Lenin's Marxism

Image: Алексей Виноградов
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By LEON DENIS*

A historical and honest reading of Lenin's Marxism begins by recognizing that his legacy is founded on the practical application of the main theses of Marx and Engels

At the conclusion of the book Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography (Boitempo), Tamás Krausz says that many scholars deliberately eliminated from Lenin's legacy his philosophical principles and methodology that marked his trajectory. That is, his theoretical interpretation of the Marxian dialectic and his application of it. “Lenin understood, still at the base of his Hegelian roots, that dialectical materialism (and its epistemology) embodies conscious self-movement to transform society”.

A historical and honest reading of Lenin's Marxism begins by acknowledging that his legacy is founded on the practical application of the main theses of Marx and Engels and on the way in which he gave theoretical substance in the face of circumstances, and experiences, such as: the development of capitalism in predominantly rural Russia, the 1905 revolution, World War I, the evolution of imperialism, the 1917 revolution, war communism and the New Economic Policy. “For this reason”, says Krausz, “Lenin's political and theoretical legacy, as a historical variant of Marxism, is unique and unrepeatable”.

Lenin's Marxism, that is, his philosophy of praxis, is based on the works of Marx and Engels, that is more than clear. However, it is important to remember that other sources also contributed to his theoretical and practical formation: the French Enlightenment, the Paris Commune, the Narodniki, Plekhanov, Kautsky (before he was a renegade), PP Maslov, E. Bernstein, Jacobinism revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, and many others. It is known that “all the sources of Lenin's Marxism were combined in the articulation of theory with practice”.

When discussing the importance of Lenin, Lukács argues that it is perfectly justifiable to speak of “Leninism” as a new phase in the development of dialectical materialism: “Lenin must be studied by communists as Marx was studied by Lenin. We must study to learn to use the dialectical method, to learn to find the particular in the general, and the general in the particular, starting from the concrete analysis of the concrete situation, to find what, in the new moment of a situation, links it to the previous development process. , and to find what is constantly arising from the laws of historical evolution, to find the part in the whole and the whole in the part, the moment of effective action in the necessary evolution and in the action itself its connection with the necessity of the process historic. Leninism means a level never reached in concrete thought until now, anti-schematic, anti-mechanistic and purely directed towards transforming action – praxis.

 

Marxism in practice

Krausz argues that although many contemporary scholars speak of “Leninism” when systematizing Lenin's work, he would not have created an independent theoretical system, therefore, an “ism” within Marxism. And in a note he recalls: “According to Krupskaya’s testimony, when, shortly before Lenin’s death, Trotsky compared him to Marx, Lenin felt flattered, but considered the parallel an exaggeration, since he had never elaborated his own scientific methodology, nor a theory different from Marxism”.

What Lenin masterfully did was to bring to light and deepen elements of the Marxian tradition that social democracy across Europe was engaged in burying. In the busy year of 1914, with World War I in the background, Lenin's studies lead him to expose the hierarchical formatting of the capitalist system, the inequality inherent to its development, and in this era of imperialism, he turns to the colonial question.

For Eric Hobsbawm it is all too surprising and little noticed: “The great contiguity between the appeals of national and social dissatisfaction that Lenin, with his usual keen eye for political realities, made into one of the foundations of communist policy in the colonial world. The well-known international Marxist debates on the “national question” are not merely about the interpretation of nationalist slogans to workers who should only hear the call of internationalism and class. It was also, and perhaps more immediately, about how to treat working-class parties that simultaneously supported nationalist and socialist demands”.

Lenin exposed the different forms of national struggles for independence, and within them, the different social and class formations, and the historical relationship between the class struggle and the national struggles for independence. His biographer comments that: “His break with a Eurocentric worldview in the summer of 1914 implied a complete theoretical, political and organizational break with European social democracy, which found itself increasingly under the influence of Bernstein's revisionism. This happened when the official cores of social democracy in Europe decided to support the imperialist governments of their respective countries. In the course of the analyses, Lenin outlined not only the historical forms of nationalism, but also nationalism in its manipulations, its quasi-religious function within the policies and propaganda of the ruling class. The collapse of Social Democracy in 1914 made Lenin realize that it represented the interests of the upper echelon, the "bourgeois-inclined" stratum of the proletariat: that revisionist Social Democracy was the political expression of those who had abandoned conception and praxis of universal revolution and class struggle as theorized by Marx”.

The experience of the First World War pointed towards a new era, which was moving towards favorable conditions for the revolution. Concomitantly, there was a shift in "Lenin's revolutionary tactics inspired by his study of Hegel, which was an integrated conception of theory, politics and organization".

The shift takes place from a contemplative materialism to a dialectical practical philosophy, that is, the focus is directed to the totality. It was believed that with the First World War the time had come when all over the world, workers could forge their own path. On the opposite side to western social-democracy, which since the end of the XNUMXth century had brought partial solutions, only reforms; Lenin had his eyes on the "all”. Krausz comments that: “He restored the Hegelian Marxist theoretical and methodological consciousness based on “totality”, to its rightful place, including, above all, the qualitative leap of revolutionary change, the dialectical overcoming of the ancient civilization. In line with this basic aim, Lenin's Marxism arrived at the theory and practice of social transformation at the historical moment when, in fact, it proved possible to break the surface of the capitalist world order, at least for a while.

The importance of the union between theory and practice in Lenin’s trajectory within this perspective is summarized by Lukács in the phrase: “The supremacy of practice is therefore not achievable except on the basis of a theory that aims at totality”, and concludes further: “The essential thing is to be ready. One of Lenin's most characteristic and fruitful traits is that he never ceased to educate himself theoretically in the school of reality and that at the same time he was always ready to act. This is what marks the remarkable and apparently paradoxical character of his theoretical attitude: he considered that his apprenticeship with reality was never finished, and yet what he had acquired in this way was arranged in such a way that he had the possibility to act at any time.

It can be said that Lenin's philosophy of praxis seeks to unite economic, cultural, scientific and other sectors that support each other. The obstacle to the materialization of this perspective lies in the fact that the material, objective historical conditions are marked by the antagonism between the strong bourgeois political ideology (which does everything to remain in power, legitimizing the status quo) and communist socioeconomic theory. It is Lenin who will rescue Marx's vision of socialism as the result of a long historical process, as the long-awaited first phase of communist society.

 

Synthesizing Marx and Engels

When presenting the translation of the work What to do?, the Marxist sociologist Florestan Fernandes highlights some phrases said by Lenin that became maxims in the world socialist movement: “Without revolutionary theory, there is no revolutionary movement”, “all political life is an endless chain composed of an infinite number of links” , “you have to dream”. Lenin put all his intellectual potential and practical acumen into applying his readings of Marx and Engels in the service of the proletarian revolution against the brutality of capitalism.

Far from claiming here that Lenin was a saint, a perfect, flawless individual. This is not the place to deify this revolutionary leader (he would probably disapprove of such an attitude), but to recognize his legacy as a scholar and social agent. From his legacy we must inherit the importance of philosophical and scientific studies for the practical change of lived reality. Theory and practice walking side by side, one revising the other, one supporting the other, without being carried away by the siren song of revisionism, reformism and spontaneity.

Finally, Lenin was the person who, armed with the best theoretical instruments, the best method – historical and dialectical materialism – tried to change the degrading concrete reality of millions of people. Therefore, nothing more accurate than his famous definition of Marxism as “concrete analysis of concrete situations”: “Lenin's work and life confirm that Marxism, both as a theory and as a political practice, deals directly with the project of going beyond the capitalism. For him, Marxism was not an abstract discipline that stood on its own. It certainly wasn't abstract philosophizing about the meaning of life. Science and philosophy were just tools to achieve human emancipation. The starting point of Lenin's Marxism is therefore the correct mapping of its own historical context. At the center of his thinking and all his activity lies the exploration of opportunities for proletarian revolution in Russia and the world and their inherent potential for practical realization.”

* Leon Denis He holds a degree in philosophy from UFRJ. Book author What Lenin Learned Reading Marx and Engels (Literary Autonomy).

Originally published on the magazine's blog Jacobin Brazil.

 

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