Lenin – a subtle and complex theorist

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By LUÍS FELIPE MIGUEL*

The unavoidable lesson left by Lenin is that it is possible, that it is necessary, to dare to dream of a new world and fight to build it.

This Sunday marks one hundred years since the death of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. He was one of the greatest Marxist thinkers of his generation, a genius political strategist and an admirable human being.

In the West, the hegemonic discourse tries to dress it in the costume of the “bloodthirsty dictator”, a primary supporter of the view that “the ends justify the means”, a Joseph Stalin. The lack of knowledge regarding his thinking is glaring. Even an enlightened liberal intellectual, like Robert Dahl, when he dedicates a few pages to him (in his Democracy and its critics), is nothing more than primary generalizations and makes mistakes as childish as calling him “Nikolai”.

On the orthodox left, he was transformed into a kind of Messiah. His work was as embalmed as his body, becoming part of the body of sacred writings – “Marxism-Leninism” – that could not be questioned, nor critically used, only revered.

But Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a subtle and complex theorist, whose contributions to the strategy of social transformation, to the understanding of the capitalist State and to the study of imperialism continue to deserve attention. He was also an example of a revolutionary activist, with undivided dedication and an incredible capacity for personal sacrifice.

Far from accepting the simplistic doctrine that the ends justify the means, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was acutely aware of the drama of politics, as enunciated by Machiavelli: the tension between principles and results, between action in the present and responsibility for the future.

In the tortuous process of the outbreak of the October Revolution, Lenin's political genius shone, who at that moment was able to perfectly decipher fortune and fully embody the virtù.

We can only speculate what the development of Soviet Russia would have been without his incapacitation and premature death. We only know that, in his will, he warned against Stalin.

He dedicated his life to the revolution, but he was not a narrow-minded, incomplete human being. I remember a delightful story that Jean Cocteau tells in his interview with Paris Review, when he talks about bohemian life in Paris at the beginning of the last century: “At that time, we all met at Café Rotonde. And a little man with a huge, round forehead and black goatee sometimes used to come in there to have a drink and listen to us talk. And to ‘look at the painters’. Once we asked the little man (he never said anything, just listened) what he did. He said he had a serious intention of overthrowing Russia's government. We all laughed, because, of course, we had the same intention. That was how it was back then! It was Lenin.”

He was not a saint – no one who dedicates himself to political action can afford to be one. He was right and wrong, like all of us. The revolution he commanded lost its way and perished in a melancholy way. But we cannot erase its main lesson: that it is possible, that it is necessary, to dare to dream of a new world and fight to build it.

* Luis Felipe Miguel He is a professor at the Institute of Political Science at UnB. Author, among other books, of Democracy in the capitalist periphery: impasses in Brazil (authentic).

Originally posted on the author's social media.


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