In America you probably grew up hearing and believing that Marx, Lenin and Stalin were evil. Rarely is any distinction made between the three, and they are typically described as power-hungry dictators. At best, you heard and maybe said “Communism looks good on paper, but doesn’t work in reality.” This is an idiotic thing to say, so don’t say it.
A very small group of Communists, especially until the mid to late 70’s actually defended all three. Now that the Iron Curtain has fallen, the Left takes little interest in the Soviet Union, fully accepting it as a philosophical, economic, and humanitarian failure. One could say that the Occupy movement reflected the pendulum swing of the Left away from the party system, toward what is called “horizontalism,” the rejection of all forms of hierarchy, which it equated with oppression. And then there are those on the Left today that argue Lenin, in spite of his faults, of which there are many, was a hero, and he deserves our attention still today. They argue that, if it were not for the Russian civil war he was forced to endure, and the corruption of his legacy by the tyrant Stalin, we would recognize him as such.
I want to avoid taking a clear position, primarily because I am not knowledgeable enough to have a clearly formed opinion. I suspect that if I spent the time I would find plenty of reasons to condemn Lenin, but I wonder if I would feel similar if I spent an equal amount of time learning about Lincoln’s sins. I have at least read Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” Lincoln was great, but we have made him into more than mere flesh and blood, which is what Stalin did to Lenin.
Lukacs was a Hungarian philosopher known for defining “Leninism” as a branch of Marxism, especially focusing on Lenin’s emphasis on the “vanguard party.” In 1903 Lenin lead a schism against his life-long friend/enemy Martov, forming the distinction between the Bolshevik and the Menshevik parties. Lenin believed the party should be disciplined, militant, and fully committed, in order to support the proletariat, and provide strategic direction in the revolutionary moment. Martov believed Marx’s proletarian revolution should be led by the people, and the party should be open to anyone with any amount of interest or Marxist orthodoxy.
After the February Revolution the Mensheviks participated in the provisional government. The provisional government included those on all sides of the political spectrum, more diverse than America today. Lenin, more radical than many of the other Bolsheviks, argued that the revolutionary moment had arrived, and it should not be missed. Russia was ready for a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, (a term most assume Marx meant as a provocative tongue-in-cheek term, though it turned out to be unfortunately accurate in a way he certainly did not intend).
Lukacs argues that, without the vanguard party the proletariat never would become fully self-conscious. To support this position, if he had been able to see into the future, Lukacs could have pointed to the fact that Germany, the country everyone predicted would have been the first to go socialist, actually ended up turning to fascism instead.
One hundred years later, as we see the rise of fascism again, and Occupy is almost entirely forgotten, we may want to ask what we can learn, if we can avoid another dictatorship, from Lenin’s professional revolutionary vanguard party.