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Red reviews: “The Foundations of Leninism”

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Portrait of Stalin in the civil war.

The Foundations of Leninism is a collection of lectures given by J.V. Stalin to Sverdlov University in 1924, shortly after the death of Lenin in January of that year. The nine lectures that make up the book cover topics of history, methodology, style of work, theory, and strategy and tactics, as well as exposition and analysis of particular issues, such as the party, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the national question, and the peasant question. On each of these topics, Stalin lays out the Leninist position succinctly and concretely. 

Stalin’s lectures and the book that came out of them have to be understood in the context of the period in which it was written. After the death of Lenin, a sharp ideological struggle over the direction of the Soviet Union gripped the party and the masses. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) needed to chart a course for how to transition from the New Economic Policy, which sought to stabilize the economy following the “war communism” of the Civil War period, to the period of socialist construction.

During Lenin’s illness the Trotskyites headed up a group of opportunists who put forward the “Declaration of Forty-Six Oppositionists.” According to the History of the CPSU (Bolsheviks) – Short Course, “In their declaration, they prophesied a grave economic crisis and the fall of the Soviet power and demanded freedom of factions and groups as the only way out of the situation.” The History goes on to explain, “The platform of the forty-six was followed up by the publication of a letter by Trotsky …[which] harped on the old Menshevik themes which the Party had heard from him many times before.” After a long discussion in all levels of the party, Trotsky’s opposition line was defeated at the Thirteenth Party Conference. But, as the History of the CPSU explains, “In the autumn of 1924, Trotsky published an article entitled, ‘The Lessons of October’ in which he attempted to substitute Trotskyism for Leninism.” 

It is in this context that Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism was published. For this reason, the 1949 book Joseph Stalin: A Political Biography by the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute calls Foundations of Leninism “a most effective weapon in demolishing Trotskyism ideologically, and in defending, explaining, and developing Leninism.” The book systematically laid out “everything new and distinctive associated with the name of Lenin, everything he contributed to the development of Marxist theory.” Foundations of Leninism thus draws clear lines of demarcation between Leninism and all forms of opportunism. 

The Marxism of the current era

As Stalin writes in the introduction, “The foundations of Leninism is a big subject.” We can’t address all of it here. But we can touch on some of the major points. 

First, let’s look at Stalin’s definition of Leninism: “Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution.” He expands further on this, saying, 

“To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular. Marx and Engels pursued their activities in the pre-revolutionary period, (we have the proletarian revolution in mind), when developed imperialism did not yet exist, in the period of the proletarians’ preparation for revolution, in the period when the proletarian revolution was not yet an immediate practical inevitability. But Lenin, the disciple of Marx and Engels, pursued his activities in the period of developed imperialism, in the period of the unfolding proletarian revolution, when the proletarian revolution had already triumphed in one country, had smashed bourgeois democracy and had ushered in the era of proletarian democracy, the era of the Soviets.”

In other words, Leninism further develops Marxism in the current period, the era of imperialism, or monopoly capitalism, when the contradictions of capitalism are pushed to their extreme. It develops revolutionary theory, strategy and tactics, in this context. It is under these new conditions that Leninism seeks to address the problems posed to the revolutionary movement by the contradictions inherent in the imperialist system. Stalin emphasizes that “Leninism emerged from the proletarian revolution, the imprint of which it cannot but bear,” and that “it grew and became strong in clashes with the opportunism of the Second International, the fight against which was and remains an essential preliminary condition for a successful fight against capitalism,” and thus, “the ruthless struggle against this opportunism could not but constitute one of the most important tasks of Leninism.” 

Stalin emphasizes that there are three contradictions which imperialism brings forward that need to be understood as carrying particular importance. First, there is the contradiction between labor and capital. Second, there is the contradiction among the financial groups and imperialist powers. And third, there is the contradiction between the imperialist nations and the oppressed nations and peoples of the world. “Such, in general,” writes Stalin, “are the principal contradictions of imperialism which have converted the old, ‘flourishing’ capitalism into moribund capitalism.” 

Theory and practice 

Stalin lays particular importance on Leninism’s method of analysis. He emphasizes that this method relied upon testing the theoretical dogmas and policies of the parties of the Second International. These dogmas and policies were found to be insufficient for leading a revolutionary movement forward. Stalin breaks down several of these dogmas piece by piece, showing how Leninist theory must reject dogmatism and combine theory with practice in the course of revolutionary struggle. This is summed up by noting, “It is precisely this critical and revolutionary spirit that pervades Lenin’s method from beginning to end.”

On the importance of theory in Leninism, Stalin notes, “Some think that Leninism is the precedence of practice over theory in the sense that its main point is the translation of the Marxist theses into deeds, their “execution”; as for theory; it is alleged that Leninism is rather unconcerned about it. … We also know that theory is not held in great favor by many present-day Leninist practical workers, particularly in view of the immense amount of practical work imposed upon them by the situation.” 

Against this, Stalin puts forward an excellent definition of Marxist theory: “Theory is the experience of the working-class movement in all countries taken in its general aspect.” For Leninism, theory and practice must be united. Theory without practice is worthless, and practice without theory “gropes in the dark.” 

Explaining the importance of theory, Stalin emphasizes that “theory can become a tremendous force in the working-class movement if it is built up in indissoluble connection with revolutionary practice.” Indeed, writes Stalin, “theory, and theory alone, can give the movement confidence, the power of orientation, and an understanding of the inner relation of surrounding events; for it, and it alone, can help practice realize not only how and in which direction classes are moving at the present time, but also how and in which direction they will move in the near future.”

Stalin brings particular attention to two theoretical points of Lenin’s: first, the criticism of spontaneity and the importance of a vanguard party, and second, Lenin’s theory of proletarian revolution. 

The first point here is to emphasize that Leninism understands that the spontaneous economic battles of the working class are not sufficient to bring about a socialist revolution, but rather that a political struggle against the bourgeois state, led by an organized and disciplined vanguard, made up of its most advanced and class conscious workers, armed with the most advanced revolutionary theory (Marxism-Leninism) is necessary to overthrow the dictatorship of capital and build working class state power. Today, when no such vanguard party exists as a material reality, the central task of Marxist-Leninists is to build one. 

The second point is to understand that Lenin understood the era of imperialism to be the eve of socialist revolution due to the internal contradiction of the monopoly capitalist system. Previously, the socialist movement believed that socialist revolution must first come to the most advanced capitalist countries first. Contrary to this, Leninism asserts, “The front of capital will be pierced where the chain of imperialism is weakest, for the proletarian revolution is the result of the breaking of the chain of the world imperialist front at its weakest link.” In 1917, this weak link was Tsarist Russia. 

Proletarian dictatorship

The Foundations of Leninism explains Lenin’s theory of the state clearly and succinctly. 

“The state is a machine in the hands of the ruling class for suppressing the resistance of its class enemies. In this respect the dictatorship of the proletariat does not differ essentially from the dictatorship of any other class, for the proletarian state is a machine for the suppression of the bourgeoisie. But there is one substantial difference. This difference consists in the fact that all hitherto existing class states have been dictatorships of an exploiting minority over the exploited majority, whereas the dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the exploited majority over the exploiting minority.”

Stalin outlines two essential conclusions that Lenin draws from this theory of the state. First, the state isn’t a “complete” democracy, but rather, it is democracy for the working class for the sake of the repression of the capitalist class. Second, the proletarian dictatorship “cannot arise as the result of the peaceful development of bourgeois society and of bourgeois democracy; it can arise only as the result of the smashing of the bourgeois state machine, the bourgeois army, the bourgeois bureaucratic apparatus, the bourgeois police.” 

“In other words,” writes Stalin, “the law of violent proletarian revolution, the law of smashing of the bourgeois state machine as a preliminary condition for such a revolution, is an inevitable law of the revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries of the world.” 

The National Question 

The National Question, the question of how the socialist revolution should relate to the nations oppressed by imperialism, is of particular importance to Leninism. Self-determination is a key point here. “Leninism broadened the conception of self-determinism, interpreting it as the right of the oppressed peoples of the dependent countries and colonies to complete secession, as the right of nations to independent existence as states.” Further, Stalin explains, “the national question can be solved only in connection with and on the basis of the proletarian revolution, and that the road to victory of the revolution in the West lies through the revolutionary alliance with the liberation movement of the colonies and dependent countries against imperialism. The national question is a part of the general question of the proletarian revolution, a part of the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Leninism also recognizes that “the revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement.” This an essential point to drive home, especially today as Zionists and opportunists both demand the denunciation of Hamas and the division of the Palestinian resistance in the face of U.S.-backed genocide in Gaza. Every socialist must understand that the defeat of Israel, as a tool of U.S. imperialism, as a blow against the monopoly capitalist class, and must therefore unequivocally support the unified Palestinian resistance in its just struggle for liberation. 

The same is true within the U.S. where revolutionaries must recognize the right to self-determination of the Black, Chicano and Hawaiian nations, including their right to secede in their national territories of the Black Belt South, the Southwest and Hawai’i, respectively. Likewise, revolutionaries in the U.S must support immediate independence for the colonies, and the sovereignty of native peoples. 

This is why the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the liberation struggles of the oppressed nationalities must form the core of the united front against monopoly capitalism in the U.S. 

Strategy and tactics

The Foundations of Leninism has a lot to say about Leninist revolutionary strategy and tactics. Here we will emphasize the distinction that Stalin makes between revolutionary strategy and tactics and reformism. While Stalin was drawing from a body of practice where a revolutionary situation was at hand in Russia and many other places, there is much to here to inform our thinking today.

“To a reformist,” writes Stalin, “reforms are everything, while revolutionary work is something incidental, something just to talk about, mere eyewash. That is why, with reformist tactics under the conditions of bourgeois rule, reforms are inevitability transformed into an instrument for strengthening that rule, an instrument for disintegrating the revolution.”

“To a revolutionary, on the contrary,” Stalin explains, “the main thing is revolutionary work and not reforms; to him reforms are a by-product of the revolution. That is why, with revolutionary tactics under the conditions of bourgeois rule, reforms are naturally transformed into an instrument for strengthening the revolution, into a strongpoint for the further development of the revolutionary movement.”

In other words, revolutionaries struggle for reforms in order to build the revolutionary movements and set the conditions for revolutionary struggle. This is why we say again and again that there are three cardinal principles in revolutionary organizing: we must win all that can be won and strike blows against the enemy; we must raise the level of consciousness and organization of the masses; and we must win the advanced from these struggles to Marxism-Leninism and build revolutionary organization. 

Foundations of Leninism today

Today we still live in the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution, and Marxism-Leninism is theory that the working class needs to understand and put into practice in order to overthrow the old society and build a new one, socialism, where working people are in power and can put the needs of the people first.

As imperialism lashes out everywhere, from Palestine to the Philippines, we need to understand the lessons of Leninism, and stand in solidarity with oppressed people everywhere in our fight against our common enemy – the monopoly capitalist class at the head of the U.S. imperialist machine of oppression, war, exploitation, misery and death. U.S. imperialism is in a period of prolonged decline, during which it only becomes more vicious.

We have to be organized to fight back. Lenin emphasized that there are objective and subjective conditions for a revolution to take place. The objective conditions are that there is an economic crisis that becomes a political crisis for the ruling class, where they can no longer rule in the old way and we can no longer live in the old way. The subjective conditions are that the working class is conscious of itself as a class, and that it is organized, with a party capable of leading a broad revolutionary movement. 

The objective conditions can be analyzed and impacted by struggle, but the subjective conditions are even more within our power to change to our benefit. We can and must use Marxism-Leninism to grasp the tasks of the movement, build the organization and consciousness among the masses, and prepare ourselves to seize the time. Reading The Foundations of Leninism can help a great deal in helping revolutionaries orient themselves for the struggles ahead.

#RevolutionaryTheory #RedReviews #MarxismLeninism #Stalin


Source: https://fightbacknews.org/red-reviews-the-foundations-of-leninism?pk_campaign=rss-feed


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    • silentbard

      Anyone who follows the dishonest teachings of Marx and Lenin is an enemy of all humans.

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