Celebrating Lenin

[На русском]

From the editors. Karl Marx Memorial Library in London was established in 1933. Its main task was the enlightenment activity in the working class environment, explanation of the true goals of the workers» struggle in the years when fascism was rapidly gaining momentum in England (and in the world as a whole).

Propaganda of Marxism, internationalism, history and practice of the revolutionary movement in the world is still a priority in the work of the library. Details in the January, 2020 program by Konstantin Semin «Close-up».

The building in which the library is located is historical. It used to be home to many radical organizations.  In his emigration, Vladimir Ilyich worked here in 1902-1903. Lenin's cabinet still exists.

The person who takes care of the Karl Marx Memorial Library in London, Jonathan White, readily responded to the request by the Worker's University to take part in the publications dedicated to the Vladimir Ilyich's 150th anniversary. His article will no doubt be interesting to the Russian readers, because it is the result of a huge and systematic work on the study and popularization of Leninist heritage.

Thank you so much, Comrade Jonathan White!

In April we celebrate 150 years since Lenin was born. Lenin was possibly the greatest figure in the most significant event in recent human history. Why do we say this? As Marxists we do not celebrate history as a succession of great men, but as the history of class struggles that emerge from the contradictions of development within the forces and relations of production. In what sense then do we celebrate Lenin’s greatness?

For Marxists, the greatness of humans and indeed of classes, lies in the extent to which they are able to analyse and understand the forces at work in their historical moment, their potentials and limits and then to use this in self-conscious practical action that enables the further development of progressive forces that work independently of their will.

Lenin’s greatness lies in his ability to reflect in Marxist theory the great tendencies and movements at work within his time and to translate this into revolutionary action that made sense of reality for masses of people at critical moments and that enabled them to make a great leap forward that shaped subsequent history and which continues to shape our turbulent present. Lenin grew to political consciousness as part of a world in which great monopolies were fusing with state power to drive the formation of an unevenly developed capitalist world market, generating great world crises and imperialist wars, throwing together also great concentrations of working people into formations of social labour, who formed in turn labour movements and socialist parties in the aspiration to build a better world.

Lenin’s greatness lies in his ability to reflect in Marxist theory the great tendencies and movements at work within his time and to translate this into revolutionary action that made sense of reality for masses of people at critical moments

It’s easy to forget how many people called themselves to some degree or other Marxists at that time. But Lenin was among relatively few who saw that the development of the capitalist mode of production had reached a point where revolutionary outbreaks were an imminent possibility across the capitalist world and that crucial questions of revolutionary strategy and tactics had to be addressed by Marxists as urgent needs of the hour not the property of some remote period of future human history.

Lenin’s greatness lies, fundamentally, in the fact that his theory adapted to and expressed in the form of thought the movements of great masses of people in 1917, providing them with leadership at key moments and enabling them to forge a great revolutionary movement in society.

Lenin’s leadership and theory enabled him to grasp

  • the weakness of Russian capitalism within the uneven development of world capitalism and recognise the possibility that it could determine events elsewhere;
  • It enabled him to understand that the content of that revolution could quickly become socialist, that the socialist mode of production was growing up within state monopoly capitalism so that – in a memorable phrase – ‘socialism is gazing at us from all the windows of modern capitalism’;
  • It enabled him to grasp the central importance of understanding the Marxist theory of the state: that the essence of a revolution is the passage of state power from one class to another, that governments could not introduce socialism without controlling the state apparatus and using it against capitalist class resistance, to expropriate the expropriators and, crucially, to set free the socialist relations and forces of production growing up within capitalism;
  • He stressed that this transitional phase of a revolution had to have a political form: the dictatorship of the proletariat – the phase where the working class has put itself in a position to dictate the direction and pace of change, where it starts to unlock and build the elements of a new mode of production; and that the political form of dictatorship must be to begin the process of breaking apart the bourgeois state apparatus, democratising its components by subjecting them to the will of the people and building a new state that is in the process of ceasing to be a state altogether.

These insights guided Bolshevik strategy as it attempted to reflect and express the spontaneous movements of the masses of Russian people – workers and peasants – in 1917.

Lenin’s expected European revolutionary outbreak was weaker than he’d hoped for and was rolled back. And yet, the revolution survived in Russia – the dictatorship of the proletariat did expropriate the capitalist class and it built socialist relations and forces that were capable of extraordinary feats and mobilisations that defeated world fascism in 1945. Greater equality was created, mass literacy, healthcare and so on.

And these socialist relations of production were spread to other countries in the People’s Democracies after the Second World War. Even within imperialist states, these developments led to the creation of a state monopoly capitalism in which working class forces, led by socialist forces inspired by the October Revolution, were able to win concessions for their peoples from a watchful and frightened ruling class.

So the historical significance of Lenin and his work are not in doubt.

Today, after the retreat of world socialist forces, Lenin’s example and to a great extent his theory, remain of the utmost importance to us.

  • We live in a world where monopolies and multinationals still use state power to divide up the world between themselves and deploy it to attack the living standards of their peoples.
  • Capitalism is an existential threat to the peoples of the world. It is economically stagnant, prone to financial shocks that drive it into recession and throw millions of people into destitution and starvation; it cannot control its environmental degradation; nor can it respond a global pandemic that threaten to collapse social infrastructure and shatter fragile economies.
  • Working classes and social production are still being created by the capitalist system – both are bigger than ever before; peasantries still populate many of the states of the Third World, ground down by capitalist agriculture and finance capital.
  • No alternative road to Socialism has been discovered that can replace the need for some form of democratising dictatorship of the proletariat – some reckoning with the control and form of state power as a whole.

Marxism, including the huge historical legacy of Lenin’s life and work, will remain relevant for as long as capitalism exists. We must study and understand that legacy and apply it to our own terrible time.

Джонатан Уайт, смотритель мемориальной библиотеки К. Маркса в Лондоне.