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Lenin believed Marxism arose outside working class, had to be taken to proletarian homes

By Harsh Thakor* 

On April 22 we rejoiced the 152nd birthday of a person who shaped the fate of history in the 20th century more than anyone else. Vladimir Ilych Lenin defined a new epoch in the history of mankind by discovering the concept of imperialism, even as he pioneered the first ever socialist revolution in history.
Lenin interpreted Karl Marx, developing Marxism to formulate new tactics and strategy for the world proletarian revolution. He formed the Bolshevik Party, which had no precedent in history. Despite Stalin, who suppressed dissent, the socialist state remained intact because of the firm grasp of Leninist ideology.
The mastery of Lenin's teachings influenced Ho Chi Minh who the won war against French and American imperialism. His colonial thesis paved the path for the Third Communist International inspiring anti-colonial struggles across the world. Among the non-Communists who accepted Lenin’s ideas included Bhagat Singh.
Leninism is not classical Marxism but Marxism as relevant to Russia and to the state of the world in his era. Unlike Marx, Lenin thought socialism could not be built in a traditional bourgeois democratic structure. The achievements that occurred in the transformation of Russia into USSR in Lenin's life time were all-encompassing – collective agriculture, workers’ control over industries, education, electricity, housing, health medicine and employment.
Today there is a tendency to wedge a demarcation between Leninism and Marxism. One of them is Bernard de Mello, who blames Lenin for bureaucratization of the Soviets.

Lenin’s works

Confronting the Menshevik trend, in 1904 in the book ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back’, he made a detailed study of intra-party struggle, coming up with organizational guidelines for the Bolshevik Party. The circulation of the book enabled the majority of the local organization of the party to rally around it.
In July 1905 Lenin, through ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution’, illustrated the Bolshevik tactics in order to criticise the Mensheviks, who wished the working class to support the bourgeoisie to overthrow autocracy. He also opposed Mensheviks, who rejected the revolutionary role of the peasantry and the vanguard role of the working class.
Lenin's "What is to be Done", written in 1902, points out that at the roots the economists’ right-opportunism is worshipping spontaneous movements and undermining the role of socialist consciousness. Lenin countered them saying that a socialist understanding of the world, or Marxism, arose outside the working class and had to be taken to the proletarian homes.
Lenin confronted the economists’ tendency stating that trade unions are a necessity, but the problem of economists was their approach to trade unions was guided by economic determinism. They rejected politics of overthrowing the Czar or establishing dictatorship of the proletariat or workers’ rule, and instead merely demanded protective measures or legal rights for labour.
Lenin’s 'Materialism and Empirio-Criticism’, written in 1909 to defend Marxist dialectical materialism, sought to counter subjectivist idealism which systematically reduces science to empiricism. It refutes bourgeois subjectivists who invoked empiricism and science which distort objective reality and inner contradictions of problematic social phenomena.
To quote Filipino Marxist Joma Sison: 
“Lenin advanced our understanding of dialectical materialism by identifying the unity of opposites as the most fundamental among the laws of contradiction at work in society and nature and in the social and natural sciences. The simple expression of this is to divide one into two. One should not be dumbfounded by anything whole that is impressive or sacralized.
"Anything whole in the real world can be dissected, analyzed and critiqued. At the same time, anything that appears static, or anything that apparently emerges randomly from chaos, can be deeply understood in the movement of opposites that lurk within it. With his consciousness of the unity of opposites, Lenin was sharp and profound in his examination and analysis of events and issues in society and on both revolutionary and counterrevolution sides.”
The work has relevance today with the rise of post-modernist trends of Alan Badiou, Zizek and others who represent the New Left. It hits such tendencies in their very backyard which are idealist in essence.
Lenin's most significant contribution was ‘Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism’, which he wrote in 1916. It virtually elevated Marx's theory of capitalism to a higher plane. In his another major work, 'State and Revolution', published in 1918, Lenin defined the bourgeois state and how any multiple party bourgeois democratic system was in essence a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
In ‘State and Revolution’, Lenin summed up the oppressive or authoritative nature of the bourgeois state whose machinery is always aligned with the oppressor classes. Lenin refuted the Bukharinist view of the state immediately withering away after the revolution, dismissing it as an idealist view. Lenin insisted on alternative state machinery.
His ‘Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder’ sought to correct the ‘leftist’ errors prevalent in many parties who joined the Communist International. He prepared ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’, a document which laid the theoretical foundations for understanding and leading the national liberation struggles then gathering momentum in all the colonies and semi-colonies.
Today with sharpened imperialist contention worldwide, the Leninist theory of imperialism is all the more relevant. Even as neo-colonialism is prevalent, the contradiction of oppressed nations with oppressor countries of imperialism has sharpened.
In the context of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Lenin’s imperialism thesis is most timely which enables us to adjudicate Russia as an imperialist power. The worst economic crisis in the world, including in the imperialist countries, accentuated by Covid-19, is testimony to the accuracy of Lenin's views.
However, there is a setback: economic tendencies have penetrated the working class movement more deeply than a century ago. There are examples of genuine working class struggles being diffused. These range from the British coal miners’ strike in 1984 and French transport workers’ strike to Mumbai mill workers’ in 1982, the Kanoria Jute Mill workers’ strike in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh mine workers’ strike and Maruti workers’ strike.
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*Freelance journalist

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