April 22nd, 1870, Lenin´s birth: the relevance of a revolutionary

By Emilio Poliak

“In order to understand the concentrated hate that this figure has called forth and will call forth from all the enemies of the workmen’s class. For nature produced a masterpiece when she created in a single figure an embodiment of the revolutionary thinking and the unbending energy of the workmen’s class.”

For Marxists, the great social transformations are the fruit of the action of the masses, within the framework of certain objective social conditions and the class struggle that this produces. However, the role of certain men or women can be decisive for these conditions to take a course that brings the possibility of revolutionary victories closer or farther away. Lenin was this type of person. His role was decisive for the development of a leadership capable of directing all the energy of the masses towards victory in the heat of the workers’ and farmers’ struggle in Russia. On the other hand, his theoretical and political contributions are a mandatory reading for those of us who continue the fight for the socialist revolution. Among his outstanding works we can cite “What is to be done?”, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, “The State and Revolution” or “”Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder”.

A party for the revolution

Among his most important contributions to the revolutionary movement is his idea for the formation of a party that could transform itself into the leadership of the revolution. For Lenin there was no possibility of forging a fighting tool without a centralized organization, capable of acting legally as well as clandestinely, for which it was necessary to have a structure of professional militants, who would make revolutionary activity the axis of their lives, training themselves for it. This characteristic has nothing to do with the caricature that Stalinism made of it. The centralization and unity necessary to confront autocracy and repression did not exclude, on the contrary, it implied the permanent debate of the strategy and tactics to be followed. It is enough to review the history of the debates and disputes within the Bolshevik Party to see that the conformation of ideas, as well as the formation of different fractions, were common and many of these discussions were public. In many of them Lenin was in the minority, however, he fought to the end, convinced that the soundness of his ideas and his perspective would sooner or later be ratified by reality.

For Lenin it was a question of building the General Staff of the revolution. He had full confidence in the working class and its struggles, convinced that a party solid in Marxist principles and flexible in tactics would be capable of grouping in its core the best revolutionary elements and currents at the decisive moment. This idea was confirmed during the events of 1917. The August congress of that year saw the unification of the Bolshevik Party with different revolutionary groups which converged in the strategy of the struggle for the passage of power to the soviets. The most emblematic case was that of Trotsky, with whom he maintained harsh polemics for more than a decade and yet at the moment when their visions coincided he did not hesitate to propose his incorporation into the top leadership of the party. Ultimately, Lenin’s actions were subordinated exclusively to the needs of the revolution. In the entire history of Bolshevism, once the differences were settled by reality, those leaders who had headed the different fractions returned to the work of the leadership in tasks of importance. Such was the case with Kamenev and Zinoviev, or later with Bukharin.

Decisive interventions

As we pointed out above, at key moments his intervention was decisive. When the split between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks occurred, beyond the conjunctural rapprochements or episodic unities between the two fractions of the RSDLP that took place between 1903 and 1917, Lenin was inflexible in maintaining the Bolshevik fraction as a democratically centralized organization, combining clandestine work with the use of the loopholes of freedoms that were being wrested from the tsarist autocracy at the time, which allowed the forging of cuadros and leaders capable of intervening in the revolution.

At the outbreak of the February revolution which overthrew the monarchy and gave rise to the provisional government on the one hand and the soviets on the other, Lenin was in exile in Switzerland. Within Russian social democracy, the Mensheviks pursued a policy of critical support for bourgeois rule, consistent with their analysis that Russia must pass through a period of bourgeois democracy before embarking on the struggle for socialism. The leadership of the Bolshevik party headed by Kamenev and Stalin followed a similar line promoting the unification of the different RSDLP factions. The speech at the Petrograd station on his return from exile and the April Theses, were key to turn the conciliatory course of the Party leadership. In September he was again decisive when a sector of the leadership delayed the decision to carry out the insurrection.

The struggle against bureaucratization

Critics of Bolshevism argue that the rise of Stalinism was a logical consequence of the Leninist party type. Stalin himself pretended to set himself up as its successor. The reality is that the last years of Lenin’s life are marked by the struggle against bureaucratization, both of the state and of the party. The isolation of the USSR due to the defeat of the European revolution, the hunger caused by the civil war, the loss of a large part of the vanguard and of important leaders, the cultural and technological backwardness, together with the decline of the working class as a result of the crisis, were objective factors that explain the rise of the bureaucracy. Lenin undertook a battle to fight it. During the last months of his life he pushed different proposals, disagreed with Stalin, wrote his will where he called to relieve him from the position of General Secretary and broke personal relations with him. His premature death, on April 21, 1924, prevented him from continuing that battle. It is difficult to know if Lenin’s presence would have been able to change the course of events, given the objective conditions that gave rise to the growth of the bureaucratic apparatus. His companion, Krupskaya, once said that if he had remained alive he would have ended up in prison or in a concentration camp. Perhaps his presence would have succeeded in delaying the consolidation of the bureaucracy and in responding with a revolutionary policy to the new uprisings in Europe and Asia, reversing the isolation of the emerging Workers State. It is difficult to know. What is clear is that the consolidation of the bureaucracy was achieved with the physical extermination of the generation that led the revolution, which marks that it was a counterrevolution and not a continuity of Leninism.

More alive than ever

151 years after his birth and 97 years after his death, his contributions to the revolutionary cause remain valid. The magnitude of the capitalist crisis and the response of the working and popular masses with rebellions and revolutions throughout the world place as a task of the first order the struggle to build an international revolutionary leadership, and in all countries. The fight against the possibilists, late heirs of Menshevism, as well as the intervention in the struggles on the basis of solid Marxist principles, but with the necessary tactical flexibility, is the only possibility that the energy of the masses does not end in new defeats and allows achieving a society without oppression and exploitation.