by Sylvia Pankhurst: introduction by Chris Ford
The following article originally appeared in the Workers’ Dreadnought entitled ‘Lenin’, written by pioneer communist Sylvia Pankhurst after Lenin’s death. Pankhurst was a sympathiser of those opposing the retreat of the Communist International from an organiser of world revolution into defender of Soviet Russia at the hands of growing bureaucracy. She sought to create in England a Communist Workers’ Party aligned to the short-lived Fourth International founded by the KAPD and others.
Due to this some today try to rubbish her views, as “sectarian” or “ultra left”: Lenin of course took her a lot more seriously, even in his sharp polemic. The article below touches on a subject which the traditional left has great difficulty dealing with, the reduction of great revolutionaries to God-like figures. This criticism of the deification of Lenin is equally applicable to the cult of Leon Trotsky, which thrives to this day. The ‘Popes’ whoms she criticise were only in embryonic development when this article appeared: but today there is an array of organisation with their little socialist Popes. Against Marxist-Leninism and Trotskyism, communists defend Lenin as a great revolutionary of the 20th century: but he was not infallible, but a human being. We can appreciate Lenin by subjecting him to the same ruthless critical thinking he applied in his day.
by Sylvia Pankhurst
So many articles are written on Lenin now that even the best of them are wearisome. When Lenin was a lonely pioneer people did write of him. Most of those who eulogise him today were coldly indifferent, contemptuous, or hostile when Lenin faced real danger and hewed out for himself the position for which he is today admired. Make no mistake; it is not Lenin, not his personality, his thought, his conception of social life which is so widely admired now — it is the power he wielded, the prominent positions he held which is regarded with awe. Many who were aloof and doubtful when the dauntless few were fighting the struggle 1917-18, are prepared now to make a very god of Lenin, to proclaim him the man who was always right, who “never made a mistake”
This of course is absurd. It is a claim he would never have made for himself, combative and keen as he was on his own standpoint. He believed in his theories, his ideas and policy, but again and again he of course knew that he had made mistakes, he of course regretted them and strove to overcome the results. An eager, vital, enthusiastic human being, he was struggling by the untried ways of social progress.
Certainly he was poles apart from the popes who would make a god of him to enhance themselves. His merit is not that he was infallible: that he never was, but that he had great energy, great determination, courage and that curiosity of the mind causes people to seek for the truth, however unpopular or unpalatable it may be.
The little popes who sing his praises today do not possess the spirit of investigation which raised him above the many; they keep away from the mental pathways he has made, and now that he is dead they will try to stereograph his utterances into a series of dogmas, which can never be amended or extended.
The simplicity that made Lenin the much loved of his comrades is quite alien to such deification. Like others who rise above the personalities of small minds Lenin was dogmatic in an argument and strove hard to prevail not because he desired to be deified as a Bible but simply because he wished to win converts in the interests of the results he believed his policies would bring forth. We ourselves have differed from Lenin: differences remain, but we do homage to him as one who fought wholeheartedly for principle, who burnt his bridges and threw himself into the thick of the struggle, who was not afraid to go forth alone, toiling without praise or encouragement till others were converted to his views. Such are the makers of history.