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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 19 New Delhi April 27, 2019

Towards Lenin’s 150th Birth Anniversary

Lenin: Importance and Relevance of his Theoretical Discoveries

Monday 29 April 2019, by Anil Rajimwale

The world is to celebrate Lenin’s 150th birth anniversary next year. It is an occasion to learn from the epoch-making contributions of this giant of an intellectual and practitioner of revolution. Unfortunately, many tend to forget Lenin’s discoveries and ignore his epoch-making theoretical contributions. Therefore, it is essential to restore and develop them in their relevance in the present situation.

An Eventful Life 

Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov (later Lenin in the Siberian exile) was born on April 22, 1870 in Simbirsk, Russia, in a middle class educated family of progressive views. Simbirsk later became Ulyanovsk. An extremely sharp student, Lenin distinguished himself in Latin and Greek in the school, where he was a brilliant front-ranking student. His further studies in Kazan University were interrupted as he was arrested and expelled for anti-Tsar activism. He moved along with his family to Samara, coming in contact with Marxist literature. He graduated with a first class degree in Law. Lenin practised law in Samara in 1892-93. He moved to St Petersburg in 1893, practising there as a Public Defender.

Lenin’s Deep Study of Marxism


The ‘Father of Marxism’ in Russia, Georgi Plekhanov, introduced Marxism 1870 onwards. Lenin considered him as his guide and teacher. He studied Marx’s Das Capital and became a Marxist in 1889, at the age of 19 only. Already in 1887, Lenin was clear about his future direction: his elder brother Alexander was hanged for an attempt on the Tsar’s life. Condoling his death, Lenin demarcated himself from his brother’s method. He was only 17 then.

When he was just 24 years of age, Lenin wrote What the Friends of the People Are, in 1894, which is a detailed critique of Narodnik (so-called ‘among the people’) variety of utopian peasant socialism. Lenin insisted on a concrete analysis of capitalism before working out the strategy for revolution.

He was sent to Europe in 1895 to contact revolutionaries, which led to the formation of the ‘League for Emancipation of the Working Class’ the same year. He was arrested and exiled to Siberia, taking 11 weeks to travel to Shusenskoye. He married Nadezhda Krupskaya there. It was from the Siberian exile that Lenin contributed to the foundation of the RSDLP or the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1898 in Minsk. He could not of course physically attend. Lenin was released from exile in 1900, and went to Europe, but could return to Russia only after the February 1917 revolution, as he would have been arrested earlier.

The RSDLP got split in 1903 between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks on the question of strategy and tactics of the Russian revolution. It was the Bolsheviks who led the Russian Revolution of 1917 under the guidance of Lenin. The two parties could never unite. Lenin helped establish papers like Iskra, Pravda, Izvestia, and others, discussions on whose pages he helped develop Marxist theory and practice.

Lenin Develops Marxism to Qualitatively Higher Stages 

As an outstanding scientific theoretician, Lenin raised Marxism to new levels and made new theoretical discoveries, making the Russian revolution possible. He was one of the very few in the world to have mastered Hegel and one of even fewer who mastered Hegelian dialectics. It was he who discovered the higher stage of capitalism, known as ‘imperialism’. He showed that in the era of imperialism, revolution has to go through one or several intermediate stages to socialism, which he collectively termed as ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’. Mensheviks, who stood for direct transition to socialism, sharply differed from him, and refused ‘to do anything with a bourgeois revolution’. Thus emerged ‘two tactics’ of the Russian revolution, as explained in his seminal work, Two Tactics of Social Democracy, relevant even today in its essential concepts. The revolution had to complete the unfulfilled tasks of anti-feudal, anti-imperialist revolution. Monopoly finance capital not only exploited the working masses but also the propertied owners and small and medium capitalists. The working class should cooperate with the propertied sections and classes including the small producers and the bourgeoisie in the struggle against feudalism, the Tsarist autocracy and colonialism.

Mensheviks kept out of it on the ground of working only for ‘socialism’.

Leader of First Successful Revolution

Though he prepared and led the Russian revolution, theoretically as well as practically, Lenin never was a formal leader of the party, not even its general secretary or a secretary. There were no posts in the party, and this is a little known fact. The party had a collective leadership from the very beginning, and even during and after the revolution, no formal posts were created.

It was only to coordinate central office work that a post of a ‘General’ Secretary was created in 1922. The use of the word ‘general’ only indicates the day-to-day functions expected of the person. The word acquired the meaning of a powerful authority only later under Stalin, who was the first ‘General’ Secretary. He began to concentrate power using this position, and Lenin asked for his immediate removal. How history shaped up after that is another story.

Lenin never hankered after any post. It was a collective leadership under his intellectual guidance that led the revolution and formed the revolutionary government. He agreed very reluctantly to become the Prime Minister (‘Chairman of Council of Ministers’) of the Soviet Government.

Lenin was shot at and injured in a gate meeting in 1918 by a member of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party (Left SRP), which was a part of the coalition government with the Bolshevik Party. The Left SRP accused Lenin of surrendering to the bourgeoisie and imperialism. The Left SRP was expelled after they staged a revolt against the Soviet Government. The bullets were lodged in Lenin’s body, and he died of wounds from those on January 21, 1924.

Lenin’s Attitude to Freedom and National Liberation Movements

It was the first time in history that Lenin made struggle for freedom and national independence part and parcel of the world revolutionary process that began after the Russian revolution. He stood for all possible help to the people fighting for their freedom. Lenin’s theory of imperialism and of struggle for national liberation led inevitably to a new kind of united front. It was the first time that a government actively helped the peoples fighting for their freedom from colonialism and imperialism, such as those of India, China, Vietnam and other countries. Soviet Russia extended all possible help to them. Rightwing reaction wants people to forget that the Russian revolution made deep impact on our freedom struggle. Our national leaders were inspired by the ideas of Lenin, such as Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Nehru, Gandhi, Tagore (who wrote his Letters from Russia in 1927), Subhash Bose, N.G. Ranga, Swami Sahajanand, Rahul Sankrityayan, and others.

Lenin insisted that the revolutionaries should cooperate with freedom movements led by Gandhi and the Congress. The bourgeoisie in the colonial countries were a progressive anti-imperialist force, in his view. Lenin sharply criticised M.N. Roy for his sectarian attitude to Gandhi and the Congress at the Second Congress of the Comintern (1920). M.N. Roy first wanted to ‘overthrow’ Gandhi from the leadership of the freedom movment, and only then to take part in it. This sectarian theory was sharply attacked by Lenin as self-destructive. Lenin emphasised that the Communists should at all times and everywhere take part in the democratic and anti-imperialist movements, while maintaining their independence.

Lenin was the architect of the anti-imperialist, anti-colonial united front. Revolutionaries from colonial countries flocked to Russia to meet him for guidance, like Prithvi Singh Azad, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, Shaukat Usmani, Raja Mahendra Pratap and numerous others. Lenin hailed Madam Cama for unfurling the Indian Tricolour at the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International in 1908, expressing full support.

Lenin on Parliamentary Struggle

Lenin had a different approach to the struggles going on in the West European countries, where parliamentary democratic and electoral system was the norm. He in fact hailed and praised this system. He criticised the Communists of Western countries for blindly copying methods of the Russian revolution and for ignoring mass and parliamentary electoral struggles. He also underlined the importance of open press. Simultaneously, Lenin also warned the revolutio-naries of Asia not to copy Russia, and not to rush with ‘revolution’, as their conditions were quite different. Instead of praising the Russian revolution, they should make concrete analyses, he advised.

Lenin’s works, like Leftwing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, are an example of his flexible approach in different conditions, where he emphasised the importance of democratic rights and democratic revolution. Lenin stated clearly that parliaments in the West were not a hoax, nor useless. In England, Germany, France etc. the parliamentary electoral system was crucial and Communists should fully utilise it, trying to win as many seats as possible. He told William Gallacher of the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain) that they must fight corruption in the bourgeois electoral system. The Communists must jointly fight elections along with more progressive bourgeois parties against Rightwing reactionary parties.

Lenin welcomed the minimum programme of the German Communists for joint campaigns with other political parties including the bourgeois ones. The European Communists must also utilise the widespread network of the press. In Russia conditions were lacking for these forms of struggle. Even then the Russian Communists used whatever electoral possibilities existed.

Lenin was against isolationist puritanism and undue revolutionary haste. He clarified that the Russian revolution had created a false consciousness of over-confidence regarding the ‘revolution’, at the cost of concrete analysis.

Relevance of Lenin’s Teachings

Lenin made extraordinary discoveries in social sciences and in science, and theory of revolution. They need deep study. He developed a revolutionary and scientific theory of the changing situation, and was never dogmatic. Some of his own theories need change or updating, some others further development. Nonetheless, many of his theories are still applicable, particularly his method.

Today when the parliamentary electoral system and mass media are common features all over the world, Lenin’s scientific views on democracy and democratic revolution are more relevant. Communists and progressives in India are struggling to defend and expand democratic rights, are engaged in defending our Constitution and parliamentary democracy from Rightwing assaults. In Nepal the Communists have come to power through constitutional means. More than a dozen Latin American countries have given rise to Left and democratic-oriented regimes through direct elections in the last two decades.

Lenin’s concepts on growing importance of democracy, use of parliamentary methods and democratic revolution acquire a contemporary relevance.

The author is a Marxist ideologue.

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