By Rajendra Kishore Panda, Bhubaneswar:
Lenin (1870 –1924) is an ideological figurehead behind Marxism–Leninism and thus a prominent influence over the international communist movement. If Marx had the vision, Lenin activized it, with his own value-input, to a large extent.
Although Lenin was a devout Marxist, his interpretation of Marxism –- first termed ‘Leninism’ by Martov – became the sole authentic and orthodox one. According to his Marxist perspective, humanity would eventually reach pure communism, becoming a stateless, classless, egalitarian society of workers who were free from exploitation and alienation, controlling their own destiny, and abiding by the rule “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. According to Volkogonov, Lenin “deeply and sincerely” believed that the path he was setting Russia on would ultimately lead to the establishment of this communist society in the world.
Lenin’s Marxist beliefs led him to the view that society could not transform directly from its present state to communism, but must first enter a period of socialism, and so his main concern was how to convert Russia into a socialist society. To do so, he believed that a “dictatorship of the proletariat” was necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and develop a socialist economy. He defined socialism as “an order of civilized co-operators in which the means of production are socially owned”, and believed that this economic system had to be expanded until it could create a society of abundance. To achieve this, he saw bringing the Russian economy under state control to be his central concern, with – in his words – “all citizens” becoming “hired employees of the state”. Lenin’s interpretation of socialism was centralised, planned, and statist, with both production and distribution strictly controlled. He believed that all workers throughout the country would voluntarily join together to enable the state’s economic and political centralisation. In this way, his calls for “workers’ control” of the means of production referred not to the direct control of enterprises by their workers, but the operation of all enterprises under the control of a “workers’ state”. This resulted in what some perceive as two conflicting themes within Lenin’s thought: popular workers’ control, and a centralised, hierarchical, coercive state apparatus.
Before 1914, Lenin’s views were largely in accordance with mainstream European Marxist orthodoxy. Although he derided Marxists who adopted ideas from contemporary non-Marxist philosophers and sociologists, his own ideas were influenced not only by Russian Marxist theory but also by wider ideas from the Russian revolutionary movement including those of the Narodnik agrarian-socialists. He adapted his ideas according to changing circumstances, including the pragmatic realities of governing Russia amid war, famine, and economic collapse. Thus, as Leninism developed, Lenin revised the established Marxist orthodoxy and introduced innovations in Marxist thought.
In his theoretical writings, particularly Imperialism, Lenin discussed what he regarded as developments in capitalism since Marx’s death; in his view, it had reached a new stage, state monopoly capitalism. He also believed that although Russia’s economy was dominated by the peasantry, that monopoly capitalism existed in Russia meant that the country was sufficiently materially developed to move to socialism. Leninism adopted a more absolutist and doctrinaire perspective than other variants of Marxism, and distinguished itself by the emotional intensity of its liberationist vision. It also stood out by emphasising the role of a vanguard who could lead the proletariat to revolution, and elevated the role of violence as a revolutionary instrument.
Lenin believed that the representative democracy of capitalist countries gave the illusion of democracy while maintaining the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”; describing the representative democratic system of the United States, he referred to the “spectacular and meaningless duels between two bourgeois parties”, both of whom were led by “astute multimillionaires” that exploited the American proletariat. He opposed liberalism, exhibiting a general antipathy toward liberty as a value, and believing that liberalism’s freedoms were fraudulent because it did not free labourers from capitalist exploitation.
He declared that “Soviet government is many millions of times more democratic than the most democratic-bourgeois republic”, the latter of which was simply “a democracy for the rich”. He regarded his “dictatorship of the proletariat” as democratic because, he claimed, it involved the election of representatives to the soviets, workers electing their own officials, and the regular rotation and involvement of all workers in the administration of the state. Lenin’s belief as to what a proletariat state should look like nevertheless deviated from that adopted by the Marxist mainstream; European Marxists like Kautsky envisioned a democratically-elected parliamentary government in which the proletariat had a majority, whereas Lenin called for a strong, centralised state apparatus that excluded any input from the bourgeois.
Lenin was an internationalist and a keen supporter of world revolution, deeming national borders to be an outdated concept and nationalism a distraction from class struggle. He believed that in a socialist society, the world’s nations would inevitably merge and result in a single world government. He believed that this socialist state would need to be a centralised, unitary one, and regarded federalism as a bourgeois concept. In his writings, Lenin espoused anti-imperialist ideas and stated that all nations deserved “the right of self-determination”. He thus supported wars of national liberation, accepting that such conflicts might be necessary for a minority group to break away from a socialist state, because socialist states are not “holy or insured against mistakes or weaknesses”.
Lenin,as s a man of destiny, firmly believed in the righteousness of his cause and his own ability as a revolutionary leader. Biographer Louis Fischer described him as “a lover of radical change and maximum upheaval”, a man for whom “there was never a middle-ground. He was an either-or, black-or-red exaggerator”. Highlighting Lenin’s “extraordinary capacity for disciplined work” and “devotion to the revolutionary cause”, Pipes noted that he exhibited much charisma. Similarly, Volkogonov believed that “by the very force of his personality, Lenin had an influence over people”.
In Volkogonov’s view, Lenin accepted Marxism as “absolute truth”. Bertrand Russell felt that Lenin exhibited “unwavering faith – religious faith in the Marxian gospel”. Biographer Christopher Read suggested that Lenin was “a secular equivalent of theocratic leaders who derive their legitimacy from the [perceived] truth of their doctrines, not popular mandates”.Lenin was nevertheless an atheist and a critic of religion, believing that socialism was inherently atheistic; he thus considered Christian socialism a contradiction in terms.
Volkogonov claimed that “there can scarcely have been another man in history who managed so profoundly to change so large a society on such a scale”. Lenin’s administration laid the framework for the system of government that ruled Russia for seven decades and provided the model for later Communist-led states that came to cover a third of the inhabited world in the mid-20th century. Thus, Lenin’s influence was global.
The historian Albert Resis suggested that if the October Revolution is considered the most significant event of the 20th century, then Lenin “must for good or ill be considered the century’s most significant political leader”. White described Lenin as “one of the undeniably outstanding figures of modern history”, while Service noted that the Lenin was widely understood to be one of the 20th century’s “principal actors”.Read considered him “one of the most widespread, universally recognizable icons of the twentieth century”,while Ryan called him “one of the most significant and influential figures of modern history”. Time magazine named Lenin one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, and one of their top 25 political icons of all time.
Historian J. Arch Getty remarked, “Lenin deserves a lot of credit for the notion that the meek can inherit the earth, that there can be a political movement based on social justice and equality.”
You may not like Lenin and Leninism. But breaking of statues ? You can’t diminish Leninism by such vandalism. I condemn such acts of vandalism.
Rajendra Kishore Panda is a celebrated Odia poet.