ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Marx as a Cover for Lenin

We read with great interest the scholarly paper “In Defence of Leninism” by Murzban Jal (EPW, 1 January 2011). He offers a large number of things in his learned discourse some of which we are not competent to discuss. There are also other things, such as democratic centralism, Indian communists, etc, which do not interest us terribly. Particularly, democratic centralism is the Party’s internal affair; it completely leaves aside the infinitely more important question of democracy at large for the labouring people and society as a whole. India’s (establishment) communists interest us in the least. So we will be very selective.

The first thing that strikes us is that in a paper ostensibly devoted to Leninism, and not its origins, Lenin is far less present than Marx. Right at the outset our scholar declares that in the Leninist position, “organisation and the masses are synthesised as the ‘union of free individuals’”. This is an astonishing statement which, he seems to think, does not require any demonstration, like his many other propositions that we broach below. Now, the expression within single inverted commas is Marx’s own which is just another name for “socialism” as envisioned by Marx. This expressly emancipatory term for socialism is nowhere – to our knowledge – found in Lenin who uses only the terms “socialism” or “communism”. Our scholar has here enormously analysed and devalued Marx’s emancipatory message. And he follows this method all through his essay. He cites some of Lenin’s libertarian phrases which Lenin pronounced in April 1917 a couple of times. But most of the time the author cites textually only Marx, leaving the impression that Lenin’s position was the same as Marx’s. No demonstration seems to be necessary. And he almost never refers to Lenin’s political practice in order to show its concordance with Lenin’s “words, words and words”. Let us examine the paper a little more closely. Our author is fond of reminding the reader of Lenin’s concern about the “Marxists” not having “understood Marx”. But we have no evidence that Lenin himself understood Marx. In fact there are clear counter-examples which show that Lenin read his own ideas into Marx’s texts which he cites. This is clearly seen, for example, when one carefully reads side by side (word for word) Marx’s own texts – not simply Lenin’s quotation of them – along with Lenin’s own on the 1871 Commune. But the most important place to see Lenin’s deformation of Marx’s text is his portrayal of Marx’s first phase of communism in the State and Revolution which almost all on the Left mistakenly see as a libertarian brochure. In short, by manipulating Marx’s 1875 text, Lenin introduces “state” and “hired wage labour” in what he calls “socialism”. Next, our author promises to show (“we will see”) that “Lenin’s dictum ‘to treat insurrection as an art’ will be the logical outcome of the young Marx’s idea of communism as humanism and naturalism”. He unfortunately never “shows” this. Again, the distinction between the radical intelligentsia and the worker masses, as the author reminds us correctly, was indeed originally Kautsky’s idea which appears in Lenin’s pamphlet “What Is To Be Done”. However, assuming this idea was later unacceptable to Lenin, why he did not make it a part of his critique of this horrible “renegade”? In fact Lenin did not reject all of Kautsky’s ideas including the basically wrong ones from the point of view of Marx. Lenin inherited them, and they remained part of his baggage till the end. And our author also leaves aside this latter aspect of Lenin, because he wants to show full concordance between Marx’s ideas and Lenin’s. Our author’s general practice is to refer to the emancipatory ideas of Marx, but each time to abstain from trying to demonstrate their relevance to Lenin’s position. Finally, the author makes the astonishing statement that “proletarian revolution is only possible if the rigours of the philosophical contours of Marxism are understood, specially the transition from Kant to Hegel”. In other words, he wants the proletariat to rise to his own level of learning before it even thinks of the revolution. To our knowledge Marx never counted this requisite knowledge factor as a condition of success of the proletarian revolution. Did Lenin?

Paresh Chattopadhyay

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