The centenary of the Russian Revolution has produced more ink on Lenin in the Western mainstream media than since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
And I want to join the party, but with the opposite tack: Lenin's influence in the events of 1917 is hugely overrated. By exaggerating Lenin’s influence pro-capitalists are able to overshadow the real driver of the Russian Revolution: collective mass action of the 99%, which the mainstream medias fears and oppresses.
To anyone who says, “The Russian Revolution could have never been achieved without Lenin”: well, it was achieved without him! From January until October 1917 Lenin was either exiled out of the country or hiding in exile in his own country.
Therefore, however great his influence via the written page might have been, he obviously only played a secondhand role in the demolishing of power (the February Revolution), and then the establishment of socialist power (the October Revolution).
The idea that the Russian farmer was drinking his way to early senility but was roused by the passionate speech of Lenin is something out of (Soviet) Hollywood. One sentence in the vital new book, A People's History of the Russian Revolution, on which this 5-part series is based, perhaps best encapsulates the almost delirious 1917 excitement which must have charged the Russian peasant’s DNA and perhaps even the DNA still left in the bones of their ancestors:
And the supreme question: would they plow the same land this year as last, or would they take the Lord’s land and plow that too?”
When Russian sharecroppers gathered together this is what moved and excited them far more than Lenin’s speeches - how can this not have been true?
This is not just capitalistic self-interest - this is eternal justice which has been delayed since before the written word. If we realise how long economic justice has been denied (since recorded history began), don’t we see just how small a role one man could have possibly played in finally toppling it? When such justice appeared to be actually possible, it was the People who banded together and demanded a Socialist Revolution; admirable people like Lenin served only as humble civil servants for the as-yet-uncreated socialist government.
Nor did the Russian farmer/soldier need Lenin to realize that he was being sent off to die to repay French high finance and to establish control over other similarly-suffering sharecroppers in a foreign land.
The myth that Lenin and his band of merry Bolsheviks imposed their will to create the USSR is therefore total nonsense, and this new book helps diminish the role of the Bolsheviks in 1917. In the previous article in this series I discussed the events of the February Revolution; not one political party called for any of the protests which ultimately toppled the monarchy.
I’ll add a quote from Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” (which provides the backbone of this new book) regarding this undoubtable lack of initiative for the February Revolution from even the Bolshevik Party:
“We must say frankly,” wrote Molotov some years ago, “the party lacked that clarity and resolution which the revolutionary movement demanded ... The agitation and the whole revolutionary party work in general had no firm foundation, since our thoughts had not yet arrived at bold conclusions in regard to the necessity of an immediate struggle for socialism and the socialist revolution.”
This article turns to the October Revolution, and we should realise acknowledge that the praxis (dynamism) of this event was not produced by any political party - all of whom resisted the October Revolution until the very end - but in the will of the Russian People.
So what made Lenin great? He served, not ledTime and again Lenin broke with orthodoxy, his revolutionary peers, his self-interest and the expectations of others in order to be a proper civil servant. History shows that Lenin always followed the democratic will of the People, rather than try to control it.
For example: What the USSR bureaucracy, and the drama-concerned artist Eisenstein, wouldn’t say is how when Lenin’s train arrived at Finland Station his communist colleagues nearly wanted to ship him back to Switzerland!
Upon de-training (we now use “de-plane”, no?) Lenin immediately denounced the post-monarchy, bourgeois (West European democracy) Provisional Government, and thus his own colleagues; he totally rejected Russian nationalism amid wartime by calling for an immediate end to Russia’s involvement in World War I and for “revolutionary defeatism” - i.e. conceding defeat to advance socialism; and none of this was popular with the communist political elite, but it all was popular with the People.
A few days later his April Theses were published in Pravda, and they remain the foundation of modern democratic government: Mass participatory democracy, decentralisation, confiscation and privatisation with zero compensation, average wages for elected officials who are also subject to immediate recall, a single national bank, direct support for spreading socialist and anti-imperialist revolution worldwide.
NONE of all that was broadly popular with the intellectual/bureaucratic class, more than half of whom were content with ruling in the new bourgeois (West European democracy) form….but this is what the average Russian wanted, and this makes Lenin not a genius but a true, anti-elitist democrat. From the book:
“To the reformists, Lenin sounded out of touch, a wild extremist, a raving madman, according to some a ‘has-been’ peddling ‘superannuated truths of primitive anarchism’.’ The Bolshevik leaders squirmed…. But the argument was quickly won among the party rank and file….”
It took until late April for Lenin’s “left Bolshevism” to be democratically adopted… by the politicians - the intelligentsia/civil servants were now in line with what the People wanted and, crucially, not simply what Lenin believed or imposed.
But the difference between the intelligensia/bureaucrats and the People was still too wide on the primary issue of 1917 Russia: the war.
By July soldiers were abandoning the war en masse to return to the revolution, but it was only the left wing of all the revolutionary groups (represented by Lenin) which unequivocally opposed the war. Again - what the people wanted (an end to the war immediately) was not being democratically represented and installed (yet).
Why should we give Lenin credit for advocating the same thing the Russian peasant advocated? Do we ever read that “The average Russian sharecropper was as politically astute as Lenin?” LOL, never. Why elevate Lenin when the Russian peasant shared much of the same political analysis AND could hoe a tough row?
This total opposition to war (and also an imperialist “victor’s peace”) is a major reason why Lenin's Bolsheviks were eventually given Power by the people. But we must remember that Lenin’s victory was always come-from-behind: at the first all-Russian Congress of Soviets in June the Bolsheviks were only the third-most popular party.
As the Russian People progressed in consciousness, the “left” became “centrist”, as modernity dictates. Is this solely due to good Bolshevik propaganda? I think that’s false; in a few key Russian cities - where every gathering and street corner was a place to talk politics - the People were deciding on socialism even if they didn’t know the proper name for it. And in the countryside, where illiteracy ruled, conversion certainly came via group debate and consensus.
When the Provisional Government still decided to defy public opinion and came out in favor of continuing the imperialist war (and a predatory victors’ peace), it became clear that was called left was indeed….simply good sense and what We have all been waiting millennia to implement.
Lenin did not even lead his own Party in October, much less give orders to the Russian People
In September Lenin, in hiding due to the “Great Lie” that he was an agent of the Germans, urged the second revolution - to overthrow the bourgeois (West European) Provisional Government. There was a reason he waited so long - he was a democrat! It took until September 18th for the Bolsheviks to win majorities in both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets, so Lenin was simply listening to the will of the people.
However, Lenin was not supported by a single member of the Central committee, who burned his letter urging what become the October Revolution.
“But it (the Bolshevik Party) was not the ‘democratic-centralist’ monolith of sectarian mess; it was not a hierarchy in which instructions were handed down from on high to be carried out with military style discipline by the lower echelons.” (Indeed, what has just been described is a capitalist structure - this is socialism, so don't be absurd, MSM.)
These soviets in Petrograd and Moscow reflected the democratic urban will - but what about the democratic sharecropper will?
From Trotsky, discussing Lenin’s September letter: “Lenin with his sharp eye was the first to notice that the agrarian movement had gone into a decisive phase, and he immediately drew all the conclusions from this.”
It is not that Lenin was an opportunist who saw that the time was ripe to grab power for himself: he was simply acting as a civil servant who was being propelled by a massive popular wave which he certainly had no power to stop. We can give credit to Lenin for not trying to swallow the ocean, but it’s far more accurate to denigrate his other political peers for constantly trying to put up dykes.
This historical episode reminds us that Lenin’s “leadership” was informal and that he held no special position; it also reminds us that Lenin’s only greatness was available to all: to steadfastly reflect the will of the People.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them.” That's the old saying, and greatness was clearly thrust upon Lenin, which is the only relationship at a civil servant should have with greatness. It is also said that: “A great person is one who makes others feel great”; helping others achieve greatness is the perfect job title and goal of any honest civil servant, which is all Lenin truly aspired to be.
His letter ignored, Lenin broke with his own Bolshevik central committee and appealed to the people with The Crisis Is Ripe. While we can say that Lenin analysed the situation correctly - he was not even able to lead his own party, much less the many millions of Russia. Many sharecroppers, housewives and workers probably read Lenin’s latest tract and said: “That’s what we said.”
All this should clearly disprove the idea that the October Revolution was a Bolshevik coup - they had to be forced to respond to what the People were clearly ready to implement without them. Let’s give them credit for not letting the historic moment slip through their fingers; let’s not give them credit for crediting everything which lead up to the taking of power.
If it had not been Lenin there would have been someone else to heed the People’s call, because the Russian Revolution was a mass event - so mass it was truly rare in history - and it could not have been stopped, despite the repeated efforts of many Bolsheviks.
The media’s role in capitalism is to obscure the role of the people
“Quite simply, if Russia in 1917 was experiencing the biggest peasant land-war in history - a mass movement of 100 million villagers - it was also experiencing the biggest military mutiny in history - a movement of 10 million soldiers.”
To focus exclusively on Lenin is not only false but anti-99% propaganda. The fundamental question which modern capitalist propaganda wants to obscure is: “Why did they do this in 1917 Russia?” This question is obscured because the same oppressive, undemocratic, unsatisfactory conditions exist today in all non-socialist-inspired governments.
Again, this is all to show the October Revolution was not the seizing of power by a group of intellectuals in the slightest; to report in this fashion is simply uninformed or propaganda.
Late September is when Russia formally went Bolshevik and the reformists were voted out in the Soviets: mass democracy had paved the way for the October Celebration.
“It amounted to a national referendum on the form of government - whether it should be provisional or Soviet, parliamentary or popular - a referendum on which class should rule, the bourgeoisie or the proletariat…. This was opinion created from below, by the masses in action, through the living experience of the class struggle, and then formalizing the decisions of countless participatory popular assemblies.”
Part of the problem of the intelligentsia, myself included, is that we think we are much more intelligent and impactful than we really are. Many of us spend way too much time in our ivory towers, and we certainly like to believe that someone other than our mothers thinks that our writings are excellent and that they should certainly change the world (hi Mom!).
But in the non-mathematical world there is no concept which cannot be understood by the average bus driver in less than three minutes; certainly, those under the oppression of debt, unjust power, and selfish individualism don't need to be told that someone's boot has always been on their neck.
Indeed, Lenin provided no epiphany.
He did provide some verbal and organisational clarity, and he did help cement the twin revolutions in 1918 and beyond in his capacity as a civil servant.
Even the Russian intellectuals suffer from the human foible of egotism and pride; but the top leaders become the top leaders because they have reduced their egotism the most.
Trotsky: “The peasantry pushed the Bolsheviks toward power with their revolt. But only after conquering power could've the Bolsheviks won over the peasantry, converting their agrarian revolution into the laws of a workers’ state… in order that the peasant might clear and fence the land, the worker had to stand at the head of the state: that is the simplest formula for the October Revolution”
If Trotsky means “the Bolsheviks won over the peasantry” by simply being diligent civil servants after the sharecroppers handed them power, then he is correct: all the Bolsheviks really did was put an official seal on what was already accomplished. If he means anything else - like the Bolsheviks had to convince or persuade or instruct the farmers accept socialism…that is incorrect, because the sharecroppers knew what they wanted, if they didn’t have fancy names for it.
The doomed bourgeois (West European) Provisional Government kept trying to stop the peasants from appropriating the land; what they failed to accept is that the Russian people fully rejected bourgeois (West European) democracy. “Thus was the peasant revolution accomplished from below before he could be authorized from above,” per the book.
Some of the quotes from Trotsky in this article are from Chapter 42 of his 3-volume history. I think that even the title of that chapter, which covers the September burning of Lenin’s letter — “Lenin Summons to Insurrection” - shows a ponderousness and a preponderance of the “great man theory” of history: the peasants were in total revolt, the soldiers were in total mutiny, the workers were mobilised - THEY summoned Lenin, not the other way around.
Maybe Trotsky means that Lenin summoned his political peers? Everybody else was way ahead of them, no?
Indeed, me and my ivory tower brethren should humbly admit that this was certainly the case in 1917, and that the journalists/politicians/grassroots leaders were behind the curve, and not setting it.
And it is the same today - most journalists are at a total loss to explain Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Euroscepticism, bitcoin, the Iranian Revolution, China’s successful socialism and many other historical/political trends which run against the stupid dogmas of mainstream thought.
And you can disagree with that if you like, but I think this People-centered reading of history is not only correct but necessary in 2017.
A final irony is that it was totally Trotsky who can be said to have “led” the October Revolution - Lenin was in hiding until after it was completed! But everyone who reads the mainstream western media will agree that while distorting Lenin is universal editorial policy, there is a universal media blackout on the name “Trotsky”!
That is no exaggeration, LOL! Poor Trotsky - even in his finest hour, 100 years later all the articles are still about Lenin!
Due to his early demise, the Western MSM can confine Lenin via mere Russophobia, and call him “an early Putin”, nonsensical as that is. But Trotsky's idea of universal revolution is one of the very few taboo subjects in the West - the only way they can deal with him is to pretend he never existed.
Thanks to new scholarship on socialism, we can expand our understanding of the 99%’s power
This is why new scholarship like this book is so essential - there is much to unlearn. What must be unlearned, above all, is that power does not live without the collective action of the 99%. Politics and journalism are overrated; grassroots action, and talking with your brother and sister is not.
Even after the Tsarist Duma began in 1906 it was doomed to fail because, per Lenin, “parliamentary activity without the direct action of the masses (is) the lowest form of the movement.” The same goes for the interim Provisional Government between February and October.
But we must not imagine that Lenin was the only one to have made this observation! The idea of the “totally self-made man” is a typically-American and capitalist concept: but it is absolute folly to apply it to a massive popular revolution.
Lenin's degradation of West European (bourgeois) democracy is a good place to end, because this total lack of faith in bourgeois (West European) democracy must be the starting point for every modern political person.
The failures of the Eurozone and their Western allies to provide their own citizens with economic stability reveal their complete economic failure; their constant “terrorism-related” thefts of democratic rights should reveal their complete democratic failure; their endemic violence, racism, sexism, ageism and other ills reveal their complete social failure.
The great thing about the internet today is that - despite the 2017 wave of Google-led censorship and Russophobia and the seeming end of net neutrality in the US - the underground has become quite above ground to a once-unimaginable degree; the main problem now is apathy, not the inability to become less ignorant.
Lenin’s “genius” is that he refused to ignore the experience, will and desire of the average Person - such “genius” is available to us all and must be used daily.
This is the fourth part in a 5-part series on the 1917 Russian Revolution which aims to put the role of the People first.
Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!
Why anti-socialists talk about Lenin even more than socialists
Iran’s 1979 Revolution picked up the People’s torch first lit in 1917 Russia