 1917 it was clear to all observers that the corruption, treachery and double-dealing of the Czar and his nobles had brought about the collapse of the Army. (See M, Phillips Price The Soviet, the Terror and Intervention, p. 15; John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, etc,).

This was the most important factor in the whole Russian upheaval, and is the pivot upon which all the rest turns.

The Romanoffs and their crew had fallen from power when an efficient armed force was no longer at their disposal. Kerensky, who replaced them, tried to keep the war going without men or munitions. Lenin obtained permission to leave Switzerland for Russia and tried to stir up a revolt in March, 1917, but this failed, and he had to fly to Finland. Confusion grew, and finally it was decided to take steps to call a Constituent Assembly to draw up a new Constitution for Russia. The Bolsheviks hailed this move and loudly protested against the dilatoriness of Kerensky, who was afraid of losing office. At the same time the various Councils of peasants, workers and soldiers began to send representatives to Petrograd for an All-Russian Congress. At once a struggle began between the Kerensky section—or Mensheviks—and the Lenin section—or Bolsheviks—to obtain the majority of representation in this Assembly. For days the struggle continued and almost to the last moment the issue was in doubt, but the superior slogan of the Bolsheviks—“Peace, Bread, Land” —finally won a majority over to their side.

A day or two before this Lenin had come out of his hiding place and placed himself at the head of the Bolsheviks.

The first thing Lenin did when in office was to keep his promise. He issued a call for peace to all the belligerents on the basis of’ “no annexations, no indemnities.” This astonished the politicians of the Western Nations to whom election promises are standing jokes.

It was at this point that Lenin made his greatest miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various Governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call, except the snarling demands of the Allies that Russia should continue to send men to be slaughtered. This lack of response was a terrible disappointment to Lenin, but, facing the situation, he opened negotiations for a separate peace with Germany. And here he made a brilliant stroke. To the horror and dismay of all the diplomatic circles in Europe he declared that the negotiations would be carried on in public, and they were. Thus exposing the stupid superstition still so beloved of Communists here, that it is impossible to conduct important negotiations in public.

Of course the conditions demanded by the Germans were hard. Again and again Lenin’s followers demanded that war should be re-opened rather than accept these conditions. Radek reports a conversation (Russian Information and Review, January 26th, 1924):

The mujik must carryon the war. “But don’t you see that the mujik voted against the war,” Lenin answered. “Excuse me, when and how did he vote against it?” “He voted with his feet; he is running away from the front.”

Large tracts of territory were detached from the Bolshevik control, and the greatest blow was the separation of the Ukraine, whose splendid fertile soil would have been of immense value for the purpose of providing food.

Still the problems to be handled were enormous. The delegates to the Constituent Assembly had gathered in Petrograd, but Lenin, who shouted so loudly for this Assembly when out of office, was not running the risk of being deposed now he was in office. He had the gathering dispersed, and refused to let the Assembly meet. Sporadic outbreaks among the peasantry were a source of continual trouble, particularly as the Bolsheviks had only a poor force at their disposal. The signing of the Armistice however solved this problem. The Communists are fond of claiming that Trotsky organised the “Red Army.” This claim is absurd, for Trotsky knew nothing of military matters. The upheaval in Germany, after the signing of the Armistice, threw hundreds of German officers out of work and Lenin gladly engaged their services, at high salaries, to organise the army. By the offer of better food rations, better clothing and warmer quarters plenty of men offered themselves for enlistment. The main difficulty however was not men but munitions.

Lenin and his supporters expected that the victorious Allies would turn their combined forces on Russia. But the Allies were so engrossed in trickery, double-dealing and swindling each other over the sharing of the plunder that they largely ignored Russia. Still to show their good will and kind intentions they subsidised a set of thieving scoundrels—Koltchak (assisted by that British hero “Colonel” John Ward), Deniken, Wrangel, Yudenitch, etc., to invade Russia for the purpose of taking it out of the control of the Russians.

It was a most hopeful undertaking, this sending in of marauding bands! The peasant, who had just got rid of his age-long enemy the landlord (sometimes rather summarily) was expected to assist in restoring that gentleman. To help them in reaching a decision, these marauding bands, with strict impartiality, plundered friend and foe alike. The only result of these various raids was to unify the mass of the people in Russia in accepting the Bolshevik rule. Slowly the Russians began to gather arms. Their army was already in good order, and although the enormous distances and lack of transport prevented them reaching many places, yet whenever the Red Army met the looting bands mentioned above the latter were defeated, with monotonous regularity.

Of course compared with the battles on the western front these engagements were mere hand skirmishes, as neither side had any heavy artillery, high-velocity shells, poison gas, nor bombing aeroplanes.

A greater enemy to Leninism than any of these gangs, however, and one which had been exerting its influence for some time, now greatly increased its pressure, this was the individualistic conditions of the peasant, combined with the wants of the townsmen. Various decrees had been passed forbidding private trading in the towns and villages (apart from special licences) but the Bolsheviks had never dared to enforce these decrees in face of the food shortage. The result of this increased pressure was the famous “New Economic Policy,” that caused such consternation in the ranks of the Communist parties. In this country Miss Sylvia Pankhurst nearly died of disgust when the news arrived.

But once more Lenin was right. He recognised the seriousness of the conditions and tried to frame a policy to fit them. His own words describe the situation with great clearness:

Yet, in 1921, after having emerged victoriously from the most important stages of the Civil War, Soviet Russia came face to face with a great—I believe, the greatest—internal political crisis which caused dissatisfaction, not only of the huge masses of the peasantry, but also of large numbers of workers.

It was the first, and I hope the last, time in the history of Soviet Russia that we had the great masses of the peasantry arrayed against us, not consciously, but instinctively, as a sort of political mood.

What was the cause of this unique, and, for us, naturally disagreeable, situation? It was caused by the fact that we had gone too far with our economic measures, that the masses were already sensing what we had not properly formulated, although we had to acknowledge a few weeks afterwards, namely, that the direct transition to pure Socialist economy, to pure Socialistic distribution of wealth, was far beyond our resources, and that if we could not make a successful and timely retreat, if we could not confine ourselves to easier tasks, we would go under. (“Address to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International”) (Italics ours.)

The most significant phrase in the above statement—the one we have underlined—now admits at last that Marx was right, and that the whole of the Communist “Theories and Theses” are rubbish from top to bottom.

Mr. Brailsford, the £1,000 a year, editor of The New Leader, in the issue for January 25th, 1924 says:

Alone in the earthquakes of the war period, this Russian revived the heroic age, and proved what the naked will of one man may do to change the course of history.

What knowledge! What judgement! What intelligence! Where has the “course of history” changed one hair’s breadth owing to Russia? And the above specimen of ignorance, that would disgrace a school child, is considered worth £1,000 a year by the I.L.P.! Doubtless the measure of their intelligence.

The chief points of Lenin’s rule can now be traced out. He was the product of the “course of history” when the breakdown occurred in Russia. At first—nay even as late as the publication of Left-Wing Communism (p.44) —Lenin claimed that it was “a Socialist Revolution.” He also claimed that the Bolsheviks were establishing “Socialism” in Russia in accord with Marxian principles. Some of the shifts, and even deliberate misinterpretations of Marx’s writings that Lenin indulged in to defend his unsound position have already been dealt with in past issues of the SOCIALIST STANDARD and need not detain us here. To delay the victorious Allies taking action against Russia, large sums were spent on propaganda in Europe by the Bolsheviks. “Communist” Parties sprang up like mushrooms, and now that these funds are vanishing, are dying like the same vegetable. Their policy was to stir up strife. Every strike was hailed as the “starting of the revolution.” But somehow they were all “bad starts”!

When the Constituent Assembly was broken up by Lenin’s orders he had the Russian Soviet Constitution drawn up. He realised that if the Bolsheviks were to retain control this new Constitution must give them full power. We have already analysed this Constitution in detail, in a previous issue, but a repetition of one point will make the essential feature clear. Clause 12 says:

The supreme authority in the Russian Soviet Republic is vested in the All Russia Congress of Soviets, and, during the time between the Congresses, in the Central Executive Committee.

Clause 28 says:

The All Russia Congress of Soviets elects the All Russia Central Executive of not more than 200 members.

Innocent enough, surely! But—yes there is a but—the credentials of the delegates to the All-Russia Congress are verified by the officials of the Communist Party and at every congress it turns out—quite by accident of course—that a large majority of the delegates are members of the Communist Party. The others are listened to politely, allowed to make long speeches, and then voted down by the “Block.” This little fact also applies to all “The Third Communist International Congresses,” and to all “The International Congresses of the Red Labour Unions.” No matter how many delegates the other countries may send, the Russian delegation is always larger than the rest combined.

By this “Dictatorship of the Communist Party” Lenin was able to keep power concentrated in his own hands.

Lenin made desperate efforts to induce the town workers to run the factories on disciplined lines, but despite the most rigid decrees these efforts were a failure. The Russian townsmen, like the peasant, has no appreciation of the value of time, and it is impossible to convert a 17th century hand worker into a modern industrial wage slave by merely pushing him into a factory and giving him a machine to attend. Lenin’s experience proves the fallacy of those who proclaim that modern machines, because they are made “fool-proof” in some details, can be operated by any people, no matter how low their stage of development.

Another idea was tried. A number of minor vultures on the working class, of the I.W.W. and Anarchist “leader” type, had gone to Russia to see what could be picked up. There were 6,000,000 unemployed in America. Lenin called upon these “leaders” to arrange for the transport of numbers of mechanics and skilled labourers to form colonies in Russia, with up-to-date factories and modern machinery. These “leaders” pocketed their fees and expenses, but the colonies have yet to materialise.

Such was the position up to the time of Lenin’s illness.

What then are Lenin’s merits? First in order of time is the fact that he made a clarion call for a world peace. When that failed he concluded a peace for his own country. Upon this first necessary factor he established a Constitution to give him control and, with a skill and judgement unequalled by any European or American statesman, he guided Russia out of its appalling chaos into a position where the services are operating fairly for such an undeveloped country, and where, at least, hunger no longer hangs over the people’s heads. Compare this with the present conditions in Eastern Europe!

Despite his claims at the beginning, he was the first to see the trend of conditions and adapt himself to these conditions. So far was he from “changing the course of history” as Brailsford ignorantly remarks that it was the course of history which changed him, drove him from one point after another till today Russia stands halfway on the road to capitalism. The Communists, in their ignorance, may howl at this, but Russia cannot escape her destiny. As Marx says:

One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement—and it is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society—it can neither clear by bold leaps nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs.” (Preface Vol, I. Capital)

The Bolsheviks will probably remain in control for the simple reason that there is no one in Russia capable of taking their place. It will be a question largely as to whether they will be able to stand the strain for the task is a heavy one, and they are by no means overcrowded with capable men. But this control will actually resolve itself into control for, and in the interests of, the Capitalists who are willing to take up the development of raw materials and industry in Russia. The New Economic Policy points the way.

The peasant problem will take longer to solve because of the immense areas, and lack of means of communication. Until the capitalists develop roads and railways the peasants will, in the main, follow their present methods and habits. When these roads and railways are developed, modern agriculture will begin to appear worked at first with imported men and machines. But then Russia will be well on the road to fully developed Capitalism.

The Communists claim that Lenin was a great teacher to the working class the world over, but with singular wisdom they refrain from pointing out what that teaching was. His actions from 1917 to 1922 certainly illustrate a certain lesson that is given above, but the teacher of that lesson was Karl Marx.