Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Honor Of Russian Revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s Birthday (April 1870-Janaury 1924)-The Struggle Continues 


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman 



For a number of years I have been honoring various revolutionary forbears, including the subject of this birthday tribute, the Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin architect (along with fellow revolutionary Leon Trotsky) of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 in each January under the headline-Honor The Three L’s –Lenin, Luxemburg , Liebknecht. My purpose then was (and still is) to continue the traditions established by the Communist International in the early post-World War I period in honoring revolutionary forbears. That month has special significance since every January  

Leftists honor those three leading revolutionaries who died in that month, V.I. Lenin of Russia in his sleep after a long illness in 1924, and Karl Liebknecht of Germany and Rosa Luxemburg of Poland in 1919 murdered in separate incidents after leading the defeated Spartacist uprising in Berlin.


I have made my political points about the heroic Karl Liebknecht and his parliamentary fight against the German war budget in World War I in which he eventually wound up in prison only to be released when the Kaiser abdicated (correctly went to jail when it came down to it once the government pulled the hammer down on his opposition), on some previous occasions. The key point to be taken away today, still applicable today as in America we are in the age of endless war, endless war appropriations and seemingly endless desires to racket up another war out of whole cloth every change some ill-begotten administration decides it needs to “show the colors”, one hundred years later in that still lonely and frustrating struggle to get politicians to oppose war budgets, to risk prison to choke off the flow of war materials.  


I have also made some special point in previous years about the life of Rosa Luxemburg, the “rose of the revolution.” About her always opposing the tendencies in her adopted party, the German Social-Democracy, toward reform and accommodation, her struggle to make her Polish party ready for revolutionary opportunities, her important contributions to Marxist theory and her willing to face and go to jail when she opposed the first World War.


This month, the month of his birth, it is appropriate, at a time when the young needs to find, and are in desperate need of a few good heroes, a few revolutionaries who contributed to both our theoretical understandings about the tasks of the international working class in the age of imperialism (the age, unfortunately, that we are still mired in) and to the importance of the organization question in the struggle for revolutionary power, to highlight the early struggles of Vladimir Lenin, the third L, in order to define himself politically. It is rather a truism that nobody is born a revolutionary and that was the case with Lenin as well although the hagiography surrounding his name by the Stalinists later would attempt to make one believe that was the case. But, Lenin, not unlike many of us who took part in the 1960s political upheavals and had gone pillar to post from one political perspective to another before understanding that Marxism held some promise about creating that “world turned upside down,” that search for the newer world” that animated many of us, also when through various strategies before coming to that same conclusion. One of the best ways to show this development is to look at one of his seminal works, a work which speaks volumes to today’s tepid one-sided class struggle situation in which we of the international working class are taking it on the chin:









An underlying premise of the Lenin-led Bolshevik Revolution in Russian in 1917 was that success there would be the first episode in a world-wide socialist revolution. The idea of breaking world imperialism at its weakest link at a time when the norms of that international order were in a chaos due to the breakdowns of World War I but also that no way could devastated backward Russia move on to socialism isolated from the far greater developed capitalist societies to its west. While a specific timetable was not placed on the order of the day the early Bolshevik leaders, principally Lenin and Trotsky, both assumed that those events would occur in the immediate post-World War I period, or shortly thereafter. Alas, such was not the case, although not from lack of trying on the part of an internationalist-mined section of the Bolshevik leadership (not everybody even in the throes of the revolution was gung-ho to push the world revolution, to provide the leadership and materials,  forward although during Lenin’s lifetime they kept quiet about it for the most part).

Another underlying premise that the core Bolshevik leadership worked under and that had been developed by the Leninists very early on as part of their opposition to the imperialist First World War, was the need for a new revolutionary labor international to replace the compromised and moribund Socialist International (also known as the Second International) which had turned out to be useless as an instrument for revolution or even of opposition to the European war. The Bolsheviks took that step after seizing power and established the Communist International (also known as the Comintern or Third International) in 1919. As part of the process of arming that International with a revolutionary strategy (and practice) Lenin produced this polemic to address certain confusions, some willful others out of a misreading of what actually happened in the period from about 1900 to 1917 in Russia revolutionary circle, that had arisen in the European left and attempted to instill some of the hard-learned lessons of the Russian revolutionary experience in them.

The Russian Revolution, and after it the Comintern in the early heroic days, for the most part, drew the best and most militant layers of the working-class and radical intellectuals to their defense. However, that is not the same as drawing experienced Bolsheviks to that defense. Many militants were anti-parliamentarian or anti-electoral in principle after the sorry experiences with the European social democracy during and immediately after the war. Others wanted to emulate the old heroic days of the Bolshevik underground party or create a minority, exclusive conspiratorial party. Still others wanted to abandon the reformist bureaucratically-led trade unions to their current leaderships, and so on. Lenin’s polemic, and it nothing but a flat-out polemic against all kinds of misconceptions of the Bolshevik experience, cut across these erroneous ideas like a knife. His literary style may not appeal to today’s audience (his style unlike the more florid fluid Trotsky is at best turbid although today in the age of “twitter,” short-hand language and twenty second attention spans they both would stand condemned as too wordy whatever valid points they were trying to make) but the political message still has considerable application today. At the time this polemic was written and delivered no less a figure than James P. Cannon, a founder and central leader of the American Communist Party and later founder of the American Trotskyist party, credited the pamphlet with straightening out that badly confused movement. Indeed, it seems every possible political problem Lenin argued against had some following in the American Party-in triplicate! And other parties too.  That alone makes it worth a look.

I would like to highlight one point made by Lenin that has currency for leftists today, unfortunately. At the time it was written many (most) of the communist organizations adhering to the Comintern were little more than propaganda groups (including the American Party). Lenin suggested one of the ways to break out of that isolation was a tactic of critical support to the still large and influential social- democratic organizations at election time. In his apt expression- “to support those organizations’ candidates like a rope supports a hanging man.” However, as part of my political experiences in America around election time I have run into any number of socialists and communists who have turned Lenin’s concept on its head.

How? By arguing that militants needed to “critically support” the Democratic Party (who else, right?) as an application of the Leninist criterion for critical support. No, a thousand times no. Lenin’s specific example was the reformist British Labor Party, a party at that time (and to a lesser extent today) solidly based on the trade unions- organizations of the working class and no other. The Democratic Party in America was then, is now, and will always be a capitalist party. Yes, the labor bureaucrats and ordinary workers support it, finance it, drool over it but in no way is it a labor party. That is the class difference which even sincere militants have broken their teeth on for at least the last seventy years. And that, dear reader, is another reason why it worthwhile to take a peek at this book.

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