April 22, 2010 marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of V.I. Lenin, the revolutionary leader who creatively developed the scientific theory set out by Marx and Engels. Lenin was the architect of the world’s first socialist State, the Soviet Union.
When we are commemorating the life and work of Lenin, we are not just paying homage to a great leader who led the world’s first socialist revolution. No other person after Marx and Engels has contributed to the development of Marxist theory as much as Lenin did. Lenin’s entire theoretical work constitutes the advancement of the concept of scientific socialism that equipped the working class movement to conduct the proletarian revolution.
Lenin took a giant step by analyzing the nature of imperialism and capitalism in the 20th century. Lenin characterized the development of monopoly capitalism as the highest stage which is imperialism. Lenin creatively developed Marx’s analysis of the capitalist system when it was the rising mode of production to the stage of imperialism. Any analysis of contemporary imperialism and world capitalism today has to have as its starting point the theory of imperialism formulated by Lenin. Without the Leninist methodology it is not possible to understand global finance capital and the finance-driven globalization that it has spawned.
It is this Leninist understanding of imperialism which led him to conclude that world capitalism will break at its weakest link from which the strategy and tactics in the socialist revolution in Russia were worked out in which the worker-peasant alliance played a key role. Parallel to this flowed the Leninist understanding of integrating the national and colonial question to the strategy and tactics of world revolution. This was a sharp break from the understanding of the prominent European Marxists. Lenin showed how the national liberation struggles in the colonies are part of the worldwide struggle against imperialism and how these forces are allies of the world proletariat struggling for socialism. The events of the 20th century leading to the success of the national liberation struggles against colonialism and imperialism and the victories of the Chinese, the Vietnamese, Korean and Cuban revolutions were intrinsically the breakthrough achieved by this Leninist strategy.
The other important contribution of Lenin was to the understanding of the State and its class character which became the basis for all the Communist Parties in their struggle against capitalism and the ruling classes. Class struggle is not the struggle on economic issues alone but achieves its full scope when it challenges the State power of the exploiting ruling classes.
Lenin will forever be associated with the revolutionary theory of organisation which he expounded. The building of the party of a new type which is equipped to lead the working class and other toiling sections is uniquely a Leninist contribution. The principle of democratic centralism based on inner-party democracy, strict discipline and criticism and self-criticism, provided the working class with their own form of organisation as against the organisational methods of the bourgeois and social democratic parties. Subsequently, every party which made the revolution has found the Leninist form and method of party organisation to be indispensable for developing the revolutionary movement. The Leninist organizational principle drew the strongest attacks of the non-communists and from those within the Left fold. But Lenin firmly held that in the fight against the bourgeois State, the proletariat has only one weapon, that is, organization. Our experience of building the Party in India under varied and diverse conditions confirms this Leninist principle.
Lenin survived as the leader of the Soviet Union for only six years after the 1917 revolution. In this period, he grappled with many of the stupendous tasks of creating a new society out of the ruins of the old. During four out of these six years, the bitter civil war raged and had to be won. From the period of War Communism to the New Economic Policy, Lenin constantly changed and adjusted policies with the single aim of facilitating the building of socialism. Lenin was conscious of the arduous and long road to socialism ahead. He said:
"The more backward the country, which, owing to the zigzags of history has proved to be the one to start the socialist revolution, the more is it difficult for that country to pass from its old capitalist relations to socialist relations".
Though it is futile to speculate how the Soviet Union would have built socialism, if Lenin had lived longer, it is necessary to draw lessons from how Lenin creatively tried to hew a path to socialism in an underdeveloped country while keeping the interests of the international Communist movement in mind.
Nearly seven decades after Lenin’s death, the Soviet Union disintegrated. Since then, in the past two decades history is sought to be rewritten. The entire revolutionary content of Leninism is being negated. One set of critics who throughout had maintained that Lenin’s theoretical and political significance was confined only to Russia now went further to claim that it had proved to be a failure in Russia itself. All varieties of bourgeois philosophies and theories deny the existence of imperialism. Some of them claim that liberal capitalism is eternal. That Marxism and Leninism were the products of their times and in the postmodern era they have no relevance.
Much of the claptrap about the end of history and the eternal verities of capitalism have ended abruptly. The two years of severe global recession have once again highlighted the volatility and predatory nature of capitalism. Out of the 7 billion people in the planet, half are poor and 1.2 billion people go hungry. Imperialism continues to wage wars and plunder the resources of the planet. If they continue to do so, the world environment and life itself will be destroyed.
Marxism is the only scientific outlook and method which can provide a coherent world view and guide to action to change the iniquitous order that prevails in the world today. Just as Lenin developed the theory and practice of Marx and Engels, today Marxist theory and practice has to be developed and extended from the base that Lenin created. Lenin himself had pointed out that Marxism is not a static theory. It needs to be enriched and developed further.
"We most certainly do not look upon the theory of Marx as something permanent and immutable; on the contrary we remain convinced that it has merely laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must advance in all directions if they want to keep abreast of life".
In our quest to develop the theory and practice of Marxism further, Lenin will remain the lodestar for all our endeavours.