Georg Lukács 1968
Democratisation Today and Tomorrow: Part II

The Pure Alternative:
Stalinism or Socialist Democracy

4. Theoretic and Historic Presuppositions of a Concrete Problem

If we have rejected a bourgeois democracy as an alternative to a socialist one we have done so primarily on the basis of practical political considerations. An analysis of contemporary experience clearly indicates that every attempt to substitute a bourgeois variant for socialist democracy inevitably leads to the liquidation of socialism (and most probably to democracy itself). If we now attempt to discover the true political alternatives, we must approach this problem with the methodological procedure of polar opposition. From this perspective, it is impossible to present socialism (or the contemporary prevailing views of its essence) in the dogmatic declarative sense as the polar opposite of democracy. On the contrary, we must first of all strive to understand the present and existing mode of socialism, to understand its present concrete being from a socio-historical perspective. After we have reached this understanding we will try to formulate more accurately the problem of democratization.

The actual social being of existing socialism is that complex of institutions, tendencies, theories, tactics which emerged from the crisis of the Stalin period. This crisis was given its first theoretic-practical expression at the twentieth Congress (1956) and the consequences stemming from that congress. It is not possible to understand the theoretic-practical work of reformation begun at the twentieth Party Congress, its value and direction, unless we proceed from the actual intent and structure that underlay this reconstruction.

It is also indispensable to discuss briefly the characteristics of the Stalin era itself. The twentieth Congress portrayed this period of socialist evolution as a “personality cult.” Some perceptive critics immediately raised objections to this descriptive phrase and the societal content which it suggested was the substance of the crisis of socialism. It was above all Palmiro Togliatti who refused to look upon the personal characteristics of Stalin as the final cause of such a profound crisis in the development of socialism. He demanded a penetrating and exhaustive economic and socio-historical analysis of the entire Stalinist period. He argued that without this kind of thorough investigation it was impossible to clearly formulate in a Marxist-Leninist sense the positive and negative contributions of Stalin to this stage of socialism. We must unfortunately admit that an analysis which would have satisfied these demands has not yet been carried through.

The short, hurried and highly schematic sketch the reader has before him cannot fulfill these more exacting requirements, cannot satisfy the legitimate needs for a definitive scientific analysis of the Stalin period. But Togliatti’s call was not intended as a summons for a detailed academic appraisal. His expectation was much more for an explication of the governing principles of this pivotal and fateful era of socialist history so that a correct program of reconstruction could return the sick to a healthy life, could mend the crippled.

If we want to fulfill Togliatti’s legitimate demand, one must begin at the beginning. In terms of Marx’s understanding, the proletarian revolution in Russia was not a “classical embodiment” of such a world historical transition. According to the prognosis of Marx, such a revolution must first break out in a developed capitalist country. In addition, Marx assumes that a proletarian revolution by its very nature would act as a model for the rest of the civilized world. The question which above all concerns us, even if we overlook this second feature of the classical paradigm of revolution, is the development of socialism in an economically and therefore socially underdeveloped country. Lenin never doubted that the Russian Revolution was exceptional, that it did not completely conform to the prognosis of Marxism. When Lenin came to speak on the international significance of the Russian Revolution in his work Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, he correctly emphasized its significance. But he did not forget to immediately add: “Naturally, it would be a very great error to exaggerate this truth and apply it to more than a few basic features of our revolution. Likewise, it would be wrong to leave out of account the possibility that after the initial victory of the proletarian revolution in Russia another Proletarian Revolution could also break out in a developed country in all probability after a sudden socioeconomic collapse. In this situation Russia would no longer be a prototype, but exist again as an underdeveloped country, (in the sense of socialism and the Soviet system)."[16]

It is not difficult to see what Lenin meant by this statement. The transformation of a capitalist society into a socialist one is above all an economic issue. In a country in which a victorious revolution takes place, the higher the development of capitalism the more immediately and adequately can the specific foundations of socialism be cemented. On the contrary, in an underdeveloped country a number of questions must necessarily be placed on the agenda which from a purely economic perspective would have already been solved during the course of the evolution of capitalism. At issue here — and in economic reality both questions form an interdependent totality — is the relationship between heavy industry and agriculture. On the one side there is a problem of the quantitative as well as qualitative degree of development of great industry in the decisive branches of mass production. On the other side lies the problem of the proper distribution of the working population in either industry or agriculture. It is a problem of the proper allocation of resource in order to achieve a balanced economic growth, the interrelation and further advancement of agriculture and industry which is capable of sustaining development in the various fields of economic life. No one doubted in 1917 that capitalist production in the Russian Empire had solved the problem of the relationship between industry and agriculture. Capitalism in the Russian Empire was still underdeveloped and left many economic problems unsolved.

If we accept these conclusions does this not prove that the violent overthrow of the capitalist regime in the great October Days was a mistake, as social democratic theory has wanted to show from the very beginning? We believe: No. Great historical decisions, revolutionary turning points, are never unleashed in a purely theoretical manner as if in a scholars study. They are answers to alternatives which an agitated people, concerned about everyday life as well as the great political issues, urge upon the parties and their leaders. In 1917, the conditions in which decisions were taken were above all, determined by the First World War. The war called into being a crisis of socialism and the various Marxist parties attempted to overcome this crisis in their own ways. Every resolution of the Second International expressed an opposition to the war, but with few exceptions the actions of the majority of the European socialist parties tacitly supported the imperialist war. The February Revolution, the overthrow of Czarism, did not change this basic situation. On the contrary, the continuation of the war became a primary goal of most Russian parties, especially the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. The struggle of the Bolsheviks for state power was consonant with the burning desire of millions of people for an immediate ending to the war. This urgent question which consumed the population became a decisive issue in the concrete alternatives of October; due to the conditions of the time, it was first necessary to overthrow the bourgeois-democratic regime in order to bring an immediate end to the war. (The entire history of the Weimar Republic until Hitler’s seizure of power illustrates the social consequences produced by postponing a decision for revolution until after a irreversible military collapse.)

Likewise, the internal political alternatives in Russia in October were also clearly demarcated. In 1917, the fundamental problems of Russian social development throughout the nineteenth century reached their explosive apex. This crisis concerned the liquidation of the prevailing feudal remnants, the emergence of a peasantry exploited in the late nineteenth century by capitalism rather than feudalism. In the course of 1917, in spite of the fierce resistance of the “democratic regime” of Alexander Kerensky, a continuous increase in peasant revolts and the spontaneous redistribution of land proceeded in an uninterrupted fashion. Here, too, the question was simply put: without the fall of the bourgeois-democratic system a real solution of the peasant problem was impossible. Hence, in October two questions coalesced, one concerning the imperialist war and the other concerning the question of the peasantry. Both these questions were associated with the preservation of Russian society and both provided opportunities for social insurrection. Neither of these questions possessed an immediate socialist character, but under the circumstances of the time it was only by revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois domination that a solution could be found satisfactory to the overwhelming majority of the working masses. For this reason, October 1917 amounts to a revolutionary situation in the broadest sense of the term: the ruling classes could no longer govern in the old manner and the oppressed and exploited masses refused to continue to live in the old way (Lenin’s definition of a revolutionary situation). For these reasons, the decision of 1917 may not be placed into question unless one takes this social context into account.

There is no doubt that the decision for a nonclassical solution to the transition to socialism was politically justifiable. However, even the most substantial validification of this political revolution did not overcome the real economic problems. A few years later this disparity between the political and economic proved itself to be the central problem for the continued economic advances of Russia. First of all, the young Soviet Republic had to fight for its existence against German imperialism and later against various armies of intervention. In so doing, the Soviet proletariat demonstrated a force, a mass determination and an ability for superior politico-military leadership. This heroic period of the Soviet proletariat heightened and deepened the attractiveness that this young socialist state held for the peoples of the farthest reaches of the world. It was not until the successful completion of the Civil War that the economic problems inherent in the nonclassical form of transition to socialism became the focus of Soviet life.

When Lenin approached this complex of issues theoretically he did not forget to emphasize that they dealt with problems that were radically new. “Marx did not even consider writing a single word about this,” he says in 1922.[17] The problems appeared to be purely economic and Lenin repeatedly refers to the practical consequences which result from this. Yet he focuses on the fact that the alliance between the proletariat and the masses of peasants was shattered by the economic situation left behind by the Civil War. He says: “the fundamental, decisive task to which all others are subordinate is the establishment of an alliance between the new economy which we have started to build (very badly, very unskillfully, but for all that we have still started a new system of production, a new system of distribution on the basis of a radically new socialist economy) and the peasant economy which is the economy of millions and millions of peasants."[18]

Even this goal shows that Lenin grasps in a practico-intuitive manner the character of socialism as a specific social formation, even though he never addresses this problem in a universal-theoretical fashion. In earlier social formations the change of an economic structure occurred on the basis of an inherent determinism. But this does not rule out that the first great instance of socialist transition enters into existence as the teleological directed praxis of conscious (indeed often with false consciousness) individual men. The socialization of the means of production, their concentration in the hands of the working class, is a necessary consequence of a social consciousness which looks upon society as a totality of economically interrelated parts. For that reason, the working class was called upon to change from the dominated to the planners of the social development of man. The transformation of specific social structures should be a result of the consciousness and social being of the proletariat. Consciousness must become the directive telos of society, from planning its economic functions to looking upon socialism as a preparatory stage to communism. Lenin correctly perceives that 1917, and with it the destroyed interrelationship between town and country, introduces a new period in the social activity of man that begins with the seizure of power by the proletariat, with the destruction of capitalist or traditional semi-feudal private possession of the means of production. This new age requires a new definition of human progress. It is no longer possible to allow history to be governed by blind determinist forces, but it is now necessary for objective-economic forces to be guided by human consciousness. Marx’s third theses on Feuerbach asserts that “the Educator must himself be educated,” an actuality that can no longer be avoided.

Socialism in part means the control of human evolution by human consciousness, or societal self-determination. One property of consciousness is that it is educable. The agent for this self-education of man — in world historical terms self-education for genuine human being in the Marxist sense — is socialist democracy. The socioeconomic development of the human species had thereby posed a question which only Lenin out of all the successors of Marx depicted as the central problem of socialist transition and made the basis of his teleological action. The fact that the educators, the leading societal strata of the socialist revolution, must themselves be educated is a critique, on the one hand, of every utopianism which suggests that rational persuasion is the motor that propels human development to a future state of absolutely harmonious existence. On the other hand, it is also a repudiation of mechanical materialism that simply presents every outcome as the spontaneous and necessary product of the development of production. For Marx the economic world, (“the realm of necessity”) is never the sole basis for the self-creation of the human species. Marx refers to the conscious self-creation of man as “the realm of freedom.” He further defines the essential contents of “the realm of freedom” as “the development of human powers, which is valued for itself as an end in itself. “At the same time, he clearly states that such praxis must be qualitatively different than the merely economic, and that this human teleological consciousness is a vital, new generative contradiction of the economic. Human evolution, for Marx, is a dialectical interconnection between determinism and teleology, and this dialectic life praxis “can only bloom when the ‘kingdom of necessity’ is its basis."[19]

The nonclassical character of the Revolution of 1917 rests above all on the fact that socialism starts its evolution from a developmental stage in which the existing levels of production and distribution were still insufficient to serve as the basis for a concrete preparation of the “Kingdom of Freedom.” Thus, an intermediary period had to be introduced in which this economic underdevelopment was overtaken, an intermediate period in which the accelerated advancement of the economic to higher levels must become the central preoccupation in the guidance of social life by consciousness. Lenin, evidently understood that a high level of industrial development was an economic precondition for the growth of socialism. As we have shown, he recognized the importance of the industrial base when he suggested that if a socialist revolution were victorious in an economically developed country this nation would appear as the vanguard in the construction of socialism, taking over that role from the Soviet Union.

Up to this point in history, no one, not even Lenin, was capable of formulating the crucial problems of such a nonclassical construction of socialism, of such a preparation for communism, in theoretical terms. From our present perspective, a theoretic generalization of these problems may be stated in the following manner: in this type of transitional period what is the relation between a pure economic praxis, which is called upon to surmount industrial underdevelopment, and the desired socialist content that intends to create democratic proletarian actions, institutions etc.? It was clear to Lenin — and he never lost sight of the fact — that previous socialist thought, to be found in Marx and Engels, did not and could not supply a theoretic solution to the problem of correlating the development of the economy with the development of democratic institutions. The problem of the relationship between the economic and the political is of great societal-ontological importance for it demonstrates that the Kingdom of Freedom is qualitatively different than the economic Kingdom of Necessity. It also shows that the Kingdom of Freedom can only be reached on the basis of the Kingdom of Necessity. This definition expresses both the societal dependence of the “superstructure” on the “base” as well as the qualitative difference between these two social categories. The term “Kingdom of Freedom” already implies much more than the mere superstructure and its functions in a class society. The ontological leap announces itself in the fact that in socialism the foundation of economic praxis must be directed by conscious teleology toward producing a society of universal human interdependence.

Socialism (and communism in a greater degree) are economic formations in which the entirety of society is placed under the guidance of conscious teleology, and as a result they increasingly abandon the qualities of capitalism. Even though socialism is directed by the consciousness of man to final humanistic purposes, it is still a social totality that functions in terms of causal laws. There is no doubt that the domain of social causality complicates the problems of the transition to socialism. It is not always necessary to abolish capitalist structures, for some actually prepare the way for socialism. Engels had already detected this in relation to joint-stock companies and Lenin knew that the capitalist monopolies were transitional structures to socialist property. These problems of socialist transformation, in spite of all their legitimacy, may not blur the ontological leap inherent in any movement from a capitalist to a socialist social formation. In the growth of socialist humanity, the essentially new is that the evolution of the economy will be henceforth governed by a universal teleology. This teleology, not to be defined as causal-objective law, must be understood as a human subjective-conscious design for the species self-determination of social development. In this context, the fact that Marx himself portrays such causal-objective laws as the Kingdom of Necessity is socio-ontologically correct. For the economic is always the process of the material reproduction of society in which the individual human being ultimately remains the object of the reproductive process, in which human intelligence is always directed to the maximal utilization of the objective possibilities. In the Kingdom of Necessity there is no place for those activities that serve the human species as an end in themselves. The continued existence of the Kingdom of Necessity is socialism does not weaken in the slightest the fact that the socialization of the means of production possesses the quality of an ontological leap. First of all, it is no longer possible for individuals or groups to exploit the economy in the service of their own private interests. Second, and as a direct consequence of this, the possibility arises of placing the objective choices of economic development at the disposal of the conscious designs and humanistic goals of the species. In the case of the private ownership of the means of production, the subordination of these means of production to the higher goals of the species is at best a remote possibility.

Lenin had a deep insight into the relationship between subjective and objective forces, and he was an advocate of human self-determination. He wished to place a knowledge of the power and creativity of the subjective and objective in the service of the coming Kingdom of Freedom. He realized that the problem of Russian underdevelopment, which assumed catastrophic proportions as a consequence of World War I and the Civil War, could not be overcome on purely economic grounds. He subordinated the economic problem to the communitarian experimentation which a socialist society could support. We proceed from this exact principle when we mention that he perceived the shattering of the alliance between proletariat and peasant as the central danger of the crisis of the transition. From Lenin’s viewpoint, the ontological leap into socialism consisted of a social and socially conscious union of the industrial and agricultural working population for the purpose of raising their material and spiritual existence through their own labor and experience to the level of meaningful cooperative species life.

Whether and to what degree Lenin’s plans were practically realizable is today of secondary importance. One should not forget that his fatal illness soon made him increasingly unfit to carry out regular governmental activities during the period when the New Economic Policy was concretized. The greater part of his theoretical work during these years consisted of sketches for innovative socialist experiments. Lenin himself had no illusions regarding the visionary properties of his statements. In any case, he was increasingly incapable of pursuing their real practico-concrete execution, or of controlling them by means of self-criticism which praxis forces upon one. He considered these visions as only theoretical designs of the innermost tendencies of a new, emerging societal reality, and looked upon these conceptions as a heuristic plan for the future socialist existence of the productive classes. The provisional character of all his economic designs reveals itself in the fact that the centralized planning system which developed later in the Soviet Union still played a highly subordinate role in his thinking of the NEP era. His later, much quoted statement that the Soviets plus electrification would result in socialism should not be taken as indicative of his definition of this future society. The way he wanted his concrete plans to be realized manifests a particular methodology, however, and this methodology still retains its theoretical significance. Lenin approved conscious intervention into reality. Through this experimentation, through the reflexive character of human reason, men would become aware of their ability to control the theoretic-determinist properties of social conditions. Lenin often quoted the following phrase of Napoleon I: “One engages it and can direct it.” We believe that Lenin’s methodology still forms a healthy counterbalance to many fantasies regarding economic planning, which in consequence of their abstract-apodictic nature are very often based on ill-founded inference. Because they can be easily manipulated, these illusions regarding centralized planning are divorced from the real meaning of a socialist society.

To a certain extent, Lenin saw the danger of confusing centralized planning with socialism. The growing bureaucratization of Soviet life, in the state as in the party, was his main concern during the entire period of his illness. Anyone who carefully studies his writings during the pre-1917 period, will easily learn that for him the self-activity of the proletariat, ranging from everyday life to the great political decisions, represented a major barometer for the preparedness of the working population to carry out a socialist revolution. Nevertheless, Lenin not only tolerated but even sometimes assisted in the development of an even stronger bureaucracy. This was the case during the Civil War, when it was necessary to overcome many immediate problems. This was true above all for the military, but due to its practical success this kind of bureaucratic organization also flowed into the civilian sector. One of his major goals after the victorious end of the Civil War was the deconstruction of this bureaucracy and the return to the normal life of a society. This tendency was most clearly expressed in the debate over the trade unions. Trotsky put forth a plan for the nationalization of the trade unions so that their organizational potentials could be utilized in the interests of improved production. For Trotsky, this appeared to be eminently feasible since he did not believe that the proletariat required any protection against a worker state. Lenin, on the other hand, emphasized that the state was in fact “a worker state with bureaucratic aberrations.” For that reason, he summarized his viewpoint as follows: “Our present state is constituted in such a manner that the proletariat in its totality must protect itself and we must use these workers’ organizations to protect the workers against their state and to protect the state through the workers."[20] Anyone familiar with Lenin’s work and letters in the last years of his life knows that he fought a tenacious and stubborn struggle against bureaucratization in all areas of state and social life and that he even wanted to exclude otherwise respected colleagues (e.g. Ordzhonikidze) from the party because they damaged the principles of proletarian democratism by falling back upon certain procedural methods of the Civil War.

On the question of mass participation, Lenin had much earlier taken a theoretically correct position. In State and Revolution, his major statement on the question of the political, he took up the issue of the “withering away of the state.” The state will only become extinct when “the people, once they are liberated from capitalist slavery, from the innumerable atrocities, brutalities, inconsistencies and conspiracies of capitalist exploitation, will habituate themselves to the most rudimentary rules of social cooperation, rules that have been known since ancient times and utilized in every instance of social collaboration, without force, without compulsion, without submission and especially without the apparatus of domination called the State."[21] As always, Lenin concentrated upon the concrete task standing before him. This means that he did not enter upon the more complex problems of Marx’s Kingdom of Freedom, but focused exclusively upon the “withering away of the state.” But his position, if one grasps it in purely methodological terms, refers to the entire scope of the problem of the state. It is above all important that even here he takes into account the totality of everyday human existence. He is far from attempting to force something of a “citoyen character” upon the idea of democracy in socialism. In an earlier part of the State and Revolution, while relating to other aspects of the political problem, he took a negative position towards bourgeois democracy. Democracy in socialism is not a mere extension of democracy. Quite the contrary, socialist democracy is the direct opposite of bourgeois democracy. Above all, democracy should not be an idealistic superstructure of the inherent materialism of bourgeois society, but an active element for progress in the social world itself. Democracy should no longer be based on numerous material barriers, as, for example, democracy in the polis, but rather on social ontological being which is in the process of self-completion. It is therefore the purpose of socialist democracy to penetrate the totality of human existence and to present its social nature as the product of the activity and participation of all men, stretching from everyday life to the most important question of society. In acute revolutionary times, this activity and participation circulates from bottom to top and from top to bottom with an explosive spontaneity. We should recall that the great decisive questions in the life of the Russian Soviets concerning both domestic and foreign affairs did agitate the public opinion of the entire world. This changes in periods of “consolidation,” in which necessarily, for example, secret diplomacy or the secrets of military preparations must be withheld from domestic public opinion.

We will again take up this question later on in a different context. The center of our interest here is how socialist democracy can penetrate into everyday human life and make it active and participatory. Lenin speaks of habituation as the most important cause for the “withering away of the state,” for it enables the people to organize their cooperation with their fellow men without power, without force, without submission. Habituation is certainly a universal sociological category which must play a significant role in every functioning society. Habituation relates to behavior, but it is entirely indifferent to the object to which man himself becomes accustomed. But Lenin’s meaning surpassed such abstract-sociological universality. By habituation he meant a social-teleological process in which all action, state and social institutions are employed to accustom the people to adapt cooperative modes of behavior. Certainly, elements of such a teleology exist in every society. The whole legal structure of class societies is necessary in order to habituate the population to voluntarily act in a prescribed manner. In accordance with Marx, however, we have described how the legal rights of a class society limit wherever possible the behavior of the other person and not the self, for these rights remain subject to the “economic egoism” of each individual. Habituation to this mode of behavior necessarily strengthens the egoism of the ordinary person and the view that his fellow men are merely barriers to his own existence and praxis. We also know that according to Marx, bourgeois law remains operative in the period of socialism, although not without certain modifications. In order to encourage men, all men, to habituate themselves to a new and reformed society, it is necessary that a sudden transformation of actual circumstances take place. It cannot be a mere ideological transformation, but above all it must revolutionize everyday material existence and activity from the ground up. The Communist Manifesto distinguishes between bourgeois and communist society on the basis that in bourgeois society the past ruled over the present while in communist society the present ruled over the past. In bourgeois society the sufficient cause of human praxis is always reduced to an objective determinist self-movement of the material conditions of life. In communist society it is possible to set forth a conscious teleological design for a future life and to use this design for the qualitative transformation of actual existence.

From the first, one of the essential intentions of the inner dialectic of Lenin’s doctrine of habituation was to assist in the capacity of species being to dominate the past. For this reason, he was interested in and supported every social impulse toward the evolution of the self-determination of the species. His vehement struggle against bourgeois tendencies was based on his highly critical observations of the ultimate ineffectiveness of bureaucratic manipulation. It was also based on the insight that every form of bureaucracy, through its own internal routinization, necessarily conceals within itself a drive to harden the domination of the past over the present. Reacting to this problem, Lenin looked upon the emergence of the so-called “Communist Saturday” as an expression of the desire to surpass the domination of the past by means of the spontaneous self-activity of social men. This species self-activity was capable of acting as the ground of socialist democracy, the preparation of the Kingdom of Freedom even though the journey was long and filled with contradictions and temporary setbacks. A socialist economy is the indispensable foundation for such species self-determination, its necessary point of origin and its corresponding content. The creation of the self-activity of the species is not, however, a determinist product growing out of the economic conditions of the past but a teleological consequence of the initial conquest of the domination of the present over the past. Lenin described the social essence of the Communist Saturday in the following terms: “Up to this point, there is nothing specifically communist in our economic system. The ‘communist quality’ only sets in when the Communist Saturdays appear i.e., when there is unpaid labor voluntarily given to the need and benefit of every aspect of society without the intervention of any public office or any state authority."[22] It is clear that Communist Saturdays and other similar social expressions must lose their communist quality as soon as they are co-opted by bureaucratic planning. When this occurs these social expressions become mechanical, mere cogs in the assembly line of bureaucratic hegemony.

It is no accident that Lenin’s definition of communism called forth both universal enthusiasm for and universal repudiation of the proletariat revolution. The desperate economic conditions in the young socialist country were, however, obvious. Lenin reacted with great passion and revealed the humanist foundation of his political being. Despite his uncompromising realism toward the deficiencies of the Soviet economy, its underdevelopment etc., he never surrendered his commitment to and belief in the coming of a socialist future and he viewed social democracy as the indispensable core for any constitution of a socialist society. It is in any case remarkable that Lenin’s commitment to democratization, even if his democratic convictions were not always correctly understood, was highly influential outside of Russia due to its message of the social anthropogenesis of the human species. Permit me to call the readers attention to my essay “The Moral Mission of the Communist Party” which dealt with Lenin’s exact views on the Communist Saturday, although my interpretation of Marxism at the time was tainted with an idealist bias.

As a Marxist, Lenin always emphasized his differences with the vulgarizing theories of social democracy. The social democrats believed that with the “withering away of the state” democracy would also wither away, that communism was a social formation in which the question of democracy was no longer relevant. Unfortunately, Lenin’s deepest democratic-socialist convictions regarding the period of transition are forgotten today. (Of course, the need of bourgeois ideology to prove that the Stalinist distortion of democracy started with Lenin plays an important role in the evolution of this forgetting. The conservative bureaucratic principle of Stalinism and the bourgeois ideological Cold War against communism share a common goal: to trace as much as possible Stalin’s theory and praxis back to Lenin.) Only a genuine Marxist critique of the principles of Stalinism can illustrate the real theoretic-practical discontinuity between Stalin and Lenin. In terms of the great strategic questions surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution and the period of transition, such a genuine Marxist critique would also show that Stalin distorted the tradition of Lenin. After his return to Russia in 1917, Lenin criticized both Kamenev and Stalin because of their misinterpretation of the revolution. Later on, in the question of labor unions, Stalin represented the line of thinking of Trotsky and not that of Lenin.

Since we have arrived at a discussion of the problem of continuity, it would be instructive to determine the socialist traditions which influenced Lenin and those he continued. It is surely clear to the readers of our quotes on “habituation” that Lenin did not consider as radically new the rules of human collaboration and cooperation which characterize socialist democracy, as the beginning stages of a new theoretic development. Rather he looks upon them as elementary principles which have been in existence for centuries but which can only achieve their social universality in socialism. This is shown by Lenin’s methodology which connects him so deeply with Marx and separates him as thoroughly from Stalin and his additional followers: the organic connection between the continuity of specific historical tendencies and their necessary radical structural change in the great revolutionary transitions and upheavals. The refutation of every form of utopianism, which Lenin shares, rests upon the methodological principle of the relationship between evolution and revolution in history. According to the utopians something radically new can be born in the world by means of reason, whereas in Marxism, the radically new is the result of a revolutionary change at specific social junctures in socio-historical development. In the deepest human sense, nothing new exists in history. From the evolutionary point of view, historic leaps occur at specific moments, but these structural changes merely raise the previously existent human social being to an unprecedented level by means of social universalization. Lenin describes the organic connection between evolution and revolution in his comments on habituation and in his general methodology of Marxism. Lenin offers the following interpretation of this methodology: “Marxism gained its world historical significance as the ideology of the revolutionary proletariat owing to the fact that it did reject the achievements of the bourgeois era, but on the contrary, adopted it and comes to terms with all the values of more than two thousand years in the development of human thought and culture."[23]

It is not improper to emphasize at least in outline, this aspect of Lenin’s Marxism. Lenin’s ideas on continuity and discontinuity help us evaluate certain contemporary trends. On the one side, the opinion that history only presents us with the alternative between the old and new, between the stagnation and the revolutionary emergence of the radically new. (Lenin’s observations are directed against theories of this kind; i.e. the “Proletcult” of the 1920s. This revolutionary interpretation was represented by the Andrei Zhdanov theory of Marxism. From the methodological perspective, this idea of radical discontinuity was not far from the futuristic conception of art.) On the other side, Stalin and his successors practiced a widespread fetishizing of continuity. These successors nowadays flatter themselves with the belief that they have broken with the “personality cult” of the past. They believe (or at least maintain) that the existent, concrete accomplishments of the Stalin period (we will discuss this later) exclude a radical break with its methods. This standpoint of total evolution and continuity is just as deeply unhistoric and non-Marxist as the standpoint of total revolution and discontinuity.

In order to conclude our unfortunately very cursory remarks, it is important to point out that Lenin did not bequeath an infallible formula for the systematic solution to the problems of the transition to socialism, nor did he inherit such a formula from Marx or Engels. It is useless to speculate on how Lenin, if he had remained active for a longer period of time, would have mastered the problems of this transition. It is also useless to debate whether there existed any objective possibilities for the solution of the massive problems that arose out of the nonclassical nature of the Russian Revolution. Nevertheless, we believe that our attempt to illustrate the most important principles and methodological foundations that motivated Lenin’s political praxis at the time is justified. We cannot be concerned at this point with giving a detailed history of the entire period. (Naturally, this would be highly desirable.) What is of burning importance today is a clear perception of how Lenin’s successors radically broke with his methodological principles and how this inevitably led to multiple distortions of Marxism itself. Lenin continued the thought of Marx, but the inheritance of both Lenin and Marx was lost in the Soviet Union even though the overwhelming majority of the most important politicians during the 1920s and 1930s in Russia were deeply convinced that they were using the real method of Marx to analyze the historical situation. The politicians of the period created the illusion that they perpetuated the deepest intentions of Lenin, but this belief was also erroneous.