A footnote on the detractors of Lenin


by Raya Dunayevskaya 

1970, the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth is about to see a new facet of the Sino-Soviet conflict as the two state-capitalist giants calling themselves Communist vie with each other to grasp the revolutionary mantle of Lenin in order to cover up the reality of their respective exploitative systems. In this they will be aided not only by Western (private cap­italist) ideologists who have always maintained that Stalinism flowed “logically” from Leninism, but also by some who, like Paul Mattick, consider themselves Marxists but have made a veritable profession of anti-Leninism.

The saddest aspect of the new outpouring of anti-Leninism is that some young revolutionaries show themselves to be not so new in their thought the moment they need-to move from activity to philosophy.  Thus, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the freshest face and most spirited voice of the near-revolution in France, May, 1968, has found nothing newer to say in his “Obsolete Communism”, than the fact that he is a “plagiarist ……. of revolutionary theory and practice” which turns out in the main to be that of “Socialisme ou Barbarie”(Pierre Chaulieu), Paul Cardan, etc.  Since these departures from Marxism and restatements of “the Meaning of Socialism” are being played up as “the left-wing alternative” to totalitarian Communism, it becomes important to take issue with these detractors of Lenin.  In this footnote I will limit myself to Cardan, but it is only because what he says here is repre­sentative of all.

The Allegation

“For some strange reason”, writes Cardan, “Marxist have always seen the achievement of working class power solely in terms of the conquest of political power.  Real power, namely power over production in day-to-day life, was always ignored.” This vitiation of Marx’s philosophy of liberation is “but prelude to the hammer and tongs approach to Lenin who, Cardan claims, was “relentlessly repeating from 1917 until his death that production should be organised from above along ‘state-capitalist lines'”.  (emphasis added).

I know of no greater lie, but, for the time being, we will let it stand in order to call attention .to .the found­ation for the diatribe.  As proof of the slanderous statement, Cardan quotes from one of Lenin’s speeches.  “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government” and then only those passages which relate to the possibility of utilizing the “Taylor system.”

Never mind that the Taylor system was never introduced in Lenin’s lifetime.  Never mind that the “single” will was not a reference to foremen or managers of production.  (The point of contention in that first year of revolution when the discussion revolved around “single” vs “collective” referred to parallelism in organisations since the first national trade union organisation arose only after the revolution, just when factory committees and Soviets likewise laid sole claim to running production).  Never mind the objective situation, the backwardness of the economy, four years of imperialist war, civil war and countless counter-revolutionary attacks which were still going on as the new workers’ state was struggling for its very existence  That speech was made when the state was but four months old.  The references to “single will” and “iron discipline” are sufficient basis for Cardan to conclude: “We believe these conceptions, this subjective factor, played an enormous role in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution … we can see today the relationship be­tween the views he held and the later reality of Stalinism”.

Cardan is standing everything on its head.  No “subjective” factor could ever have produced an objective situation – the new stage of capitalism.  State-capitalism first arose during the world Depression, on. the one hand, and, on the other hand, assumed its most mature form in Russia during the Five Year Plans and Stalin’s most notorious Moscow Frame-up Trials.

Were we to acquiesce to anything so idiotic that a single article could sum up a period covering the greatest proletar­ian revolution in history, would it not be incumbent on the analyst to consider that article in its entirety?  That speech consisted of more, a great deal more, than the passages singled out for quotation.

Lenin’s Own Voice

The speech set forth the principal task of the proletar­iat to be “the positive or creative work of setting up an extremely intricate and subtle system of new organisational relationships extending to the planned production and distri­bution of goods required for the existence of tens of millions of people.  Such a revolution can be carried out only if the majority of the population, and primarily the majority of the toilers, display independent historical creative spirit…. By creating a new Soviet type of state, which gives the opport­unity to all the toilers and the masses of the oppressed to take an active part in the independent building of a new society, we solved only a small part of this difficult problem.”

Far from the Taylor system (which Lenin most certainly did not understand) being the ruling conception, proletarian democracy was the guiding line which permeated his speech. This is what the Soviets meant to Lenin.  This is why he pat the whole stress on the fact that the soviet form of organis­ation is justified because “for the first time a start is thus made in teaching the whole of the population in the art of administration, and in their beginning to administer”.  And he warns against “a petty-bourgeois tendency to transform the members of the Soviets into ‘members of parliament, or into bureaucrats.  This must be combated by drawing all the members of the Soviets into the practical work of administra­tion … Our aim is to draw the whole of the poor into the practical work of administration … our aim is that every toiler … shall perform state duties”. 


The four-month old state was in “a period of waiting for new outbreaks of the revolution, which is maturing in the West at a painfully slow pace”.  And Lenin was holding fast to the new universal, that he had elaborated on the eve of revolution in “State and Revolution”, that unless the “bourgeois state was so thoroughly smashed that production was run “by the whole population “TO A MAN”; and the state without bureaucracy, without a standing army, without police, was administered by the whole population “TO A MAN”, there would be no socialist society.  Three months after gaining power, Lenin repeated: 

“We wanted the workers themselves to draw up from below, the new principles of economic conditions”.

Indeed, Lenin was willing to let a single distinction sum up the difference between the Second International that had betrayed the workers and the new, Third International.  That single distinction was that genuine Marxists “reduce every­thing to the conditions of labour”.

Lenin was concerned about how “shy” the workers still were. They had not yet “become accustomed to the idea that they are the ruling class now.”  He lashed out at “lackadaisicalness, slovenliness, untidiness, nervous haste”, of the “educated” which was due, he said, “to the abnormal separation of mental from manual labour”.  He urged upon these intellectuals to begin listening to these shy workers: “every attempt to adhere to stereotyped forms and to impose uniformity from above must be combated.  Stereotyped forms and uniformity imposed from above have nothing in common with democratic and Socialist centralism”.  “There is” he said; “a great deal of talent among the people – it is merely suppressed.  It must be given an opportunity to express itself.  It and it alone, with the support of the masses can save Russia and can save the cause of Socialism”. 

Nor was he talking only against the “petty-bourgeois intellectuals”.  He was talking about Bolsheviks, his co-leaders now that they had state power; his appeal was to the initiative of the masses from below. The famous trade union debate of 1920-21 discloses how desperately he worked towards this one truth, how he differed even on the question of designating Russia as a workers’ state. His contention was that a precise description would show instead that the design­ation of “workers’ state” was an ‘abstraction’ while the reality was that it was a workers and peasants state “with bureau­cratic distortions”.  In arguing against Trotsky’s admini­strative mentality, Lenin insisted that the only assurance there is for the workers protecting the state is through giving them the freedom to protect themselves from the state:

“The entirely organised proletariat must protect itself and must utilise the workers^ organisations for the purpose of protecting the workers from their own state”. 

This was not just a visionary concept of a Marxist who has no state power.  This was the demand of a Bolshevik who had state power.  A demand that his co-leaders, his Party, recognise that the workers’ state can Justify its existence only when the workers maintain their own non-state organisations to protect them from their own state.  There is a veritable conspiracy between the Communists and the detractors of Lenin to portray Lenin’s concept of the Party as if Lenin had never changed his position from 1902 to his death.  Since space does not allow me here to deal with the question of “vanguardism”, which I totally oppose, I must refer readers to Marxism and Freedom, Chapter XI, “Forms of Organisation: the Relationship of the Spontaneous Self-Organisation of the Proletariat to the “Vanguard Party””.

3 thoughts on “A footnote on the detractors of Lenin

  1. A curious thing to see a ‘defence’ of Lenin from a comrade who had long since broken with the so called Leninist conception of the party. While I have sympathy for Dunayevskajas posions it seems to me that in rejecting the idea of a politically centralised class party, in favour of the idea of what in practice could not be other than a sect of worker-intellectuals, she breaks from the idea that the class is politically differentiated by varying contradictory levels of social/class consciousness.

    PS. A reading of Lars T Lihs recent book is mandatory for current students of Lenin.


  2. En 1968-70, on ne pouvait pas mettre Mattick et Castoriadis (“Cardan”) dans le même panier anti-léniniste car Castoriadis, lui, n’était plus marxiste (ce qui avait provoqué la scission de Pouvoir ouvrier).


  3. Lucien’s comment reads

    “In 1968-1970 you couldn’t put Mattick and Castoriadis (Cardan) in the same anti-Leninist basket, since Castoriadis was no longer a Marxist (which had provoked the split in Pouvoir ouvrier)”


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