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Prepared for lecturing at the first class of the international training course for trainers in English.
This reading is composed of four chapters. The first is a summary on Lenin’s biography. The second summarizes the trajectory of the Russian Revolution. The third presents Lenin’s complete works. The fourth and last chapter is an analysis of Lenin’s contribution to the Socialist mindset.
The first chapter was written in 2001, as a subsidy to a tribute that the PT’s tendency Articulação de Esquerda (translated as Left’s Articulation) did for Lenin and the Paris Commune. The other three chapters were recently written.
Vladimir Ilitch Ulyanov was born in Simbirsk (its name was later changed to Ulyanovsk), on April 1870.
His father was a primary schools inspector; He died when Vladimir was 16. His mother and sisters were constant companions, including during his exiles inland and abroad.
At the age of 17, Vladimir lost his older brother: Alexandre Ulyanov was executed in May 1887 for being part of conspiracy against Czar Alexandre lll ’s life.
In July of the same year, Vladimir concluded his secondary studies. And, in August, he enrolled in the Law School of Kazan. He was expelled in December, due to his involvement in the university student militancy.
Then he spent a few years under a “patrolled freedom,” which he took as an opportunity to systematically study Marxism. In this period, he established contacts with representatives from different revolutionary groups that existed at the time in Russia.
The main socialist tradition in Russia at the time was “populism,” which preached that it was possible to build socialism in Russia without going through capitalism. Populism took the Russian peasant community as its starting point.
Populism has taken many forms, such as the “march to the people,” when thousands of students, intellectuals, and youth moved to peasant villages. It also took the form of “terrorism,” which manifested as attempts to kill the Czar in order to disrupt Russian absolutism.
Part of the “populist” tradition later became the Revolutionary-Socialist Party (SR), which had a strong connection with the peasantry. The left faction within the SR would later participate in the October 1917 revolution, allied with the Bolsheviks.
In 1892, Vladimir received his law degree, after passing his exams as an impartial student.
Lenin’s lawyer “disguise” was useful when Lenin started attending to political debates, in Saint Petersburg of 1893 to 1895. He grew closer to the labor movement, and he began to write his first articles, where he challenged populism’s ideas and “legal Marxism”.
Legal Marxism adopted some of the viewpoints of Marxism, but, in fact, it only used such views to glorify capitalism development.
One representative work of this period is the book ‘What Are the “Friends of the People” and How They Fight Against the Social-Democrats.’
On 1895, Vladimir (who, from now on, we’ll call by the nom de guerre by which he would become known globally: Lenin) travelled abroad and contacted the Emancipation of Labor Group, directed by George Plekhanov, the dean on Russian Marxism.
When he returned from abroad, Lenin helped on the foundation of Fight for the Emancipation of Labor Union.
On December 9, 1895, he was arrested.
He was released on February 1897 and sent to inland exile (Siberia). He was kept there for three years. During this period, he married Krupskaya, who would remain his companion till death.
During his time in prison and in exile, Lenin wrote some of his most important works, such as “The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democracy” (1897) and “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”
It was also while his inland exile that he would reflect on and deeply criticize the positions of the called ‘economism.’
Economism overvalues the importance of the economic fight while it underestimates the importance of the political fight, it also devalues revolutionary theory and the role of left intellectuals.
In 1900, Lenin returned from inland exile and, in agreement with other social democrats, dedicated himself to organizing a journal, through which he connected and organized the various Social Democratic groups in several Russian cities.
To concretize this project, Lenin traveled abroad where, in agreement with Plekhanov group, he started a newspaper called Iskra (“from the spark, the flame will spring”) and a theoretical journal called Zaria.
Lenin spent the following years abroad, in cities such as London, Munich, Geneva, Paris and Warsaw.
Iskra’s first edition, dated December 1900, had an editorial by Lenin, entitled: “Our Movement’s Urgent Tasks.”
Iskra’s ideas became the dominant ones in Russian Social-Democracy, but they also generated harsh criticism from Economicists and other groups.
Lenin responded to these critics with a well-known book, titled ‘What is to be Done?’ which was published in 1902.
The Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), which was held abroad in 1903, was a great victory of the group that edited Iskra.
However, in the course of the Congress, the Iskra editorial group split. They split over a polemic about an organizational question raised in the first article of the party’s statute: the definition of party membership.
Lenin argued for a stricter definition: to be a militant of the party, one had to participate in a party organism. Sympathizing with the party’s ideas wasn’t enough to be a member.
The delegates who were allied to Lenin lost this election. Martov (a friend of Lenin’s from his own generation) and groups that were opposed to Iskra won the election.
But after this vote, some of the delegates who were allied to Martov on the polemic over membership, left the Congress. Therefore, when it came time to elect the leadership, Lenin’s group became the majority of the leading group. After this Congress, these groups within the RSDLP came to be called the “Bolsheviks” (which means the majority) and the “Mensheviks”(this minority). They would later become fractions of the RSDLP and, eventually, separate and autonomous parties.
Lenin wrote a detailed reflection on the Second Congress of RSDLP in the book ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,’ which was published in 1904.
Later after the Second Congress, the 1904-1905 Russian Revolution erupted.
Lenin’s reflection on the 1905 revolution clarified the political divergence between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Such reflection is stated in the book ‘Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution’ (1905).
The 1905 Revolution was defeated, a period of reaction began across Russia, including in the ideological field.
Lenin’s influence among the Bolsheviks was challenged by many others militants, among them Bogdanov.
Lenin wrote ‘Materialism and Empiro-criticism,’ published in 1909, to challenge the ideas that Bogdanov was spreading.
When World War I started (1914-1918), many of the socialist parties across Europe were overtaken by nationalism, and they voted in favor of the "war credits."
Lenin was part of the internationalist minority. In 1915, he wrote “The Collapse of the Second International.” In 1916, he wrote, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”, which developed the thesis that Russia would be the "weakest link" in the imperialist chain.
In 1917, shortly after the February Revolution, Lenin surprised his former comrades with the an argument that some considered contradictory to what he argued in his previous book “Two Tactics:” the slogan "All power to the Soviets." He made this argument known in works like the well-known “April Thesis.”
In that same revolutionary year, between the months of August and September, Lenin wrote the book ‘State and the Revolution,’ in which he developed “the Marxist doctrine on the state and the tasks of the proletariat in the revolution."
Lenin played a crucial role throughout the years between 1917 and 1924, during the seizure of power, the civil war, on the organization of the Communist International and the work to frame the basis of the Soviet State.
One of the works he wrote during this period was ‘Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder’ (1920).
Lenin suffered at least two assasination attempts. During the second attempt, on August 30, 1918, revolutionary socialist Fanny Kaplan succeeded in shooting him. Lenin's health, which was already relatively weak, worsened after the attack.
On January 21, 1924, Lenin died. The autopsy revealed a generalized arteriosclerosis.
Lenin left a "testament" in which he made hard criticisms against the main leaders of the Party. His critiques included a direct request that Stalin would be replaced as the General Secretary of the Party by someone more respectful towards the comrades. The RCP Central Committee decided (in a vote that split 30 to 10) that the testament would not be read during the plenary session of the Twelfth Party Congress.
The will was instead read at a meeting of the old Bolsheviks, and Stalin offered his resignation. The majority of the attendees asked him to continue in office.
Years later, Stalin would perform lectures about the thought of Lenin at the University Sverdlov. These lectures were gathered in a book called Fundamentals of Leninism. Also in the 1920s, a Brazilian Communist named Otavio Brandão used - apparently for the first time – the term “Marxism-Leninism.”
The Complete works of Lenin
The second chapter is part of study guide, drawn from analyzing The Complete Works of Lenin.
Lenin was both a head of state and a party leader, but his main activity remained writing.
His Complete Works - which does not include all his texts - is a collection of 50 volumes (on average) 500 pages each, in 14x21 format. The Complete Works of Lenin are available in several languages, including Russian, English and Spanish. We do not know of any reissues since the 1990s, but the best-known works are still published in several languages.
The Complete Works contains:
a) Sketches (sometimes in multiple versions) of other texts;
b) Letters, not only designated to militants, but also for families and people with whom Lenin had political or professional relationships (such as editors);
c) Journalistic material, for many publications, which Lenin contributed between 1894 and 1924;
d) Complete books;
e) Reviews and short-hand notes of lectures and speeches made by Lenin.
b) Letters, not only designated to militants, but also for families and people with whom Lenin had political or professional relationships (such as editors);
c) Journalistic material, for many publications, which Lenin contributed between 1894 and 1924;
d) Complete books;
e) Reviews and short-hand notes of lectures and speeches made by Lenin.
The main topics discussed by Lenin were:
a) The agrarian matter and its relation to capitalist development in Russia;
b) The role of the Russian working class, its leading role in the evolution of Russia;
d) The role of the party and the revolutionary intelligentsia;
d) The strategy and tactics in the struggle for bourgeois revolution and the socialist revolution in Russia;
e) The seizure of power and the transition to socialism;
f) International relations and the development of capitalism on a world scale;
g) Philosophy, political economy and Marxism.
It is important to say that Lenin's texts are overwhelmingly polemical, that is, he usually develops his arguments in controversy with someone (another intellectual, another theoretical trend, another party, another class).
Knowledge for full understanding the works of Lenin are:
a) the history of Russia and the Russian revolution of 1917;
b) the biography of Lenin;
c) Russian literature;
d) the Marxist literature;
e) the Russian language.
One must also consider the fortune of the works. Part of Lenin’s texts was only published after his death. Part of what has been published during his life had limited circulation, due to his clandestine conditions and the misery that the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party functioned within.
The Complete Works edition was completed after Lenin’s death. The selection of texts, the editorial notes, supplemental materials and the translations were contaminated by political dispute.
The following contents of the Complete Works were summarized (starting with 32 volumes published by Editorial Carthage Buenos Aires and 18 published by the political editol La Habana).
General index of the books
Tomo I. 1893-1894. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1958. 554 pages.
Tomo II. 1895-1897. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1958 554 pages.
Tomo III. Capitalism development in Russia. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1957. 647 pages.
Tomo IV. 1898-1901. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1958 457 pages.
Tomo V. May 1901 to February 1902. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1959, 567 pages.
Tomo VI. Janunary 1902 to August 1903. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1959, 555 pages.
Tomo VII. September 1903 to December 1904. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1959, 576 pages.
Tomo VIII. January to July 1905. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1959, 607 pages.
Tomo IX. June to November 1905. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1959, 480 pages.
Tomo X. November 1905 to June 1906. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1960, 551 pages.
Tomo XI. June of 1906 to January 1907. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1960, 516 pages.
Tomo XII. January to June 1907. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1960. 516 pages.
Tomo XIII. Junho de 1907 a abril de 1908. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 538 pages.
Tomo XIV. 1908-1909, Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1960, 377 pages.
Tomo XV. Março de 1908 a agosto de 1909. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1960, 491 pages.
Tomo XVI. Setembro de 1909 a dezembro de 1910. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1960, 474 pages.
Tomo XVII. Dezembro de 1910 a abril de 1912. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1960, 599 pages.
(Tomo XVII. Dezembro de 1910 a março de 1912 (edição corregida e aumentada. Editoral Cartago, Buenos Aires, 1970, 559 pages.)
Tomo XVIII. Abril de 1912 a março de 1913. Editoral Cartago, Buenos Aires, 1960, 636 pages.
Tomo XIX. Março a Dezembro de 1913. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1960, 604 pages.
Tomo XX. Dezembro de 1913 a agosto de 1914. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 597 pages.
Tomo XXI. Agosto de 1914 a dezembro de 1915. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 498 pages.
Tomo XXII. Dezembro de 1915 a Julho de 1916. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 401 pages.
Tomo XXIII. Agosto de 1916 a março de 1917. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 410 pages.
Tomo XXIV. Abril a junho de 1917. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 605 pages.
Tomo XXV. Junho a setembro de 1917. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 522 pages.
Tomo XXVI. Setembro de 1917 a fevereiro de 1918. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 554 pages.
Tomo XXVII. Fevereiro a julho de 1918. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 602 pages.
Tomo XXVIII. Julho de 1918 a março de 1919. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 527 pages.
Tomo XXIX. Março a agosto de 1919. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 602 pages.
Tomo XXX. Setembro de 1919 a abril de 1920. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 562 pages.
Tomo XXXI. Abril a Dezembro de 1920. Editoral Política. Havana, 1963, 555 pages.
Tomo XXXII. 30 de dezembro de 1920 a 14 de agosto de 1921. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 553 pages.
Tomo XXXIII. Agosto de 1921 a março de 1923. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 505 pages.
Tomo XXXIV. CARTAS. Novembro de 1895 a novembro de 1911. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 503 pages.
Tomo XXXV. CARTAS. Fevereiro de 1912 a dezembro de 1922. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 611 pages.
Tomo XXXVI. CARTAS. 1900 A 1923. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 716 pages.
Tomo XXXVII. CARTAS. Novembro de 1897 a julho de 1904. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1971, 413 pages.
Tomo XXXVIII. ANOTAÇÕES FILOSÓFICAS. Editoral Política. Havana, 1964, 604 pages.
Tomo XXXIX. CARTAS. Novembro de 1912 a dezembro de 1916. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1971, 428 pages.
Tomo XL. CARTAS. Janeiro de 1917 a novembro de 1922. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1972, 463 pages.
Tomo XLI. CARTAS AOS FAMILIARES. 1893-1922. Editoral Cartago. Buenos Aires. 1972, 596 pages.
Tomo XLII. INDICE DE NOMES E BIBLIOGRAFIA. Editorial Política. Havana. 1963. 334 pages.
(ao que tudo indica, o volume seguinte na coleção de Havana é o volume anterior da coleção de Buenos Aires)
TOMO XLIV. Cadernos sobre o imperialismo. Editorial Cartago, Buenos Aires. 1972. 429 pages.
TOMO XLV. Índice Temático volume 1. Editorial Cartago, Buenos Aires. 1973. 386 pages.
TOMO XLVI. Índice Temático volume 2. Editorial Cartago, Buenos Aires. 1972. 363 pages.
Tomo complementario 1. INDICE ONOMÁSTICO. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1969, 309 pages.
Tomo complementario 2.INDICE ONOMÁSTICO. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1970. 340 pages.
Tomo complementario 3. INDICE ONOMÁSTICO.Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1971. 317 pages.
Tomo complementario 4. INDICE ONOMÁSTICO.Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1971. 269 pages.
Lista de equivalencias para ubicar en la 1. edición de las Obras Completas, los trabajos de V.I.Lenin publicados en la 2.edicion. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1973. 209 pages.
Lista de equivalencias para ubicar en la 2. edición de las Obras Completas, los trabajos de V.I.Lenin publicados en la 2.edicion. Editorial Cartago. Buenos Aires, 1973. 206 pages..
For those who understand Portuguese, it is possible to read summaries of parts of the Complete Works Volumes on the following links:
The third chapter is a highly abbreviated adaptation of the article "Marx and the critique of the Russian Revolution," written in May 2011 by Wladimir Pomar and so far unpublished.
Marx and Engels believed that, around 1850, capitalism had already reached its highest degree of development because of its technological advances and its repetition of the cyclical crises and insurgencys that these generate.
Marx and Engels believed that, around 1850, capitalism had already reached its highest degree of development because of its technological advances, its repetition of cyclical crises and the insurgencies generated by those crises. Under these conditions, It was believed that England, France, Germany and the United States would necessarily have the first socialist revolutions.
Although Engels later revised this assumption, many of the Marxists made the same miscalculation. They believed that capitalism had reached its turning point, prematurely believing that the beginning of imperialism meant that capitalism had entered its terminal phase.
Marx and Engels assumed that the capitalist world market would be able to level imbalances in economic development between countries. They did not take into account that the historical development of the people and countries had always been very uneven, from the earliest ages, and that capitalism would also follow this same evolutionary law. This should have led them to predict that socialism would also present as an uneven process of development.
Marx also did not take into account, for example, that a new globalization (of capitalist nature) would significantly increase the degree of exploitation of underdeveloped countries and thereby alleviate the class struggle in the advanced countries, from the viewpoint of the capitalists.
Thus, instead of capitalism leveling differences between nations, there would be not only an extremely uneven development, but also a situation where the capital of the most advanced countries could get a super-profit by exploiting the most underdeveloped. The workers of the advanced capitalist countries could be corrupted at the expense of the super-exploitation of workers in underdeveloped countries.
This unequal development of capitalism, evident during the new colonial expansion of the late 19th century and early 20th century, caused a historical evolution that was not foreseen.
For example, it provided a much more rapid development of the capitalist mode of production in the core countries of Europe and North America, and it allowed greater economic and political concessions to the workers of these countries.
In developed countries, a strong bourgeoisie emerged. Along with it, a State developed that had the appearance of being strongly democratic, which also gave concesscions to the proletariat.
Instead of the impoverishment predicted by Marx, workers in core nations experienced an increase in their economic achievements, and the middle class grew. Socialism seemed to have become dispensable, starting with an outbreak of Marxist revisionism, especially in Europe.
However, in the underdeveloped capitalist societies, Marx's theses about the increase of mass misery, followed by the increased social strengh of workers, seemed to be fully confirmed. The introduction of elements of the capitalist mode of production into these societies awakened all the contradictions that were already present within them, putting the possibility of socialist revolution on the agenda.
Clearly this contradicts Marx’s belief about the material conditions that would contribute to the advance of socialism. But the growth of the struggle among workers, peasants and other working classes in these countries, as well as the conflicts interest between the local bourgeoisie and the imperialist bourgeoisie, blurred these contradictions. They opened a new horizon, making it possibile that socialist revolutions would be transferred from the advanced capitalist countries to the undeveloped nations.
The Socialists found themselves facing a historical juncture in which the bourgeoisie had nurtured the development of capitalism, but it did not make political revolution to destroy the anachronistic political structures or to repeal the remannts of feudalism. This situation became particularly acute in Russia, where the expansion of capital - driven by French and British companies - lived within an outdated agrarian structure and an political aristocracy that was resistant to any change.
A complex revolutionary situation developed within tsarist Russia. The 1905 insurrection was its first pratical manifestation.
There were several political trends that were opposed to tsarism that sought a path to overcome underdevelopment in Russia.
Populists sought to prevent the development of capitalism through the expansion of the rural peasant community. Liberals, or cadets, sought an agreement with tsarism to the introduction of small reforms in the monarchy.The various Russian social democratic tendencies argued for strategies along a spectrum from bourgeois-democratic revolution to Among the Social Democrats, Lenin’s theoretical and practical solution of stood out. He argued that capitalism was developing unevenly so, therefore, the revolution was also developing unevenly. It would allow the proletariat to reach hegemony, even in the context of a bourgeois democratic revolution.
In this context, it was possible to initiate a fight against Russian autocracy and capitalism, in favor of political democracy which reflected socialist demands. Building on this program, workers were able to conquer hegemony in the “soviets” (or councils) which were the political expression of popular power in the Russian revolution.
Russia’s participation in the imperialist war, which was unleashed in 1914, intensified all the contradictions of Russian society. There were major military defeats, massive loss of life, serious food shortages, and several rounds of drafting armed peasants into military service. Workers, peasants and soldiers were increasingly organized in the soviets. These conditions transformed the soviets into real representative organizations of these social classes. These Soviets were organs of dmeocracy that existed simultaneously and in opposition to the parliament under the Tsarist State (which was referred to as the “Duma”).
There were two revolutions in 1917. The February Revolution of 1917 overthrew the monarchy and established a parliamentary government. The revolution of October and November 1917 overthrew the Cadet government and established the Socialist government. There was a heated debate over whether or not to recognize the power of the Soviets, as a link of the democratic revolution to the socialist revolution.
In the political conditions that led to the revolutionary crisis and the outbreak of the revolution, it would be unthinkable to assume that it would be possible to organize any representative political organization in the absence of parliaments worthy of the name or of other democratic bodies, with the exception of the Soviets. of the call for “All power to the Soviets” was the only one which could ensure the success of the revolution, even though most of the Soviets were under the influence of political forces that were still hesitant about the prospect of revolution.
Although Lenin always agreed with Marx that the socialist revolution had to be global, he differed from Marx in his belief that it would be possible to initiate and win socialist revolutions in the underdeveloped countries, particularly if they had the support of developed countries. The success of the Soviet revolution seemed to prove Lenin right. It challenged the misconception of European socialists that had given support to their governments to carry the war on.
This situation also contributed to the hypothesis that the model of the Soviet Revolution could have turned into a universal model. However, this model did not succeed in any other country, neither developed nor undeveloped, with the exception of the Chinese Revolution. Revolutionary attempts in Hungary and Germany failed. Although many colonial countries intensified their revolutionary fight, none of them were able to achieve decisive victories at the time. Lenin and the Russian revolutionaries had to cope with the harsh reality of erecting socialism in a single country.
Discussions on which paths to follow
Soviet Socialism started its path full of hopes and promises. But, at its first steps, it had to face the brutal difficulties of being a war-torn country, without the ‘support’ of a revolutionary success in any other developed country. All the capitalist countries imposed an economic blockade. Troops loyal to tsarism initiated a civil war, and the military forces of thirteen different foreign potencies invaded the Soviet Union. There were also internal political disputes over which paths should be followed after the seizure of political power.
The Communist Party soon found itself involved in an intra-mural civil war over the direction of internal and external policies. The establishment of peace required the power to make significant territorial concessions in 1918, and this was the subject of a bitter political and military dispute between the various trends of the party, the government and the revolutionary forces of Russian society. This was a dispute over whether the priority should be to carry the war on as an instrument of permanent revolution against international capitalism or to give priority to the consolidation of the new Soviet State.
Posteriorly, the implement of NEP (New Economic Policy) gave place to splits, in which Lenin and the Communist Party were labeled “traitors to the revolution.” This treason seemed clear in the mind of many Russian revolutionaries, after Lenin appealed to the Soviets to learn from and adopt German State Capitalism. Even more severe were his statements that it would not be possible to maintain proletarian power in a ruined country that had a huge peasant population without the help of capital.
There were a number of brutal manifestations of the intense internal war in the first years of the Soviet Union: the revolt of the sailors of Kronstadt, the assassination attempt against Lenin by Social Revolutionary party members, and the use of terrorist actions against the Communist Party leaders and the state by the Russian extreme-left.
Lenin argued that it would be necessary to take on loans from private capital in order to develop the Soviet Union’s productive forces, the material foundation without which it would be impossible to achieve a necessary level of culture to create socialism. In the late 1920s, however, Stalin and the new Soviet leaders concluded that such material foundations had already been built. Therefore, he started to restrict the concessions to the capitalists that had been adopted by NEP.
This occurred simultaneously with the ascension of fascism in Europe, the aggravation of the international situation and the threat of a new imperialist world war. In fact, Stalin and many others thought the pace of NEP would not allow the Soviet Union to industrialize quickly enough to deal with these external threats. The strategy of accelerating industrialization was also responsible for the process of agricultural collectivization, which was essential for the supplying the workforce for industrial production.
Meanwhile, Stalin’s government initiated negotiations with several imperialist countries, in the hope of preventing them from uniting against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Communist Party began a new policy of building a wide front to resist the ascention of fascism. It sought to negotiate treaties of nonaggression with England and France and to build resistance to the Nazis plans for territorial expansion. These strategies provided a pretext for the resurgence of terrorist acts against Soviet leaders, both within the Party and the state, by political forces that called themselves “left-wing” trends.
When the French and the British military maneuvered to push Nazi expansion towards the Soviet Union, Stalin’s government decided to establish a nonaggression treaty with Hitler’s Germany. This caused a great controversy among leftists in the Societ Unions and large cross-sections of the communist movement worldwide. The explanation that the Soviet Union needed more time to prepare against Nazi invasion. This explanation was not enough to avoid Stalin being called “Hitler’s doormat” and as traitor to the cause of the revolution.
This situation only changed after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. After the turning point of the Stalingrad battle, during which the Soviets moved from defensive to offensive, the winds of war definitely changed. Though with the Soviet Union suffered terrible losses, estimated at over 30 million Soviets killed during the conflict, the Soviet Union emerged from the war as a great socialist world power.
In short, it was proved to be true that it was possible to build socialist societies in underdeveloped countries, even when they were isolated in the context of the majority of countries being capitalist. Accelerated industrialization through the exclusive action of the State was also shown to be possible. This meant that all countries could avoid the evils of capitalism in the development of their productive forces.
Earlier questions about whether or not to compete in the international market dominated by capital, whether or not to abolish the private ownership of the means of production and the market seemed resolved by the rapid success of the Soviet Union. There could be no more questions about whether Soviet political power could build a socialist society out of the universal context, unlike what advocated Marx, Engels and Lenin himself.
The experience of the Soviet Union and tendency for there to be conflicts between imperialist countries themselves made it inconceivable to argue that it would be inconceivable for the Soviet power to exist alongside imperialist states for a long time and that, in the end, one or the other would have to triumph.
The uneven development of capitalism and the abandonment of the bourgeois democratic revolutionary mission by the bourgeiosie in the undeveloped capitalist countries themselves created a historical new circumstance, a circumstance which could not have been foreseen by Marx and Engels. The example of the Russian revolution showed that political revolutions, led by socialist and communist parties in undeveloped countries, could complete the tasks that had been left unfinished by the bourgiosie. They could carry out socialist construction and, as Lenin advocated, reach a degree of democratization that would ensure the domain of full power to the majority of the population.
Looking back, even before consolidating itself as political, social and economic system, the socialism of the Russian revolution became a model that was copied by the rest of the socialist world. The Communist International was founded with the intention of disseminating the Soviet model wherever there were revolutionary movements emerging or where there were people willing to work for socialist revolution. After all, if had worked in the late Tsarist Russia, why would it not work in other underdeveloped countries?
As Soviet power consolidated and exceeded the brief experience of NEP, the Soviet Union entered into a gigantic industrialization process to deal with the threat of a new imperialist war. the Soveit model of industrialization and economic construction had also become widespread as a model which could be followed by all underdeveloped countries in order to build socialism.
The Soviet victory in World War against the Nazis only consolidated these assumptions. However, once again history was getting ready to play tricks on some ideas that had previously been considered unshakeable, making the logic-dialectic of development of socio-economic formations be imposed staunchly on human decisions. The Achilles heel of those unshakable assumptions lived precisely in the industrialization process that administratively dismissed the laws of political economy.
The Soviet path to industrialization
The problem of industrialization constituted an important instrument for increasing the productivity of labor and, therefore, for producing greater wealth to meet society's consumption needs. All the capitalist countries that had undertaken industrialization required an adequate combination of existing resources, which included land, raw materials, labor and accumulated capital.
This combination required policies to optimize the potential of each of these resources and to concentrate efforts on the key aspects of the process. In this sense, the Soviet state followed, in general terms, a process similar to late European industrial development.
That is, it took the form of an active state intervention in the economy to promote economic growth, giving priority to the construction of large industrial facilities and the production of capital goods, with intense pressure to raise the level of investment, even at the expense of consumption levels, and to give a secondary role to agriculture.
However, the Soviet state went much further. After ending NEP, it not only intervened to direct investments; it monopolized all investments and the entire ownership of the means of production, except in few small areas. Thus, the state concentrated all the available resources in its hands and deployed them according to a central plan.
Instead of deepening the bourgeois-democratic agrarian reform, the Soviet state initiated a collectivization process: it expropriated the land of the peasantry and transformed the peasantry into an industrial workforce. Through this agrarian collectivization, the state transferred income from agriculture to industry.
Although the pressure to contain consumption levels had been, in many ways, stronger than in late capitalism, the state centralization allowed a more equitable distribution of income. Full employment meant that social inequalities were greatly reduced. However, the Soviet state was not able to substitute, from a certain degree of development, the consumption contention by an relatively rapid expansion of mass consumption.
The Soviet Union indefinitely maintained its consumption containment policy. This was less about maintaining high rates of industrial investment and economic growth, that it was about managing the costs required by the armaments race, first against Nazi aggression and then against the threats of nuclear war and the Cold War.
The low level of technical labor productivity that characterized the Soviet industrialization led to higher costs. This, combined with the lack of transfer of technological discoveries from the war industry to civilian industry (for reasons of military confidentiality) eventually generated growing popular dissatisfaction with the containment of consumption.
The Soviet experience was also shaped by its attempt to enact an international economic policy that protected the country from the world capitalist market. The Soviets believed that it was possible to maintain only one flow of trade with the capitalist countries, while determining internal prices through centralized planning; they treated the Ruble as a non-convertible currency. They believed that the socialist countries had all the resources they needed for their economic development, and they did not need the capitalist countries for anything.
This belief isolated the Soviet Union, not only from international flow of capital and market, but also from the flow of production technologies and from rising standards in productivity and international competitiveness. In a global market, these factors are crucial in establishing the values of the commodities and, therefore, of prices and salaries.
Effectively, the Soviets worked on the hypothesis that their socialism had reached a level at which they could dispense with the fundamental categories of capitalism, such as wages, price and profit. They assumed that they were able to get rid of wage labor, the production of surplus value and the production of goods and prices. They did not ask why, yet, they kept wages and prices as an exchange relation in their society. They also did not question why they could not reach a level of development that would enable the fulfillment of the material and cultural needs of members of their society.
Instead of protecting the Soviet Union from damaging effects of the capital action, its isolation from international capitalist competition represented an enormous barrier to the development of its productive forces. After the 1960s, the Soviet Union entered a period of growing stagnation, making it impossible to consolidate the process of effective socialist construction.
In the face of these challenges, the Soviet government decided to try to enter the international market. But it did so in a skewed way, trying to export its products to capitalist countries using facilitated credits and other benefits, while enacting limits that prevented full participation in the world market. Thus, these attempts generally failed, or they had no continuity.
In general, contrary to what Marx proposed, the Soviets moved very quickly into the process of “statization” of the economy. They did so long before they had developed the conditions for the abolition of private property and market. By regulating the means of production in a strictly administrative way, Soviet socialism eliminated one of the main instruments that capitalism had always used to constantly revolutionize the productive forces - competition - while maintaining some typical categories of the capitalist mode of production.
Although its productive forces had not reached a high stage of development, with limited scientific and technological developments, the Soviets believed they were free of competition and market chaos, replacing it with constant efforts on the part of workers and companies to increase productivity. They claimed that the Soviet man was an emancipated and free man, although he was still tied to the dictates of a society that was primarily based on human labor.
The entire Soviet effort was dedicated to improving human performance in the use of machinery, rather than improving productivity by improving the ability of machines to replace human labor. In this sense, full employment and the quantitative goals of production, unrelated to commercialization, were opposed to any efforts that could revolutionize production equipment and processes. Effectively, they worked as ingredients which discouraged the replacement of men by machines and, therefore, the scientific and technological development of industry.
Soviet socialism elevated statism to a denial of capitalism as a whole, not only to its monetarist aspect. They sought to abolish private property and the market, administratively speaking. They found that it was possible to abolish money and salaries. In practical terms, it was not possible to liquidate the economic mechanisms that demonstrated the necessity of the existence of private property and market.
All those elements that have been historically developed on a larger scale by capitalism - the workforce to deploy the means of production, the salary to remunerate the work performed, money as means of exchange, the price as a measure of value, the purchase and sale of goods - continued to inhabit the Soviet socialist system. They could not get rid of them.
As almost always, society turned out to be stronger than the state which was created to control it. When this control contradicted the material trends of its development , the society went on to create their own mechanisms, which broke the order of the State. They repositioned concrete social needs on the agenda, monetarists and privatists needs were artificially extinct. In choking monetarism, the Soviet state developed a long process of anarchic suppuration in the economy. In this vaccum, underground business grew, and an exaggerated privatism developed in politics and in personal relationships.
The model of Soviet social formation did not give much space for popular initiative and pluralism, in economics or in political life and culture. Paradoxically, the more that popoular initiative and pluralism were mistaken for “Individualism,” “liberalism,” or “capitalism,” the more the Soviet authorities applied state control in a desperate effort to get rid of so-called “bourgeois remnants” and to supposedly advance the socialist construction.
As a result, the Soviet economy marched inexorably towards stagnation and collapse. The Soviets did not know how to return to Marx. In the complex context of a society that had not even completed the first capitalist modernization, they interpreted socialism as the transition from capitalism to socialism. In an attempt to conduct an orderly strategic retreat, the Soviet statism sank and was supplanted by the voracity of the Mafia privatization and neoliberal monetarism.
The final phase
Socialism of Soviet type entered a crisis in the second half of 1950. In economics, the crisis showed its most evident signs with the adoption of a plan to exploit the virgin lands of Western Siberia and Kazakhstan in 1954. Then, in 1955, the Prime Minister Malenkov was dismissed for his inability to solve economic problems and for the shortage of food and daily consumer goods, in particular.
In 1956, the Kruschev report placed all responsibility for the problems in the Soviet Union in Stalin’s Hands. Kruschev announced a broad program of administrative, economic and educational reforms. He initiated an alleged process of economic decentralization, in which republics were given the responsibility for carrying out economic plans. At the same time, he suppressed the machine and tractor stations that were responsible for cultivation and harvest of collective and state farms and reorganized agriculture in ways that intensified the production of corn and livestock. He also announced the creation of new technical and vocational schools.
At the same time, although the Kruschev government formally considered Stalin's policy towards different nationalities and the other countries of the called socialist block to be criminal, the new Soviet central government decided to suffocate popular emerging conflicts in several of its republics and the armed uprisings in Poland and Hungary with the use of military troops, practicing a policy of direct interference in all of countries in which ir held influence.
Between 1959 and 1960, the Soviet government decided to implement a plan to surpass the industrial production and per capita income of the United States within seven years. They initiated the construction of a new program for communism. This new plan and program suffered a major blow with the 1962 and 1963 agricultural crisis, which forced the Soviet Union to shift from being an exporter of wheat to importing wheat from Canada and Australia.
Also, although officially advocating a policy of peaceful coexistence with the imperialist countries, the Soviet government began to work to make the Soviet equal or even superior to the United States in terms of missiles and atomic power. This was based on an evaluation that the Western capitalist powers were entering a terminal crisis, due to the process of decolonization. This led the Soviet government to pursue a policy which was called ‘dynamic engagement,’ including intervention in the Middle East, the revocation status of the four powers upon Berlin, the execution of new nuclear tests and the construction of missile bases in Cuba.
Effectively, the Soviet government entered the space and arms race with the United States with all its might. At the same time, Kruschev signed a non-proliferation treaty (that is, for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons) with the United States. It directed part of its arsenal against China, and it intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia, in both cases to prevent the adoption of national development paths. All these external actions, including the successes of spaceflights, served to mask the deepening economic and social crisis in the Soivet Union.
Despite all the announced reforms that were, supposedly, aimed to overcome the problems of Stalin’s approach, the central planning system remained the same. The prioritization of heavy industry remained unchanged, as did support for the war industry. The imbalances between different economic departments increased, in particular, the imbalance between heavy industry on the one hand and the consumer goods industry and agriculture on the other.
The scarcity of goods became the primary focus of growing social discontent. The Soviet system started to show increasing signs of fatigue and fracture. Mafias that trafficked scarce goods developed, and they were linked to the State, the Communist Party and state-owned company leaders. In these conditions, the introduction and implementation of plans for political opening (glasnost) and economic reform (perestroika), in the 1980s, only hastened the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
All enemies of communism, socialism and Marxism took advantage of these events to show that all these “isms” were finally buried, never to return. With such a crushing defeat, Marx's theories about capitalism and its overcoming by a new kind of society were treated as being defeated, having ending in indefensible crimes. The communist and socialist dreams of equality, freedom and justice came ot be seen as the same as the utopian illusions that Marx had criticized. Marx’s ideas could not be more than an unfulfilled prophecy.
Nevertheless, capital has consistently demonstrated, every day, that Marxist analysis of the capitalist socio-economic formation is correct, in particular, through capitalism’s scientific and technological development and its global crisis. There is nothing more logical than to attempt to evaluate the Russian Revolution and the Soviet construction, using the method of historical materialism, the tool that Marx developed to analyze not only the development of capitalist society, but also the development of all other social formations in human history.
The subject of the State
Shortly before the 1917 Russian revolution, Lenin sought to develop Marx's thesis of the state, which argued that socialism would overcome the separation between state and society. At the time, he faced the challenge of a State which still presented itself as a repressive machine, where there was no parliament (in the Western sense) and where not even the minimum bourgeois political freedoms were in existence.
Lenin’s practical solution for this political problem in the specific Russian conjuncture was to argue for the establishment of workers hegemony in the democratic revolution, through the Soviets. However, to develop his theory of the state, Lenin eventually detached himself from the concrete problems of the Russian Revolution.
He formulated proposals that could respond to the obstables to the development and political socialization of the advanced capitalist countries, but which had little to do with the concrete post-revolutionary situation in Russia. It would not be possible to destroy the separation between state and society in a country where such a separation never even occurred. It would be impossible to promote the general autonomy of workers in a country that recorded one of the lowest rates of civil, technical, scientific and cultural organization. It would not be possible to rebuild the community from one of the lowest levels of development in world history.
The dictates of the economic centralization that was required by the accelerated industrialization, by the external blockage and the war preparations limited the development of technology, science and culture. It foreclosed the development of civil society. Rather than encouraging popular participation in state affairs, through pluralism or through representative mechanisms, the Soviet state merged with the leading party, which became a single party. The party state declared itself the interpreter of the general will of the people.
The Communist Party and the State was encouraged to become even more of a monolithic unit in response to violence from external threats and from the internal civil war over the path of socialist construction. These factors pushed them to abolish all formal mechanisms of freedom and political equality. Socialist equality was reduced to alleged economic equality.
In the absence of private ownership of the means of production, the idea that all Soviets were equal gained the status of truth, making the formal mechanisms of freedom an unnecessary policy. This aberration became strongly clear as economic equality also deteriorated, and the nomenclature of privilege came to be detached from the ordinary citizen’s life. This created a situation where the absence of democracy and civil participation in the Soviet state, which was associated with economic stagnation and a growing shortage of consumer goods, led to a social aversion to socialism.
When Glasnost was implemented in the 1980s, democratization did not find a happy society with economic and social achievements, able to absorb and appropriate many of the political functions that had been monopolized by the despotic state and to give a new direction to socialist construction. On the contrary, it found a society tired of unfulfilled socialist promises. Political pluralism functioned as an explosive, resulting in a destructive process that made it impossible to hope that a relatively advanced liberal democracy would develop.
The events of the Soviet Union during the 1980s and early 1990s showed that - in the absence of an economy that was able to efficiently attend the social needs, of a strong civil society and of a statethat was committed to the people and their democratic aspirations in the economic, social, cultural and political fields - wild capitalism is given free rein. The fragmentation of the Soviet Union was characterized by robber barons, political and social anarchy, and new authoritarian and despotic adventures took over.
For all these reasons, it would be a mistake for socialists to criticize the Soviet experience without extracting out the lessons from the political mistakes which led to the failure of the attempts to consolidate of the first victorious workers’ revolution in human history, the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Lenin’s contribution to the Socialist mindset
There is a wide bibliography on "Leninism". Part of it presents Lenin as a prophet. The other part presents him as a demon. There are two points of view apparently antagonistic, but they are methodologically similar.
Clearly we take the point of view which presents Lenin in a positive way, particualrly,
1 Lenin’s contribuition to the class struggle for socialism in his time;2) The method of analysis adopted by Lenin to address the problems of his time.
The contribution of Lenin to the class struggle for socialism in his time was huge. Between 1917 and 1924, he was the main leader of the first victorious socialist revolution in human history As a result, all the issues faced in the socialist movement between 1917 and 1991 were in dialogue with Lenin’s thoughts and aciton.
Insofar as there are similarities between these historic issues and the fight for socialism in the 21st century, the thought and work of Lenin again has an important place.
Lenin was, between 1917 and 1924, the main leader of the first victorious socialist revolution in human history, because he had been, between 1902 and 1924, the main leader of the party that hegemonized the Russian Revolution of 1917: the Social-Democratic Labour Russian (Bolshevik).
Lenin was the main leader of the RSDLP because he built an interpretation of the capitalist development process in Russia, both practicaly and theoretically. This interpretation was the basis of the program, the strategy, tactics and the concept of the party that Lenin argued for and the was adopted, with greater or lesser resistance, by the whole Bolshevik Party.
Lenin’s interpretation on the development of capitalism in Russia was initially built in the fight against ‘populism’ and against ‘Legal Marxism’.
"Populism" was a theoretical trend that argued for a road to socialism that did not go through capitalism.
"Legal Marxism" was a theoretical trend which argued that the socialists role was to help to develop capitalism.
Lenin identified populism with the interests of parts of the Russian peasantry, and heidentified the legal Marxism with the interests of parts of the Russian bourgeoisie.
Lenin identified his own position with the proletariat, that is, the class of wage laborers, specifically with the factory workers .
The interpretation built by Lenin was a product of an intense work: a lot of reading, a lot of study, a lot of analysis of raw statistical data. In the words of Lenin, he developed a concrete analysis of the concrete situation. This analysis was followed by the decision to produce a theory that would work as a guide for action.
When we read all the texts gathered in the Complete Works, especially the personal letters, we get a glimpse of this characteristic of Lenin: his immense capacity of work, his full dedication to the cause and his capacity to describe, in an accessible way, the most complex themes (a capacity that was similar to Engels).
Based on his interpretation of the development of capitalism in Russia, Lenin developed views about each aspect of the program, the strategy, tactics and party conception. We can pull out several key contributions:
a) the agrarian question and its relation to capitalist development in Russia;
b) the role of the Russian working class, its leading role in the evolution of Russia;
c) the role of the party and the revolutionary intelligentsia;
d) the strategy and tactics in the fight for bourgeois revolution and the socialist revolution in Russia.
What were the influences on Lenin’s viewpoints?
In addition to his personal experiences, there was the influence of Russian and European culture of the time, particularly the revolutionary traditions and the thinking of Chernichevsky, Marx, Engels, Plekhanov and Kautstky.
Lenin was deeply familiar with the work of Marx and Engels. From their thinking, he drew his own views on the seizure of power, on the socialist transition, on international relations and on the development of capitalism on a world scale.
What was the nature of the analytical method that Lenin adopted to address the problems of his time? The answer is: an analysis of class struggle. Therefore, those who wish to do as Lenin did should start with this: take class analysis and the struggle between the classes as the starting point.