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Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives

Written by: Alan P. and Alex M. on 22 April 2020


April 22nd 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Illich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin.

Lenin was the leader of the Russian Bolshevik Party and it was under his leadership that this Party carried out a successful proletarian revolution in October 1917. It was a revolution that irrevocably changed the course of international politics in the 20th century and beyond.

It is not the usual practice for Marxists to ascribe to individuals a singular, commanding influence in major historical events. We rightly focus on classes and the masses in action as the deciding factors in epoch defining moments. Georgi Plekhanov, one of the founders of Russian Marxism (but later an opponent of Lenin’s Bolshevism), argued in his essay The Role of the Individual in History that there are times when “…by virtue of particular traits of their character, individuals can influence the fate of society. Sometimes this influence is very considerable; but the possibility of exercising this influence, and its extent, are determined by the form of organization of society, by the relation of forces within it. The character of an individual is a “factor” in social development only where, when, and to the extent that social relations permit it to be such.”

The social, political and economic conditions in early twentieth century Russia were such that an individual like Lenin was able to exert a powerful influence in helping determine the fate of Russian society.

He was a talented individual whose hard work and drive was pivotal in not only building a dedicated group of revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, a Party with deep connections with the Russian working class and peasantry, but ultimately in leading that Party to power in October 1917.

He was able to have such influence because the social relations (the social, political and economic factors both in Russia and outside) were conducive to a revolutionary transformation of society.

What should also not be overlooked regarding the October Revolution is the indispensable role of the masses of the Russian people led by the working class and their vanguard Party the Bolsheviks. Without these other factors, Lenin perhaps would have just been another talented individual.

On October 25, 1917, it was Lenin, as undisputed leader of the Bolshevik Party, who proclaimed the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the transfer of power to the Petrograd Soviet and the Military Revolutionary Committee.

Throughout his political life, Lenin wrote extensively on the application of Marxism to Russian and international conditions and refuted those of the “left” who revised and watered down Marxism. 

Among his major works up to the October Revolution in 1917 were:

 The Development of Capitalism in Russia, 
 What is to be Done?
 One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, 
 The State and Revolution,
 Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism,
 Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, 
 Marxism and Revisionism
 The Three Sources of Marxism
and many others. 

These major contributions to Marxist political economic analysis and philosophy are commonly termed Leninism, which promoted a comprehensive alternative to international capitalism and bourgeois ideology, and built the organisational structure to achieve this alternative. 

From October 1917 to the present time, Leninism has provided an essential and inspirational impetus to the global anti-imperialist movement, the successful socialist revolutions in China, Cuba, Eastern Europe, South East Asia and elsewhere.

Lenin was unique in consistently and unswervingly applying the methodology of dialectical materialism to real life circumstances and situations, in pointing out the importance of theory and testing theory in practice.

In Left Wing Communism – an Infantile Disorder, Lenin stated that “revolutionary theory is not a dogma”, and that it “undergoes final formulation only when brought into close contact with the practice of the really mass and really revolutionary movement.”

Despite the increased and growing contradictions of capitalism (declining living standards, endless boom and bust cycles, international hot and cold wars, erosion of individual freedoms, the destruction of the environment, the rise of neo-fascist movements, etc.), we also see a marked wave of protest and insurgency, particularly among young people.

It is only with the guidance and lessons of Lenin and Leninism, and most importantly, their integration into and development of revolutionary theory and practice into the particular struggles in each country, that these progressive movements can thrive and ultimately overthrow capitalism – a moribund political and economic system that promotes and fosters elitism, imperialism, fratricidal slaughter and barbarism.

150 years after his birth, Lenin and his example remain as important as ever.
Short Chronology of Lenin’s life up to October 1917:

1879 -1887 Education at Simbirsk grammar school. In 1887 Lenin’s brother Alexander arrested and then executed in a plot to assassinate Tsar Alexander Ⅲ. Lenin enters Kazan University where he takes part in student protests and is expelled.
1888 -1893 Begins studying Marx and Engels and joins revolutionary discussion groups in Samara. Studies for a law degree from St Petersburg University. Founds St Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.
1895  Arrested for anti-government activities and begins a comprehensive study of the development of capitalism in Russia.
1897  Exiled to Siberia until 1900.
1898  Foundation of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP)
1900  First issue of newspaper Iskra, edited by Lenin. Lenin points out the need for complete re-organisation of the RSDLP to prepare for its role as leader of the future revolution.
1902  Publishes What Is To Be Done?
1903  Second congress of the RSDLP – the Party splits into the majority (the Bolsheviks) and the minority (the Mensheviks).
1905  Bloody Sunday massacre at St Petersburg. Massive strikes begin and Lenin calls for the overthrow of the Tsar.
1907  Lenin goes into exile in Europe.
1908-1911 Writes and campaigns extensively against “revisionism” of Marxist philosophy.
1912  Massacre of hundreds of striking workers in Lena goldfields. First issue of Bolshevik newspaper Pravda published.
1914  Writes and campaigns extensively against outbreak of war in Europe.
1916  Completes Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, one of Leninism's most frequently read and important texts.
1917  February Revolution in Russia, foundation of the Petrograd Soviet, abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a Provisional Government. Lenin returns to Petrograd in April. Lenin and the Bolsheviks lead the October Revolution successfully overthrowing the Provisional Government


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