In the second chapter of his 1920 work "Left Wing" Communism an Infantile Disorder, Lenin discusses what he considers to have been an essential condition for the victory of the Bolsheviks. My question is: is the Bolshevik model still viable and does it apply across the board to all societies transitioning from capitalism to socialism?
Certainly Lenin is correct when he says that the revolution would not have lasted (i.e., would have collapsed in a month or two) did it not have "the fullest and unreserved support from the entire mass of the working class." I don't think any successful socialist revolution (i.e., peaceful or non-peaceful transition to socialism) can take place without the level of support Lenin says was accorded to the Bolsheviks by the Russian working people. But, this support would not have been enough, Lenin says, without a party subject to "the most rigorous and truly iron discipline." So the Russian formula was Mass Support + Iron Party = Socialist Revolution [MS +IP = SR]. But can different parties have different amounts of "iron"?
This is an important formula because another way of expressing it is MS + IP = DP where DP stands for "dictatorship of the proletariat" which, Lenin says, is "necessary." Why does he think the DP is "necessary?" He gives the following five reasons. First, the capitalists are more powerful, as a class, than the workers. Second, capitalist resistance against the workers increases (Lenin says "tenfold") after they lose political power. Third, the capitalist class will get the support of the international capitalist class in its efforts to overthrow the revolution--[ this material support will be much greater than the moral support the workers will get]. Fourth, Russia has a great number of small producers and middle class elements who BY FORCE OF HABIT think in terms of capitalist ideology regardless of what their social interests might be [What's the Matter With Ukraine?] Finally, besides Russia, small-scale production is a world wide phenomenon and wherever it exists it "ENGENDERS capitalism and the bourgeoisie continuously, daily, hourly, spontaneously and on a mass scale."
Because of these five conditions Lenin says the DP is absolutely necessary because not only during, but after the revolution, the working people find themselves in a "life-and-death-struggle" with the bourgeoisie and victory is not possible without it (at least in Russian conditions which are the conditions he is presently discussing: whether this is a general rule for all revolutions is another question.) Lenin himself says that the Russian experience shows that their revolution, which he seems to equate with the DP-- i.e., the revolution = "the victorious dictatorship of the proletariat"-- could not have happened without "absolute centralization and discipline of the proletariat" and this is obvious even to "those who are incapable of thinking."
Is this one of the lessons of the Russian Revolution that is applicable to "all" socialist revolutions? Lenin says we should ask ourselves how was it possible for the Bolsheviks to gain the loyalty of the mass of Russian workers? There were three factors that made this possible. First, there was a VANGUARD party with advanced class consciousness which could LEAD the working people in the right political direction. Second, this vanguard was able to in effect MERGE in a way with the masses of the working people-- not only the proletariat (industrial workers in factories and other areas of capitalist production) "BUT ALSO WITH THE NON-PROLETARIAN masses of working people." Third, that the working masses, from their own daily life experiences, saw and understood that the POLITICAL LINE of the leadership of the vanguard was correct.
The correct political line cannot be achieved without a correct revolutionary theory, according to Lenin. This theory is not a dogma but has to be tested in the practice of a MASS revolutionary movement. Without these three factors in operation all attempts to get the working masses to follow your line and be "disciplined" in the struggle amount to "phrase-mongering and clowning."
So, the revolution was successful and the DP was instituted in Russia due to the fact that the Bolshevik party was able to discipline the working class and lead it to victory. Can the methods of the Bolshevik party be generalized and applied to other countries and revolutionary movements. Many revolutionaries have thought so and attempted to do so but Lenin himself says that the Bolsheviks succeeded "due simply to a number of historical peculiarities of Russia." This does not seem to be a firm basis for emulation.
What can other countries and movements learn from the Russian revolution? Well, it can't be copied ("historical peculiarities") but two great lessons have been passed on from it. One is the centrality of Marxist thought-- "the only correct revolutionary theory" according to Lenin-- and the other is the necessity of correctly applying this theory through years of struggle and adaptation to the "historical peculiarities" of each individual and particular country and movement. This second requirement is the most perilous as the temptation will always be there to allow temporary and accidental "historical peculiarities" to mask the actual historical forces at work and thus lead to incorrect revisions of Marxist theory resulting in "phrase-mongering and clowning." This is why international meetings of revolutionary parties are so important-- to keep individual parties from isolating themselves from the world movement.
Thomas Riggins is associate editor of Political Affairs online and also writes for People's World
Thomas Riggins, PhD CUNY, is a retired university lecturer in philosophy and ancient history and the former book review editor for Political Affairs magazine.