LAMENTING Lenin is a regular ritual of a section of scholars donning, on occasions, a red apron. These scholars, a few of them pose as ardent disciples of Marx, accuse Lenin of practising autocracy as they point to measures the Soviet power had to take during its early days.
THE condemnation business is transcontinental, beginning from Russia to the United States to India. And, Lenin-lamenting is more than a century-old business. This has geared up in recent time.
Lenin had to face condemnations since he began formulating strategy and tactics of the revolution in which he was taking part. Narodniks, legal ‘Marxists’ and Martovites were joined in by, at different stages, Plekhanov, cadets, right social revolutionaries, bourgeois/imperialist scholars, politicians and military leaders, bishops, monarchists, anti-communist warriors, conservatives, and rightist ideologues voicing left slogans.
Lenin was dismissed as ‘evil genius’, ‘void of moral standards’ and a ‘heartless individual’. He was described as ‘champion of mass violence’, ‘admirer of anti-Semitic thugs’, ‘obsessed with the disastrous experiment he had helped to initiate’, had a ‘reactionary mind’ and had ‘fatal flaws’. Lenin was depicted as a person who ‘disdainfully disregarded the human cost’, treated ‘his vast realm like a princely estate’, was ‘financed by German funds that helped Lenin to create a party press and network of Russian cells in Russia, as well as his private army (the Red Guards)’, established ‘totalitarianism founded on terror’ and introduced ‘genocide as state policy’. They ‘found’ that ‘a frustrated Lenin later developed the “un-Marxist” and “Blanquist” theory of “revolution from above” by intellectuals that’ later guided Bolshevik practice.
Claims were made that Lenin committed ‘crimes against humanity’. Lenin was blamed for the execution of the Tsar and his family and for the deportation of counter-revolutionaries.
In the ‘noble’ task of Lenin-cursing, the sages descend down to questioning the necessity of organising the October Revolution as they ‘analyse’: ‘Russia and the world would have been better served had the February Revolution not been followed by Red October’; and, they say: ‘the October Revolution was not valid’, ‘the Bolshevik Revolution [is] an enormous tragedy for Russia and the rest of the world’, ‘the Duma should have been allowed to get along with its business’, and the Soviet Union was ‘the most dangerous and dehumanising force in the second half of the twentieth century’.
The execrations go by schools.
‘When considering the October Revolution the Liberal school […] see it as the result of a determined and ruthless group taking advantage of the unusual circumstances that occurred in October 1917. To the Liberal historian[,] there was nothing inevitable about this revolution. It was the force of Lenin’s personality and his political skill[,] which enabled the Bolsheviks to make use of the chaos brought about by the impact of the First World War. Liberal historians see the Bolsheviks as a minority group who seized power by force because of their superior organisation and not because of mass support from the people. Growing support in the soviets for the Bolsheviks is dismissed, being seen as the result of manipulation and infiltration. Where support is evident it is viewed as largely due to the political backwardness of the peasants and workers. What gave the Bolsheviks the advantage was the chaotic situation of 1917 and Lenin’s skilful opportunism.’ (Steve Phillips, Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Heinemann Educational Publishers, Oxford, Great Britain, 2000)
There is still rife the Menshevik theory: ‘Marxist doctrine necessitated a flourishing capitalist economy, which Russia did not represent in 1917, for socialist foundations successfully to be laid.’
‘There is also the view of other socialist commentators who saw the Revolution as occurring too early, as a result of a rushed attempt to move towards socialism against the principles of Marx. This view has been put forward by Menshevik leaders V Chernov in The Great Russian Revolution (1936) and T Dan in The Origins of Bolshevism (1965), a viewpoint stemming from the ideological differences between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.’ (ibid)
To these scholars, Bolshevik are villains while heroes are Nicholas II, Kornilov, Denikin and their class-brothers. They equate the ‘regime of Lenin’ with those of ‘Mussolini and Hitler’. Richard Pipes, a Harvard scholar, describes the Romanovs as ‘guilty of nothing, desiring only to be allowed to live in peace.’
Leonard Schapiro in The Origin of the Communist Autocracy (1955) presented the October Revolution as a military operation with little popular involvement, which resulted imposition of a dictatorship on the Russian people.
There is Dmitri Antonovich Volkogonov, the Soviet colonel-general turned historian, repudiating Marxism-Leninism turned liberal parliamentarian in Gorbachev-age turned special adviser to the president Yeltsin, the king of corruption. The Yeltsin adviser ‘firmly committed himself to the view that Russia’s only hope in 1917 lay in the liberal and social democratic coalition that emerged in the February Revolution.’ (Volkogonov, Lenin, A New Biography, ‘Editor’s Preface’, The Free Press, New York, 1994)
During the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow, Volkogonov was in a London hospital. From his hospital bed, Volkogonov broadcast an appeal on BBC, a faithful broad-telecaster, to the army to not obey orders of the coup leaders. (Independent, December 7, 1995, ‘Obituary: General Dmitri Volkogonov’) This Volkogonov wrote: ‘Lenin always looked like a tired old man.’ (Lenin, a New Biography) Volkogonov has more tirades against Lenin also.
There are books by Harold Shukman, Oxford academic, historian and one of the most anti-Soviet Sovietologists: Lenin, Life and Legacy (Harper Collins, 1995), Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Putnam, 1967). Shukman and Volkogonov were friends.
The Unknown Lenin: From the Secret Archive (Richard Pipes, ed, Yale University Press, 1999, in the Annals of Communism series), ‘reveals’ Lenin’s purpose in invading Poland in 1920 was not merely to Sovietize Poland, but to use the country as a springboard for invasion of Germany and England. (Lenin was so ‘void’ of knowledge that he ‘planned’ invasion of Germany and England during that time!)
Other works by Pipes including A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime and The Three “Whys” of the Russian Revolution perform the same job: decry Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
Pipes claims: (1) the Bolshevik ideology as nothing more than a thin cover for power-hungry people, (2) the April and June demonstrations were attempted Bolshevik putsches, (3) the Bolsheviks deliberately initiated the civil war, and (4) the Red terror was more violent than the White terror.
The list is much longer as there are more products by these megalomania-minds submerged in shallow bourgeois ideology and politics, which leads them to forget basic elements of politics including the questions of class and class struggle.
Free-market ideologues, journalists and commentators claiming as veteran, Harvard and Oxford scholars, so-called liberal-democrats and anti-Soviet Sovietologists are in these exercises.
A few recent condemnations, cited below, carry the same meaning and do the same nice job — unmask class character of the accusers:
The Moscow Times, reported:
‘Religious leaders have denounced Russia’s 1917 communist revolution as a “Western plot” to destroy the country.
‘The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR), an autonomous branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, claimed that Russian elites brain-washed by ‘Westernism’ plunged Russia into political turmoil.
‘“[Western-educated elites] pushed Russia into the abyss with suicidal persistence,” the ROCOR bishops’ synod said in a statement. “They persuaded the Russian people to renounce their faith, their king and their homeland.”
‘The church also called for the body of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin to be removed from Moscow’s Red Square as ‘a symbol of reconciliation’ to mark 100 years since the revolution.
“It said Moscow should be “liberated” from the body of “the greatest persecutor and tormentor of the twentieth century.”’ (‘Religious Leaders Condemn Russia’s 1917 Revolution as ‘Western Plot”’, March 13, 2017)
Anna Nemtsova wrote in Daily Beast:
‘On a misty night 100 years ago this week, a short bald man, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the Bolshevik leader better known as Lenin, ordered a blank shot fired from the cruiser Aurora to signal the beginning of a coup, and of hellish violence, that changed Russia and the world forever.’ (‘Forget Lenin. 100 Years After the Revolution, The Royals and Rasputin Are The Stars’, October 28, 2017)
‘Lenin’s deranged revolution opened the door for endless bloody killings in Russia, known as Vladimir Lenin’s Red Terror — estimates of executions ranged from 12,733 to 1.7 million […] Bolsheviks blew up churches, killing thousands of priests across the country. [… M]illions lost homes, died of hunger, went to prisons, and escaped abroad. The revolution was followed by a civil war that killed more than 300,000 people.’
There are more such findings.
One latest example
THE stream of condemnations flows down to a third-world country, India. Sankar Ray, a veteran journalist and commentator, in a two-part article cites Gramsci from Avanti [Forward], newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party, December 24, 1917: ‘It’s a revolution against Karl Marx’s Das Capital. In Russia, Capital was the book of the bourgeoisie, more than of the book of the proletariat. [….] The Bolsheviks renounce Karl Marx.’ (‘Revolution or Coup’, parts I, II, The Statesman, December 1 and 2, 2017)
Sankar Ray cites a number of scholars and adds his suggestion: ‘It is time to consider why one should consider the “Great October Socialist Revolution” as really a socialist revolution [….] In fact, the GOSR was “neither initiated nor led by the proletariat”.’
Therefore, Ray should write: ‘The Indian National Congress is a political party of the poor masses as hundreds of thousands of the Indian poor followed the Congress’, or ‘the Congress is not a political party of the Indian comprador-bourgeoisie as most of the central leadership was not that much rich’, or ‘The Muslim League in pre-partition-Bengal was a party of the Moslem poor Bengal peasantry as the party was overwhelmingly supported by that part of the Bengal society’, or’ ‘The bourgeois revolutions in countries were not bourgeois as the commoners joined those; so, those were commoners’ revolution’, or ‘the American Independence War was not a war of the bourgeoisie; rather, that was a war of slave owners as a number of leaders in that war were slave owners.’
Ray will be delighted to write these ‘historic’, unique also, ‘findings’ based on his argument about the October Revolution although he needs lesson on the way a revolution is defined. Ray does neither understand leadership nor participation nor participation of a class although he embarks on the job of identifying a revolution. It is not a level of knowledge in a primitive society, it is a level of knowledge of a veteran journalist in an independent country rich with its knowledge-base! Or it is part of propaganda to denounce struggle of the working classes in Russia.
Ray cites a few authorities including Marc Jansen, Alexander Rabinowitch, Paresh Chattopadhyay, John Spargo, and states: ‘The Bolsheviks were not elected’, ‘Lenin had trampled upon internal democracy’, ‘Bolshevik rule was […] totalitarian’, Lenin brazenly deviated ‘from Marx’s fundamental emphasis on the society itself’, ‘[u]nder Bolshevik rule, no attempt was made to replace the capitalist mode of production’, etc.
Ray is a gentleman enough as he has not cited more such authorities, historians, politicians, economists, which include Kerensky, Milyukov, Lloyd George. Those would have bolstered his ‘arguments, claims and findings’; but, would have exposed illogic within his claims.
Facts ignored and methodological question
THE scholarships condemning Lenin, as cited above, ignore the following facts/processes, and adopt a faulty methodology that nullifies their findings/conclusions:
1. A historical process is considered as dependent on individual(s); and thus role(s) of class(es) is(are) ignored. This method of evaluating political struggles, a manifestation of class struggle, doesn’t take into consideration (1.1) the role of revolution and of force in revolution in human society; and (1.2) historical lessons from revolutions.
2. Individual(s)/incident(s)/measure(s)/statement(s) is(are) (2.1) described partly with sporadically picked up isolated facts while preceding and following facts and connections are ignored, and measure(s) are not seen as part of a continual process; and (2.2) interpreted mechanically.
3. Perspective, circumstances/compulsions within reality that include (3.1) historical limitations and historically inherited burdens, (3.2) exigencies, experiences, condition/capacity/capability of contending classes, and (3.3) class-equation are ignored. Are not these essential parts for analyzing/evaluating the actions/measures taken in class war? And, should anyone deny that the revolution that the Bolsheviks led was a class war as were other revolutions by other classes? Do political acts/moves/measures and ideology ever move beyond or stay behind class interest? No political actor can transcend class interest — a reality within all class-based societies.
4. Facts related to the pre-revolution society-wide exploitation, repression and violence, deaths due to the imperialist World War, White Terror at mass level, imperialist and counter-revolutionary conspiracies, sabotages and assassinations/assassination attempts are ignored. The situation being faced by the Soviet was, borrowing from Robespierre, ‘[…] people’s representatives placed upon the inexhaustible volcano of conspiracies […]’ (‘On the Enemies of the Nation’, speech delivered from the tribune of the Convention, May 26, 1794) Do the scholars deny: Woodrow Wilson, US president, sent millions of dollars to agents to install a ‘military dictatorship’ in Russia? Robert Lansing, US secretary of state, ‘dreamt’ that that planned dictatorship would be amenable to US interests. Publicly Wilson was standing for ‘democracy’. David Foglesong’s America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism, 1917–1920 (University of North Carolina, 1995) provides related information.
What is the scholars’ advice to face this reality with imperialist intervention? They turn ‘recluses’! On these questions, theirs is altum silentium, profound silence. Is the silence a show of their sense of ‘shame’, a ‘scholar’-like ‘honesty’? But, hirelings never feel shame.
Lloyd George lays bare a fact:
‘There was throughout the Allied countries, especially amongst the propertied classes, an implacable hatred, born of a real fear, of Bolshevism’. (The Truth about the Peace Treaties, vol I, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London, 1938)
Shall the scholars explain why the propertied classes were not scared of the tsarist rule, the bourgeoisie, the bankers, the Kornilovs, the Denikins, the Kolchaks, the imperialists, and the scholars denouncing Lenin, and why those classes were scared of the Bolsheviks? Shall the Bolshevikophobic scholarship make the scholars honest enough and courageous enough to come up with logical answers, even if the answers are in a clumsily composed article, to the questions?
Shall ever the scholars condemning Lenin consider the above arguments, and, taking it as a challenge, attend to the requirements for an objective evaluation of Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the Great October Revolution? They will never take the challenge. Then, shouldn’t they be condemned for fudging history of the exploited?
Moreover, the scholars look at developments from a bourgeois world view and rely on bourgeois standard to evaluate. Their scholarship with history is so wide and deep that they decline citing the ways dominating classes in feudal and capitalist societies followed while those classes were taking over political power. They feel shy to cite the rules/laws these classes formulated/enacted while consolidating political power, dominating opponent classes, securing self-class-interests.
With a glee, these scholars pass judgement on political actions by the proletariat in the Great October Revolution while the scholars don’t recognise the class conflict-ridden political map of Russia. To them, revolution is a middle class sentiment-filled political juggling. But, ‘[a] revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’ (Mao, Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan)
And, they forget the injustices, tyrannical power and violent oppression the overthrown ruling system perpetrated for generations, and the forceful efforts it was making to restore that system. These scholars should listen to Robespierre: ‘To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency; to forgive them is cruelty. The severity of tyrants has barbarity for its principle; that of a republican government is founded on beneficence.’ (‘On the Principles of Political Morality’, Report upon the Principles of Political Morality Which Are to Form the Basis of the Administration of the Interior Concerns of the Republic, first published: Philadelphia, 1794)
The group of scholars that includes a few former far-left-for a shorter period and a few veteran journalists ‘wisely’ dries inkpots for condemning Lenin’s acts but turn wiser not to ‘waste’ a drop of that ink to point out the astonishing advancements of causes of humanity the proletariat made in the very early days of the Soviet power within a reality handed down by history. These scholars’ love for exploiters is ad infinitum, to infinity.
In this environment of Lenin-bashing, an editor from India writes in a letter: ‘[T]hose […] condemning Marx and Lenin day in and out are actually indulging in an exercise of escapism. Condemning Marx or Lenin cannot produce an alternative they are talking about.’
The requirement of the time, according to the editor, is ‘to develop an alternative struggling path for the emancipation of the oppressed in the changed context of globalisation and financialisation.’
These scholars’ ‘punditry’ cease there: Formulate an alternative theory, more logical than Lenin’s. They fail.
With ‘ingenuity’ failing to pass rationality, and scholarship malformed by rightist ideology, they ‘write’ history and ‘form’ theory. But, despite the rancor against Lenin by this legion of scholars Lenin keeps cropping up in lands, among peoples.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.
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