Thursday, April 1, 2010

Wisdom From Lenin: “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder

Lenin composed the booklet “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder” after the revolution if 1917 had occurred, and at a point when the new socialist regime called the USSR had been somewhat consolidated. It was considered to be Lenin’s last major work. Aside from his hotly debated “testament," it is probably the most read and cited of his compositions written following the October Revolution of 1917.

The book highlights his differences with certain elements in the International Communist Movement, that had developed after the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. The book is primarily directed at certain trends within the German, Italian, and British Communist Parties.

Following the 1917 Revolution, the various socialist parties of the world expelled and removed the elements that supported the Bolshevik Revolution and the teachings of Lenin from their ranks. This lead to the establishment of “Communist” parties in various countries throughout the world, and eventually every country on the planet.

The new parties were linked together by the Communist International, an international federation of parties that met in Moscow and sought coordinate the world struggle to remove the capitalist system.

The text of “Left-Wing Communism” contains one strong basic theme, that being that socialist revolution is not a revolution of “the vanguard” but a revolution of the workers themselves. During the establishment and building of a socialist society, and the revolutionary period leading up it, the masses of people must be involved in the process. The vanguard alone cannot make a revolution occur, nor can it build socialism. The vanguard party is the leadership if the working class, not a replacement for it.

Reactionary Trade Unions

Lenin argued strongly with the various German and British communists who advocated the departure of communists from regular trade unions, and the forming and building of alternative, communist controlled unions.

Why not form these alternative militant unions that would already have leadership with a Marxist outlook? First of all, because forming such unions would weaken the broad workers movement, by dividing it and causing unnecessary “dual unionism” fights between unionists.

Secondly, because the revolutionary organizers, when isolated in these sure to be small “red unions," would have much less of an influence and impact. Their leadership and guidance would be restricted only to the workers already advanced enough to join a “red union.” The members of the working class who participated in the broader working class movement, would be left behind, freely handed over to the dogs of right-wing business unionism, who would no longer face the positive pressure of the radicals who “boring from within” could make a non-Marxist union play a more positive role.

Lenin pointed out in the text, that even in the USSR the majority of trade unionists were not members of the Communist Party, and that the Soviet Government relied highly on the cooperation, and input of non-communist workers in both the rank-and-file and leadership of Soviet trade unions.

Lenin makes it clear that when workers have organized themselves, even to the point of overthrowing capitalism and establishing a new society, this regime is not a regime based purely on the dictates of a political party, but a regime of the now ruling, working class, organized and led, but not exclusively controlled and dominated by politicians.

Lenin makes it clear that the revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism, is based on the “United Front” of workers and oppressed people who are opposed to capitalism and its ills, not merely on the dictates of a single party with a single ideology and single program.

What sense does it make for the Communist Movement to segregate itself from the workers movement into ineffective small communist controlled unions, if the goal is for workers to unite, and become strong enough to win control society?

This practice Lenin opposed, forming rival communist controlled unions, is referred to as “Dual Unionism.” In the United States, before joining any major labor union, a worker must sign a pledge not to engage in “Dual Unionism.” This is a rather modern reminder that in the history of the United States, many revolutionaries did not take Lenin’s advice, and that at one point small, independent communist unions were a significant problem for the labor bureaucrats.

Elections, Parliaments, and Communists

Lenin also harshly criticized those revolutionaries who argued against running candidates for public office. He explained that yes, the governments and parliaments of capitalist society are controlled by capitalists and designed to serve their interests, but that simply declaring them as such, and telling workers not to vote but to overthrow capitalism, is simply unacceptable.

Lenin pointed out that within the capitalist state, elected Communist representatives can be extremely helpful to the working class movement. They can help to hinder the state’s ability to repress revolutionary forces.

To most workers in a non-revolutionary situation, voting is the height and limit of their political activism and involvement. Therefore, if Communists withdraw from this broadest moment of political activity, Communists are essentially withdrawing from the political life of literally millions of workers, on the basis of “principles” which millions are unnecessarily left unexposed to.

Foolish Compromise v. Necessary Compromise

One particular analogy that Lenin raises throughout the text is the analogy of someone being robbed at gunpoint. If a gun is pointed in someone’s face and they are threatened with death unless their money is handed over, who would be so foolish as to not hand over the money “out of principle” that negotiation with robbers is wrong?

It is of course important to have principles, Lenin makes clear, but it not worth shattering the revolutionary movement and destroying its strength, just so that one can feel they have the moral or theoretical high-ground. For revolutionaries to refuse to join non-communist unions, and then setback the strength of the working class movement and hinder the struggle for socialism, yet be satisfied by feeling that they are “right” is foolish and harmful.

Just as foolish is refusing to run candidates for office, who could strengthen the radical movement from within the government. Foregoing this key strength for the working class, simply to be satisfied in feeling that they are right or “correct” is in Lenin’s words, sign of “an infantile disorder.”

The goal, Lenin makes clear over and over again, is for the broad masses of people to be led and pushed forward by the party, to rise up and take control of the means of production and build a socialist future. The goal is not for the party to become a dictatorial class above the people. The goal is also not for capitalism to remain the order of the day, while the Communists sit in inactivity and dis-influence while knowing that they are “correct” about some theoretical issue or other.

Essentially, Lenin makes it clear that in the class struggle, a struggle that eventually becomes a struggle for all political, economic, and social power, the working class and its communist champions must fight with victory on their mind. The Communists should not combat the capitalists, seeking to prove themselves “ideologically pure.” The goal should always be the establishment of socialism and state power for the working class, and eventually paving the road to classless, stateless, communist future.

When movements sacrifice the long-term goals of the workers for personal moralistic egoism, the revolutionary movement is not strengthen, but harmed. To Lenin, revolution was a serious matter, and must always treated as such.

As Mao Zedong said later on: "Revolution is not a dinner party."

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