Was Lenin a nationalist populist?

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working class
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Jul 20 2011 00:32
Was Lenin a nationalist populist?

Having read a few of his biographies, it seems probable to me that Lenin was actually an agrarian populist/nationalist deriving inspiration from the liberal terrorists, usually called narodniks. This seems to agree with his later actions in defending the Russian national interests over those of the working class on a number of occasions. For example, the Treaty of Rapallo and the attempt at imposing the Bolshevik order and structure on all world communist parties who came to represent the Russian national interest. His inspiration from the populists was of course written out of all official biographies and histories and he was made to be shown as a "great" theoretician of Marxism from his childhood.

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devoration1
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Jul 20 2011 00:41

He, along with Russian Social Democracy and socialism in general, were certainly 'influenced' by Narodnikism; in a similar way that the American Marxist movement was influenced by the 'Populists' of an earlier generation (Draper makes an excellent case for this in 'Origins of American Communism'). Lenin was no Narodnik.

He was a very astute Marxist, and a well-read politico entrenched in the weltanschauung of the Second International. He was an opponent of militarism, nationalism, religion, Tsardom, etc. It is very superficial to think that the later policies of a state produced from a degenerated, butchered and failed social revolution of the working-class and peasantry is evidence of Lenin being a closet Narodniki.

Don't read his biographies. Read his works. He wrote a library full of material on politics, religion, nationalism, the state, Marxism, and a laundry list of material and metaphysical and practical topics. You can deduce from those and the chronology of his ideas and actions (and those of the Bolshevik party and RSFSR/USSR during his lifetime) an idea of what he was; and again, it wasn't a nationalist or populist.

working class
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Jul 20 2011 02:00
devoration1 wrote:
Don't read his biographies. Read his works.

Doesn't this go against one of Marx's dictums about not understanding history from the writings of the actors in history?

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You can deduce from those and the chronology of his ideas and actions (and those of the Bolshevik party and RSFSR/USSR during his lifetime) an idea of what he was; and again, it wasn't a nationalist or populist.

I have read some of his works, all of which were codified later by the Soviet state to be holy writ.

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Jul 20 2011 04:15
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Doesn't this go against one of Marx's dictums about not understanding history from the writings of the actors in history?

For the last 100 years a number of political movements, nation-states, civil and imperialist wars, have all taken the words and actions of Lenin as a part or whole of their influence. Given the drastically changing and complex circumstances of his life and work, which were ever changing to the point of contradiction and contradiction to re-affirmation, and the above mentioned events that cause people to interpret his life and work for personal or propaganda benefit, I don't think much can be learned by biographies, especially to make political points.

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I have read some of his works, all of which were codified later by the Soviet state to be holy writ.
.

Then you'd appreciate his disdain for the Russian populists and their ideas. Examples you've given as evidence of his nationalism or links to the Narodnik movement (or at least some kind of latent populism) can be wholly explained by the circumstances of the working-class social revolution in the former Russian Empire starving from isolation and strangling from counter-revolutionary elements and totalitarian statism. The use of the Comintern from a weapon of the international proletariat for global emancipation of the toilers to a tool of Soviet foreign policy was one of many events that signalled the end of proletarian revolution and the recuperation of its manifestations by world capital in the form of the RCP/CPSU and Soviet state. This body was not created to serve Russian imperialism; just as the Soviet state was not created to re-institute the domination of capital and the Communist Party was not created to operate as a repressive state bureaucracy etc.

Treaty of Rapallo fits in the same same way as the Bolshevization of the Comintern. The normalization of the RSFSR/USSR as a traditional capitalist nation-state and all that comes with that. In the years following the Feb and Oct revolutions, a move back to capital, which necessitates international trade.

Neither done by an ideological imperative.

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Jul 20 2011 16:41
working class wrote:
Having read a few of his biographies, it seems probable to me that Lenin was actually an agrarian populist/nationalist deriving inspiration from the liberal terrorists, usually called narodniks.

Which is all well and good except:

(1) The Narodniks vacillated between 'going to the people' and carrying out terrorist actions whereas Lenin constantly emphasised the value of collective organisation and discipline over individual actions, in fact I believe he's nigh on infamous for it.

(2) Lenin did not share the narodniki belief in the regenerating possibilities of the Russian peasant commune and maintained that capitalism had already reached such a level in Russia that a move to socialism on the basis of communal social relations which were quickly being undermined was a fantasy.

(3) Narodnism was not simply a form of 'nationalism', the Octobrists and Cadets were also fairly pro-Russia however they lacked the pro-peasant romanticist zeal which made narodnism what it was.

(4) Lenin constantly stressed the role of the workers' movement in effecting radical change in Russia whereas, again, the narodniks looked back to the archaic forms of peasant life.

(5) Lenin was pro-industrialisation generally as were most Russian Marxists whereas, and I really can't stress this enough, the narodniks were romantics who looked towards the archaic social relations of the Russian village as their ideal.

There is also the not-so-small matter of Lenin's advocacy of what was known as 'revolutionary defeatism' i.e. he advocated agitation for the defeat of Russia in both the 1904/05 war with Japan and the First World War. Hardly the actions of a hardcore nationalist. If you want nationalism, you should check out Plekhanov. Lenin is in fact I believe almost universally hated by Russian nationalists because the Bolshevik revolution is seen as having destabilised Russia, and also because the Bolsheviks happened to fight a four year long Civil War against various Russian nationalist groups. The actions that you mention such as the Rapollo treaty need to be explained more by the defeat of the revolution, as devoration1 pointed out, than by ridiculously charging the Bolsheviks with ideological nationalism.

Now I reccomend that instead of drawing ridiculous comparisons you pick up a book sometime.

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door stop
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Jul 20 2011 21:28

Lenin left a big question mark over Poland and Trotsky just sat on the fence. It is very disconcerting that there was not a significant uprising here.

Russia must stay separate until the Polish are united.

This was one line offered by Lenin. Nationalist or not that would make the framework of Russia into a sort of model State. Why must an international movement such as socialism make that sort of back-hand?

Poland is not a wedge but a link to go beyond.

This is how Trotsky appreciated it and he understood the Russian attitude of the moment. Insofar as he has stated the crack, I believe he takes a very dismal aspect considering his role. Was he conscious that this was his anguish to treat the Polish in this way?

Now, regarding their remarks on diplomacy, I think what Marx wrote with Engels in the Communist Manifesto about freedom for the Polish was important, however, it was superseded by Bakunin's remark:

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'Man is truly free only in the midst of other equally free men: and as he is free only insofar as he is human, the enslavement of just one man on earth, being an offense against the very principle of humanity, is a negation of the freedom of all.'
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Jul 21 2011 02:34

It's probably worth pointing out that Lenin's ideas were often very much at odds with his actions, especially later in life. Sometimes, as with State and Revolution, this seems like a flat out betrayal of his stated principles. Other times, as with the use of comintern for Russian national interest, the subjection of the nationalities of the empire to more centralised control and so on really did spring out of the necessities of the situation if he wished the Bolshevik party to 'defend the gains of October' as our Trotskyist friends would put it. Now whether the price he paid was worth that, and whether the Bolsheviks and in particular the central committee ought to have been brutally manoeuvring themselves into a position where they were so heavily in control of policy for defending the revolutionary gains is very much up for debate. But I think it's certainly fair to say that had things gone according to plan, Lenin would not have done much that would amount to nationalism or populism and the appearance of nationalist of populist policies was a function of adversity not design. After all, they are both features of capitalist management that Lenin, for one reason and another, ending up exercising partly intentionally and partly against his will.

It's probably worth pointing out that Lenin's ideas were often very much at odds with his actions, especially later in life. Sometimes, as with State and Revolution, this seems like a flat out betrayal of his stated principles. Other times, as with the use of comintern for Russian national interest, the subjection of the nationalities of the empire to more centralised control and so on really did spring out of the necessities of the situation if he wished the Bolshevik party to 'defend the gains of October' as our Trotskyist friends would put it. Now whether the price he paid was worth that, and whether the Bolsheviks and in particular the central committee ought to have been brutally manoeuvring themselves into a position where they were so heavily in control of policy for defending the revolutionary gains is very much up for debate. But I think it's certainly fair to say that had things gone according to plan, Lenin would not have done much that would amount to nationalism or populism and the appearance of nationalist of populist policies was a function of adversity not design. After all, they are both features of capitalist management that Lenin, for one reason and another, ending up exercising partly intentionally and partly against his will.

edit: also, a lot of Lenin's documents are political not ideological or analytical documents, at least to some extent, so the words are designed to have effects in the world more than they are to express incisive truths. His polemics, for instance, are probably deliberately misleading and demonizing from time to time. Therefore, when quoting Lenin (or any other political figure) it's always worth asking, what kind of text is this and what role is it playing in Lenin's thought and career. It would, for example, be a mistake to try and understand any of the major Bolshevik theorists' ideas on nationalism and imperialism purely by reading their often rather patronising addresses to Asian delegates and the like.

working class
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Jul 21 2011 03:18
Zanthorus wrote:
Which is all well and good except:

(1) The Narodniks vacillated between 'going to the people' and carrying out terrorist actions whereas Lenin constantly emphasised the value of collective organisation and discipline over individual actions, in fact I believe he's nigh on infamous for it.

Collective organisation and discipline? Lenin's Bolshevik party was organised very much as a conspiratorial network of cells, not too different from those of the Narodnikis. Lenin was also greatly influenced by the nihilist Sergei Nechayev, whose work I suggest you read to get a grasp over where Lenin got his inspiration from. Lenin also had a bulky picture of the nihilist terrorist, who attempted to killed Tsar Alexander II, in his office.

The Bolshevik model of a conspiratorial group of professional revolutionaries was unknown to Marxism before Lenin and before it was codified and elevated to holy status by the Soviet state as Marxism-Leninism. This model of a party of professional revolutionaries bringing about the "revolution" on behalf of the proletariat was directly inspired by the Russian nihilists and has been copied innumerable times since then by various assorted Guevarists and Maoists. Then again, what do any of Lenin's original contributions have to do with Marxism?

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(2) Lenin did not share the narodniki belief in the regenerating possibilities of the Russian peasant commune and maintained that capitalism had already reached such a level in Russia that a move to socialism on the basis of communal social relations which were quickly being undermined was a fantasy.

This is irrelevant. What he thought and what he believed in has been broadcast as part of the hagiographical rewriting of history by the Soviet state. I don't think we can ever know what he really believed in.

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There is also the not-so-small matter of Lenin's advocacy of what was known as 'revolutionary defeatism' i.e. he advocated agitation for the defeat of Russia in both the 1904/05 war with Japan and the First World War.

I agree that he displayed a sense of internationalism on this occasion. This was not unusual behaviour on his part. He always considered Germany as a superior nation to Russia. The only reason he became well known to the world was because of the funds and protection given to the Bolsheviks by the German state. So, even in this case, his internationalism can be considered to be of suspect origins.

working class
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Jul 21 2011 03:33
devoration1 wrote:
For the last 100 years a number of political movements, nation-states, civil and imperialist wars, have all taken the words and actions of Lenin as a part or whole of their influence. Given the drastically changing and complex circumstances of his life and work, which were ever changing to the point of contradiction and contradiction to re-affirmation, and the above mentioned events that cause people to interpret his life and work for personal or propaganda benefit, I don't think much can be learned by biographies, especially to make political points..

You did not answer my point about not learning history from the writings of its actors. Lenin may have thought he was he was a descendant of Zeus destined to rule the world, but this does not mean he really was.

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Treaty of Rapallo fits in the same same way as the Bolshevization of the Comintern. The normalization of the RSFSR/USSR as a traditional capitalist nation-state and all that comes with that. In the years following the Feb and Oct revolutions, a move back to capital, which necessitates international trade.

Neither done by an ideological imperative.

There were material conditions that led to these events as is the case in all events in history where material conditions determine its course than any amount of ideological imperative. I am not asking why these events happened. The only question here is: did the Bolsheviks and Lenin represent a continuation of 19th century Russian populism.

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Jul 21 2011 05:13
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You did not answer my point about not learning history from the writings of its actors.

I answered your point. I'm not a footsoldier of Marx to begin with; and on this particular point, concerning Lenin, my experience with biographies have been slanted to the point of being ridiculous. One example: linking later policies of realpolitik by the RCP(b) as examples of latent or underlying Narodnikism.

Cadre building and democratic centralism are on par to you with the conspiratorial terrorist cells of the nihilists and Narodniks? Seriously?

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Then again, what do any of Lenin's original contributions have to do with Marxism?

The April Thesis and State & Revolution to begin with were a severe break with the conduct of a Marxist party as laid out by the Communist Manifesto and especially the practices of the Second International. Adoption of the Parvus/Trotsky theory of permanent revolution, revolutionary defeatism as opposed to revolutionary defencism, promotion of the factory committee's & worker's councils as the forms a modern working-class will use to overthrow bourgeois regimes (democratic and authoritarian) and capitalism itself, etc etc etc.

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Jul 21 2011 10:52
working class wrote:
This is irrelevant. What he thought and what he believed in has been broadcast as part of the hagiographical rewriting of history by the Soviet state. I don't think we can ever know what he really believed in.

Have you read "The Development of Capitalism in Russia" (1899)? I think it's pretty clear what Lenin thought on this point, whatever the hagiography says.

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Jul 22 2011 00:40
devoration1 wrote:
promotion of the factory committee's & worker's councils as the forms a modern working-class will use to overthrow bourgeois regimes (democratic and authoritarian) and capitalism itself, etc etc etc.

On this point, I'm not sure how clear cut Lenin was on this. Different people say very different things as did Lenin himself. As I understand it prior to the coming to power of the Bolsheviks he saw the council form as a tactical way to get the workers' party into power where parliamentary politics was a less viable route than this more revolutionary course. For example this quote: "The principle that for Social-Democracy participation in a provisional revolutionary government with the bourgeoisie is inadmissible, that every such participation is a betrayal of the working class, is a principle of anarchism." http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/prg/article2.htm

Do you think that is a fair assessment?

Alexander Roxwell
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Jul 22 2011 06:10

Lenin's renown comes from being the celebrated “winner" in the Russian revolution who outsmarted all who opposed him, not from his theoretical contributions to Marxism.

All one can really say is that he was a better "Marxist" than was Mao-Tse-Tung.

The "Marxism" of the Second International, however, was always supremely defective, a mixture of "Marxism" and LaSallism.

And it was not only the pollution of LaSalle.

Marx was extremely Eurocentric and extrapolated almost his entire theory of world history from his study of French Socialism, German Hegelianism, and English Political Economy.

Lenin was better before 1917 than he was afterwards for many of the same reasons that the quasi-anarchist Noam Chomsky today may be the clearest describer of what is going on in the world today. His "false consciousness" did not interfere with his ability to look out the window and say what he saw.

After 1917 Lenin was the leader of a successful bourgeois-nationalist revolution in Russia and his views became increasingly skewed by his devotion to that revolution and its success. His major political blinder was his embrace of Trotsky's crackpot view of the "permanent revolution" and his notion that he was creating something "socialist."

Other Bolsheviks, such as the Workers Truth group, The Democratic Centralists and the Workers Opposition suffered from similar defects but Lenin also did carry a very serious form of "false consciousness" in the form of an elitism that allowed him to substitute a voluntary association of individuals for a class that was considerably less strong in others. This allowed him to overlook or minimize the increasing contradictions of his position.

Lenin was just a man, neither a God nor a Demon. Nor was he in any way a “nationalist” or a "populist."

capricorn
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Jul 22 2011 09:56

I don't think it can be said that Lenin was a Populist (Narodnik) as he was opposed to their view that Russia could avoid capitalist development. As someone has already pointed out, he even wrote a whole book about this (in 1899). He was on the opposite wing of the anti-Tsarist revolutionary movement to them, the Social Democrats (as they called themselves), who considered themselves Marxists and who realised that Russia would have to pass through a stage of capitalist development before socialism became a practical proposition there.

But there was one thing that Lenin did inherit from the Narodniks, and which did distinguish him from other Russian Social Democrats, and that was their organizational principle: that Russian anti-Tsarist revolutionaries should organise themselves as a party of professional revolutionaries to lead the mass popular revolution against Tsarism. But this didn't make him a nationalist.

What did make him have to act as a nationalist was when, miscalculating on an impending European socialist revolution, Lenin and the Bolshevik party of professional revolutionaries seized power in November 1917 and became the government of Russia. When the European revolution failed to materialise they found themselves in charge of a state which had no alternative but to develop capitalism and so had to act to defend the "national" interests of developing Russian capitalism. Lenin may not have liked it (in fact he didn't) but that was the situation he had got himself into.

Two other points that I don't think have yet been made are:

1. Lenin did support other nationalisms by supporting the so-called right of "nation's" to self-determination.
2. As an orthodox Social Democrat (except on the organizational question) he would also have supported the "right" of the Russian "nation" (a concept he didn't repudiate) to self-determination. In fact, this would have been one of the reasons he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary in the first place and wanted (till 1917) to establish a democratic republic in Russia which would have had its own armed forces and "right" to defend itself. I doubt if Lenin would have taken a "defeatist" position if a Russian democratic republic had been at war with Japan in 1904 or with Germany and Austria in 1914.

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Jul 22 2011 12:15
working class wrote:
Collective organisation and discipline? Lenin's Bolshevik party was organised very much as a conspiratorial network of cells, not too different from those of the Narodnikis.

No, it wasn't. Read any of the revisionist historiographies of the revolution since Rabinowitch. The idea of the Bolsheviks as a small conspiratorial putschist group is a myth perpetuated by Stalinist and Western cold warrior historiography. In the run up to 1917 they were increasingly an open mass party.

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Lenin was also greatly influenced by the nihilist Sergei Nechayev, whose work I suggest you read to get a grasp over where Lenin got his inspiration from.

Nechayev? The Bakuninist terrorist? I don't think so. Why not actually read anything Lenin himself wrote on the subject of individual terrorism?

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The Bolshevik model of a conspiratorial group of professional revolutionaries

Did not exist.

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Then again, what do any of Lenin's original contributions have to do with Marxism?

Lenin never made any 'original contributions'. And I could ask conversely, what do Guevarist and Maoist organisations designed for peasant wars have to do with working-class revolution?

Quote:
What he thought and what he believed in has been broadcast as part of the hagiographical rewriting of history by the Soviet state. I don't think we can ever know what he really believed in.

Except we can. We have Lenin's full collected works. That's a fairly impressive source of knowledge about the mans way of thinking. And in most cases it doesn't support the hagiography of Soviet historians.

Alexander Roxwell wrote:
Marx was extremely Eurocentric and extrapolated almost his entire theory of world history from his study of French Socialism, German Hegelianism, and English Political Economy.

Except that Marx didn't have a 'theory of world history' so it's difficult to see how he could have 'extrapolated' it from anywhere. You may have a point that in his early years especially Marx had a view of non-western societies which saw them as essentially static and unchanging until the arrival of the civilising forces of capitalism, a narrative derived from traditional orientalist and colonialist narratives, but later, in his notebooks on India, Marx no longer saw India as an unchanging society, and even attacked the use of 'feudalism' as a classification for any stage of Indian development. Even as early as 1857, I don't see how Marx's support for the Sepoy uprising, for example, could be concieved as evidence of 'eurocentrism'.

capricorn wrote:
But there was one thing that Lenin did inherit from the Narodniks, and which did distinguish him from other Russian Social Democrats, and that was their organizational principle: that Russian anti-Tsarist revolutionaries should organise themselves as a party of professional revolutionaries to lead the mass popular revolution against Tsarism. But this didn't make him a nationalist.

I'm sorry, where did the Narodniks ever organise themselves in such a way? In actual fact, the idea of a party of proffessional revolutionaries derived itself from the practice of German Social-Democracy, as you would've seen if you'd read 'What is to be Done?', since Lenin frequently cites the work of the SPD's delegates to parliament and so on as shining examples of the activity of a party acting as the vanguard of the working-class rather than the 'tail-endism' which he accused first the economists and later the Mensheviks of being in the grip of.

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Lenin did support other nationalisms by supporting the so-called right of "nation's" to self-determination.

Lenin's support of the right of nations to self-determination was a demand intended to break up the affinity between workers' and capitalists in the imperialist countries which was based on the creation of a national 'other' to which the unity of the traditions of the opressing countries could be opposed. The classic example of such a practice was Marx and Engels on the Irish question where Marx came round to the view that in order to break the workers' from the British bourgeoisie Ireland would first have to liberate itself. Ironically actually, Lenin himself was probably more aware of the dangers posed by nationalists movements than Marx and Engels were. While supporting the right of the Polish nation to self-determination against the great Russian chauvinists for example, he also supported Rosa Luxemburg in her struggle against the Polish social-patriots like Pilsudski (For which Wilhelm Liebknecht had originally denounced Luxemburg as a Tsarist agent!).

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I doubt if Lenin would have taken a "defeatist" position if a Russian democratic republic had been at war with Japan in 1904 or with Germany and Austria in 1914.

Eh? The WWI issue was frequently argued in terms of the democratic powers (France, England and in the later years America) of the entente versus the dictatorial powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary) of the central powers. Lenin was among those who made the ripose against the 'defence of democracy' line:

capricorn
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Jul 22 2011 13:11
Zanthorus wrote:
capricorn wrote:
But there was one thing that Lenin did inherit from the Narodniks, and which did distinguish him from other Russian Social Democrats, and that was their organizational principle: that Russian anti-Tsarist revolutionaries should organise themselves as a party of professional revolutionaries to lead the mass popular revolution against Tsarism. But this didn't make him a nationalist.

I'm sorry, where did the Narodniks ever organise themselves in such a way?

Try this one.

Zanthorus wrote:
Quote:
I doubt if Lenin would have taken a "defeatist" position if a Russian democratic republic had been at war with Japan in 1904 or with Germany and Austria in 1914.

Eh? The WWI issue was frequently argued in terms of the democratic powers (France, England and in the later years America) of the entente versus the dictatorial powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary) of the central powers. Lenin was among those who made the ripose against the 'defence of democracy' line:

For how, and why, Lenin abandoned the slogan of "revolutionary defeatism" after the overthrow of Tsarism in March 1917 while still opposing the war see Hal Darper's article here, particularly this summary at the end of chapter 5.

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Jul 22 2011 13:25
capricorn wrote:
Try this one.

Ok, however I maintain that the Bolsheviks did not organise in the way which is ascribed to them by the hoards of anarchist and councillist epigonoi as some kind of conspiratorial sect which planned to subsitute itself for the working-class. If anything, the problem which Lenin was dealing with in the early 1900's was that the spontaneous working-class movement was already well ahead of the tail-enders. So the link drawn here between the Narodniks and the Bolsheviks is spurious.

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Jul 22 2011 14:07
Zanthorus wrote:
Ok, however I maintain that the Bolsheviks did not organise in the way which is ascribed to them by the hoards of anarchist and councillist epigonoi as some kind of conspiratorial sect which planned to subsitute itself for the working-class.

Do you mean that the Bolsheviks did not organise in a way before the revolution which led to their actual substitution of themselves for the working class after the revolution?

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Jul 22 2011 14:50

I think that is quite a hagiographic account of the 'anarchist' critique of Bolsheviks. I don't know many that hold such a conspiratorial critique of Lenin et al.

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Jul 22 2011 17:55
Django wrote:
Do you mean that the Bolsheviks did not organise in a way before the revolution which led to their actual substitution of themselves for the working class after the revolution?

capricorn's original claim was that Lenin's conception of the party derived itself from Narodnik organisation. I asked him to prove this and he posted a link to a wikipedia article outlining the life of a Narodnik who had attempted to organise a conspiratorial organisation which would commit some kind of terrorist/coup activity to rouse the masses to revolution, quite literally substituting itself for the agency of the class. Now this makes some kind of sense if we believe the work of Cold War hacks who believed that the revolution was a coup. However this is not the case, the Bolsheviks were a fairly open mass party. Now you are talking about a different kind of 'substitutionism' where instead of immediately substituting themselves for the class the Bolsheviks gradually took political power out of the hands of the class afterwards. I'm not going to attempt to contest that (Although it should be noted that Brinton's piece is the work of a political militant not a proffessional historian. I'm sure no-one on here would be convinced if I went around linking to pieces by Trotsky to prove my points) but it has nothing to do with the subject of whether the Bolsheviks and Lenin in particular were Narodniks or influenced by the Narodniks (Which they clearly weren't).

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Jul 22 2011 18:09

Just a small remark on the hagiography: I think that in the Soviet and Eastern European pre-1989 historiography, the dominant image of Lenin, as far as the Narodniki are concerned, was that of the founder of a new, non-romanticist and non-terrorist movement. You all probably know the story of Lenin's brother Alexander, who was executed as a terrorist. Now, the story I remember from a pre-1989 (probably heavily stylized) biography of Lenin says that upon learning of his brother's fate, Lenin uttered, "We shall take a different path" – one of a mass proletarian party. I have a vague memory of this scene being turned into a painting in the USSR as well.

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Jul 22 2011 21:01

Hmmm.. not sure about Lenin being a nationalist populist, but pretty sure damned he was a right cock.

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Jul 23 2011 13:32
plasmatelly wrote:
Hmmm.. not sure about Lenin being a nationalist populist, but pretty sure damned he was a right cock.

I think Emma Goldman's view of Lenin in 'My Disillusionment in Russia' is probably the most accurate; a very intelligent, calculating pragmatist with no sentimentality or humanist inclinations combined with the inner drive of a true believing fanatic. What's that Bakunin quote?

"Take the most radical revolutionist and place him upon. the all-Russian throne or give him dictatorial power, of which so many of our green revolutionists daydream, and within a year he will have become worse than the Emperor himself." (from "Science and the Urgent Revolutionary Task", 1870)

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Jul 23 2011 13:38
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Hmmm.. not sure about Lenin being a nationalist populist, but pretty sure damned he was a right cock.

laugh out loud laugh out loud laugh out loud

working class
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Jul 28 2011 04:18
Zanthorus wrote:
working class wrote:
Collective organisation and discipline? Lenin's Bolshevik party was organised very much as a conspiratorial network of cells, not too different from those of the Narodnikis.

No, it wasn't. Read any of the revisionist historiographies of the revolution since Rabinowitch. The idea of the Bolsheviks as a small conspiratorial putschist group is a myth perpetuated by Stalinist and Western cold warrior historiography. In the run up to 1917 they were increasingly an open mass party.

Note that this is off topic. No one claimed that they did not become a mass party eventually. Also, it is quite interesting that they became a mass party in the run up to 1917 which was so because the conditions for the emancipation of the working class existed and the workers were misled by the Bolsheviks, not because there was of Lenin or his theories.

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The Bolshevik model of a conspiratorial group of professional revolutionaries

Did not exist.

Are you claiming that the Bolsheviks were not professional revolutionaries whose survival depended on their so-called revolutionary activities? If so, pray tell which factory Lenin or Trotsky really worked at.

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And I could ask conversely, what do Guevarist and Maoist organisations designed for peasant wars have to do with working-class revolution?

They have nothing in common with the latter, except they have Lenin to thank for having provided them with the pattern to follow in their respective counter-revolutions. The Bolshevik model served as an inspiration for Mao, Che, Ho Chi Minh etc.

Ho Chi Minh wrote:
I loved and admired Lenin because he was a great patriot who liberated his compatriots;
capricorn
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Jul 25 2011 08:01

Zanthorus should follow the advice given to those in a hole to stop digging. I thought it was common knowledge that Lenin got his organisational ideas from previous anti-Tsarist Russian revolutionaries. He even says so himself in this passage from What Is To Be Done?

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The writer of these lines knows very well that the St. Petersburg Economists levelled the charge of Narodnaya Volya tendencies also against Rabochaya Gazeta (which is quite understandable when one compares it with Rabochaya Mysl). We were not in the least surprised, therefore, when, soon after the appearance of Iskra, a comrade informed us that the Soclal-Democrats in the town of X describe Iskra as a Narodnaya Volya organ. We, of course, were flattered by this accusation; for what decent Social-Democrat has not been accused by the Economists of being a Narodnaya Volya sympathiser?

These accusations are the result of a twofold misunderstanding. First, the history of the revolutionary movement is so little known among us that the name “Narodnaya Volya” is used to denote any idea of a militant centralised organisation which declares determined war upon tsarism. But the magnificent organisation that the revolutionaries had in the seventies, and that should serve us as a model, was not established by the Narodnaya Volya, but by the Zemlya i Volya, which split up into the Cherny Peredel and the Narodnaya Volya. Consequently, to regard a militant revolutionary organisation as something specifically Narodnaya Volya in character is absurd both historically and logically; for no revolutionary trend, if it seriously thinks of struggle, can dispense with such an organisation. The mistake the Narodnaya Volya committed was not in striving to enlist all the discontented in the organisation and to direct this organisation to resolute struggle against the autocracy; on the contrary, that was its great historical merit. The mistake was in relying on a theory which in substance was not a revolutionary theory at all, and the Narodnaya Volya members either did not know how, or were unable, to link their movement inseparably with the class struggle in the developing capitalist society. Only a gross failure to understand Marxism (or an “understanding” of it in the spirit of “Struveism”) could prompt the opinion that the rise of a mass, spontaneous working-class movement relieves us of the duty of creating as good an organisation of revolutionaries as the Zemlya i Volya had, or, indeed, an incomparably better one. On the contrary, this movement imposes the duty upon us; for the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine “class struggle” until this struggle is led by a strong organisation of revolutionaries.

Accused of "Jacobinism" for holding such a view Lenin defiantly accepted this label (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back), which so shocked Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg.

The final irony of all this is that the Narodnik group (Zemlya i Volya -- "Land and Freedom") that Lenin praised here was inspired by the ideas of Bakunin which led to other, and later, Marxist Social Democrats accusing him of being .... a latter-day Bakuninist.

mciver
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Jul 27 2011 22:56

devoration1 Jul 23 2011/post 23

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I think Emma Goldman's view of Lenin in 'My Disillusionment in Russia' is probably the most accurate; a very intelligent, calculating pragmatist with no sentimentality or humanist inclinations combined with the inner drive of a true believing fanatic. What's that Bakunin quote?
"Take the most radical revolutionist and place him upon. the all-Russian throne or give him dictatorial power, of which so many of our green revolutionists daydream, and within a year he will have become worse than the Emperor himself." (from "Science and the Urgent Revolutionary Task", 1870)

Emma Goldman's My Disillusionment in Russia (1923) contains this scathing view of Lenin, after an interview:

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A shrewd Asiatic, this Lenin. He knows how to play on the weak sides of men by flattery, rewards, medals. I left convinced that his approach to people was purely utilitarian, for the use he could get out of them for his scheme. And his scheme -- was it the Revolution?

http://www.ditext.com/goldman/russia/ch05.html

The stereotypic 'shrewd Asiatic' aside, this is different from what devoration1 claims as Goldman's view. 'Shrewd' isn't the same as 'very intelligent', but for apparatchiks (and their novices) it's surely the same -- intelligence as cunning, as the attribute of no-nonsense chiselers. A 'calculating pragmatist' sounds almost neutral, whereas Goldman hits the mark with her 'purely utilitarian', meaning a manipulating bastard who "knows how to play on the weak sides of men...". And a demagogue and genocidist, which is what Goldman alludes to in her narrative:

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Kronstadt broke the last thread that held me to the Bolsheviki. The wanton slaughter they had instigated spoke more eloquently against them than aught else. Whatever their pretences in the past, the Bolsheviki now proved themselves the most pernicious enemies of the Revolution. I could have nothing further to do with them.

http://www.ditext.com/goldman/russia/ch27.html

Yet devoration1's own Lenin description nails this leading Bolshevik -- a sociopath lacking in 'sentimentality' or 'humanism', with the "inner drive of a true believing fanatic". Not that different from the likes of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and other national warlords, all sharing this inner drive of true believing fanatics. The Bakunin quote could equally apply to Bakunin, and it certainly prefigures Lenin's totalitarian regime. Is devoration1 agreeing with Bakunin and the Goldman of 1921? Is the ICC's need to flatter 'internationalist anarchists' so desperate that the 'parasite' Bakunin is reanimated approvingly?

That there was a golden age when Lenin and his cohorts stood for 'internationalism', and that the class struggles of the postwar period (1917-23) pointed to a 'world revolution', are part of an obstinate myth. They serve the eschatology of surviving left communist and Trotskyist cults. The reality was soberingly different.

Of course Lenin and the whole of the Marxist Social Democracy were nationalist, in spite of their professed 'anti-capitalism'. What else could they be? That's implicit in the utopia of the 'labour republic' with a 'transitional stage' (and thus 'proletarian' states and nations). 'Internationalism' meant a federation of labour republics (ie, NATIONS), operating in the world market, subjecting their enclosed subjects to the law of value and competition, to a 'rights-based' civil society. High-sounding phrases about 'international solidarity' were just mobilising propaganda, without any global validation. Rousseau's 'Popular Will' and Kant's 'Perpetual Peace' are among the Enlightenment's antecedents of the 'labour republic', not ignoring the sanguinary Jacobin episode.

The assumption that the proletariat is the only genuine heir to the nation is implicit in the Manifesto of 1848, in spite of the assertion that proletarians 'have no country'. The very word 'internationalism' gives the game away -- the real goal is a network or federation of egalitarian 'proletarian nations'. Just like the state, the nation is supposed to 'wither away' when the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' has negated itself. In this utopia there's no intrinsic contradiction between 'nationalism' and 'internationalism'. The view that a hegemonic proletariat could become a 'ruling class' (ie, still a class) was part of the historical delusion. This delusion is described by GM Tamás in Telling the Truth About Class. It was an ideological cloak that served the survival of a crises-ridden network of states, by mobilising civil society under totalising banners.

Bolshevism's nationalism was always present, as it was embedded in the 1st and 2nd Internationals. It didn't emerge because of the 'the defeat of the revolution by the counter-revolution', or 'Bolshevik betrayal', but because of the dynamic and experience of nation-state formation in the previous historic period.

Hal Draper's minutely argued 'The Myth of Lenin's 'Revolutionary Defeatism' http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1953/defeat/index.htm undermines the claims of Lenin's 'revolutionary defeatism'. Even in his Leninist apologia, Draper clearly shows how Lenin's stance on the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) was a 'social patriotic' support for 'young' Japanese imperialism. To claim that Lenin was 'against militarism' is nonsense. As long as there were 'progressive nations' and 'proletarian bastions', a 'proletarian' militarism and national defence were obligatory, together with the essential 'red terror' to atomise disobedient masses.

The Bolsheviks' calculating arrogance towards the 1905 Russian soviets has been analysed elsewhere, but their terroristic conspiracies prior and during that time, have seldom received proper attention. Anna Geifman's Thou Shalt Kill, Princeton, 1995, is an eye-opener. This study helps explain the later Bolshevik propensity for relentless brutality and Cheka violence. The corruption of Bolshevism didn't come from their 'identification and fusion with the state' after 1917, but from these early necrophilous practices. They indeed link Bolshevik practice to the Narodnik tradition, but most revolutionaries in the Tsarist empire had their own 'combat organisations' engaged in terrorism, robberies ('expropriations') and other racketeering activities. Naturally, they were carried out in the name of 'socialism' and 'the people'.

RJ Rummel's Lethal Politics, New Brunswick, 1990, describes the genocidal cost of the Bolsheviks' 'nation-building'. If WW1 had high Russian losses of 4 million, what came after 1918 -- the famines, epidemics, Red Terror, the Bread War, the Civil War, new concentration and labour camps -- led to more than 10 million Russian dead. To left communists, these staggering figures were worth it (if ever mentioned in their true scale), because the Bolsheviks, you see, represented some inspiring (though hazy) 'internationalist' dynamic, in spite of their criminal policies and early destruction of any attempt at self-organisation from civil society.

This study helps dispel the mythology of the early Bolshevik-Comintern's 'internationalism': Piero Melograni, Lenin and the Myth of World Revolution, Atlantic Highlands, 1989. The precedents for Rapallo were many, appearing long before 1922.

Brian Pearce, How Haig Saved Lenin, Basingstoke and London, 1987 confirms that what saved the early Bolshevik régime from the German Army in 1918 wasn't the growing threat of the world revolution, but the victory of the Entente Armies in the Western Front. Pearce also describes Lenin's and the Bolsheviks' eagerness to cooperate with the German Army, in an potential alliance against the Entente. Similar overtures were made towards the Entente before Brest-Litovsk. The Bolshevik priority was régime & state survival; in this sense, they were the party of national salvation -- their nationalism was rational, as was their 'internationalist' strategy -- the attempt via Comintern to dominate class struggles where it mattered -- and 'colonial struggles' -- fostering the formation of more 'labour republics' that would come loyally to their aid. The war and invasion of Poland by the Red Army in 1920 flowed from the same need, to provoke a 'labour republic' in Poland and perhaps even in Germany.

Incidentally, reading critical biographies of egocrats like Lenin and Trotsky is fruitful, if you want to keep informed. Certainly more productive than dozing over the self-serving myths of left communists. Or subjecting yourself, like a lolling novice, to the drone of Lenin's Collected Works, heavily censored by generations of Stalinist hacks.

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devoration1
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Jul 25 2011 14:13
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Is the ICC's need to flatter 'internationalist anarchists' so desperate that the 'parasite' Bakunin is reanimated approvingly?

I'm not an ICC member. My views are in flux; I've never said otherwise. While I agree with much of the communist left (and the ICC inparticular) there's much that I don't agree with. Either way, please don't use my posts to extrapolate positions from an organization of which I am not a member.

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The stereotypic 'shrewd Asiatic' aside, this is different from what devoration1 claims as Goldman's view. 'Shrewd' isn't the same as 'very intelligent', but for apparatchiks (and their novices) it's surely the same -- intelligence as cunning, as the attribute of no-nonsense chiselers. A 'calculating pragmatist' sounds almost neutral, whereas Goldman hits the mark with her 'purely utilitarian', meaning a manipulating bastard who "knows how to play on the weak sides of men...". And a demagogue and genocidist, which is what Goldman alludes to in her narrative:

I stand by my paraphrasing. It should be clear that I wasn't trying to paint Goldman as a Lenin apologist or anything close to it; I find her work on the subject interesting and important because it lacks the venom of ideological anti-Bolshevism but arrives at the same conclusions of it nonetheless based on personal observation/experience and analysis.

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Jul 25 2011 18:37

capricorn, I think I will indeed take your advice and cease 'digging', not because to continue to do so would leave me trapped, but rather because the soil is less like soil and more like solid rock which breaks even the hardest of shovels everytime I try to get a foothold. One only needs to read mciver's post which is full of the worst drivel which can only described as 'ultra-left' in the worst sense of the word to see that arguing in defence of the last successful proletarian revolution in world history is a waste of time as against the councillist and anarchist drones.

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RedEd
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Jul 26 2011 12:27
Zanthorus wrote:
the last successful proletarian revolution in world history

Surely Russia 1917 was either not a successful proletarian revolution (in the sense that it did not abolish class relations permanently) or it was not the most recent successful proletarian revolution if temporary success is sufficient. The Seattle general strike or the Shanghai commune, whilst much smaller in scale, managed the same thing, as did sections of Spain in the late 30s on a larger scale and sections of Germany as the Russian revolution was degenerating. Russian exceptionalism is, in my opinion, as damaging for Marxists as Spanish exceptionalism is for anarchists, maybe more so.

mciver
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Jul 27 2011 23:27

devoration1 Jul 25 2011/post 28

Quote:
Is the ICC's need to flatter 'internationalist anarchists' so desperate that the 'parasite' Bakunin is reanimated approvingly?
I'm not an ICC member. My views are in flux; I've never said otherwise. While I agree with much of the communist left (and the ICC inparticular) there's much that I don't agree with. Either way, please don't use my posts to extrapolate positions from an organization of which I am not a member.

Quote:
The stereotypic 'shrewd Asiatic' aside, this is different from what devoration1 claims as Goldman's view. 'Shrewd' isn't the same as 'very intelligent', but for apparatchiks (and their novices) it's surely the same -- intelligence as cunning, as the attribute of no-nonsense chiselers. A 'calculating pragmatist' sounds almost neutral, whereas Goldman hits the mark with her 'purely utilitarian', meaning a manipulating bastard who "knows how to play on the weak sides of men...". And a demagogue and genocidist, which is what Goldman alludes to in her narrative:
I stand by my paraphrasing. It should be clear that I wasn't trying to paint Goldman as a Lenin apologist or anything close to it; I find her work on the subject interesting and important because it lacks the venom of ideological anti-Bolshevism but arrives at the same conclusions of it nonetheless based on personal observation/experience and analysis.

Point taken, you're not responsible for what the ICC say or do, but hanging around them can't be healthy -- you'll be judged by the friends you keep. Just a word of caution.

You're right, Goldman's work on the subject [of Lenin and/or the Bolsheviks] is interesting and important, especially her 'My Dissilusionment in Russia'. The 'venomous anti-Bolshevism' that you notice her work lacks, is not a very important difference, because, as you rightly say, she arrives at the same conclusions. That is, a complete rejection of Bolshevik practice and ideology, based on her personal observation/experience and analysis.

Many other anarchists, like Berkman and Voline, arrived at similar conclusions. Voline had a narrow escape as a prisoner of the Red Army -- Trotsky himself telegraphed ordering his immediate execution. The venom you notice was in those intentions and acts, not in a supposed 'ideological anti-Bolshevism'. In the self-righteous and murderous fanaticism, of 'the Party' that represented truth and progress, the Russian Revolution was smothered. So much for the cheery lost fraternity between 'internationalist anarchists' and Leninoids. A torrent of blood separates them. Can descriptions of Heydrich, Himmler, or .... Lenin, avoid revulsion?

On another point -- you seem to dismiss 'moralism' all too easily (on other posts). But Goldman's enormous force of conviction comes from her morals, her ethical standpoint, which at that time was linked to a perception of genuine human emancipation. She didn't take another 10 or more years to separate herself from that inhuman régime, like the cautious true-believers of the 'Italian Left'. Maybe they had the excuse of not knowing first hand (Goldman had been right in the belly of that monster). But modern left communists don't have that alibi. That's why they are rackets.