(1) The fall of the Bolshevik revolution after the death of Lenin. Lenin’s final struggle was against the state bureaucracy, many members of which were oriented to attending to their interests as a class, rather than the interests of society as a whole. When Lenin died, the Russian Revolution fell to a bureaucratic counterrevolution that put Stalin at the head, creating a situation in which a ruling class pretends to represent the interests of workers and peasants, when in reality it promotes its own class interests. Without an adequate understanding of these dynamics, we tend to believe the Lenin’s concepts were indirectly responsible for the subsequent emergence of Stalinism. The teaching of political science in U.S. universities in the post-World War II era reinforced this view, inasmuch as it was based on a frame of reference that contrasted liberal democracy with communist and fascist totalitarianism, brushing aside reflection on the bureaucratic counterrevolution against Lenin (Katznelson 1997:234-37). But the writings of Trotsky and the Trotskyites provide a basis for making a distinction between Leninism and Stalinism (Grant 1997; Lenin 1995; Trotsky 1972, 2008).
(2) The undemocratic result of the democratic revolutions. Led by the emerging bourgeoisie, the democratic revolutions of the West triumphed because of the ample participation of artisans, workers and farmers, who had been recruited to the revolution by a discourse that promised liberty and justice for all. Following the triumph of the democratic revolutions, the bourgeoisie was able to consolidate its control, although it maintained a rhetoric that pretended to be committed to a democratic system of government, limiting its definition of democracy in order to effectively accomplish this ideological deception. On such foundation, there emerged a system directed by politicians who were skillful in adopting a discourse that pretended to promote the interests of the people, while they in reality were defending bourgeois interests (see “American counterrevolution, 1777-87” 11/4/13 and (“Class and the French Revolution” 11/27/2013).
At the same time, the principles of the bourgeois democratic revolution were appropriated by the Third World project, expanding and deepening their meaning (see various posts on the Third World project). However, in the societies of the North, we have a limited understanding of the Third World project. We often fail to make a distinction between the accommodationist Third World politicians, allied with neocolonial interests; and revolutionary Third World political leaders, who were committed to a project of national sovereignty and social transformation. If we take the accommodationist project as representative of the Third World project of national liberation, we cannot see the unfolding revolutionary project in an alternative form, and it appears that the democratic revolutions of the Third World, like the democratic revolutions of the West, failed to attain their proclaimed goals.
If we are aware of the undemocratic character of Western political institutions, if we combine this with a superficial understanding that does not distinguish consistently between accommodationist and revolutionary Third World political leaders, and if we do not distinguish between Leninism and Stalinism, we tend to believe that revolutions promise a just and democratic world but ultimately fail to deliver on this promise. This belief undermines the potential viability of the Leninist concept of a vanguard political party that leads the masses toward emancipation.
(3) The bureaucratization of society. For the bourgeoisie, the expansion of bureaucracy is a mechanism for the recruitment of the petty bourgeoisie and the upper levels of the proletariat and the peasantry to the side of the bourgeoisie; and it is a mechanism for the prevention of a revolution from below, channeling the revolution in the direction of reform. The petty bourgeoisie has an interest in reform and in the expansion of public and private bureaucracy, as it seeks to consolidate its position in the bourgeois order and the developing capitalist system. Thus the expansion of bureaucracy is intertwined with reform, and this expansion serves both bourgeois and petty bourgeois interests.
From the point of view of the development of productive capacity, the expansion of bureaucracy has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it is inefficient, in that the bureaucracy becomes bloated with parasites, as it seeks to expand without limit, in accordance with the interest of the petty bourgeoisie, the members of which occupy the higher and lower positions of the bureaucracy. On the other hand, bureaucracy aids efficiency, in that it is a system of labor organization and hierarchical control from above, and in this respect it serves the interests of the bourgeoisie. In times of economic growth and expansion, the bourgeoisie will tolerate the inefficient aspects of bureaucracy, as a concession to the petty bourgeoisie. But in times of crisis, the bourgeoisie will attack the parasitic bureaucracy, and it will act to reduce the size of public and private bureaucracies.
The popular sectors of the societies of the North experience bureaucracy as a centralized structure, controlled from above, that constrains creativity, innovativeness and personal initiative. This experience leads to a rejection of authority in all its forms, including the legitimate distribution of authority, necessary for all social organizations if they are to attain their goals (see “Authoritarianism vs. legitimate power” 5/16/2016). Such an unrealistic rebellious attitude undercuts the credibility of the Leninist notion of a centralized and disciplined political party, necessary for challenging the centralized rule of the bourgeoisie.
(4) The counterrevolutionary and bureaucratic university. British political economy had emerged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to formulate a systematic analysis of modern capitalism, thus applying the modern scientific principle of knowledge based on empirical observation to economic and social dynamics. But British political economy was limited by its ahistorical character, and by the fact that it looked at reality from a bourgeois horizon. Marx, by synthesizing British political economy with German philosophy, and by analyzing from a proletarian point of view, moved the science of political economy to a more advanced stage. Marx’s work demonstrated that knowledge of social dynamics emerges from a comprehensive response to philosophical, historical, economic, and social questions; and that advances in knowledge are integrally tied to the movements of the exploited and the dominated. From the vantage point of the evolving capitalist world-economy, the form of knowledge developed by Marx was a serious threat, for it implied a knowledge that would be integral to social reconstruction in accordance with the needs and rights of the exploited classes.
Western universities functioned to contain the Marxist threat, developing an approach to knowledge of social dynamics that prevented the implications of Marx’s analysis from emerging. There were four elements to the containment of Marxism in the universities. First, fragmentation, separating philosophy and theology from analysis of social dynamics, and dividing the latter into separate disciplines of history, economics, political science, sociology, Eastern studies, and anthropology. Secondly, “society” became the unit of analysis, assuming that the world is composed of autonomous societies with overlapping political and cultural boundaries. Thirdly, scientific objectivity was understood as the bracketing of values, as the leaving aside of ethical, moral, philosophical, and religious questions. Fourthly, the university became bureaucratized, with professors organized into separate departments, each with narrow questions of investigation and with limited scope (McKelvey 1991:3-21; Wallerstein 1974:4-7, 1996, 2004, 1999, 2011:219-73).
The fragmentation of knowledge, the restriction of investigation to narrow questions, the epistemological assumption of society as the unit of analysis, and the concept of objectivity as value neutrality, organized in a bureaucratic structure controlled from above and allied with political and economic elites, meant that the university had become a legitimating servant of dominant particular interests. With the pursuit of knowledge eclipsed in the universities, the development of knowledge would emerge in the social movements formed by the dominated, a knowledge formulated in the fashion of Marx. The Third World movements of national and social liberation would become not only political agents of social change but also the depositories of an accumulating wisdom with respect to social dynamics. Charismatic leaders with exceptional gifts would study the received intellectual and moral tradition and would creatively apply it to a new historical and social context, thus developing it further.
The development of the university as a counterrevolutionary ideological structure and bureaucratized social system undermined the possibility for the popular appreciation of the role of Lenin and other revolutionary leaders in the formulation of a knowledge of social dynamics necessary for human emancipation. To the extent that the peoples of the North were disconnected from the Third World movement of national and social liberation, it was difficult for them to see the profoundly counterrevolutionary character of the structures and epistemological assumptions of the Western university.
Fidel has said that revolution in our time is above all a battle of ideas, and the central idea that we of the Left must grasp and teach to our people is that we have been denied our human right to knowledge and cultural formation, as a consequence of ideological distortions and the bureaucratization of education and society. To break with this ideological enslavement, the fundamental first step is personal encounter with the social movements of the Third World, where the spirit of Marx and Lenin is alive.
As the universities were turning to the structural marginalization of Marx, Lenin developed Marxist knowledge further, on the basis of his observation of popular struggles. Observing the capacity of workers and peasants to form soviets (or popular councils), he discerned that the key to the struggle of the workers against capitalists and of peasants against landlords was the taking of political power by the workers and peasants through the formation of soviets and the substitution of soviet power for parliamentary power. And observing the resistance of the oppressed nationalities of the Russian Empire, he discerned the importance of the self-determination of peoples. When he discerned that the revolutions in the West were not going to triumph, which he considered necessary for the survival of the Russian Revolution, he anticipated that the center for the global socialist revolution would pass from the Western proletariat to the oppressed and colonized peoples of the world (Lenin 1943, 1968, 1972, 1995).
The prediction of Lenin came to pass. The Bolshevik revolution fell, and the Third World revolutions of national liberation would arrive to take central stage in the world arena. The global powers were able to channel many of these revolutions to reform, using a variety of amoral means, including alliances with the opportunist accommodationist politicians. But there are a number of cases in which a popular revolution has taken power, and the leadership of the revolution in power has defended the people and the nation, putting into practice revolutionary values and ideals. The charismatic leaders of the Third World revolutions that sought both national sovereignty and social transformation are most clearly exemplified by Ho Chi Minh and Fidel. Ho was attracted to Lenin from the moment when, as a young man in a meeting of the French Socialist Party in Paris, he learned that Lenin defended the rights of the colonized peoples; and he subsequently studied the works of Lenin in the Soviet Union, in an institute for revolutionary leaders from Asia (“Ho encounters French socialism” 5/5/2014; “Ho the delegate of the colonized” 5/6/2014). Fidel studied the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin at the library of the Cuban Communist Party, reading on his own, independent of his university studies and of the party (“Fidel becomes revolutionary at the university” 9/11/2014). Both Ho and Fidel would adapt the insights of Lenin to their particular national conditions, forging a synthesis of Marxism-Leninism with the nationalist traditions in their particular nations (“Ho reformulates Lenin” 5/7/2014; “Ho synthesizes socialism and nationalism” 5/8/2014; “Ho’s practical theoretical synthesis” 5/9/2014; “Fidel adapts Marxism-Leninism to Cuba” 9/9/2014). With exceptional mastery of the art of politics, they would lead the people in the taking of power, and they would forge a new nation on a basis of revolutionary values and ideals. Their revolutionary projects continued to exist to this day, defending the dignity and the sovereignty of the nation and the rights of the people, and participating with other Third World nations in an international effort to construct a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system. These Third World projects are the true heirs of Lenin, not Stalinist Russia, even though we must be aware that the Soviet Union after Lenin, until its fall in 1990, continued to have important dimensions that were a consequence of the legacy of Lenin (Grant 1997). And the Third World project of national and social liberation is the true heir of Marx, further developing knowledge of history and social dynamics on the basis of insights developed by social movements that seek human emancipation (see posts on the Third World project of national and social liberation).
We of the Left must appreciate the legacy that has been Left to us by our historic leaders. The speeches and writings of Lenin form part of the body of sacred texts that are the intellectual and moral heritage of the Left. They also pertain to the cultural heritage of humanity, for they are part of the evolution of knowledge of social dynamics, developed by the peoples in movement and by the charismatic leaders that they have lifted up. We should study these sacred texts, always seeking to creatively apply their insights to our social and historical context.
Lenin taught that it is necessary to form a vanguard political party that leads the people in the taking of political power. He maintained that a vanguard political party, characterized by democratic centralization and discipline, is necessary for protecting the masses from the centralized and amoral power of the bourgeoisie (Lenin 1920; see “The infantile disorder of the Left” 12/19/2016).
We have alternative values, but we cannot implement them if we eschew the necessary dynamics of human social organization. It is idealist to hope that persons of good will in the United States could contribute to the development of a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system without forming an alternative political party that is directed by visionary and committed leaders and that is characterized by the discipline of its members. Without such a party, good work can be done in local communities; but such efforts will not be enough, as long as the national government remains in the hands of those who are committed to the defense of the short-term interests of the financiers and the large corporations. We have the duty to develop a political structure that ultimately will be able to take power, confident that, if it is formed in accordance with universal human values, it will fulfill its historic duty to the people, the nation, humanity, and the earth.
We must form an alternative political party, look for leaders with exceptional gifts and with high moral commitment, lift them up, follow their lead, accept their direction, and defend them when they come under attack by the powers-that-be, all the while calling upon others to become a part of the process, which they can do if they have the discipline to study, to learn, to teach and to organize. We cannot refuse to do this in the name of an idealist purity, accepting the material comforts that the neocolonial world-system unavoidably confers, and leaving the weak without defense before the barbarity of the global powers.
Lenin taught that a revolution succeeds when the people have rejected the established order and when the rulers are unable to govern in the old way, and it is stimulated by a crisis that affects all, exploiters and exploited alike (1920:65). These are precisely the conditions in which we live today. But Lenin also taught that a revolution requires that a “majority of workers, (or at least a majority of the conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand the necessity for a revolution, and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it” (1920:66). The mission of an alternative political party of the Left, a popular democratic socialist party, is to establish such consciousness and sacrificial dedication among significant numbers of the people, through a commitment to popular education and to acquiring mastery of the art of politics.
That it can be done is the fundamental and most important teaching of Fidel.
Grant, Ted. 1997. Rusia—De la revolución a la contrarrevolución: Un análisis marxista. Prólogo de Alan Woods. Traducción de Jordi Martorell. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
Katznelson, Ira. 1997. “The Subtle Politics of Developing Emergency: Political Science as Liberal Guardianship” in Noam Chomsky et al., The Cold War and the University. New York: The New Press.
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