April 22 was the birthday of Russian Marxist Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the world as Lenin.
Lenin was the founder of the Bolsheviks (later the Communist Party) and became president of USSR as a result of the 1917 October Revolution. The success of the Bolsheviks in founding the world’s first socialist government won wide support for Lenin’s ideas on how a socialist party should be organised.
But as an advocate of the overthrow of the social and economic order, Lenin was always going to be a hate figure for defenders of capitalism. Today the mainstream view (shared by many on the Left) is that Lenin was a dictator who, if not quite as bad as Stalin, certainly paved the way for him.
As for Lenin’s idea on party organisation, these are often seen as a blueprint for dictatorship, both within the party and in any country unfortunate enough to fall under Communist control.
Lenin’s fans – including UNITYblog – hold a different view. We remember that Lenin argued that “democracy is indispensable to socialism”, that he wanted “every cook” to help govern the new socialist state. That the Russian Revolution failed to achieve this goal, we argue, was because of many factors beyond Lenin and the Bolshivik’s control.
What about Lenin’s theory of party organisation?
The fundamental point was that revolutionary socialists / Marxists should form their own parties, independent from the “reformists” who rejected the idea of revolution, believing instead that the problems of capitalism could be solved through gradual reform.
In the Western countries, a number of the most most well-known Leninist groups appear to be abandoning Lenin’s principle of an exclusively revolutionary organisation.
Broad Left parties such as Denmark’s Red Green Alliance, Portugal’s Left Blog and German’s Left Party include revolutionary and non-revolutionary groups and individuals.
In France the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR – one of the world’s biggest Trotskyist groups) dissolved itself in order to establish the broader New Anti-Capitalist Party.
Over in Australia, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) has also dissolved itself into the Socialist Alliance, which includes revolutionary and non-revolutionary socialists.
Here in Aotearoa, Socialist Worker is one of several socialist groups who traditionally identify as “Leninist”. But we are also advocates of a broad left strategy and hope to see the formation of a “new workers party” or “broad left party” that includes not only reformist socialists, but also opponents of neo-liberal economics who are not socialists at all.
This raises some big questions about Leninism and its relevance today:
Have the former members of the LCR and the DSP have abandoned Leninism? Does it matter?
What is the role of revolutionaries and Marxists within these broader reformists (or not explicitly revolutionary) parties?
Was Lenin wrong to advocate organisational separation of Marxists from other socialists? Or was this idea right at the time, but not now?
Over the next month or so UNITYblog will examine the problems of Leninism in the 21st Century.
We will start by posting several international articles from Marxists in the Leninist tradition who have taken a new look at Leninism, before sharing the views of leftists (both Leninist and not) from Aotearoa and elsewhere.