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International Socialism, Summer 1966


Tony Elger

Reductio ad absurdum


From International Socialism (1st series), No.25, Summer 1966, p.33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Lenin: the compulsive revolutionary
S. Possony
Allen & Unwin, 63s

This book removes Lenin’s life from any social context: there is no attempt to describe or evaluate his ideas and actions against a background of the problems and social forces which were his environment. Instead it is designed to illustrate the thesis that psychological, or rather psychiatric, considerations are central to an understanding of Lenin’s decisions.

This theme, together with three subsidiary plots, guides the narrative. The three minor themes concern the importance of police penetration of revolutionary parties, the manipulation of revolutionaries by belligerent capitalist nations, and Stalin’s relationship to the ailing Lenin.

Possony debunks obviously baseless claims concerning Lenin’s revolutionary precocity, but replaces these with an equally credulous model of the ‘psychology of destruction.’ This ‘psychology’ he derives from an examination of family tensions, in boyhood and as a husband, and of tenuous hereditary effects; generating four interrelated concepts: negativism towards the father – and the Tsar – produced by strain between a subservient mother and distant father; ‘overvaluing of ideas’ via anal-sadistic fixation, intensified by years of isolation; cynical manipulation of people grounded on stunted emotional development consequent to mother-fixation, and on hatred developed as a reaction to feared sterility; and ‘cyclothymic mood-swings’ disciplining the ‘schizoid’ tendencies.

These psychological causal links are continually hinted at without any explicit exposition for critical examination (even the appendix is only a collage of these various trends), while the family case history is presented in isolation, thus precluding comparative analysis of possible variables, a problem compounded by a shortage of documentation for basic assertions. Further, his terminology is inconsistent and based on theories of dubious validity, while the number of interacting influences claimed permit juggling to obtain practically any result – all predictiveness is lost.

His discussion of the inter-espionage of revolutionaries and police (Malinovsky etc.) raises some important problems concerning the independence and rationality of decision making in such a situation, but he virtually ignores the social context of the situation and subjects it to no analysis. His comments on party organisation and ‘professional revolutionaries’ are similarly unproductive.

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