Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)


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When Was the Russian Revolution?

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Without Lenin there would have been no socialist revolution in Of this much we can be certain. Why Lenin? Unlike its predecessors, the October Revolution transformed world politics and, in the process, remade the twentieth century with a frontal assault on capitalism and its empires, accelerating decolonialization. In these bad times, even the anti-capitalism on offer is limited. It is apolitical and ahistorical. The aim of contemporary struggle should be not to repeat or mimic the past but to absorb the lessons, both negative and positive, that it offers.

It is impossible to achieve this while ignoring the subject of this study.


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For a long time during the last century, those who honoured Lenin largely ignored him. They sanctified him, but rarely read his work. More often than not, and on every continent, Lenin was misinterpreted and misused for instrumentalist purposes by his own side: parties and sects large and tiny who claimed his mantle.

The Lenin cult, which he loathed even in its most incipient form, was a disaster for his thought. His texts, never intended or written as a catechism, were mummified, making it difficult to understand his political formation. This phenomenon must be situated at the confluence of two historical processes.

Lenin was a product of Russian history and the European labour movement. Both posed questions of class and party, of agency and instrument. The synthesis developed by Lenin was thus determined by the intermingling of two very different currents that can be characterised, broadly speaking, as anarchism and Marxism. He played a crucial role in the triumph of the latter.

Lenin the Dictator and The Dilemmas of Lenin review – a revolution twisted?

That is why, before moving on to discuss some specific problems confronted by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, I will explain at length the history and prehistory of both currents. It takes imagination to misread Lenin and Trotsky or present them as liberals underneath the mask. Whatever one might think of them, the lucidity of their prose leaves little room for political misinterpretation.

As Perry Anderson has recently reminded us, the fate of Gramsci, the third major thinker produced by the Communist tradition of the Third International, has been somewhat different and for specific reasons relating to his imprisonment by the Italian fascists. First things first.

Fresh studies of the events have only hardened this opinion. The faction and later the party that he painstakingly created from onward was simply not up to the task of fomenting revolution during the crucial months between February and October , the freest period ever in Russian history. The lesson here is that even a political party — specifically trained and educated for the single purpose of producing a revolution — can stumble, falter and fall at the critical moment.

This is where the Bolsheviks as a party were headed strategically and tactically before April No party can ever be right all the time. Nor can a political leader, not even one with the most exceptional qualities and strength of will. In this particular case, however, Lenin understood that if the moment were not seized, reaction would triumph once again.

Events favoured him. He dragged a reluctant party leadership behind him by winning the support of grassroots Bolsheviks and, more importantly, soldiers completely alienated from the war. For the latter it was the slogans from frontline Bolshevik agitators that articulated what they themselves were thinking and whispering to each other in the trenches or as they participated in mass desertions.

History handed Lenin a gift in the shape of the First World War.

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Lenin on the Women’s Question (An Interview)

He grasped it with both hands and used it to craft an insurrection. It is revolutions that make history happen. Liberals of every sort, with rare exceptions, are found on the other side. The person he admired the most and regarded as his mentor was the German socialist Karl Kautsky. He had thought that an understanding of Marx was sufficient inoculation against most intellectual plagues, especially that of enthusiasm for imperialist wars.

This, alas, turned out not to be the case.

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The next dilemma he was to confront concerned the path to revolution. After February this was not an abstract question. Lenin opted for a socialist revolution, creating mayhem inside his own party. He won them back only after they had realised that the Petrograd workers were politically ahead of them. There have been long debates on the role of individuals in history. The eighteenth-century view that history was made by conscious individuals faced a strong challenge in the century that followed, and from many eminent pre-Marxist historians for whom no serious discussion of history was possible without analysing social and economic conditions.

The view that social and material forces create the conditions in which individuals are transformed and act in a way that would be impossible in different circumstances was systematised by Marx and Engels and generally accepted for most of the twentieth century. Had the English Revolution been delayed, Oliver Cromwell and his family would have crossed the Atlantic and settled in the dissenter stronghold of New England. Had the French Revolution not occurred, Bonaparte would have left France as he was planning to do and sought employment in the Russian Imperial Army.

As Kropotkin wrote in his classic history of the French Revolution, a book that became part of the common heritage of the Russian revolutionary movement, context determined all:. That is why the French Revolution, like the English Revolution of the preceding century, happened at the moment when the middle classes, having drunk deep at the sources of current philosophy, became conscious of their rights, and conceived a new scheme of political organisation.

Strong in their knowledge and eager for the task, they felt themselves quite capable of seizing the government by snatching it from a palace aristocracy which, by its incapacity, frivolity and debauchery, was bringing the kingdom to utter ruin. But the middle and educated classes could not have done anything alone, if, consequent on a complete chain of circumstances, the mass of the peasants had not also been stirred, and, by a series of constant insurrections lasting for four years, given to the dissatisfied among the middle classes the possibility of combating both King and Court, of upsetting old institutions and changing the political constitution of the kingdom.

Without the First World War and February , Lenin would have died in exile, one of the many Russian revolutionaries destined to miss the fall of the autocracy. Trotsky could easily have become a Russian novelist in the classic tradition. Even when conditions favour revolutionary upheavals, however, there are rarely organisations capable of taking advantage of them.

Failed insurrections, uprisings and revolutions litter the history of our world. Why did Spartacus lose? Why did Toussaint Louverture win? Each answer is embedded in the history of the epochs in which they lived. Likewise, Lenin. It was the Iron Chancellor in newly created Germany who insisted on underplaying his own role, arguing the intelligent conservative position in an address to the North German Reichstag in Gentlemen, we can neither ignore the history of the past nor create the future. I would like to warn you against the mistake that causes people to advance the hands of their clocks, thinking that thereby they are hastening the passage of time.

My influence on the events I took advantage of is usually exaggerated; but it would never occur to anyone to demand that I should make history. I could not do that even in conjunction with you, although together, we could resist the whole world. We cannot make history: we must wait while it is being made. We will not make fruit ripen more quickly by subjecting it to the heat of a lamp; and if we pluck the fruit before it is ripe we will only prevent its growth and spoil it.

Lenin was confident that once the fruit trees of Germany and Russia had been grafted together, the rest of the continent, with the exception of Britain, would be rotten-ripe for revolution. Whatever else, he was not shy of making history, of compressing the experience of a decade into a single day. Events did not unfold quite as he had expected in the rest of Europe, but for contingent reasons rather than objective conditions.

Lenin and the Russian Revolution - Arthur Herman

This book is a contextualisation without which the history of the Russian Revolution is incomprehensible. The execution was successfully carried out under the command of Sofiya Perovskaya; during the ensuing repression, the small groups that had survived were crushed. The impact of these events on all the Russian political parties that emerged during the first decade of the twentieth century should not be underestimated. What democracy has ever flowed smoothly? This did not happen in any more than it would have in In reality, given the relationship of forces and the continuing war, the most likely eventuality would have been the rise to power of a hard-core military dictatorship through mass pogroms and large-scale repression, with Entente support designed to keep Russia in the war.

The February Revolution produced a weak government that was incapable of dealing with the crisis and committed to the war. When there is no revolutionary party or one that has been defeated and decapitated, it is reaction rather than reform that triumphs. This pattern has remained constant from Cavaignac and Louis Napoleon to Groener, Noske, Mussolini and Hitler, from Suharto to Pinochet and in the work of virtually every American president.

Why would Russia have taken a different course had there not been a revolution or if the Red Army had lost the civil war? This was not the case. True, the urban proletariat on which the revolution based itself was a minority of the population, dominated by a peasantry that dotted the large rural hinterlands of the country and that supported the Bolshevik decrees on land ownership immediately after October. Without this growing support among the poor peasants, the Bolsheviks could not have won the civil war.

It was only after the Bolsheviks won majorities in the soviets that they set the date for the insurrection. Lenin can be denounced for basing himself exclusively on the workers, but here he was following the instructions of the founding elders of the movement, Marx and Engels. This was also the reason he dissolved the Constituent Assembly in November Here the Bolsheviks argued that the soviets were a higher form of democracy and that they were not going to waste time debating the Social Revolutionaries SRs in a chamber that had been overtaken by revolution.

The Bolshevik vote in these elections, however, did signify huge support in the towns. Out of a total of Revolutionary periods invariably encompass a huge fluctuation of political consciousness that can never be registered accurately by any referendum. The peasants in uniform, politically radicalised by the war, simply did not wish to fight any longer for a regime that was not interested in them, their families, their welfare or the conditions in which they fought. Behind each word lay a set of ideas encompassing Bolshevik strategy.

No revolutionary vanguard party can ever triumph on its own. Whether we ever see one again a different matter and a different discussion , proletarian revolution as conceived by Marx and Lenin is a gigantic awakening of the millions of exploited, who believe in their own capacity to emancipate themselves. Fractures in the state, divisions in the ruling class and indecision on the part of the intermediate classes pave the way for dual power, which, in Russia, led to the creation of new institutions and later, in China, Vietnam and Cuba, rested on revolutionary armies with varying class compositions that were locked in battle against their respective state machines.

In the Russian case, Lenin spelt this out with customary clarity a few weeks before the October Revolution:. To be successful, insurrection must rely, not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon an advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest.

That is the third point.

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These three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism. Once these conditions exist, however, to refuse to treat insurrection as an art is a betrayal of Marxism and the revolution.


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  8. After the debacle of the July Days, when the masses had attempted to lead the party during an unripe situation, the Bolshevik press was banned, some of its leaders imprisoned and Lenin exiled to Finland. It was from there that he sent the most urgent political letters in revolutionary history, pleading, explaining, arguing that July was a temporary setback, that the masses would rise again and the party must be prepared. In fact it was hardly a secret that the Bolsheviks were planning a revolution.

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    Lenin had said as much when he arrived at the Finland Station. The insurrection still took place, proving that a ruling class in total disarray is helpless against masses that are raring to move forward, even when its members know the date of the revolution. Why is insurrection an art? Because an armed uprising against the capitalist state or occupying imperialist armies has to be choreographed with precision, especially during its final stages. And the victory, too, was reported to the Soviet, then in session at Smolny, Petrograd.

    Every upheaval has its own peculiarities, but there are broad similarities between revolutions as well. The three great revolutions in European history all went through two distinct phases, each taking a more radical turn in the second and final act. The Jacobin ascent to power in the French Assembly or descent, given where they sat in played a similar role in accelerating the revolutionary process, with the public execution of Louis Capet and Marie Antoinette in October of that year. The difference between these revolutions lay in the following: whereas events pushed Cromwell and Robespierre forward, in Russia it was Lenin who consciously used events — in his case, the disintegration of the Russian autocracy as a result of the First World War — to push the workers and soldiers in Petrograd and Moscow toward a successful insurrection.

    Both were leaders of bourgeois revolutions, and both had their own differences with their respective moneyed classes.

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    Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History) Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)
    Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History) Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)
    Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History) Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)
    Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History) Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)
    Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History) Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)
    Lenin and Revolutionary Russia (Questions and Analysis in History)

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