January 28, 2024

What would Lenin Do?

R Arun Kumar

WE are all taught that there are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in history. In spite of it, many a times we always pose the question, ‘what if’, to deal with certain pressing issues confronting our present. Collecting few of such imaginary questions, a book was published – ‘What would Marx Do?’ as part of a series titled ‘How the Greatest Political Theorists would Solve Your Everyday Problems’. Paraphrasing it, while we are observing the death centenary of Lenin, we could ask, ‘What would Lenin do today, when the world is witnessing a political rightward shift’?

Irrespective of the electoral victories or defeats of various shades of right-wing forces, a fact needs to be accepted. There exists today a significant political constituency in various countries that stands for right-wing politics. Trump might have been defeated in the 2020 US presidential elections, but the support he is getting validates this point. Similar is the case of Bolsonaro in Brazil, Alternate for Deutschland Party (AfD) in Germany, Marie Le Pen in France or BJP in our own country. This is what is being called as the political rightward shift. How would Lenin, the foremost among the disciples of Marx, a master strategist and tactician react to such a situation? Setting aside the absurdity of such a question as the possibility does not exist, there is no harm in contemplating an answer, learning from Lenin’s works and the way he reacted to various situations during his lifetime.

First, Lenin would never lose heart or hope about bringing an about turn in the political situation. Lenin’s life is full of many such instances where the RSDLP, the party he was instrumental in founding, faced many setbacks. The party mostly worked as an illegal unit. Most of its leaders were underground or exiled. There was no semblance of democratic rights. All this point to the fact that the conditions of that period are definitely not much different from what we are witnessing today, other than the fact that those would have been much more difficult times.

When communist literature was not allowed to be sold or distributed, Lenin and his comrades ensured their circulation and also conducted regular study circles. When papers were not allowed to be published, they organised underground machinery not only to publish them, but also distribute them without fail and effectively. They even went to the extent of printing papers abroad and smuggling them to Russia in order to ensure that a correct Marxist interpretation of the events reaches the people. And it is not interpretation for interpretation’s sake – it was for transforming the existing reality. It is for this reason that the party paper was an agitator, propagandist and an organiser for Lenin. It posed questions, analysed them, nudged the readers to seek solutions, suggested actions and led them all through these stages.

As Lenin repeatedly stated, patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity for communists. One need not lose hope and become despondent when facing an adverse situation. We should learn from Lenin that patient work among the masses, explaining the reasons, rousing them into action and organising them into a collective unit is of utmost importance. Lenin taught us that situations, objective conditions, do not change on their own, they need to be changed.

Lenin’s life teaches us that one need not become despondent on receiving a setback. Two months after his April Thesis, calling the Bolsheviks to move towards socialist revolution, in July, a counter-revolutionary situation developed in Russia. Even Lenin felt that it might not be possible for him to witness a socialist revolution in his lifetime. But that did not prevent him from working to change the situation. He worked very hard, even after being forced into exile once again. Because of such persistent efforts, he was vigilant and keenly waiting for any opening to advance the socialist cause. When such an opportunity arose, Lenin was ready and so was the Bolshevik party. In another three months, October, they could gather forces and ensured the success of the first socialist revolution in the history of humankind.

This teaches us an important lesson. Never give up hope on people. If we work persistently the future would certainly be ours. Two things are important here – ‘we’ and ‘work’. Work means a combination of agitation, propaganda and struggle that rouses revolutionary consciousness among the people. And we is the Party that binds the people together with a common objective – revolutionary transformation of the society. So, for Lenin, Party and its organisation were very important. He fought hard for establishing and retaining the revolutionary character of the RSDLP. He moulded Bolsheviks and tempered them to wade through all the crests and troughs of the evolving political situation of those times. There will be many revolutionary situations, but it is up to the Party to utilise such a situation and ensure that a revolution succeeds.

“What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation?” asked Lenin. He proceeds to answer: “We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes’, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peace time’, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the ‘upper classes’ themselves into independent historical action” (emphasis original).

Lenin states that every revolutionary situation does not lead to a revolution: “it is not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over”.

According to the above definition of a revolutionary situation given by Lenin, for a revolutionary situation to emerge, there is a lot of ‘work’ that ‘we’ need to do. Neither can we wait for a revolutionary situation to emerge, nor can we create a revolutionary situation. It is a dialectical process, where the actions of both the oppressed and oppressors, lead to the evolution of a revolutionary situation. And once such a situation evolves, the role of the Party as the vanguard of the revolutionary class, becomes further more important. That is the reason why Party and its organisational character becomes crucial for Lenin.

Lenin stated that a revolutionary party of the working class should be: (i) strong in its ideological and organisational unity; (ii) unforgiving towards all kinds of opportunism; (iii) have a creative approach to theory; (iv) strict party discipline; (v) close ties with the popular masses and (vi) a political line elaborated and pursued through joint efforts, strategy and tactics of the working class movement. Lenin would have concentrated his efforts to build such a Party today to overcome the situation that is posing a challenge to us today.

There are many communist parties around the world that are working in much worse conditions. In Ukraine, the offices of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), including its central committee headquarters were attacked. In the entire East European region (Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, etc.,), where those countries were under socialism before the 1990s, communist parties are banned and even the display of communist symbols is not allowed. Still communist parties are working clandestinely and resolutely.

In Turkey, Erdogan is changing the secular character of the country, pushing it towards Islamisation. Democratic rights are under attack, parliamentary system is changed to presidential system. There too, the communist party is working and gaining ground steadily, specially among the youth. In Greece and Portugal, where there was military, fascist dictatorships till the 1970s, communist parties worked and remain a formidable force even till date. In our neighbourhood, Islamic Republic of Pakistan, communist parties exist and are working in spite of the various limitations imposed by the army and the governments that survive with the support of the army. All this is possible because, as Stalin had stated in his address to the Soviets immediately after the death of Lenin, ‘we communists are made of a special mould’.

“Comrades”, said Stalin, “we Communists are people of a special mould. We are made of a special stuff. We are those who form the army of the great proletarian strategist, the army of Comrade Lenin. There is nothing higher than the honour of belonging to this army. There is nothing higher than the title of member of the Party whose founder and leader was Comrade Lenin. It is not given to everyone to be a member of such a party. It is the sons of the working class, the sons of want and struggle, the sons of incredible privation and heroic effort who before all should be members of such a party. That is why the Party of the Leninists, the Party of the Communists, is also called the Party of the working class”.

“Departing From Us, Comrade Lenin Enjoined Us To Hold High And Guard The Purity Of The Great Title Of Member Of The Party, We Vow To You, Comrade Lenin, We Shall Fulfil Your Behest With Honour”!

Continuing his inspirational address, Stalin vowed: “Departing From Us, Comrade Lenin Enjoined Us To Guard The Unity Of Our Party As The Apple Of Our Eye, We Vow To You, Comrade Lenin, That This Behest, Too, We Shall Fulfil With Honour”!

And: “Departing From Us, Comrade Lenin Enjoined Us To Strengthen With All Our Might The Alliance Of The Workers And Peasants. We Vow To You, Comrade Lenin, That This Behest, Too, We Shall Fulfil With Honour”!

This is a vow we too need to retake on this death centenary of Lenin. Bertolt Brecht wrote a poem about how the carpet weavers of Kuyan-Bulak honoured Lenin. “So they helped themselves by honouring Lenin, and/honoured him by helping themselves, and thus/had understood him well”. They worked for eliminating mosquitoes which is causing them fever, instead of building a statue of Lenin. This is the honour Brecht talks about, which we too should emulate – not just by paying homage before Lenin’s statues/photos, but working for the people.

Brecht captures the essence of Lenin in his poem honouring Lenin:

“The weak do not fight. The stronger
Fight on perhaps for an hour.
Those who are stronger still fight for many years
The strongest fight on all their life.
These are indispensable”.

“When exploitation is on the rise
Many get discouraged
But his courage grows.

He organises his struggle
For wage-pennies, for tea-water
And for taking over power.

He asks property:
What is your origin ?
He asks the viewpoints:
Whom do you serve ?

Wherever there is a hush
He will speak out
Wherever there is oppression, and the talk is of fate
He will call things by their right names”.

That was Lenin. And that should be us and we – our Party.