From Lenin to Leninism



Considerations on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Lenin's death


Em The Age of Extremes, Eric Hobsbawm defined Lenin as “the man with the greatest individual impact on the history of the 20th century”. The man, as we know, was the main (but not only) leader of the October Revolution, whose shadow hovered and still hovers over the world. His myth was the inspiration for the ghost that haunted the century, that of the “world communist revolution”, used to justify wars and massacres unparalleled in history.

In Russia, the birthplace of the “communist ghost” and “a country with an unpredictable past”, it was in the pen of the same authors that we found diametrically opposed interpretations of Lenin. This is the case of Dimitri Volkogonov, who supported, over the years, the “official” Soviet version, presenting Bolshevism as an “absolute good”, arising from Lenin’s head. On the other hand, Leon Trotsky was presented as the incarnation of evil, Lenin's enemy from beginning to end (but hiding this for a brief period), and enemy of socialism on account of imperialism.

In a trilogy dedicated to the most important characters in the history of the USSR,[I] Dimitri Volkogonov completely changed camp: Bolshevism was now “absolute evil”, arising from Lenin’s (demonic) genius. As for Stalin and Trotsky, they were “enemy brothers”; the first a legitimate son of Lenin. Volkogonov tendentiously interpreted phrases, in which “note by note, letter by letter, Lenin, the demigod venerated for 62 years, including by me, appears not as the magnanimous guide of the legend, but a cynical tyrant, willing to do anything to take and preserve the power". “Revered demigod”: this was Lenin’s quality in the “official history” of the USSR. A Western practitioner of serial history, in the wake of the post-Soviet anti-communist reaction, titled one of his works “Lenin, the cause of evil”.[ii]

“Leninism” was created on the occasion of Lenin’s death as a supposedly infallible doctrine, capable of guaranteeing, through its “application”, the victory of the socialist revolution. A century later, on the terrain explored and also devastated by victorious and defeated revolutions, by wars and bloody counter-revolutions, it is appropriate to dwell on the conditions that forged man, and also on those that presided over the doctrine that inspired the so-called “international communist movement”. ”. Bukharin summarized: “Marx mainly gave the algebra of capitalist development and revolutionary action; Lenin added the algebra of new phenomena of destruction and construction, as well as their arithmetic. He deciphered the formulas of algebra from a concrete and practical point of view”.[iii]

This in a country where, in Trotsky's summary, “the fall of the monarchy had long been the indispensable condition for the development of Russia's economy and culture. But they lacked the strength to carry out this task. The bourgeoisie was terrified of the revolution. Intellectuals tried to organize the peasantry around them. Unable to generalize his efforts and objectives, the muzhik did not respond to the appeals of the youth. The intelligentsia armed themselves with dynamite. An entire generation was consumed in this fight.” This included Lenin's older brother, Alexander Ulyanov, a populist, executed by the tsarist regime for conspiracy against the monarch, without any attempt being carried out against him.

A member of the next revolutionary generation, Lenin began his career in the RSDLP (Social Democratic Workers' Party of Russia) fighting, in the old Russian populism (including its dynamite aspect), its intended specific, “eastern” path to socialism, based on the survival of the community Russian agrarian (the chrism). It was wrong to support the possibility of carrying out a Russian socialism based in the rural community, as did the narodniki, since capitalist development had created social differentiation within rural communities. The village was in the process of being dissolved, giving way, on the one hand, to capitalist agrarian property and, on the other, to agricultural workers. His diagnosis of the dissolution of the ancient rural community (confirmed by later historical research),[iv] exposed in several works, especially in The development of capitalism in Russia, followed in the footsteps of Plekhanov's political struggle against populism, summarized in Our disagreements.[v]

Lenin added a different valuation of the peasant movement, which pointed to the nodal point of the revolutionary strategy, the worker-peasant alliance. At the Agrarian program of social democracy, stated: “The error of certain Marxists consists in that, when criticizing the theory of populists, they lose sight of its historically real and legitimate content in the fight against feudalism. They criticize, and rightly so, the ‘work principle’ and ‘egalitarianism’ as backward, reactionary, petty-bourgeois socialism and forget that these theories express advanced, revolutionary petty-bourgeois democratism; These theories serve as a banner for the most determined struggle against the old Russia, feudal Russia. The idea of ​​equality is the most revolutionary idea in the fight against the old order of things of absolutism in general and against the old feudal and landlord regime of land tenure in particular. The idea of ​​equality is legitimate and progressive among the petty-bourgeois peasants, because it expresses the aspiration for distribution.”

For Lenin, “the agrarian question constituted the basis of the bourgeois revolution in Russia and determined the national particularity of this revolution”.[vi] The objectives he set for the bourgeois revolution were: democratic republic, constituent assembly, and provisional revolutionary government in the regime of the democratic dictatorship of workers and peasants. The means to achieve these objectives would be armed popular insurrection. According to Lenin, the party should promote a revolution of workers and peasants, and this, by carrying out the democratic revolution, although preparing the ground for the socialist revolution, could not escape, at least for some time, the fate of a bourgeois revolution.

Trotsky, a member of the successive generation, understood that the proletariat would have to seek the support of the peasants, but it could not stop at that: upon completing the bourgeois revolution, the proletariat would inevitably be induced to carry out its own revolution, without a solution for continuity. The already controversial issue of the revolution's program overlapped with that of the organization, which gave rise to Bolshevism, identified with Lenin.

Lenin's political role at the turn of the century was to lay the foundations for the organization of a unified workers' party, after the dispersion of groups participating in the founding congress of the RSDLP in 1898. A kind of unity existed through reference to exiled socialists , led by Plekhanov. But “until then, Plekhanov's group had been mainly concerned with the problem of theoretical orientation, for the reason that there was no political party that identified with Marx's theory and that sought to spread this doctrine among the popular masses”.[vii]

Em Our Immediate Task, from 1899, Lenin defined that “the party has not ceased to exist; he simply withdrew into himself, to gather forces and face the task of unifying all Russian Social Democrats on firm ground. Carrying out this unification, working out appropriate forms, definitively putting aside fragmented localist work: these are the most immediate and essential tasks of Russian social democrats.” How, under these conditions, did Bolshevism, Lenin's great political creature, emerge?

Against the ahistorical interpretation, it was pointed out that “there are three organizations usually designated as the ‘Bolshevik party’: (i) the RSDLP, between 1903 and 1911, in which many factions competed for leadership; (ii) the Bolshevik fraction within that same party; (iii) the RSDLP (Bolshevik) finally founded in 1912, which would receive important reinforcements, especially that of the 'interdistrict organization' of Petrograd with Trotsky, before being the victorious Bolshevik party in October”.[viii]

Bolshevism was a current that emerged from ideological and political disputes, splits and mergers, but with continuity. It was Lenin who was responsible, early on, for relativizing the political and organizational principles of the What to do? (from 1902), considered (wrongly) the founding charter of Bolshevism, as being those of a “new type” of party. The term “Bolshevik” initially had the meaning of majority (from the II RSDLP Congress in 1903). Writing in 1907 a preface to the reissue of his works, Lenin criticized the exegetes of What to do?, which “completely separate this work from its context in a defined historical situation – a defined period long since surpassed by the development of the party”, specifying that “no other organization than that led by the Iskra could, in the circumstances of Russia in 1900-1905, have created a social democratic workers' party like the one that was created... What to do? is a summary of the group's organizational tactics and policy. Iskra in 1901 and 1902”.

This tactic and policy were not considered original, but a version, in Russian conditions (severe repression, absence of democratic freedoms and political democracy), of the principles of the Second International, especially of the German SPD, of which in 1883 the chief of the German police, that “socialist parties abroad consider him as the example that must be imitated in all its aspects”.[ix] Lenin proposed an organization of revolutionaries, conspiratorial and centralized, which was at the same time a workers' organization, with wide scope for internal debate, but with full unity of action. If the first aspect was emphasized, it was because it clashed with the supporters of a “lax” party, which the Bolsheviks did not consider adapted to Russian conditions.

For Lenin, the revolutionary “should not have as his ideal the secretary of the union but the popular tribune, who knows how to react against every manifestation of arbitrariness and oppression, wherever it occurs, whatever the class or social layer affected, who knows generalize all the facts to compose a complete picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation, which knows how to take advantage of the slightest opportunity to expose its socialist convictions and its democratic demands, to explain to each and everyone the historical scope of the emancipatory struggle of the proletariat” .

In short, a workers’ party and also a professional one. This idea would be maintained throughout all phases of Bolshevism, including program changes. From there, combined with specific circumstances, Bolshevism emerged as a different political current within socialist currents, including international ones, beyond the intentions of its founders. Lenin changed, not once, but several times his assessment of the nature of the Russian revolution, but never the idea that its central protagonist would be the industrial proletariat, elaborated in the 1890s in a polemic against the narodniki (populists): “The working class is the coherent and declared enemy of absolutism, and only between the working class and absolutism is no compromise possible. The hostility of all other classes, groups and strata of the population towards autocracy is not absolute: their democracy is always looking back.”

It is for and with this working class that Bolshevism proposed to build a party. It was by virtue of its effectiveness in this that Bolshevism was established and prevailed. At first, it is likely that Lenin's companions did not understand the deep meaning of his proposals. His concept of organization and discipline constituted, however, an effective policy in the task of unifying the clandestine socialist committees, whose number was rapidly increasing in Russia, under the direction of Iskra, located abroad. Many committees were opposed. The “question of the party” (and its fractions) arose from the disagreement between Lenin and Martov, at the II RSDLP Congress, regarding the first article of the statute. Martov proposed: “A member of the RSDLP is anyone who accepts its program and supports the party, materially or through regular cooperation developed under the direction of one of its organizations”. To which Lenin replied: “A member of the party is anyone who accepts its program and supports the party, materially or through his personal participation in the activities of one of its organizations.” Divergence, apparently, minimal.

At the Social Democratic Congress of 1903, the “second”, the Bolshevik majority was actually a minority in the votes immediately preceding and following the vote on the statutes: “The more elastic formulation of Martov, who, in opposition to Lenin, did not consider that 'collaboration' ' should constitute a requirement in a Party organization, it was accepted by 28 votes against 23. After the withdrawal of seven delegates, Lenin came to constitute a majority of 24 against 20, so that he managed to admit his own list of candidates to the Central Committee… The victory was short-lived, as the result was the division of the Party leadership into two factions [Bolsheviks and Mensheviks].

The leadership positions of the Iskra they returned to men who became ideological opponents of Lenin, who soon joined Plekhanov. Lenin prepared the foundation of his own periodical; period (Avante) was released at the end of 1904.”[X] The Bolsheviks constituted their faction and called their own congress as the III Congress of the RSDLP (London, 1905). Bolshevism, as it turns out, emerged from a series of political crises and upheavals, not from a finished pre-existing project.


A published political dictionary, however, considered Leninism as “the theoretical-practical interpretation of Marxism, in a revolutionary key, elaborated by Lenin in and for an industrially backward country, such as Russia, where peasants represented the enormous majority of the population”, attributing to Lenin’s “party theory” “clear populist roots” and simultaneously situating it as a “leftist” variant of Bernsteinian revisionism.[xi]

The organizational controversy in Russian social democracy concealed a divergence regarding what type of party (parliamentary or revolutionary) for what type of activity (electoral or revolutionary), for what type of era (peaceful or revolutionary). What initially appeared to be a difference regarding the methods for building a workers' party in Russia, ended up revealing itself as a divergence regarding the program and the world historical epoch, which would split the international workers' movement, with Lenin and Bolshevism as pivot of the split.

Lenin was the main organizer of the II RSDLP Congress, considered the true founding congress of the party. It was the result of a series of previous political victories: “When the Congress was held in 1903, three ideological battles had already been fought and resolved, which formed the basis of the party program unanimously adopted by the Congress. In front of narodniki, the RSDLP considered the proletariat and not the peasants as the agent of the future revolution; in front of the ‘legal Marxists’, he preached revolutionary action and denied any commitment to the bourgeoisie; in front of the ‘economists’, he highlighted the essentially political character of the party’s program”.[xii] The fight against the economists¸ summarized by Lenin in What to do?, was a common heritage of the party, including future opponents of the supposed ultra-centralism contained in this text.

No What to do?, Lenin had stated that “the spontaneous development of the workers’ movement marches precisely towards its subordination to bourgeois ideology, because the spontaneous workers’ movement is trade-unionist (…) Everything that bows down to the spontaneity of the workers’ movement, everything that is to diminish the role of the 'conscious element', the role of social democracy, means strengthening the influence of bourgeois ideology over the workers.” But, at the same time, he defined that “the spontaneous element is nothing more than the embryonic form of the conscious. And the primitive riots already reflected a certain conscious awakening.”

Or: “The working class spontaneously tends towards socialism, but the bourgeois ideology, the most widespread (and constantly resurrected in the most diverse forms) is the one that imposes itself most spontaneously on the workers”. The text and its consequences sparked a controversy that resonates to this day. He proposed a new foundation (only partially anticipated by Kautsky) for the workers' political party.

In 1904, Rosa Luxemburg used her pen against Leninist “ultra-centralism” in Questions of Organization of Russian Social Democracy: “It is not by starting from the discipline inculcated in it by the capitalist State, with the mere transfer of the baton from the hand of the bourgeoisie to that of a social democratic central committee, but by breaking, by extirpating this spirit of servile discipline, that the proletariat can be educated to the new discipline, the voluntary self-discipline of social democracy.” Adding that “the ultra-centralism advocated by Lenin seems to us, in all its essence, to be the bearer, not of a positive and creative spirit, but of the sterile spirit of the night guard. His concern consists, above all, in controlling party activity and not in fertilizing it, in restricting the movement and not in developing it, in harassing it and not in unifying it”. In the Luxembourgist conception, “social democracy is not linked to the organization of the working class: it is the movement of the working class itself”.[xiii]

Lenin's response[xiv] was simple: Rosa's criticisms were politely answered, one by one, stating that “what Rosa Luxemburg's article, published in Die Neue Zeit, makes the reader aware that it is not my book, but something else”, and saying, in essence, that “what I defend throughout the book, from the first page to the last, are the elementary principles of any party organization imaginable; (not) one system of organization versus any other.” Lenin, therefore, did not proclaim himself the inventor of “democratic centralism”.

In 1904 also, Trotsky published a brochure (Our Political Tasks) in which, alongside a notable series of personal attacks on Lenin (inaugurating a practice unknown to Russian socialists: Trotsky would later justify himself by referring to his “immaturity” – witnesses at the time, such as Angélica Balabanova, stated that there was no affinity personal between the two men)[xv] he also accused Bolshevism of intending to establish “the dictatorship of the party over the working class”, of the central committee over the party, and of the leader over the central committee.

Alongside the controversial tricks, Trotsky also avoided futurological exercises: “The tasks of the new regime will be so complex that they cannot be resolved except through competition between different methods of economic and political construction, through prolonged 'disputes', through a systematic struggle not only between the socialist and capitalist worlds, but also between many tendencies within socialism, which will inevitably emerge as soon as the proletarian dictatorship brings dozens of new problems. No strong, ‘dominant’ organization will be able to suppress these controversies. A proletariat capable of exercising its dictatorship over society will not tolerate any dictatorship over itself. The working class will have in its ranks a few handfuls of political invalids and a lot of old ideas that it will have to get rid of. At the time of your dictatorship, as well as today, you will have to cleanse your mind of false theories and bourgeois experiences, and purge your ranks of political charlatans and revolutionaries who only know how to look back. But this intricate task cannot be solved by placing a handful of chosen people over the proletariat, or a single assault of power.”

Trotsky had broken with Lenin at the 1903 Congress. Retrospectively, he presented this break as “subjective” and “moral”, linked to a subject that did not imply any political principle. Lenin proposed reducing the number of editors of the Iskra from six to three. These must have been Plekhanov, Martov and himself. Axelrod, Zasulich and Potresov should be excluded. I would like the editorial work of Iskra was more effective than it had been in recent times; “to “Trotsky, this attempt to eliminate, from Iskra, Axelrod and Zasulich, two of its founders, seemed sacrilege to him. Lenin’s harshness aroused his repugnance.”[xvi]

At the Congress, Trotsky spoke against Lenin only in relation to two points on the agenda: paragraph 1 of the party statutes and the election of the party's central bodies. Trotsky did not oppose the theses of the party program prepared by Lenin. On the contrary, in this item he defended Lenin.[xvii] In his autobiography Trotsky did not refer to his 1904 leaflet; After the 1903 Congress, he was momentarily linked to the Mensheviks, with whom he later broke. During the following decade, he was a supporter of the “conciliation” of factions (not without some successes, also ephemeral) which fueled the legend of an “anti-Bolshevik” Trotsky, although he came closer to Bolshevism being as much a member of the RSDLP as Lenin, at a time in which the formal division of the party had not been consummated.

Against Trotsky, Lenin stated that “he forgot that the Party must be only a detachment of the vanguard, the leader of the immense mass of the working class, which as a whole (or almost) works 'under the control and direction' of the Party organizations. , but which does not entirely, and should not, enter the 'Party'”[xviii] (the quotation marks – ironic – are from… Lenin). Party, working vanguard, working class did not identify with each other (as they did, according to Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg) although they influenced each other. In 1905, Bolshevism was a party da worker vanguard, its composition was almost 62% workers (and almost 5% peasants)[xx]: This was the party of “professional revolutionaries”.

Three glosses later, Lenin mocked his critics: “To assert that Iskra (from 1901 and 1902!) exaggerated the idea of ​​an organization of professional revolutionaries is like saying, after the Russo-Japanese war, that the Japanese had an exaggerated idea of ​​the Russian military forces, and that they were too worried, before the war, in fighting these forces.”[xx]

Many saw in Our Political Tasks a prophecy about the fate of Bolshevism and the revolution. For Isaac Deutscher, who criticized the work's personal attacks, it was also “astonishing” for containing “great ideas” and “subtle historical insight”.[xxx] For E. H. Carr, “the (future) process was predicted in very detail by Trotsky, who in a brilliant pamphlet published in 1904 announced a situation in which 'the party is replaced by the party organization, the organization by the central committee and finally the central committee by the dictator'”.[xxiii] Pierre Broué criticized the “pedantry” of Our Tasks, his invectives against “Maximilien Lenin”, stating that Trotsky later considered the work as “a terribly annoying document about which he observed the greatest discretion”, and wondered why, in the circumstances of its publication (Trotsky's break with the Menshevism) he “did not renounce its publication”.[xxiii]

Lenin responded to the comparison with Robespierre by stating that “the Jacobin indissolubly linked to the organization of the proletariat who is aware of his class interests, is precisely the revolutionary social democrat”. [xxv] The strongest criticism referred to the fact that Lenin had maintained that the revolutionary intelligentsia played a special role in the revolutionary movement, endowing it with the socialist perspective that the workers could not achieve on their own. Trotsky saw in this opinion a denial of the revolutionary capabilities of the working class and the aspiration of the intelligentsia to keep the labor movement under its tutelage. The Polish socialist Makhaivski held a similar view about “Russian socialism” in general.[xxiv]

Trotsky stated that, at the Congress, “my whole being protested against the merciless suppression of veterans. The indignation I felt came from my break with Lenin, which took place somewhat on moral ground. But that was just appearance. Basically, our differences had a political character that manifested itself in the issue of organization.”[xxv] Our Political Tasks it was “dedicated to Pavel Axelrod”. Today it seems clear that “both Trotsky and Luxemburg were unfair to Lenin when they withdrew the positions of the What to do? of their concrete historical context and attributed to them a universal character”.[xxviii]

Trotsky spoke, much later, about his “accursed” work, without regret: “In a brochure written in 1904, whose criticisms against Lenin often lacked maturity and fairness, there are however pages that provide a very faithful idea of ​​the way of think of komitetchiki of that time (…) The battle that Lenin would sustain a year later, at the congress [III Congress, April 1905], against the komitetchiki arrogant statements fully confirms this criticism.”[xxviii] This is the aspect explored by historians who state that “(in 1903) Lenin was already convinced that it was the professional revolutionary, and not the masses, who held the key to the victory of socialism”.[xxix]

Lenin's position, which led to the emergence of the factions, had nothing to do with a sudden impulse: it was the continuity of a political and ideological struggle that had had him as a protagonist since the 1890s. The fight against populism, the What to do?, the delimitation of Menshevism, were its various phases, not based on a statutory fetish: Lenin accepted, at the Reunification Congress (Bolsheviks + Mensheviks) of 1906, the Menshevik wording of article 1o of the statutes…

This and other episodes allow us to question the retrospective vision of the Bolshevik Zinoviev: “In 1903 we already had two clearly separated groups, two organizations and two parties. Bolshevism and Menshevism, as ideological tendencies, were already formed with their characteristic profile, later evidenced in the revolutionary storm”.[xxx] At the London Congress of 1905 (Bolshevik), Lenin waged the battle for the recruitment and promotion of workers who were not “professional revolutionaries”, but merely worker militants: an index of a conflict with the komitetchiki, the “committee men”.

Nadezha Krupskaïa, Lenin's wife, recounted in her memoirs the battle between Lenin and Rykov, spokesman for the “underground”: “The komitetchiki he was a man full of security… he did not admit any democracy within the party… he did not like innovations”. According to her, Lenin could barely contain himself “hearing that there were no workers capable of forming part of the committees”. He proposed mandatory inclusion of a majority of workers in the committees. The party apparatus was contrary; Lenin's proposition was defeated, a fact that Pierre Broué related to “the sect spirit that left the Bolsheviks far from the first soviets, in which many of them feared an opposing organization”.

The revolution of 1905, already underway, had witnessed the formation of workers' councils, elected by workers in their own workplaces. Delegates were at all times revocable by their voters. Unionized or not, politically organized or disorganized, the proletarians of Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov, Tula, Odessa and other industrial agglomerations created a new form of mass organization, which appeared as the opposite of the parliamentary assemblies with which the bourgeoisie Westerners exercised their class domination. Its transformation into government bodies, however, was not yet a project of any political current.

The revolutionary tradition of the Russian working class had a decisive weight in the 1905 revolution; The January 1905 strike was closely linked to the outbreak of another general strike in 1904 in Baku, in the Caucasus. This, in turn, was preceded by other major strikes that took place between 1903 and 1904, in the south of Russia, which had as a predecessor the great strike of 1902, in Batum. We can identify the beginning of this series of strikes in the one undertaken by the textile workers of Saint Petersburg between 1896 and 1897.

Since the end of the 1903th century, Russia had become an epicenter of the European revolution: the RSDLP, at its XNUMX congress, adopted a program “in which, for the first time in the history of social democratic parties, appeared the slogan of dictatorship of the proletariat, defined as the conquest of political power by the proletariat”.[xxxii] The class struggle in Russia gained its own, vanguard profile on the international scene; Russian social democracy was not the simple projection of European socialism into “wild lands”.

In the 1905 revolution, the problem of the soviets affected all factions of the RSDLP: “Without taking into account the cooperation of many Bolshevik workers in the councils, the principled position of the Bolshevik governing bodies varied between a radical rejection and a somewhat disgusted acceptance of these 'bodies'. alien to the revolution. The position of the Bolsheviks with respect to the soviets differed from place to place and was undergoing transformations; Lenin himself did not reach a definitive judgment about its role and importance, despite being the only one among the Bolsheviks who made an effort to thoroughly examine this new revolutionary phenomenon and add it to his revolutionary theory and tactics.

During the October strike, Bolshevik workers participated in the formation of the Petersburg Council of Workers' Deputies, as did other workers. In the early days of the Soviet's existence, when it acted as a strike committee and no one really knew what role it would play in the future, the Bolsheviks were benevolently opposed to it. But this changed when, at the end of the October strike, the Soviet remained standing and began to evolve towards an organ of political leadership of the working class. Most Bolsheviks openly expressed their opposition to the Soviet; They drafted, in the federative committees formed by representatives of both factions of the RSDLP, a resolution in which the official acceptance of the social democracy program was recommended, since independent council-style organizations could not guide a clear political direction and would be harmful”.[xxxi] The party that would project itself to the world as the vanguard of “Soviet power” initially opposed the leading or governmental function of the Soviet. There was no “genius Lenin” to prevent this.


For most Marxist historians there was a link between the What to do? and “Bolshevik sectarianism”. Paul Le Blanc states that “the potential sectarianism that (Rosa) Luxemburg had noticed in Lenin's conceptions had clearly manifested itself since 1905”.[xxxii] For Ernest Mandel “it is evident that Lenin underestimated during the course of the 1902-1903 debate the dangers for the labor movement that could arise from the fact of establishing a bureaucracy within it”.[xxxv] The test of the revolution, and its defeat, produced new crises and political realignments.

During the reaction after 1905, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks divided into three fractions each: the “liquidators” (Potressov, Zasulich), the center (Martov, Dan) and the “party Mensheviks” (Plekhanov) among the latter; the “vperiodists” (Bogdanov), the “Leninists” and the “conciliators” or “party Bolsheviks” (Rykov, Nogin), among the first. If 1903 was not the “magic date” of Bolshevism, 1906 (reunification congress) was not the great hour of lost conciliation (Lenin declared that “until the social revolution, social democracy will inevitably present an opportunist wing and a revolutionary wing”); the Bolsheviks maintained an “underground center” in the unified party; Finally, 1912 (when the Bolsheviks definitively separated from the Mensheviks) was not the “final party”, because before 1912 Lenin reconciled with Plekhanov and formed a bloc in the RSDLP with the “Party Mensheviks” against the “liquidators”, with the aim of maintaining a clandestine apparatus. It is on this position that the RSDLP (Bolshevik) was created, with a revolutionary wing and an “opportunist” wing…

Between crises and fierce disputes between factions, the political problems of Russian social democracy were at a higher level than those of other sections of the Second International, permeated by reformism and electoralism. Its particularity does not have to do with a supposed theory about the “Party, with a capital letter, (which) constitutes the great and ambiguous Russian contribution to contemporary history”, also called “the Party: a meta-political entity totally different from everything that had been seen until then in the varied scene of European socialist movements”, considered as the birth of a new anthropological variant: the homo bolshevicus! [xxxiv]

It is easy to point the finger at the confusion between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks about the role of the Soviets; their own leaders were confused about it: “Even at the second congress (of the soviets), on October 28, no member of that assembly knew very well their function, whether they constituted a central strike committee or a new type of organization. , similar to an organism of revolutionary self-administration”.[xxxiv]

Lenin's evolution was described ironically by Moshe Lewin: “Since his work written in Siberian exile, Lenin had a tendency to see capitalism behind every Russian cart. The 1905 revolution led him to modify his ideas: capitalism was still weakly developed, the liberal forces were embryonic and timid”.[xxxviii] Even so, for Lenin the revolution continued to be “bourgeois in the sense of its economic-social content.

Which means: the tasks of the revolution taking place in Russia do not go beyond the scope of bourgeois society. Not even the most complete victory of the current revolution, that is, the conquest of the most democratic republic and the confiscation of all land from the owners by the peasants, will shake the foundations of the bourgeois social order.” But, from this thesis, Lenin did not derive the conclusion that the main engine of the revolution would be the bourgeoisie, as the Mensheviks wanted, because the revolution occurred at a time when “the proletariat had already begun to become aware of itself as a particular class and the unite in an autonomous class organization”.

In September 1905, during the “first Russian revolution”, Lenin stated that “from the democratic revolution we will soon begin to pass, to the extent of our strength, from the forces of the conscious and organized proletariat, to the socialist revolution. We are for uninterrupted revolution. We will not stop halfway.” Lenin, however, limited the immediate scope of the revolution to the bourgeois-democratic horizon. According to Trotsky, he “wanted to imply that, in order to maintain unity with the peasantry, the proletariat would be forced to do without the immediate placement of socialist tasks during the next revolution. But that meant for the proletariat renouncing its own dictatorship. Consequently, the dictatorship was, in essence, that of the peasantry, even if the workers participated in it.”

Let us quote Lenin's confirmatory words, pronounced at the Stockholm Congress of the RSDLP (1906) when replying to Plekhanov: “What program are we talking about? Of an agrarian program. Who is supposed to take power with this program? The revolutionary peasants” Did Lenin confuse the government of the proletariat with the government of the peasants? “No” – he said, referring to himself – “Lenin markedly differentiated the socialist government of the proletariat from the bourgeois-democratic government of the peasants”.

Trotsky already defended the permanent revolution, whose perspective was that “the complete victory of the democratic revolution in Russia can only be conceived in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasants. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which would inevitably put on the table not only democratic but also socialist tasks, would at the same time give a vigorous impulse to the international socialist revolution. Only the victory of the Western proletariat could protect Russia from bourgeois restoration, giving it security to complete the implementation of socialism.”

It was a divergence of strategic scope: “Bolshevism was not infected by the belief in the power and strength of a revolutionary bourgeois democracy in Russia. From the beginning he recognized the decisive significance of the struggle of the working class in the coming revolution, but his program was limited, in the first epoch, to the interests of the great peasant masses, without whom – and against which – the revolution would not have been carried out. carried out by the proletariat. Hence the provisional recognition of the bourgeois-democratic character of the revolution and its prospects.

Therefore, the author [Trotsky] did not belong, at that period, to either of the two main currents of the Russian labor movement.” For him, “the proletariat, once in power, must not limit itself to the framework of bourgeois democracy but must employ the tactic of permanent revolution, that is, annul the limits between the minimum and maximum program of social democracy, moving towards reforms increasingly deeper social movements and seeking direct and immediate support in the Western European revolution”. [xxxviii]

As positions evolve, a convergence has emerged since the Fifth Congress (in London) of the RSDLP: “The most notable fact of the congress was the isolation of the Mensheviks in the face of the convergence of positions of Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky. It was an objective convergence, without any agreement, and not without considerable discrepancies, between Lenin and the Bolsheviks, on the one hand, and Rosa and Trotsky, on the other.”[xxxix]

Post-Gorbachev Soviet historiography has tended to minimize the pre-revolution Lenin-Trotsky disagreements (just as Stalinism, earlier, exaggerated them into outright lies): “These disagreements do not have much significance when we consider them from a historical perspective. This understands the issue of permanent revolution that was always taken to exaggerated proportions after Lenin's death. In fact, after 1916, Lenin never highlighted this issue again.” The same author highlights that “Trotsky’s articles were published in magazines run by Lenin”.[xl]

Strategic differences continued. They intensified after the “August Bloc” (bloc “for the unity of the RSDLP”, headed by Trotsky, with Menshevik participation) of 1912, when the Bolsheviks embarked on the path of building an independent party. For 15 years, Lenin and Trotsky dispensed various insults to each other in writing (“mediocre”, “second-rate lawyer”, said Trotsky about Lenin; “cheap slanderer”, “player of Balalaika”, “pretended”, “ambitious”, this one retaliated), which Trotsky, retroactively, attributed to immaturity and the “heat” of the struggle between factions.

In the middle of a period of reaction, Trotsky specified the scope of the differences: “If the Mensheviks, starting from the following conception: 'our revolution is bourgeois', arrive at the idea of ​​adapting the entire tactics of the proletariat to the conduct of the liberal bourgeoisie until the conquest of power for the same reason, the Bolsheviks, starting from a no less abstract conception, 'the democratic but not socialist dictatorship', arrive at the idea of ​​a self-limitation of the proletariat, which holds power, to a regime of bourgeois democracy. It is true that between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks there is an essential difference: while the anti-revolutionary aspects of Menshevism are manifested from the present, in all their magnitude, what is anti-revolutionary in Bolshevism does not threaten us - but the threat is no less serious - but in the event of a revolutionary victory.”[xi] Which admits a double reading: (1) Trotsky places Bolshevism on a higher historical and political plane than Menshevism; (2) he also did not fail to believe that there were anti-revolutionary aspects in Bolshevism, which was no small feat.


We focus here on the Lenin-Trotsky controversy due to the role of both leaders in the October Revolution and subsequent history. Before that, for more than a quarter of a century, Lenin participated in polemics with numerous currents of Russian and international socialism (even the Argentine socialist Juan B. Justo criticized the Leninist theory of imperialism) and was, without a doubt, the pivot of political debates in the labor movement in his country. The programmatic differences between Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and “Trotskyists” became clearly evident with the revolution.

For Rudi Dutschke, “only the understanding of the bourgeois revolution of 1905 allows us to approach, through Lenin's economic conceptions, the roots of democratic centralism as a type of party”.[xliii] To the extent that, initially, all fractions were in agreement on the bourgeois nature of the Russian revolution, the divergences did not appear clearly. Initially, the 1905 revolution and its repression by tsarism brought the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks closer together: both believed in the need for a “bourgeois democratic” stage prior to the socialist revolution. However, it was revealed, between 1907 and 1908, that while the Mensheviks believed that the bourgeoisie could lead and complete this stage, the Bolsheviks asserted that only the proletariat and the peasants could fulfill the task of the bourgeois democratic stage.

The differences were overcome, not completely, in practice (the October Revolution was identified with the names of Lenin and Trotsky) and through the political assimilation of this practice. Thinking of political divergences as an abnormality, and homogeneity as an ideal to be achieved, means denying thought itself and its engine (contradiction). Without the revolution, it is likely that some of these controversies would have spread ad infinitum.

In his autobiography, Trotsky was very sparing about this: “I came to Lenin later than others, but by my own path, having crossed and reflected on the experience of revolution, counter-revolution and imperialist war. Thanks to this, I came to him more firmly and seriously than his ‘disciples’” (note the quotation marks). To which the Stalinist historian Léo Figuères replied: “It is worth asking whether Trotsky would have been able to join Bolshevism in 1917 if all his disciples (sic, without quotation marks) had followed his path, abandoned and fought Lenin after the Second Congress” .[xiii] If such a thing had happened, Bolshevism would not have existed. Figuères, as a good Stalinist, considered Bolshevism as a chain of “disciples” of Lenin, that is, in religious terms.

On the international level, nothing is more contrary to the truth than the legend coined by Stalin in Fundamentals of Leninism: that the Bolsheviks had acted, since 1903, in favor of the split with the reformists in the Socialist International. It was with great struggle that Lenin managed to be recognized as a representative of the RSDLP (along with Plekhanov) since 1905, in the International Socialist Bureau (BSI), a position he would maintain until the First World War. In this context, the Russian “Unity Congress” of 1906 took place. In 1907, at the International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart, the motion on the attitude and duty of socialists in the event of war (“using the crisis caused by war to precipitate the fall of the bourgeoisie”), was presented jointly by Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and the Menshevik Martov.

When in January 1912 the Prague (Bolshevik) conference consummated the split with the Mensheviks, Lenin did not present it in the BSI as the rupture between reformists and revolutionaries, but between the defenders of the “true workers' party” against the “liquidators” (supporters of a merely “legal” party), and defending “the only existing party, the illegal party” (report by Kamenev, Lenin’s representative, in the BSI of November 1913).

In 1912, the Bolsheviks fought to assert themselves as representatives of the RSDLP at the International Socialist Congress in Basel. Already in 1914 (before the war), due to the international isolation of the Bolsheviks (including in relation to the left wing of the Socialist International, whose leader Rosa Luxemburg had allied with the Mensheviks and the “August Bloc” led by Trotsky), the Bolsheviks admitted a new and fruitless “unification conference”. Lenin was already aware of the international projection of the “Russian split” and, after the capitulation of the main parties of the Socialist International in the face of the outbreak of war in August 1914, he proclaimed from the end of that year the fight for a new International, the Third.[xiv] Three years later, in 1917, in Russia, Bolshevism was the rallying point of revolutionaries.

Lenin, in the middle of the imperialist war (end of 1915) accused Trotsky, despite both belonging to the so-called “Zimmerwald left”, the ultra-minority internationalist fraction of international socialism: “Trotsky's original theory borrows from the Bolsheviks the call for decisive revolutionary struggle and to the conquest of political power by the proletariat and, to the Mensheviks, the denial of the role of the peasantry. This, it seems, was divided, differentiated, and would be less and less capable of playing a revolutionary role.

In Russia, a 'national' revolution would be impossible, 'we live in the age of imperialism', and 'imperialism does not oppose the bourgeois nation to the old regime, but the proletariat to the bourgeois nation'. Here is a fun example of the games that can be played with the word ‘imperialism’. If, in Russia, the proletariat is already opposed to the ‘bourgeois nation’, then it is on the eve of a socialist revolution. In this case, the ‘confiscation of large estates’ (placed by Trotsky in 1915) is false and it is not about talking about ‘revolutionary workers’, but about ‘socialist workers’ government’. The degree of Trotsky's confusion can be seen in his statement that the proletariat will lead the non-proletarian popular masses! Trotsky does not even think that if the proletariat manages to lead the non-proletarian masses to the confiscation of the large estates and the overthrow of the monarchy, this will be the realization of the ‘national bourgeois revolution’, the democratic-revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.”

And Lenin concluded that “Trotsky in fact helps liberal worker politicians, who, denying the role of the peasantry, refuse to lead the peasants to the revolution”. In the light of Trotsky's work, it can be said that Lenin's accusation was false, although it was based on still weak elements of the formulation of the “permanent revolution”, which Trotsky would be responsible for clarifying in later works (not to mention that, in fact, Russia found itself “on the eve of a socialist revolution”). The war itself gave rise to other differences: about “revolutionary defeatism” (which Trotsky, along with several Bolsheviks, did not accept), about the “United States of Europe”…

But common internationalist work on the Zimmerwald left did not fail to create the elements of future political unity. The convergence that took place in 1917 was, firstly, political, the struggle to build the instrument of revolution, the party. Still at the time of unification, however, Trotsky wrote a document, which included a “phrase with which he noted, in organizational matters, ‘the narrow circle spirit’ of the Bolsheviks…. The interdistrict workers maintained a great distrust towards the Petrograd committee (of Bolshevism). I then wrote that ‘the circle spirit still exists, a legacy of the past, but for it to diminish, the interdistricts must stop carrying out an isolated activity’”.[xlv]

Years later he wrote that “without belonging to either faction during the emigration, the author underestimated the fundamental fact that in the differences of opinion between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks there was, in fact, a group of inflexible revolutionaries on the one hand and, on the other, another, a grouping of elements increasingly disaggregated by opportunism and a lack of principles. When the revolution broke out in 1917, the Bolshevik party represented a strong centralized organization, which had absorbed the best elements among the progressive workers and revolutionary intelligence.”[xlv]

On the eve of the Russian revolution, Lenin, in a lecture given in Switzerland, on the occasion of the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in 1905, stated that, perhaps, only future generations would be able to witness the revolutionary victory, the same one that brought Bolshevism to less power. a year later…[xlv] Trotsky reaffirmed that “the most important disagreement between Lenin and I during these years consisted in my hope that a unification with the Mensheviks would propel the majority of them onto the revolutionary path. Lenin was right about this fundamental issue. However, it must be said that in 1917 the tendencies towards ‘unification’ were very strong among the Bolsheviks.”[xlviii]


The October Revolution of 1917 was preceded by the February Revolution, which was not the fruit of the conspiracy of any political party. 1917 was called by French President Poincaré the “terrible year”, the third of the World War, after a harsh European winter. For millions of men, it was the end of the patriotic illusions of 1914, transformed into massacres of combatants in “offensives” that cost hundreds of thousands of lives; supply difficulties, with strong price increases, affecting workers in all countries; “civil peace”, defended by unions and workers’ parties in the belligerent countries, resulted in the questioning of all workers’ achievements (production rhythms, schedules, working conditions, rights to claim); The wear and tear of material, machines and the economic apparatus had caused a crisis in all countries.

Russia was the country that, by far, had suffered the worst consequences of the war, making its historical contradictions more acute and unbearable. The February Revolution caused the fall of tsarism and opened a period of political crises that concluded with the October “coup d'état”, which brought to power the Bolsheviks, at that time already in the majority in the workers', soldiers' and peasants' soviets. Lenin, as already abundantly exposed throughout historiography, was at the center of these events, which were the culmination of his political career and changed the destiny of the world, justifying in itself Hobsbawm's initially cited assertion.

The Bolshevik party that took power in October 1917 was the extension of the party born in 1912 and the fraction after 1903. It was, however, also diverse. In the months of acute political crisis, it had largely recruited among the young generations of workers, peasants and soldiers: the clandestine organization, which had 25.000 members in January, had almost 80.000 at the April conference, and 200.000 at the VI Bolshevik Congress, in August: the old Bolsheviks and the komitetchiki they were a 10% minority.

The membership included workers groups not defined in relation to pre-war factions and quarrels: the Interdistrict Organization, which did not have more than 4.000 members, had three of its members elected to the Central Committee. The August 1917 congress noted the convergence of several organizations or groups; its solid foundation was Lenin's RSDLP (Bolshevik), into which the “revolutionary streams” to which Radek referred to flowed.[xlix] Two years after the October Revolution, Lenin wrote: “At the moment of the conquest of power, when the Republic of Soviets was created, Bolshevism attracted all that was best in the tendencies of the closest socialist thought.”[l]

Lenin converged with Trotsky's theory[li] from his own theory. In the April theses, the historical program of the “turn”, Lenin started from the “conclusion of the bourgeois phase of the revolution”. If what prevented the proletariat from taking power in February 1917 was only its insufficient consciousness and organization, this means that there was no “national revolution” separated by a historical stage from the proletarian revolution. Bolshevism was, thanks to this, the political instrument of the “second stage” of the revolution.

It was Trotsky, in October Lessons (from 1924), who made the critical necrological assessment of the Leninist formula of “democratic dictatorship”: “Entirely revolutionary and profoundly dynamic, Lenin's posing of the problem was radically opposed to the Menshevik system, according to which Russia could only intend to repeat the history of advanced peoples, with the bourgeoisie in power and social democracy in opposition. However, in Lenin's formula, certain circles of our party did not emphasize the word 'dictatorship', but the word 'democratic', as opposed to the word 'socialist'. This would mean that in Russia, a backward country, only democratic revolution could be conceived. The socialist revolution should begin in the West and we could only join the current of socialism by following England, France and Germany.”

The “programmatic turn” of Bolshevism was clear in the assessment made by Lenin himself, a few years after the victory of October 1917: “To consolidate for the people of Russia the achievements of the bourgeois-democratic revolution we had to go further, and so the We did. We solve the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the process, as a ‘by-product’ of our fundamental and genuinely proletarian, revolutionary socialist activities. We have always said that democratic reforms – we have said it and demonstrated it with the facts – are a by-product of the proletarian, that is, socialist, revolution. This is the relationship between the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the socialist proletarian revolution: the first transforms into the second. The second solves the problems of the first in passing. The second consolidates the work of the first. The fight, and only the fight, determines to what extent the second can prevail over the first.”[liiii] The “new Bolshevism” dominated the Congress (August 1917), which materialized the merger and had the honorary presidency of Lenin and Trotsky (absent due to the July repression), the latter being elected to the CC with 131 of 134 possible votes .

The entry of Trotsky and his supporters, as well as other groups, was decisive in bringing about the “historical turning point” of Bolshevism, which assumed its definitive name of Communist party. Political convergence took place at times when, according to the Menshevik memoirist Sukhanov, “the masses lived and breathed with the Bolsheviks, they were entirely in the hands of the party of Lenin and Trotsky”.[iii]

Reflecting retrospectively, Trotsky recalled that: “Violent clashes took place between Lenin and I, because in cases where I disagreed with him on a serious problem, I carried the fight to the end. These cases, naturally, were recorded in all memories, and the epigones wrote and spoke a lot about them later. But there are a hundred times more cases in which we understood each other with half words, and in which our solidarity ensured that the issue passed through the Politburo without debate. Lenin greatly appreciated this solidarity.”[book]

Once the revolution was victorious, Bolshevism, before specific circumstances (a bloody civil war, sustained by the intervention of 14 foreign powers, and the international isolation of the country) was not the “single party of the revolution”. During the October Revolution, four anarchists were members of the Military Revolutionary Committee. An anarchist sailor from Kronstadt led the delegation that dissolved the Constituent Assembly. At the same time, however, Bolshevik hegemony was clear. Factory committees appeared everywhere, quickly became strong and were dominated by the Bolsheviks.

From October 30 to November 4, the first Russian Conference of Factory Committees was held in Petrograd, where 96 of the 167 delegates were Bolsheviks.[lv] Even so, “during the first week of December 1917, some demonstrations took place in favor of the Constituent Assembly, that is, against the power of the soviets. Irresponsible Red Guards then shot at one of the processions and killed some people. The reaction to this stupid violence was immediate: within twelve hours, the constitution of the Petrograd Soviet was modified; more than a dozen Bolshevik deputies were dismissed and replaced by Mensheviks… Despite this, it took three weeks to calm public resentment and allow the recall and reinstatement of the Bolsheviks.”[lv]

Trotsky was explicit in recognizing the superiority of Lenin's role in the revolution: “If I had not been in Petersburg in 1917, the October Revolution would have happened in the same way – conditioned by Lenin's presence and leadership. If neither Lenin nor I had been in Petersburg, there would have been no October Revolution: the leadership of the Bolshevik party would have prevented it from happening… If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, there would have been no chance of me getting the Bolshevik high circles to resist. The fight against 'Trotskyism' (that is, against the proletarian revolution) would be open from May 1917, and the outcome of the revolution would have been a question mark. But, I repeat, with Lenin present, the October Revolution would have achieved victory anyway. The same can be said, in short, about the civil war.”[lviii]

Regarding the party, Trotsky referred to old organizational questions in terms that repeated, almost point for point, the terms that Lenin had used to criticize it three decades earlier: “The leadership is not a simple 'reflection' of a class, or the product of his free creation. The direction is forged in the process of clashes between the different layers of a given class. Once assuming its role, the leadership rises above its class, being exposed to pressure and influence from other classes... A very important factor in the maturity of the Russian proletariat, in 1917, was Lenin, who did not fall from the sky. He personified the revolutionary tradition of the working class. So that his postulates could make their way among the masses, there had to be cadres, even if limited; There had to be trust from the staff towards him, a trust based on all past experience”.[lviii]

Bolshevism was not only the product of a group of individuals, of their political and ideological struggles, but of the history of the workers' movement and the revolution, through a gigantic confrontation of ideas, programs, tactics, organizations and men. In the first years of the revolution, Bolshevism had no problem admitting its turn in 1917, as demonstrated by an article by Molotov (later a man in Stalin's apparatus in the highest state positions) from 1924: “It must be said openly: the party had neither the clarity of vision nor the spirit of decision required by the revolutionary moment. He did not have them because he did not have a clear guiding attitude towards the socialist revolution. In general, the agitation and the entire practice of the revolutionary party lacked a solid foundation, since thought had not yet advanced to the bold conclusion of the need for an immediate struggle for socialism and socialist revolution.”[lix]

The victory of the Soviet revolution meant the sinking of all the parties that had bet, against absolutism, on bourgeois regimes, from a constitutional monarchy (the constitutional party, KDT) to a parliamentary democracy (almost all socialist parties, with the exception of Bolshevism ). It was, above all, from Lenin that the efforts to preserve, in these conditions, a multi-party political framework came from. In an unstable situation, an olive branch was extended to socialist parties excluded from power. The Mensheviks convened a five-day conference in Moscow at the end of October 1918. The outbreak of civil war and the threat to the Soviet regime led them down the path of compromise. The conference approved a series of theses and resolutions recognizing the October Revolution as “historically necessary” and as “a gigantic ferment that had set the entire world in motion”, renouncing “all political cooperation with classes hostile to democracy”. Attempts to collaborate with the anarchists (who Lenin came to define as “our best allies”, even having a friendly interview with their famous Ukrainian leader Néstor Makhno) sank amidst the ups and downs of the civil war, which saw violent clashes between the Red Army and Ukraine’s “Black Army.”  


The conciliation policy did not stand the test of events, in a context of internal counter-revolution and external intervention, both violent. The civil war first transformed the Bolsheviks into a “single government party”, with the attack by the left-wing SR (Revolutionary Socialists), who participated in the Soviet government, against Lenin (although Fanny Kaplan, its author, insisted on having acted for own account) and the murders of Uritsky and Volodarsky, Bolshevik leaders: “The events of the summer of 1918 left the Bolsheviks without rivals or cronies as the dominant party in the State; and had in Czech an organ of absolute power. However, there remained a strong reluctance to use this power without restrictions. The time had not yet arrived for the final extinction of the excluded parties. Terror was, at this time, a capricious instrument and it was normal to find parties, against which the most violent anathemas had been pronounced and the most drastic measures taken, continue to survive and enjoy tolerance. One of the first decrees of the new regime had authorized the Sovnarkom to close down all newspapers that preached ‘open resistance or disobedience to the Workers and Peasants Government’ and the bourgeois press ceased to exist. The Petrograd Menshevik newspaper, Novyi Luch, was suppressed, in February 1918, for his campaign opposing the Brest-Litovsk treaty. However, he reappeared in April, in Moscow, under the name of Vpered and continued his career for some time without interference. Anarchist newspapers were published in Moscow long after the Cheka's action against the anarchists in April 1918.[lx] The civil war swept away all compromises between Bolshevism and its political opposition.

Lenin opposed considering this situation as ideal, evolving in his appreciation of the nature of Soviet power established in Russia. In 1918, he wrote: “The fight against the bureaucratic deformation of the Soviet organization is guaranteed by the solidity of the links between the Soviets and the people, by the flexibility and elasticity of these links. The poor never consider bourgeois parliaments as their institutions, even in the most democratic capitalist republic in the world. The soviets, on the contrary, are their institutions, not alien to the masses of workers and peasants.”[lxi]

Already in 1921, during the controversy over trade unions, Lenin referred to the Soviet State as “a workers' State with the particularity that in the country it is not the working population that predominates, but the peasants and, secondly, a workers' State with a bureaucratic deformation”.[lxii] The transition from deformation to bureaucratic degeneration was a political and social process, summarized by Christian Rakovsky: “The situation of a class that fights for power and that of a class that holds power is different [. .. when a class takes power, a part of it becomes an agent of that power. In a socialist state, where capitalist accumulation is prohibited, this difference begins as functional, and then becomes social.”[lxiii]

Five years after the October Revolution, the isolation of the revolution, economic hardship, the fatigue of the popular masses and the emptying of the soviets were accompanied, inevitably, by the differentiation of a privileged bureaucratic layer of the party, at that time the only party of the State. . The fight against the bureaucratization of the State and the party was also “Lenin’s last [and failed] fight”.[lxiv]

In the crisis caused by the Georgian national question (against politics the Great Russian chauvinist of the nascent bureaucracy, and Stalin in particular, himself a Georgian) and in Lenin's political testament (which proposed the removal of Stalin from the post of general secretary of the party ) revealed the main lines of this combat. Trotsky agreed to form a political bloc with Lenin against bureaucratization, which did not mean that this bloc was guaranteed its victory in advance, due to the weight of the prestige of both leaders.[lxv]

Trotsky wrote in his autobiography: “Only Lenin and I knew about the idea of ​​forming a Lenin-Trotsky ‘bloc’ against the bureaucracy. The other members of the Political Bureau had only vague suspicions. Nobody knew anything about Lenin's letters on the national question or about Will. If I had started to act, they could say that I was beginning a personal struggle to take Lenin's place. I couldn't think about it without goosebumps. I thought that, even though I won, the end result would be such a demoralization for me that it would cost me dearly. An element of uncertainty entered into all calculations: Lenin himself and his state of health. Can he express his opinion? Will you have time left for that? Will the party understand that Lenin and Trotsky are fighting for the future of the revolution, and not that Trotsky is fighting for the position of an ailing Lenin? The provisional situation continued. But the delay favored the usurpers, since Stalin, as general secretary, naturally directed the entire state machinery during the interregnum.”

Lenin tried to make his break with Stalin public in the last days of 1922, shortly before he was sidelined by illness. As Commissar of Nationalities, Stalin had imposed a submissive government on Georgia militarily, invading it in February 1921 and deposing the Menshevik government headed by Noah Jordan, not only against the will of the majority of the population, but also of the Georgian Bolsheviks. Lenin expressed himself in a “Letter to Congress”: “I think that, in this episode, Stalin's impatience and his taste for administrative coercion, as well as his hatred against the famous 'social chauvinism', exerted a fatal influence. The influence of hate on politics in general is extremely harmful. Our case, that of our relations with the State of Georgia, constitutes a typical example of the need to use the maximum amount of prudence and to show a conciliatory and tolerant spirit, if we want to resolve the issue in an authentically proletarian way.”

And, referring directly to Stalin: “The Georgian who is contemptuous of this aspect of the problem, who shamelessly launches accusations of social-nationalism (when he himself is a genuine social-nationalist and also a vulgar Great-Russian executioner) , this Georgian, in effect, violates the interests of proletarian class solidarity. Stalin and [Felix] Dzerzhinski [creator and head of the Tcheka] must be politically identified as those responsible for this campaign.” The Georgian question signaled the transformation of the USSR, created in 1922, from a project of free federation of socialist republics (with an explicit right to separation) into a “prison of peoples”, which would explode 70 years later.


Lenin died in January 1924, after a year of increasing health complications – partly resulting from the attempt on his life in 1919 – and an almost total withdrawal from active politics. In the last months of his life, his concerns, recorded in his “Testament”, caused embarrassment when read to the Central Committee; the meeting on the eve of the XIII Congress that decided not to remove Stalin also decided to divulge the document only to some delegates. A series of provocations and insults against Trotsky followed, tending to polarize the political scene: the objective was to propose an incompatibility between “Leninism” and “Trotskyism”.

With Lenin's death, Stalin quickly began to present himself as the legitimate heir of this “Leninism”, defined as a set of doctrines, vaguely defined, but infallible, that would distinguish the “official line” of the party. of the “heresies” of his critics. The open and changing thought of a revolutionary method was transformed into the closed and immutable system of a conservative and counter-revolutionary interest.

The adjective (“Leninist theory of…”) was replaced by the noun (Leninism) used, initially, against Trotsky and the Left Opposition (created in late 1923) and, later, as the official doctrine of the USSR and the Communist International. In a few years, the high priest of the new unique system of “thought” and, above all, political coercion naturally added “Stalinism” to the doctrinal canon of the new Holy Scriptures. The enemy of all definitive schemes and ideas, Lenin, was misrepresented and presented as the founding father of the Great Definitive Scheme, at the same time that his body was obscenely embalmed, as a religious relic, for public display, a fact that survives to the present.

The communist parties were “Bolshevized”, bureaucratically disciplined, to be transformed into a device for integrating the new bureaucracy into the world order, which precipitated the world, once again, into a scenario dominated by inter-imperalist contradictions that led to the greatest catastrophe in human history.

Deified in a “socialist world” with feet of clay, the figure of Lenin was qualified, after the end of this “world”, as the greatest villain in human history, by publicists recruited from the ranks of former deificationists, recycled into representatives of hysterical anti-communism by the ideologues of a self-confident capitalism, more savage than ever. As this self-confidence melts in the light of the historical crisis of capital, Lenin's trajectory re-emerges, a hundred years later, in its true dimension: not that of creating an “ism” for the consumption and legitimization of “left-wing” conservative sects. ”, but that of an unavoidable moment of critical-dialectic thinking, the only basis for revolutionary action, against a world in which the increasing unfolding of barbarism, neoliberal, fundamentalist, eco-destructive and neo-fascist, only leaves socialism as an alternative viable for the survival of humanity. In our historical context, it is necessary to unpack Lenin's thought and action, as an exemplary moment, and to date unsurpassed, of the transformation of revolutionary ideas into material force.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (boitempo). []


[I] Dimitri Volkogonov. Le Vrai Lenin. Paris, Robert Laffont, 1995; Stalin. Paris, Robert Laffont, 1994; trotsky. The eternal revolutionary. New York, The Free Press, 1996. Volkogonov went further: “Lenin is the true father of the Red Terror, not Stalin” – an obvious statement: when terror was adopted as a transitional method of struggle by Soviet power, Stalin was still secondary political character.

[ii] Paul Mourousy. Lenin. La cause du harm. Paris, Perrin, 1992.

[iii] Nikolai Bukharin. Lenin Marxist. Barcelona, ​​Anagram, 1976.

[iv] Dorothy Atkinson. The End of the Agrarian Land Commune. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1983.

[v] Samuel H. Baron. Plekhanov. The father of Russian Marxism. Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1963.

[vi] Luciano Gruppi. Lenin's Thought. Rio de Janeiro, Grail, 1979.

[vii] Christopher Hill. Lenin. Buenos Aires, CEAL, 1987.

[viii] Pierre Broue. Observations on the history of the Bolshevik party. In: Maximilien Rubel et al. Party and Revolution. Buenos Aires, Rodolfo Alonso, 1971.

[ix] Georges Haupt. Parti-guide: le rayonnement de la social-démocratie allemande. L'Historien et le Mouvement Social. Paris, Francois Maspero, 1980.

[X] Leonard Shapiro. Bolsheviks, in: C. D. Kernig. Marxism and Democracy. Madrid, Rioduero, 1975.

[xi] Domenico Settembrini. Leninism. In: Norberto Bobbio et al. Politics Dictionary. Brasília, UnB, 1986. The thesis of the terrorist-populist origin of the Leninist conception of the party is widely disseminated: Alain Besançon. The Intellectual Origins of Leninism. Madrid, RIALP, 1980; René Cannac. Netchaïev, du Nihilisme au Terrorisme. Aux sources de la révolution russe. Paris, Payot, 1961. That political action in a country cannot do without its political-cultural traditions is obvious: What to do? It took its title from a novel by Nikolai Tchernishevski, written in 1862 when its author was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in Saint Petersburg. According to Orlando Figes, “Chernyshevsky's novel converted more men to the cause of revolution than all the works of Marx and Engels combined (Marx himself learned Russian to be able to read the book)”.

[xii] Edward H. Carr. Studies on the Revolution. Madrid, Alliance, 1970.

[xiii] Rosa Luxemburg. Mass Party or Vanguard Party. São Paulo, Ched, 1980.

[xiv] In an article sent to Kautsky to be published in Die Neue Zeit, an organ of German social democracy, being rejected and only made known in 1930.

[xv] Angelica Balabanova. My Rebel Life. Barcelona, ​​Martinez Roca, 1974.

[xvi] Isaac Deutscher. Trotsky. The armed prophet. Mexico, ERA, 1976.

[xvii] AV Pantsov. Voprossy Istorii. Moscow, 1989, 7/10; Brian Pearce (ed.). Minutes of the Second Ordinay Congress of the RSDLP (1903). London, New Park, 1978.

[xviii] VI Lenin. Works, vol. VI, Paris, Éditions Sociales, 1964.

[xx] David Lane. The Roots of Russian Communism. A social and historical study of Russian social democracy 1898-1907. Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1977.

[xx] V. I. Lenin. Pre-make all the “Na 12 Let”. In: Che Fare? Turin, Einaudi, 1971.

[xxx] Isaac Deutscher. trotsky, cit.

[xxiii] Edward H. Carr. The October Revolution. Before and after. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.

[xxiii] Pierre Broue. trotsky. Paris, Fayard, 1988.

[xxv] On Leninist “Jacobinism”, see: Jean Pierre Joubert. Lénine et le jacobinisme. Cahiers Leon Trotsky, No 30, Paris, June 1987.

[xxiv] Jan Waclav Makhaiski. Le Socialisme des Intellectuels. Paris, Points, 1979.

[xxv] Leon Trotsky. My Life. Paris, Gallimard, 1973.

[xxviii] Ernest Mandel. Trotsky as an Alternative. São Paulo, Shaman, 1995.

[xxviii] Leon Trotsky. Stalin. Biography. São Paulo, Livraria da Physics, 2012.

[xxix] Adam B. Ulam. The Bolsheviks. Rio de Janeiro, New Frontier, 1976.

[xxx] Grigorii Zinoviev. History of the Bolshevik Party. From the beginnings to February 1917. London, New Park, 1973.

[xxxii] Pierre Broue. Le Parti Bolshevik. Paris, Minute, 1971.

[xxxi] Oskar Anweiler. Los Soviets in Russia 1905-1921. Madrid, Zero, 1975.

[xxxii] Paul LeBlanc. Lénine et Rosa Luxemburgo sur l’organization révolutionnaire. Cahiers d'Étude et de Recherche no 14, Paris, 1990.

[xxxv] Ernest Mandel. The Leninist Theory of Organization. São Paulo, Apart, 1984.

[xxxiv] Enzo Bettiza. The Mystery of Lenin. Barcelona, ​​Argos-Vergara, 1984.

[xxxiv] Avraham Yassour. Lessons of 1905: Parti or Soviet? The Social Movement no 62, Paris, January-March 1968. Soon after the revolution, Trotsky already wrote that “the council of workers' deputies was born to achieve an objective: in the course of events to create an organization that represents authority, free from tradition, an organization that can embrace all the disaggregated masses without the imposition of organizational obstacles, an organization that can unite the revolutionary currents within the proletariat and control an initiative on its own in a capable and automatic way and, what is more fundamental, an organization to which could give life in 24 hours.”

[xxxviii] Moshe Lewin. Illusion communiste or réalité soviétique? The Diplomatic World. Paris, December 1996.

[xxxviii] Leon Trotsky. Three conceptions of the Russian revolution. In: Balance and Perspectives. Buenos Aires, El Yunque, 1974.

[xxxix] Vittorio Strada. The controversy between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks over the 1905 revolution. In: Eric J. Hobsbawm (org.). History of Marxism. Vol. 3, Rio de Janeiro, Paz e Terra, 1984.

[xl] Vladimir I. Billik. In: Komsomolskaia Pravda. noto 33, Moscow, August 1989.

[xi] Leon Trotsky. We differ. In: 1905, Paris, Minuit, 1969.

[xliii] Rudi Dutschke. Lenin. Attempts to put Lenin on his feet. Barcelona, ​​Ikaria, 1976.

[xiii] Léo Figueres. Le Trotskysme, cet Antiléninisme. Paris, Editions Sociales, 1969.

[xiv] Georges Haupt. Lenin, the Bolsheviks and the IIè Internationale. L'Historien et le Mouvement Social. Paris, Francois Maspero, 1980.

[xlv] Leon Trotsky. October Lectures. From Octubre Rojo to my Destierro. Buenos Aires, Baires, 1973.

[xlv] Leon Trotsky. Results and Perspectives, cit.

[xlv] See the text of the conference in: V. I. Lenin. 1905: Revolutionary Days. São Paulo, History, 1980.

[xlviii] Leon Trotsky. Autobiography. In: Lenin's Testament. Buenos Aires, El Yunque, 1983.

[xlix] Karl Radek. Las Vias y las Fuerzas Motrices de la Revolución Rusa. Madrid, Akal, 1976.

[l] At a conference held in 1932, in Copenhagen, Trotsky summarized the history of the workers' party in Russia: “In 1903 the split between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks took place. In 1912 the Bolshevik faction definitively became an independent party. He taught us for twelve years (1905-1917) to recognize the class mechanics of society in struggles and great events. He educated capable cadres, both of initiative and discipline. The discipline of revolutionary action was based on the unity of doctrine, the traditions of common struggles and confidence in an experienced direction. This was the party in 1917. While official ‘public opinion’ and tons of paper from the intellectual press despised it, the party oriented itself according to the course of the mass movement. The formidable leverage that this party firmly wielded was introduced into the factories and regiments. The peasant masses increasingly turned to him. If one understands by nation not the privileged, but the majority of the people, that is, the workers and peasants, Bolshevism became, in the course of 1917, the truly national Russian party.”

[li] This is what Abraham Ioffé, a Soviet leader who committed suicide in June 1927, in the midst of the rise of Stalinism, maintained in his farewell letter to life: “For more than twenty years we fought together, since the permanent revolution, But I always thought that you lacked Lenin's inflexibility, his intransigence, his resolution to stand alone, if necessary, in his position, foreseeing the future majority, when everyone had recognized the correctness of the path he had chosen. You were always right politically, and I have already said that I heard Lenin recognize several times that in 1905 it was not he, but you, who was right.”

[liiii] VI Lenin. Complete works. Vol. XXXV, Buenos Aires, Cartago, 1968.

[iii] Nikolai N. Sukhanov. The Russian Revolution 1917. A personal record. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1984.

[book] For Jean-Jacques Marie (Stalin. Paris, Seuil, 1967), including when “Lenin requests (in his Will) that Stalin be eliminated from the post of general secretary, he only questions his character, not his value”.

[lv] Y. M. Gorodetsky. The Bolshevik Revolution. In: AAVV. History of the 20th Century, São Paulo, April Cultural, 1976.

[lv] John Reed. Ten Days That Shook the World. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2010.

[lviii] Leon Trotsky. Exile Diary. São Paulo, Popular Editions, 1980.

[lviii] Leon Trotsky. Class, Party and Leadership. Buenos Aires, El Yunque, 1974 [1940].

[lix] In: Ernest Mandel. About the History of the Worker Movement. Barcelona, ​​Fontamara, 1978.

[lx] Edward H. Carr. The Bolshevik Revolution 1917 – 1923. Lisbon, Afrontamento, 1977, vol. 1.

[lxi] V. I. Lenin Six Theses Concerning the Immediate Tasks of Soviet Power (March 1918).

[lxii] V. I. Lenin. The party crisis (January 19, 1921). Complete Works, vol.32, Moscow, Progreso, 1983.

[lxiii] Christian Rakovsky. The professional dangers of power (August 1928). Translation: Marcio Lauria Monteiro

[lxiv] Moshe Lewin. Le Dernier Combat by Lenin. Paris, Minute, 1980.

[lxv] V. V. Juravlev and N. A. Nenakorov. Trotsky et l’affaire géorgienne. Cahiers Leon Trotsky No. 41, Paris, March 1990.

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