The date of 21 January 2024 marks the centenary of the death of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the world as Lenin. He was without doubt one of the greatest revolutionaries who ever lived. By his actions in leading the Bolshevik Party, this extraordinary man literally changed the course of history.
Lenin’s whole life was dedicated to the emancipation of the working class, which culminated in the victory of the October Revolution in 1917. The significance of this event was aptly given by Rosa Luxemburg:
“Everything that a party could offer of courage, revolutionary farsightedness, and consistency in a historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky, and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary honour and capacity which the Social Democracy of the West lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism.”
For the first time, save for the heroic but brief episode of the Paris Commune, the working class conquered power and held onto it. For this reason, the October Revolution can be regarded as the greatest event in history. Whatever the subsequent developments, it is an indelible conquest that can never be erased.
And it is for this reason that, in the hands of the ruling class and its apologists, Lenin has become the most hated and slandered individual in history.
While bourgeois commentators have sometimes been known to pay Marx a backhanded compliment for his analysis of capitalism, although of course they reject his revolutionary conclusions, Lenin has become a complete anathema. Of course, this should not surprise us.
Just like the scurrilous attacks on the French Revolution by the vile English press at the time, the hacks of capitalism denounce Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Their aim is to discredit and blot out from history their real significance. This has been their task for more than a century.
Therefore, Lenin is cast as a ‘dictator’, a German agent, a tsarist agent, a new tsar, and finally, the precursor to Stalin and Stalinism. The din has become a crescendo.
The stories they peddle are so laughable as to make you blush to read them. There are literally hundreds of these ignorant so-called ‘historians’, all singing from the same hymn sheet and all churning out the same absurd blood-curdling claims about Lenin. Few, if any, are worth reading. Even the more ‘polished’ works on Lenin are laced with poison.
“Bolshevism was founded on a lie, setting a precedent that was to be followed for the next 90 years. Lenin had no time for democracy, no confidence in the masses and no scruples about the use of violence. He wanted a small, tightly organised and strictly disciplined party of hard-line professional revolutionaries, who would do exactly as they were told.” This sample is from the poison pen of Anthony Read in The World on Fire.
“Here lay the germs of government by terror, of the totalitarian aspiration to complete control of public life and opinion,” notes Richard Pipes, in a horror story written to frighten those of a nervous disposition.
“Lenin was the first modern party chief to achieve the status of a god: Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao Zedong were all his successors in this sense,” writes Figes, who is keen not to be outdone by the others.
These well-heeled, well-paid charlatans will never give up. Their campaign of lies will continue until capitalism itself is overthrown. We should leave them to their dirty work, like the witches in Macbeth.
Despite all their best efforts to sour the minds of the youth against Lenin and Bolshevism, things are not going as planned. People are beginning to question the official ‘narrative’, as with most things. Unfortunately for the literary lackeys of the bourgeoisie, their anti-communist drivel is not working as it should!
Alas, as Professor Orlando Figes is forced to admit, “The ghosts of 1917 have not been laid to rest.” And, given the period we have entered, nor will they be.
A beacon of hope
This is a time of unprecedented turmoil. Capitalism as a socio-economic system has exhausted itself and tens of millions of people internationally are questioning its legitimacy. As a result, they are actively looking for a way out of this impasse. However, the old parties are increasingly discredited and millions have become sick to death of the mealy-mouthed reformists of all descriptions who only want to ‘reform’ the system to one degree. But this is like asking a leopard to change its spots or trying to bail out the ocean with a spoon.
Lenin stands out as a giant in contrast to all the words and deeds of the Lilliputian labour leaders, both right and left, who in practice have accepted the capitalist system. They too, along with the bourgeois, regard Lenin either with horror, or at best as simply ‘out of date’, his ideas having no value or relevance.
But Lenin and his ideas are not so easily disposed of. “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true”, he explained. It is, “an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression.”
It is a theory to change the world, in which theory and practice are not separate, but form a unified whole. Therefore, Lenin, a true Marxist, dedicated his life to the victory of the world socialist revolution. In this regard, he stands out as a beacon for class-conscious workers everywhere.
Today, there is a growing interest in Lenin and his ideas and there is an attempt, especially by many young people, to rediscover the genuine programme of Leninism and Bolshevism. This interest and the deep crisis of the capitalist system demonstrates the relevance of Lenin for the here and now.
Lenin stood on the shoulders of Marx and Engels, and put into practice their ideas. Leninism is simply Marxism in the imperialist epoch of revolution and counter-revolution.
Given the ruthless struggle against the old capitalist order, Lenin stressed the vital need to build a disciplined and theoretically-steeled party. He was a revolutionary of such vision that he could only be the leader of the most fearless party, capable of carrying his thoughts and actions to their logical conclusion. He fused his fate with the fate of the proletarian party and its aims.
Given the treachery of the old Social-Democratic leaders, it was vital that a new revolutionary leadership was created. This meant that new Communist Parties had to be formed to organise the working class to take power. Unlike the old reformist parties, which had become largely electoral machines, these new parties would be modelled on the Bolshevik Party, both in organisation and revolutionary outlook.
“At the present moment in history, however, it is the Russian model that reveals to all countries something—and something highly significant—of their near and inevitable future,” explained Lenin in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.
“Only the history of Bolshevism during the entire period of its existence can satisfactorily explain why it has been able to build up and maintain, under most difficult conditions, the iron discipline needed for the victory of the proletariat.”
The Bolshevik Party was able to play such a role, given its unique history and the role of Lenin. As he explained:
“Russia achieved Marxism—the only correct revolutionary theory—through the agony she experienced in the course of half a century of unparalleled torment and sacrifice, of unparalleled revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, practical trial, disappointment, verification, and comparison with European experience. Thanks to the political emigration caused by tsarism, revolutionary Russia, in the second half of the nineteenth century, acquired a wealth of international links and excellent information on the forms and theories of the world revolutionary movement, such as no other country possessed.”
The Bolshevik Party under Lenin was the most revolutionary party in history. Lenin understood that such a party needed to be built before the revolutionary events broke. It certainly could not be improvised or spontaneously thrown up during a revolution, as this would be far too late. The whole experience of the past shows this to be the case.
First of all, it was important to create a network of Marxist cadres, which would act as a framework around which a mass party could eventually be built. Given that revolution was a serious business, Lenin fought for the creation of a party of ‘professional revolutionaries’ who would dedicate themselves to the revolution.
Furthermore, the revolutionary party needed to be founded on the bedrock of Marxist theory. “Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement”, Lenin explained in What is To Be Done?, a work dedicated to the building of such a party. He was the theoretical gatekeeper of the party, which under his leadership developed its own, proletarian morality, based on the interests of the socialist revolution.
For Lenin, this struggle for Marxist theory was an essential task. Therefore the role of Lenin’s Iskra was to engage in “a resolute and persistent struggle to uphold the fundamentals of Marxism”, which, he explained, was “again placed on the order of the day”.
Lenin wrote What is to be Done? in a period of theoretical backsliding and revisionism within the Russian Social Democracy. Much of Lenin’s pamphlet is devoted to refuting the arguments of the ‘Economist’ trend, which renounced the political struggle in the name of ‘spontaneity’ and workerism. But it was also necessary to contend with the influence of so-called ‘Legal Marxism’, which gutted Marxism of all its revolutionary content.
For Lenin, the defence of Marxist theory required more than the repetition of old formulas; it meant an application of the method of Marxism to the concrete situation. It was essential not to impose theory on reality. Reality was the starting point. As Lenin warned, theory, when it is reduced to an abstract dogma, can be misused to justify revisionism:
“Marxism is an extremely profound and many-sided doctrine. It is, therefore, no wonder that scraps of quotations from Marx—especially when the quotations are made inappropriately—can always be found among the ‘arguments’ of those who break with Marxism.”
He stressed that Marxism was not a lifeless dogma, or ready-made, immutable doctrine, but a living guide to action. This meant that it was vital to relate the ideas of Marxism to the real situation, and not engage in flights of fancy. “Truth is concrete”, he would often repeat. The great test for revolutionaries was to connect these ideas to the real movement of the working class. In this way, they could win support and bear fruit.
Lenin was always firm on principles, but very flexible on organisation and tactics. This was one of Lenin’s great strengths. He understood that the building of a genuine Communist Party, as with the Bolshevik Party, was not a straight line. To win over the workers, especially those still under the influence of the reformist parties, required flexible tactics. This was not a secondary matter. In his marvellous work, Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, Lenin explained:
“Only one thing is lacking to enable us to march forward more confidently and firmly to victory, namely, the universal and thorough awareness of all Communists in all countries of the necessity to display the utmost flexibility in their tactics.”
Lenin developed a great ‘feel’ for the situation and was able to size up things whenever there was a sharp turn in events. He was able to differentiate what was essential and what was secondary.
As Trotsky explained:
“It was Lenin’s peculiar gift, which he possessed to the highest degree, that with his intense revolutionary gaze, he could see and point out to others what was most important, most necessary, and most essential. Those comrades who, like myself, were given the chance to observe Lenin’s activity and the workings of his mind at close quarters, could not help but enthusiastically admire—yes, I repeat, enthusiastically admire—the perspicacity, the acuteness of his thought which rejected all that was external, accidental, superficial, reached to the heart of the matter and grasped the essential methods of action. The working class learns to value only those leaders who, having opened new paths, go forward with determination even if the proletariat’s own prejudices temporarily hinder their progress.”
Above all, Lenin was able to adapt to the changes taking place with foresight. This usually necessitated a change in tactics to correspond with the new needs of the situation. Again, these changes were not always straightforward and could lead to sharp polemics within the party. It was not for nothing that Bolshevism was known as a school of hard knocks.
At each stage in the party’s development, from the early circles of the underground to the mass work of 1905, right up to 1917 and beyond, Lenin had to overcome the resistance of those who clung to the methods of the past. At each proposed change of tactics, he was generally met with stiff resistance. The reason for this resistance was that the life of the party always develops a certain routinism. When the situation changes, this routinism conflicts with the new demands. There are many examples of this.
The attempt by Lenin to professionalise the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) at its Second Congress in 1903, where he attempted to move the party away from the informal, ‘small-circle’ mentality of the early period, actually led to a split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
The 1905 Revolution opened up new challenges. In order to take advantage of the open conditions, Lenin tried to break with the methods of the underground work. This brought him into conflict with the ‘committeemen’. These were dedicated revolutionaries who had grown up under the conditions of underground work, which shaped their outlook. So when the situation opened up for legal work, they found it difficult to adapt and became a barrier. This led to an almighty bust up.
But Lenin was not prepared to give way. The new opportunities demanded a change in approach. Therefore, he had to engage in battle with the committeemen and their methods. It was time to open up the party! Lenin did not mince his words:
“We need young forces. I am for shooting on the spot anyone who presumes to say that there are no people to be had. The people in Russia are legion; all we have to do is to recruit young people more widely and boldly, more boldly and widely, and again more widely and again more boldly, without fearing them. This is a time of war. The youth—the students, and still more so the young workers—will decide the issue of the whole struggle. Get rid of all the old habits of immobility, of respect for rank, and so on. Form hundreds of circles of Vperyod-ists from among the youth and encourage them to work at full blast…”
Lenin demanded that the Bolshevik leaders break from the old routinism and place the organisation on a war-footing. If not, there was a real danger that the new opportunities facing the party would be squandered. Once again Lenin called for action:
“Only you must be sure to organise, organise, and organise hundreds of circles, completely pushing into the background the customary, well-meant committee (hierarchic) stupidities. This is a time of war. Either you create new, young, fresh, energetic battle organisations everywhere for revolutionary Social-Democratic work of all varieties among all strata, or you will go under, wearing the aureole of ‘committee’ bureaucrats.”
The routinist approach of some of the Bolshevik leaders extended itself to their attitude to the newly-formed Soviets. The Soviets were thrown up spontaneously by workers in struggle, which were extended strike committees. They soon became an alternative power to the old tsarist regime.
Rather than embrace these new class formations, some of the old Bolshevik leaders regarded them as competitors to the party. They took a completely sectarian approach. It took the personal intervention of Lenin to correct this mistake. In fact, Lenin regarded the Soviets as “the embryo of a workers’ government”, which was borne out in the events of 1917, showing his farsightedness.
In 1905, the RSDLP, made up of both Menshevik and Bolshevik factions, was transformed into a mass party. This showed the enormous potential in the situation, but it did not last.
The defeat of the 1905 Revolution ushered in a period of bloody reaction in Russia. The movement suffered a major setback. This in turn led to many desertions from the party, especially of the more petty-bourgeois types who could not take the pressure. The atmosphere within the party was very bad and the Bolsheviks were reduced to a shell.
There were many problems in these years of reaction. Lenin was forced to break with those who had succumbed to the moods of despair and veered towards ultra-leftism on the one hand, such as those Bolsheviks who insisted on boycotting elections to the State Duma long after the revolution had been defeated, and on the other, those who wanted to dissolve the party entirely (the ‘liquidators’).
Once again, Lenin had to enter into a struggle on the theoretical plane, against those who were attempting to revise the most basic philosophical principles of the Marxist movement, including materialism itself. It was in this period that Lenin wrote Materialism and Empirio-Criticism as a polemic against a trend in the Russian Marxist movement that was turning away from dialectical materialism and towards the philosophical dead-end of subjective idealism.
On the organisational front, there had been attempts to fuse the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions following the 1905 Revolution. However, growing political differences had prevented this. The Mensheviks looked towards the liberals as the force to lead the revolution, while the Bolsheviks looked to the workers and poor peasants. Eventually, they went their separate ways, and the Bolshevik Party was formally constituted in April 1912.
Re-arming the party
The myth has been created that Lenin ruled the Bolshevik Party with a rod of iron, which was clearly not the case. There were many times when Lenin was in a minority, even within the leadership. Lenin’s authority was based not on waving a big stick, but on his political authority, built on a patient approach.
When Lenin was faced with the February Revolution in 1917, the new tactics he advocated found little support.
The revolution had led to the overthrow of tsarism and had thrown up a provisional government, made up of bourgeois representatives. At the same time the Russian workers set up Soviets on an even wider scale than in 1905. The Bolshevik leaders inside Russia – especially Kamenev and Stalin – were intoxicated by the revolution and the feelings of ‘unity’ that prevailed in its early days. As a result, they took a completely wrong attitude towards the provisional government. Rather than oppose the government, they gave it ‘critical support’, including their support for the imperialist war.
Lenin was furious. While still trying to leave Switzerland for Russia, he wrote a stream of articles – his celebrated Letters From Afar, that formed the basis of his famous April Theses – opposing the capitalist provisional government and calling for a new revolution.
The Bolsheviks had long been brought up on the perspective of a ‘democratic dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry’, linked to the idea of provoking a socialist revolution in the West. While this formulation regarded the coming revolution as a bourgeois revolution to sweep away the vestiges of feudalism and prepare the ground for capitalist development, the leadership of this revolution would fall not to the bourgeoisie, who would play a counter-revolutionary role, but the workers and peasants. However, this formula had an algebraic character in that the question of which class would play the leading role in this alliance was left open, as an ‘unknown quantity’.
The Bolshevik position was in marked contrast to the Mensheviks, who said the revolution was bourgeois and therefore must be led by the bourgeoisie. The workers, in their eyes, must play only a supportive role.
Trotsky, on the other hand, had put forward his own theory of ‘permanent revolution’ as the perspective for Russia. While agreeing with the Bolsheviks that the bourgeoisie was counter-revolutionary, he believed the only class capable of leading the revolution was the working class, supported by the poor peasants. However, rather than establishing a ‘democratic dictatorship’, Trotsky argued for a workers’ government that would first sweep away feudalism (the ‘democratic’ tasks), but would then proceed to the socialist tasks. This socialist revolution, in turn, would provoke the revolution in the West, which would come to the assistance of the Russian workers. This gave it its ‘permanent’ character.
The position put forward by Lenin in April 1917 was fundamentally identical to that of Trotsky. However, this was resisted by the ‘old Bolshevik’ leaders, who stuck to the original formula of ‘democratic dictatorship’.
Lenin was forced to use his entire political authority to change the direction of the party. In that way, he had to confront the self-styled ‘old Bolsheviks’, who accused him of ‘Trotskyism’!
In the face of the backsliding of the Bolshevik leaders, and given what was at stake, Lenin came out fighting:
“I shall prefer even an immediate split with anyone in our party, whoever it may be, to making concessions to the social patriotism of Kerensky and Co. to the social-pacifism and Kautskyism of Chkheidze and Co.
“The workers must be told the truth. We have to say that the government of Guchkov-Milyukov and Co. is an imperialist government… all state power [must be transferred] into the hands of the working class, the enemy of capital, the enemy of imperialist war, and only then will they have the right to appeal for the overthrow of all kings and all bourgeois governments.”
He then turned his attention to the ‘old Bolsheviks’:
“But at this point we hear a clamour of protest from people who readily call themselves ‘old Bolsheviks’. Didn’t we always maintain, they say, that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed only by the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’? Is the agrarian revolution, which is also a bourgeois-democratic revolution, completed? Is it not a fact, on the contrary, that it has not even started?
“My answer is: The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked out differently; they are more original, more peculiar, more variegated than anyone could have expected.
“To ignore or overlook this fact would mean taking after those ‘old Bolsheviks’ who more than once already have played so regrettable a role in the history of our party by reiterating formulas senselessly learned by rote instead of studying the specific features of the new and living reality…
“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times, consequently, he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’)…
“For the present, it is essential to grasp the incontestable truth that a Marxist must take cognisance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday, which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its complexity.
“‘Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.’
“To deal with the question of ‘completion’ of the bourgeois revolution in the old way is to sacrifice living Marxism to the dead letter.”
At the beginning of April 1917, Lenin was completely isolated within the Bolshevik Party when he raised the new perspective of socialist revolution. The old leaders had become a barrier, as with the earlier committeemen. The only leader to support him was Kollontai. The rest were opposed.
But with the force of Lenin’s arguments and the experience of the Bolsheviks on the ground, he was soon able to win over the majority of the party and steer the course towards the October Revolution.
Even then, in October 1917, in the days before the insurrection, he faced opposition within the leadership, especially from Zinoviev and Kamenev, who had been with him for years. Again, he had to put his entire political authority on the line to ensure the success of the insurrection.
Everything had prepared him for this moment. “They dared!”, to quote Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin had put the ideas of Marxism into practice. There is nothing more that could be asked of the Russian workers. They had swept away capitalism and landlordism and established a Soviet Republic of the toilers.
For Lenin, the October Revolution was not an end in itself, but only the opening shot in the working class conquering power worldwide. This internationalism was not for sentimental reasons, but arose from the international character of capitalism, which had laid the material basis for a new classless society. In particular, it created an international working class, whose historic mission was to become the grave-digger of capitalism.
It was on this solid foundation that Lenin formulated a principled, class position on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, at a time when the parties of the Second International were all lining up in defence of their ‘own’ capitalist class. And this struggle to preserve the banner of proletarian internationalism, in which Lenin found himself in a tiny minority, would culminate in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism in Russia in 1917, and the establishment of the Communist International as the world party of socialist revolution in 1919.
Lenin never entertained the idea of ‘socialism in one country’, as put forward by the Stalinists years later. This was the opposite of his perspective of world revolution. For Lenin, the Russian Revolution was not intended to build ‘Russian socialism’, which was a complete nonsense in such backward conditions. The victory in Russia, creating a proletarian citadel, was the starting point of the world revolution. It is no accident that he stressed that without revolution in the west, the Russian Revolution was doomed to fail.
As Lenin himself explained on 29 July 1918:
“We never harboured the illusion that the forces of the proletariat and the revolutionary people of any one country, however heroic and however organised and disciplined they might be, could overthrow international imperialism. That can be done only by the joint efforts of the workers of the world… We never deceived ourselves into thinking this could be done by the efforts of one country alone. We knew that our efforts were inevitably leading to a worldwide revolution, and that the war begun by the imperialist governments could not be stopped by the efforts of those governments themselves. It can be stopped only by the efforts of all workers; and when we came to power, our task… was to retain that power, that torch of socialism, so that it might scatter as many sparks as possible to add to the growing flames of socialist revolution.”
This idea was expressed by Lenin again and again. Lenin relied completely on the success of the world revolution, and worked to bring it about.
However, the anti-Marxist theory of ‘socialism in one country’ became the cornerstone of Stalinism. In fact accepting it became a condition of membership for the Stalinist Communist Parties.
In 1956, following the revelations of Khrushchev about Stalin at the Twentieth Congress, there was a deep crisis in the ranks of the Communist Parties. This was then compounded by the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution by Russian troops later in the year. All that CP members had been taught was brought into question and there was much discussion about the party’s past and the significance of the Russian Revolution.
During the discussions, when quotations of Lenin were raised against the theory of socialism in one country, some leading CP members were so disorientated that they even questioned the validity of the October Revolution.
“I never found it possible (though I went on trying) to convince a Trotskyist that these quotations proved Lenin a mad gambler,” wrote Alison Macleod, who worked for the Daily Worker. “What right had he [Lenin] to overthrow Kerensky, if seizing power in Russia was not going to be enough? What right had he to stake millions of lives on a revolution in Germany, which he had no power to bring about?”
Completely shaken and disillusioned, Macleod left the CP in April 1957, after working on the Daily Worker for a dozen years, along with thousands of others. She and many others had been criminally miseducated and lied to by Moscow. As a result, many turned their backs on the revolutionary movement.
Lenin’s faith in a successful revolution in Germany was no hopeless gamble, as Macleod claims. In fact, the chances of victory in 1923 were extremely high. After all, the German Communist Party (KPD) was the most powerful Communist Party outside of the Soviet Union and the crisis in the summer of 1923 (see IDOM issue 43) had produced a revolutionary situation. The masses were looking to the KPD for a way out.
Unfortunately, the KPD leaders were not up to the task. When they went to Moscow for advice, Lenin was incapacitated following his strokes and Trotsky was away. Those who advised them were Stalin and Zinoviev, who urged restraint when the German Communists should have been preparing for power. As a result, the opportunity was missed, with terrible consequences.
A successful German Revolution would have completely changed the course of world history. It would have broken the isolation of Soviet Russia and provoked a massive revolutionary crisis in Europe. However, its defeat resulted in bitter disillusionment, especially in Russia, that strengthened the hand of Soviet bureaucracy, laying in turn the basis for Stalinism. Stalinism, as a consequence, became a massive barrier to world revolution, and paved the way for the victory of Hitler with their theory of ‘social fascism’ that split the German working class. This hen led to the horrors of the Second World War.
This was not preordained. A successful revolution in Germany would have cut across such a development. But what was lacking in Germany was not a mass Communist Party, which existed, but a Lenin and Trotsky to lead it.
Unlike the Stalinist leaders, Lenin had colossal faith in the working class and its ability to overthrow capitalism worldwide. But what was needed was a genuine revolutionary leadership to guide the struggle to its logical conclusion. That was the whole lesson of Bolshevism.
In defence of Lenin
It is not only in the interests of the capitalists, but also Stalinists, for their own reasons, to equate the clean banner of Lenin with the bloodstained regime of Stalin. There could not be a greater abomination.
Despite his pivotal role, Lenin was a very modest man, nothing like the infallible caricature presented of him by the Stalinists. He frankly admitted his mistakes in order to learn from them. Many times after the October Revolution he would look back and laugh at the mistakes and “stupidities” they had made. Nevertheless, Lenin made fewer mistakes than most and was able to correct them. This enhanced his authority. His strength was not to be afraid of the truth, whatever the situation.
Lenin was not born Lenin fully-formed, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, as portrayed by the Stalinists over the years. Within this false scheme of things, there is no room for the development of ideas or even mistakes. Lenin is portrayed as an idealisation removed from reality. The Stalinists needed such a figure as a cover for their own supposed infallibility. They cynically turned him into a meaningless icon. But this is an entirely false picture and he was nothing like that.
In reality, Lenin made himself. He continually extended his horizons, learned from others, and drew himself up every day onto a higher plane. He conquered the ideas of Marxism for himself and enriched his understanding at every step. This gave Lenin a schooling as no other. This gave him confidence and a sureness.
The whole of his life’s work was dedicated to the struggle for Marxism and the building of the revolutionary party. His final years were a struggle against the tightening of his arteries and against the stranglehold of the Soviet bureaucracy, which threatened the degeneration of the revolution and with it the danger of capitalist restoration.
This struggle was linked directly to the defence of the fundamental principles of Marxism, which Lenin had fought for his entire life. It was the contemptuous, chauvinist attitude of the Stalin clique to the national question, particularly in relation to Georgia, that alerted Lenin to the grave risk of political degeneration at the top of the Bolshevik Party itself.
The centenary of Lenin’s death gives an opportunity to reflect on his extraordinary life and contribution and learn the lessons. It should allow us to discover the real Lenin and his ideas. This is not for any academic reason, but to prepare ourselves for the mighty events that impend.
Today, we are still faced with the alternatives of socialism or barbarism. Given the bankruptcy of the old organisations, the crisis facing humanity can be reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership internationally. Our International, basing itself on the ideas of Lenin and the other great Marxist teachers, is assembling the forces internationally with the express purpose of resolving this crisis.
To study Lenin today, in the midst of this world crisis, offers the most valuable concrete experience in solving the problems facing the working class in this epoch of war and revolution.
For us the ideas of Lenin are as close as one can get to a manual for world revolution. But for many, even on the supposed ‘left’, they remain a closed book. We must leave the sceptics and cynics, who dismiss Lenin as ‘out of date’, to stew in their own juice.
Communism is inextricably linked with the name of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, but the Communist Parties of today are ‘communist’ in name only. Under Stalinism, they suffered a complete degeneration. They have long ago abandoned the ideas of Lenin and Bolshevism and have instead adopted a reformist outlook.
The former Stalinists now merge with the campaign of the bourgeois historians to blacken the name of Bolshevism. Yes, they can denounce Lenin, they can tear down statues, they can plunder state assets, but there is one thing they cannot do: they can never kill an idea whose time has come. It is this fact that haunts them and gives them nightmares.
With the growing interest in Lenin and communism, it is worth repeating the words of Lenin himself from 6 March 1919:
“They seem to be scared stiff that ten or a dozen Bolsheviks will infect the whole world. But we, of course, know that this fear is ridiculous – because they have already infected the whole world…”
With this thought in mind, we rededicate ourselves to the goal of recreating the Communist International on an even higher level. That means a defence of the ideas of Lenin and building the forces of genuine communism worldwide. That is our urgent task, one hundred years after Lenin’s death.