There is much disagreement concerning the development of the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin. I am influenced by Trotsky’s writings on the Russian Revolution, and I am persuaded by the Trotskyite Ted Grant on the Soviet Union. On the other hand, I am not sympathetic with the historic tendency of Trotskyite parties to rigidly apply the concepts of Lenin and Trotsky in other lands, regardless of particular conditions.
In Ted Grant’s view, the Russian Revolution suffered within seven years a major reversal, victim of a petty bourgeois and bureaucratic counterrevolution represented by the emergence of Stalin, a counterrevolution that nonetheless invoked the legacy of Lenin, sometimes distorting his intellectual work for purposes of ideological justification. Accordingly, the Soviet Union after Lenin can be understood as a system of petit bourgeois bureaucratic control from above sustained through political repression and ideological distortion. In spite of reforms introduced by Khrushchev, the system was not able to return to its Leninist foundation, and it ultimately collapsed under the weight of its contradictions, making possible a bourgeois counterrevolution that dismantled the structures of the petty bourgeois bureaucratic state. But even that “deformed worker state” of 1924 to 1990 was able to register impressive gains in economic and industrial development, as a consequence of state planning and state ownership of the means of production, legacies of the era of Lenin and Trotsky (Grant 1997).
The universal significance of the Russian Revolution, however, lies above all with the contributions of the October Revolution to human understanding. All knowledge emerges in social context, and the most advanced understandings of society emerge in connection with the social movements formed by the dominated (see “What is cross-horizon encounter” 7/26/2013; “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013). Marx, as we have seen, developed new understandings on the basis of his observations of the Western European proletarian movements of the nineteenth century (see various posts on Marx from 1/6/2013 to 1/15/2013). Similarly, Lenin arrived at new insights, forged in practice as he sought to understand what ought to be done. Appropriating the insights of Marx, Lenin further developed Marxism through practical reflection on the Russian Revolution, thus establishing the perspective that came to be known as Marxism-Leninism. Subsequently, Marxism-Leninism would influence charismatic leaders in the Third World, such as Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, who would appropriate its insights and at the same time further develop them through reflection on the revolutionary processes in their particular national conditions.
Therefore, we today are able to understand Marxism-Leninism as a constantly evolving theory and practice that began with Marx and continued with Lenin and that has been developed further by Third World national liberation movements of the twentieth century as well as by the renewed popular movements of the twenty-first century that proclaim socialism for the twenty-first century. In reflecting on the possibilities of the present historic moment for renewed popular revolutionary movements in the countries of the North, an important task is the intellectual work of studying these revolutionary processes, examining the speeches and writings of their leaders, in order to arrive at an understanding of the essential characteristics of popular revolution, a necessary component of effective revolutionary political action.
In the case of the Russian Revolution, important insights learned include: (1) the necessity of structures of popular power, in which the people form local councils to debate and discuss and to elect delegates to represent them, who in turn elect delegates at the higher levels that function as the highest political authority, thus substituting popular democracy for representative democracy and parliamentarianism; and (2) the role of a vanguard party, which functions to politically educate the people, overcoming ideological distortions. In addition, with respect to the Russian Revolution, we see the unusual capacity of Lenin to understand national and international dynamics from the perspective of the exploited workers and peasants. The people were able to recognize these characteristics, and they lifted him up to speak on their behalf, thus establishing him a charismatic leader. This phenomenon of a charismatic leader with unusual gifts and with a special relation with the people would occur later in Third World popular revolutions. It is a necessary dimension of the revolutionary process, because the charismatic leader has the capacity: to discern insight from confusion in the various contradictory tendencies within the movement; to formulate a coherent comprehensive vision that unites the insightful components; and on this foundation, to forge the political unity of the people, an indispensable prerequisite for success. We will discuss this phenomenon of Third World charismatic leaders in future posts.
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. [Originally published in English as: RUSSIA—From Revolution to Counterrevolution].
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Russian Revolution, Lenin