Lenin's Legacy

Today (January 21) is the anniversary of Lenin’s death in 1924. He had wanted no monuments (“statues are for pigeons to shit on” he once said) and he wished to be buried alongside his family. However Stalin as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union turned his funeral into a semi-religious occasion which not only desecrated the memory of the dead man but set the tone for the cult of worshipping which was to be the hallmark of the Stalin dictatorship. Lenin’s body remains unburied and the argument about what to do with his yellowing corpse still has not been settled inside a ruling elite which wishes to use his memory for their own nasty nationalist ends. The following article was actually written in the 1990s but we never actually got around to publishing it and even seem to have forgotten it. Today is as good an occasion as any to remedy this.

Russian politicians are at loggerheads about what to do with Lenin's body. Over 70 years since he died his embalmed corpse is still on show in Red Square. This was the last thing Lenin himself wanted. He did not want to be made into a saint. Russia's pro-Western President, Boris Yeltsin cannot wait to get rid of Lenin's tomb. This is not out of respect for Lenin’s last wishes. For Yeltsin Lenin is a symbol of the old regime, the regime that lost the Cold War and which must be well and truly buried.

Above all, he is the symbol of Yeltsin's political opponents in parliament (the Duma) and the old Russian Communist Party (RCP). They won't hear of the body being removed. For them Lenin is a national hero, a symbol of Russian 'greatness', of the 'good old days' of the Soviet Union when Russia was a world superpower. Here in the West Lenin is generally presented as the architect of 'soviet Communism', a system which failed and which proves there is no viable alternative to capitalism. With Lenin’s body finally buried, the political commentators here think that will mean the 'spectre' of communism will cease to haunt world capitalism.

The Commentators are Wrong

In the first place they are wrong because the brutal party dictatorship which collapsed in 1992 had nothing to do with Lenin's idea of communism. In the second place they are wrong because the spectre of communism can never be extinguished so long as capitalism with its economic crises, poverty and human misery, continues to exist.

Contrary to myth, the Soviet Union was not communist. For anyone with the slightest idea of what the word 'communism' means this is obvious. Far from having abolished wage slavery the working class in the USSR were glorified so long as they toiled without question to strengthen Russian capitalism. Yes, 'capitalism'. The land of the gulags; of one party dictatorship; of state planning which gave scarce and tatty consumer goods for the working class but special shops and privileges for the party bureaucracy; of Stalin's show trials and the forced collectivisation of the peasants: all this was a state capitalist monster which would have had Lenin turning in his grave if he'd been allowed to have one.

Our rulers would have us believe that this monster was the natural outcome of the October Revolution in I917. Above all they want us to think that Lenin was the architect of it all. They want workers to remain ignorant of their own class history and have what Lenin really stood for buried for ever.

What Lenin Really Stood For

First of all Lenin stood for workers' internationalism. This is an elementary socialist principle which was betrayed by nearly every Socialist Party in Europe (including Labour) when the 1st World War broke out in August 1914. Instead of refusing to support the War and calling on workers to strike against it, as they had all pledged to do, the social democratic parties supported their own governments and encouraged workers to go off to the trenches to kill each other – all for the sake of the rivalry between the great imperialist powers.

In Russia, however, Lenin's party – the Bolshevik Party – stood out against the war. The Bolsheviks said workers had nothing to gain by sacrificing themselves for imperialism. Lenin went a step further. He realised that out of the imperialist war could come workers revolution: if only workers stopped fighting each other and turned their weapons against the governments which were responsible for the war. He summed this up in the famous slogan, "turn the imperialist war into a civil war". He was not interested in Russia being a great capitalist power and he hated the "great Russian chauvinists" who wanted Russia to cling on to the Tsarist empire at all cost. He saw that it was time to put an end to capitalism altogether: time for the system which had brought the deadliest and most far-reaching war in history to be replaced by a humane and rational society. Lenin's view of communism was the Marxist one – a world without social classes where there was no need for money and so such thing as profit. The community as a whole would decide what was produced since the whole of the means of production would be in the hands of the producers themselves. But he also knew that the capitalists would not simply give up power without a fight.

The Bolsheviks were not pacifists who thought the war could be ended by protests to the ruling class about the immorality of killing. They were revolutionaries who fought and died alongside the rest of their class. They took up Lenin's slogan and used it to agitate amongst the soldiers at the front, calling for workers to turn their guns against their officers. Unlike the Stalins and Kamenevs in the Bolshevik Party, when the war-sick Russian population finally rose against the tyranny of Tsardom in February 1917 Lenin saw no reason to stop struggling for socialism. He argued that the Provisional Government was still a capitalist government and there should be no question of the working population continuing to make sacrifices and carrying on with the war. When Lenin returned from political exile the first thing he did was praise the Russian working class for starting off the world socialist revolution. He astonished Party leaders by saying that there must be no support for the capitalist Provisional Government. Instead the working class must aim to take power by means of their own democratic bodies: the soviets. Here Lenin was voicing the desire of workers at the grassroots and the slogans adopted by the Bolshevik Party – “Down With the War” and “All Power to the Soviets” were the revolutionary expression of this. With the October Revolution the working class really did take power for the first time in history. Contrary to the image we are given of Lenin, ruthless advocate of a single party dictatorship, in November 1917 the real Lenin urged working people to:

Remember that now you yourselves are at the helm of state. No one will help you if you yourselves do not unite and take into your hands all affairs of the state. Your Soviets are from now on the organs of state authority, legislative bodies with full powers [...] we shall go forward firmly and unswervingly to the victory of socialism a victory that will be sealed by the advanced workers of the most civilised countries, bring the peoples lasting peace and liberate them from all oppression and exploitation.

To The Population, 5 November 1917

The tragedy is that the working class in Russia was left isolated. In Germany the revolution failed. In the rest of Europe there was only a faint echo. In Russia itself the working class whose war weariness had moved them to insurrection in the first place found themselves fighting a vicious civil war, not just against counterrevolutionary Russian forces, but the combined military force of more than a dozen capitalist powers plus an economic blockade. Thousands died in the fighting, millions more in the famine that followed. By 1921 soviet power had withered. This was the real end of the Russian Revolution, seventy years before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Although it was not in his power to stop it, Lenin was not the architect of the monstrous Stalinist state which followed the defeat.(1) Today politicians, journalists and academics inside and outside Russia alike have a vested interest in equating what Russia became with the vision of communism Lenin held out for the international working class. Communists today are not in the business of turning Lenin into an icon nor do we support everything he did or said but we will fight against the stifling of historical truth. At this time of the anniversary of the October Revolution we urge anyone who wants to see a better world to read critically for themselves what Lenin and the October Revolution in Russia were really about.


(1) Not only was a dying Lenin looking for ways to halt the bureaucratisation that had taken place he was also looking to revive workers’ control. See Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle (1968). He would have failed but his perspective was already that there was something wrong in the USSR.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I think Lenin held positions regarding the right to self determination which we would not repeat in their entirety today. I wonder if anyone would object to this formulation;

Unless socialism is altogether a mirage, it will rise again as an international movement-or not at all. In any case, and on the basis of past experience, those interested in the rebirth of socialism must stress its internationalism most of all. While it is impossible for a socialist to become a nationalist, he is nevertheless an anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist. However, his fight against colonialism does not imply adherence to the principle of national self-determination, but expresses his desire for a non-exploitative, international socialist society. While socialists cannot identify themselves with national struggles, they can as socialists oppose both nationalism and imperialism .

Paul Mattick 1959

Nationalism and Socialism

I suppose that sums up what we have always defended but of course it is now out of date in that we have gone beyond the "colonial" in most cases to the situation where the local nationalist bourgeoisie's operate as the local agents of international capital - the wars in Africa are really about which ruling class faction dominates the state in order to benefit from the wealth that it manages.

What do you think of the concept of neo-colonialism?

Wikipedia puts it thus;

Neocolonialism, neo-colonialism or neo-imperialism is the geopolitical practice of using capitalism, business globalization, and cultural imperialism to influence a country, in lieu of either direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony).[1]

In post-colonial studies, the term neo-colonialism describes the influence of countries from the developed world in the respective internal affairs of the countries of the developing world; that, despite the decolonisation that occurred in the aftermath of the Second World War (1939–45), the (former) colonial powers continue to apply existing and past international economic arrangements with their former colony countries, and so maintain colonial control. A neo-colonialism critique can include de facto colonialism (imperialist or hegemonic), and an economic critique of the disproportionate involvement of modern capitalist business in the economy of a developing country, whereby multinational corporations continue to exploit the natural resources of the former colony; that such economic control is inherently neo-colonial, and thus is akin to the imperial and hegemonic varieties of colonialism practiced by the United States and the empires of Great Britain, France, and other European countries, from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

The problem repeatedly confronting workers is that whilst it is clear that imperialism makes wars, it is not just a straightforward matter of workers having nothing to do with them. Why not ? Certainly imperialist national goverments and owners of industries compete for markets and raw materials and cheap labour, but, at the same time, workers and their families are then facing annihilation or enslavement if they do not join in the fighting against 'enemies' who really are bombing and invading the places where they happen to try to live. Supporters of the 'communist left' claim to both oppose all wars and, at the same time, claim not be 'pacifists' (in the normally understood real meaning of that word). Therefore it is not clear as to in which circumstances they would physically fight. The problem for the individual pacifist is that he might prefer to be killed than to become a killer, but, on the other hand, if his children are about to be shot or gassed, he might change his mind and judge that humanity would have more to gain by his killing one or more persons threatening them, in order that the children then had a chance to survive, even if the amount of time left to do so seemed limited. The campaign for workers of the world to unite seems unlikely to succeed if workers are expected to reject any defence of where they live against actual aggressors, despite struggles against world imperalism.

If I may add to the foregoing, in the big picture, the place in which the working class lives is planet earth, so the whole place needs defending and protecting, even though there are bound to be questions as to whatever it takes for an international communist revolution to overthrow the regime of Capital.

As I understand it, and correct me if I am mistaken, BC's position is not to refuse to fight against imperialist agression, but to try to extend any such struggles to a fight against all factions of the bourgeoisie, be they invading imperialist elements or domestic elements. It fits the general pattern of turning inter-bourgeois wars into civil wars where revolutionaries propagate the need for workers to fight for their own interests instead of figting under the control of a national bourgeis leadership.

Responding to Stevein7, in which I suppose that by BC he means Battaglia Communista, it is very difficult to see just how workers fighting against an imperialist invader could suddenly switch to fighting against the local imperialist warlords, without being regarded as traitors. Of course, in Russia, at one stage, although apparently Trotsky set up 'blocking units' to shoot 'deserters', enough workers in the Russian army did 'turn back' to oppose their 'masters'. (Maybe Jock would clarify beyond my sketchy impression !). Anyway, in circumstances such as World War 2, for workers in 'allied' forces to turn back from fighting against the 'axis' would have been psychologically virtually impossible, except for conscientious objectors, such as, for example, JWs, and JWs of Germany finished up in death camps.

Workers fighting for their own class interest will always be labelled as the vilest traitors of the nation, and in a sense they are, The fact is the nation is nothing we wish to defend; we are the global class. It is only to be expected that in any situation in which the working class breaks with the bourgeoisie the working class will be on the receiving end of abusive propaganda. The reality is that for the working class there is no sense in fighting one aspect of the ruling class and not taking the fight to all of them. The power of the ruling class is our willingness to conform. A similar view would apply to the anti-fascist struggle which time and time again only results in the domination of the winning bourgeois faction and a prolongation of the exploitation of the workers. It is hard to conceive of a revolution taking place in easy circumstances. A war of national liberation or whatever it is called is no solution for the working class, and it is possible we may be unable to break the grip of nationalist propaganda but if we can convince the workers in arms to break out of an interclass alliance, then why not? As I see it, there is no exact situation which results in revolution. Equally, the vast majority of circumstances will not result in revolution. But we only need one crack to tear the whole world apart.

From what you say, it seems that only if large numbers of workers agree to break with an armed campaign which has been under the control of whichever government under which they live, that there is any likelihood that they might survive both the anger of the government and the anger of other workers committed, even if wrongly from a communist left internationalist point of view, to the campaign concerned.