Book Review: Revolution, Democracy, Socialism. Selected Writings of V.I. Lenin (Pluto Press, 2008)
Hailed as essential reading for activists in the Occupy Movement, Lenin’s Revolution, Democracy, Socialism (Pluto Press, 2008), expounds upon the necessity of the working class achieving independence through political struggle in order to assert its supremacy and triumph over imperialism. Conscious of capitalism as a global phenomenon, Lenin’s writings reflect a revolutionary internationalist approach. Rather than affirm the reiteration that capitalism is unwavering, Lenin states that the conditions created by capitalism lay the foundations for a working class revolution.
“This struggle of the working class against the capitalist class is a struggle against all classes who live by the labour of others and against all exploitation.”
In his Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social Democratic Party, Lenin highlights the cycle of oppression brought about by industrial development: wealth gain for landowners resulting in poverty and displacement of peasants. The necessary emancipation of the working class against oppressor powers must be carried out by the workers themselves, hence the necessity of education in class consciousness. Class consciousness is defined as a struggle against capitalism, an affirmation of an international working class which is able to disseminate the perils of exploitation brought by private ownership of land and labour.
The reversal regarding capitalism’s stronghold on society sets the scene for Lenin’s activist base. Indeed, the writings in this book may be read as a treatise on activism leading to international revolution. Education, class struggle and activism are portrayed as necessary elements to consolidate the strength of the working class in its fight against capitalism, as opposed to “individual revolutionary ventures”, which diminish the effectiveness of the struggle against capitalists. Individual agitation which is not amalgamated into the workers’ movement has the tendency to separate socialism from the working class, weakening the struggle to the point of futility. A socialist movement needs to create its own political independence – this is achieved when the proletariat becomes conscious of its own struggle through education and organised individual agitation through a collective socialist political activity.
Lenin speaks of a social democratic movement, defined as a combination of the working class movement and socialism. Social democracy represents the workers’ movement and safeguards their political and ideological independence. Whilst imbuing the proletariat with socialism and political consciousness, Lenin views social democracy as the means through which a revolutionary party can be created in order to increase activism from the spontaneity of the working class movement. Organisation of the struggle is a vital point for Lenin, who makes the distinction between revolt and strikes. Whilst a revolt is perceived as the reaction against oppression, strikes demand meticulous coordination resulting in widespread conscious struggle. If the proletariat is educated and trained in political consciousness, freedom and revolutionary activity, class political consciousness is achieved, described by Lenin as the “relationship of all classes and strata to the state and government, the sphere of interrelations between all classes.” Drawing upon the failure of the Russian’s peasants uprising in 1902, Lenin argues the failure was due to a lack of conscious political aim.
Another reversal of capitalist strategy with regard to democracy in this collection of writings paves the way for a more explicit international discussion of imperialism. In a bid to defame the concept of socialism, capitalism constructs a definition of democracy which alludes to freedom and achievement. The reality of a system which exploits and oppresses its citizens; hence the necessity of creating elusive human rights in recompense, is concealed by the illusion of freedom which it constantly imparts. Capitalists fear and therefore distort the definition of democracy, as its true nature would result in socialism. Lenin is adamant that the working class are educated and embrace the obligation of referring to, and associating their struggles with other historical struggles. Revolution cannot be isolated from history in the wake of capitalism’s expansion to a global empire.
“Wars cannot be abolished unless classes are abolished and socialism is created.”
Lenin distinguishes between wars of aggression and wars of defence. In wars of aggression, civilians are deceived by manipulating national ideology and patriotism in order to consolidate the capitalist stronghold. A war of defence is a war against imperialism, instigated when powerful nations fabricate history and current events in order to manipulate civilians into dependence. In the light of this theory, war is perceived as necessary, legitimate and progressive. Lenin finds fault with pacifism, deeming it perilous for socialism as it allows counter-revolutionary progress to annihilate the socialist struggle. Citing Marx and Engels “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations”, Lenin argues in favour of internationalism in war to unite the working class against imperialist powers.
“… the socialists of the oppressed nations must unfailingly fight for the compete unity of the workers of the oppressed and oppressor nationalities.”
Contrary to imperialist intervention, which glorifies war and occupation as a necessity to ‘protect civilians’, Lenin deftly exposes plundering of natural resources as the sole reason behind imperialist wars. “Imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism” – the concentration of production, the seizure of natural resources, the dependence relationship between government and banks, as well as colonial policy are factors exploited by imperialism in order to consolidate its tyranny over civilians and nations. Thus, the duty of the socialist proletariat is to wage war upon imperialist motives and to remain conscious of internationalism.
“A proletariat that tolerates the slightest violence by its own nation cannot be called a socialist proletariat.”
US imperialism has, throughout history, increased its efforts to eradicate socialism and provided aid to countries whose violation of human rights is disregarded and indeed, praised. In Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony and the Rule of Force (Pluto Press 2011), Noam Chomsky quotes Colin Powell as saying “Colombia meets Washington’s human rights standards.” Despite the initial dissonance of such a statement, Chomsky exposes imperialist aims of providing humanitarian aid to oppressive nations. Lenin’s earlier awareness of imperialist oppression describes how the conquest of world hegemony by powerful nations blamed socialist struggle for any destruction. Socialists must emancipate themselves from imperialist slavery by annihilating the resistance of the exploiter powers.
Faced with “worldwide slaughter of nations for the division of profits”, Lenin argues that world revolution is imperative. Revolutionary aid should be given to people who have not yet educated themselves in revolutionary struggle and class consciousness in order to propagate ideological triumph and political freedom.
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