Lenin and Canada
Lenin didn’t speak, or write, about the necessity for audacity in the way that Danton did but he showed his capacity for it in a greater variety of engagements and on a greater scale than the famous French revolutionist had opportunity to know of. Lenin demonstrated the decisive role of audacity in revolution more clearly and more dramatically than has any other revolutionary whose activities are recorded. The fact that so little is written about this characteristic of his is striking evidence of the fact that mankind at large, including communists, is still discovering so much that is new in Lenin’s theoretical and ideological work that admiration of his remarkable intellectual audacity attracts the main attention. The personal audacity which was the physically decisive factor in some of the greatest of his historical achievements is usually accepted as though it flowed naturally and automatically from his theoretical conclusions — come to think of it, in his case it did. That’s the sort of man that he was.
Lenin’s personal audacity, the superficial appearance that he didn’ even realize the extent of the risk involved, was the more inspiring because it was in fact always the result of conviction, arrived at by careful study, and never of unthinking recklessness. It was the physical expression of the principled position, which was stated as early as 1905 in his brilliant exposition of the political objectives and the tactical line to be pursued by a Marxist party in the democratic revolution.
How far such a victory is probable is another question. We are not in the least inclined to be unreasonably optimistic on that score; we do not for a moment forget the immense difficulties of this task but, since we are out to fight, we must desire victory and be able to point out the right road to it. (Vol. 9, p. 57)
To the right-wing “Marxists” who were still discussing the question of when and how it would be possible to tell whether the revolution would take place he said:
Get out of your study, look about you, and seek your answer on the streets. Has not the government itself started civil war by everywhere shooting down crowds of peaceful and unarmed citizens? Have not the armed Black Hundreds come out as an “argument” of the autocracy? (Vol. 9, p. 71)
Lenin’s readiness to “dash into the fray” is a challenge to militant young people today just as it was to young revolutionaries of his own time. Furthermore, militant young people who are interested in the problems of the struggle for socialism, or even of progressive social change in general, can be inspired and can learn a great deal from the events in which Lenin stepped into the midst of a crisis which looked hopeless and, by the combination of sheer audacity and the cool tenacity with which he fought, succeeded in transforming what had appeared to be beyond salvaging into the beginning or a new advance.
In one short article it is not possible to describe those events in detail, not even the role of politice in his narrow personal escapes during the Great October Revolution. But the record of his activities throbs with the audacity, intellectual and physical, which characterized him. For example, his audacious flight to achieve the Brest Litvosk Peace. His fight, almost single-handed, against the anarchists. His daring projection of the great state plan for the electrification of the Soviet Republics and his even more daring use of the capitalists’ greed for profit in the use of the New Economic Policy to help get the cash to put the plan into effect. His consistent insistence that the youth of each generation must be allowed to advance to socialism in its own way, with the proviso always that those young people who are interested at all in Marxism should be organized to attract and educate widening circles of their fellows, also was an expression of Lenin’s audacity. He was supremely confident of the power of what he described as “the old but eternally new truths of Marxism.”
Lenin’s admonition of those who were quibbling about the extent to which sections of the bourgeoisie might or might not be involved, to seek their answer on the streets instead of in their studies reflected the unity of theory and practice which characterized all his work. In the revolution of 1905 and in all the engagements of his busy life, he was inspired by the famous words of Frederick Engels, “Our theory is not a dogma but a guide to action.” Emphasizing the significance of that axiom, Lenin wrote:
The classical statement stresses with remarkable force and expressiveness that aspect of Marxism which is very often lost sight of. And by losing sight of it we turn Marxism into something one-sided, distorted and lifeless; we deprive it of its life blood; we undermine its basic theoretical foundations — dialectics, the doctrine of historical development, all-embracing and full of contradictions; we undermine its connection with the definite practical tasks of the epoch, which may change with every new turn in history.
The connection of Marxism with the practical tasks of the epoch was always in Lenin’s mind. To those who might be inclined to think that such intellectual interest was not necessarily audacity, we suggest consideration of Lenin’s character and particularly of his purposefulness. The situation in world politics that was thrown into relief by the First World War led him to make an exhaustive study of capitalist imperialism. With his characteristic thoroughness he read and re-read everything that he could lay his hands on that had been written on the subject, by Marxists, by bourgeois writers, by apologists for as well as opponents of imperialism. In addition he studied bank reports, reports if imperialist activities in colonial territories, and the effect of the exploitation if colonies in the economy of the exploiting country. Studying the changes within the economies of the more highly developed capitalist countries, he discovered that they were in fact the main characteristic of imperialism and made it more than simply a straightline development of capitalism. He discovered that these qualitative changes mark imperialism as a distinct historical epoch — of the decay of capitalism, of imperialist wars, and socialist revolutions.
Furthermore, Lenin discovered that, exactly contrary to the claims of the monopolists, increasing monopolization of the economy, the fierce struggle to extend monopoly privileges and super-profits in all directions at home and abroad, with the resulting integration of the interests and power of monopoly-capital and governments in state-monopoly capitalism, actually accelerated the operation of the law of uneven economic and political development of capitalism. His reaction to that discovery was characteristic. Using the science of Marxism as he always did to provide the factual basis for a bold forecast of the future and bold practical action to achieve it, Lenin decided that, the conditions which had determined Marx’s statement of the Law of Socialist Revolution having changed, qualitatively, the content of the law had changed also, and its formulation must be changed to correspond with the new conditions. As a result of that discovery he replaced the statement of that Law that had become an obstacle to socialist revolution, with his now famous and proven formulation of the Law as follows:
Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. (Vol. 21, p. 342)
Lenin’s translation of his intellectual activity into audacious political action was immediate with the outbreak of the February Revolution. The first of his five famous “Letters from Afar” was written even as he was gleaning from the meager press reports something of the complex of foreign imperialist and domestic capitalist intrigue that had combined to help the revolution to topple the centuries-old monarchy and was then striving to stop the revolution there. Don“t let them cheat you. The essence of his proposals was in the following:
...the only guarantee of freedom and of the complete destruction of tsarism lies in arming the proletariat, in strengthening, extending and developing the role, significance and power of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.
Workers, you have performed miracles of proletarian heroism, the heroism of the people, in the civil war against tsarism. You must perform miracles of organization of the proletariat and of the whole people, to prepare the way for your victory in the second stage of the revolution. (Vol. 23, pp. 305-307)
By April Lenin was in Petrograd. From the moment of his arrival, namely, in his stirring speech to the mass of workers and soldiers who greeted him at the railway station, he was in the thick of his fight for the policy of carrying the revolution forward to the socialist revolution. Most of the time he was hunted by Kerensky’s police. Through the decisive last three months before the October Revolution their orders were to “Shoot Lenin on sight!” In the press and in his speeches to workers and soldiers, Lenin pressed his policy and combated the confusing and demoralizing arguments being put forward by men who had been socialists but had crossed over to serve the bourgeoisie. He even had to fight continuously in the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party against some of its members who flinched from the daring tactical line that Lenin was fighting for. Along with that he was fighting tenaciously to win a majority in the Petrograd Soviet for his line. He made the growth of support one of the main yardsticks by which he judged the ripeness of the conditions for the transfer of power.
A vivid example of his audacity was provided at that time by the action which moved millions of peasants into organized revolutionary activity and, simultaneously, brought them close to the Bolsheviks. The Social Revolutionaries had always exploited as their main political stock-in-trade the peasants’ hunger for land. Their program was one of distribution of land to landless peasants and those whose holdings were too small, when they, the Social Revolutionaries, assumed office and were able to enact the necessary laws. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party had opposed that propaganda as dangerous deception which actually diverted the peasants from a systematic struggle to change the social order. Following the February Revolution the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks and Narodniks all intensified their propaganda among the peasants, urging them not to seize land but to make sure of electing a majority to the promised Constituent Assembly, a majority which would enact laws granting land to the peasants. Lenin recognized immediately two facts. If the peasants waited, the great estates would remain in the hands of the landlords; but if the peasants divided up the estates now, in the upswing of the revolutionary ferment, it would virtually put an end to the authority of the central government in the countryside.
In the All-Russia Conference of the Bolshevik Party which followed immediately on his return, he fought for recognition of the great significance of those two alternatives. The Bolsheviks, he said, must say to the peasants:
If you wait until the law is written, and yourselves do not develop revolutionary initiative, you will have neither the law nor the land. (Vol. 24, p. 285)
At his insistence the conference changed its attitude and included in its resolution on the revolutionary solution of the agrarian problem, the following paragraph:
5. The party advises the peasants to take the land in an organized way, not allowing the slightest damage to property and taking measures to increase production. (Vol. 24, p. 292)
By that change, Lenin made the Bolshevik Party the leader of all that was real in the program of the Social Revolutionaries, etc. While the reformists told the peasants to wait for the Constituent Assembly the Bolsheviks said, “Divide up the great estates, the Constituent Assembly can enact the laws about it afterwards.”
Bit by bit the peasants turned toward Lenin and the Bolsheviks and followed their leadership and advice. Authority in the villages crumbled and passed out of the hands of the agents of the central government and into the hands of the village soviets.
By the end of September (Russian calendar) it was evident to Lenin that state power must be transferred to the Soviets very soon or it would be to late. It could be done because the Bolsheviks now had a majority in both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets of Soldiers and Workers Deputies. It must be very soon because Kerensky and his Provisional Government were preparing to surrender Petrograd to the Germans and, as Lenin argued, “It is not in our power to prevent the surrender of Petrograd while the army is headed by Kerensky and Company.”
Overcoming resistance within the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party Lenin personally directed the decisive actions by which that practical task of the epoch, the greatest revolution in the history of mankind, was carried through successfully and state power was transferred from the defeated Provisional Government to Soviets of Soldiers and Workers Deputies. In all the annals of civilization there is no other record of such breathtaking audacity.
Danton gave us the slogan.* Lenin made audacity and integral feature of the science of socialist revolution.
De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace!
1. Article appearing in Communist Viewpoint, Vol. 2, No. 2, March-April, 1970.