Lenin had plenty of excuses when it came to not fulfilling the promises of the Revolution he had helped guide to success. In my own view, Lenin’s Excuses were sometimes completely valid… and sometimes, well… it was like they had fallen off the back of a manure truck. Most of his excuses probably landed somewhere inbetween. Let us run through a few of them, shall we?
EXCUSE #1: EXPEDIENCY TRUMPS PRINCIPLE
Even as early as 1905, over a decade before Russia’s Tsarist government was overthrown, Lenin was already giving clues as to his pragmatic bent, writing, in Two Tactics Of Social Democracy In The Democratic Revolution, that “the question of permissibility in principle does not solve the question of practical expediency.” In late 1921, in the tract, The Importance Of Gold Now And After The Complete Victory Of Socialism, Lenin was still bucking strict adherence to ideology, declaring that he would not turn Revolution into “something almost divine.” Continues Lenin… “the greatest, perhaps the only danger for the genuine Revolutionary is that of extreme Revolutionarism, ignoring the limits and conditions in which Revolutionary methods are appropriate and can be successfully employed.”
EXCUSE #2: THE WORLD IS ALWAYS CHANGING, SO MUST POLICY
Lenin was not going to tie himself to some unchanging dead letter in a changing world. “All things are relative, all things flow, all things change,” says Lenin. And he proclaims in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder (1920) that, “our theory is not dogma, but a guide to action.” Yeah. Like the Pirate Code.
EXCUSE #3: OPPRESSION IS NECESSARY
One of the first areas in which Lenin’s worser angels held sway was in how he dealt with the old ruling class. Unlike many of the people on the streets, Lenin may NOT have been motivated primarily by the desire for revenge, but reading Lenin one certainly gets the impression that he is also isn’t trying to discourage such feelings. Lenin maintained that there was little choice but to oppress the former oppressors, for if they were allowed any freedom or power, they would use it to re-establish the old dominance.
“Decisive victory over tsarism means the establishment of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry,” Lenin states in Two Tactics […]. And in 1917’s The State And Revolution, he contends that “during the transition from Capitalism to Communism, suppression is still necessary.” Warming to his subject, he fires off the following, heated (and actually quite poetic) tirade: “Naturally, to be successful, such an undertaking as the systematic suppression of the exploited majority by the exploiting minority calls for the utmost ferocity and savagery in the matter of suppressing; it calls for seas of blood, through which mankind is actually wading its way in slavery, serfdom, and wage labor.”
Trouble is, once the line has been crossed– for purposes of revenge or otherwise– and a segment of the population is systematically mistreated either directly by the government or with government’s tacit approval, then no one is safe… any group could find itself on the wrong side of the line the next time policy priorities shift.
EXCUSE #4: THE PEOPLE AREN’T READY
Another excuse Lenin had for veering from Revolutionary ideals once in power was that the Russian people were too backward for the completion of the Revolution. You can just see the Russian people knocking the heels of the hands against their heads: “Now he tells us?!”
Actually, for those who read his 1905, Two Tactics […], Lenin had, indeed, given warning of the tact he might take if ever in power. Writes Lenin twelve years before the Revolution… “The degree of Russia’s economic development (an objective condition) and the degree of the class-consciousness and organization of the broad masses of the proletariat ( a subjective condition inseparably bound up with the objective condition) make the immediate and complete emancipation of the working class impossible. Only the most ignorant people can close their eyes to the bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution which is now taking place; only the most naive optimists can forget how little as yet the masses of the workers are informed about the aims of socialism and the methods of achieving it.”
If that’s not straightforward enough, he continues… “A socialist revolution is out of the question unless the masses become class-conscious and organized, trained and educated in an open class struggle against the entire bourgeoisie.”
Lenin complained about “how undeveloped class antagonisms still are” in Russia, and that “the masses of the democratically minded” are still “far from socialism.”
EXCUSE #5: THERE ARE OTHER PLAYERS ON THE BOARD
“Tactics,” declares Lenin (now fully ensconced in power) in 1920’s Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, “must be based on a sober and strictly objective appraisal of all the class forces of a particular state (and of the states that surround it, and of all the states the world over).” One can’t just go about willy-nilly implementing the ideals for which the Russian people had fought and died for. Actions have repercussions… between classes, between nations.
In fact, stated Lenin, one should not be surprised if Russia is forced to cooperate with classes or nations which appear to be the very enemy of Russia or of Communism. “The whole history of Bolshevism, both before and after the October  Revolution, is full of instances of maneuvering, making agreements and compromising with other parties, bourgeois parties included.” A few years earlier in What Is To Be Done, Lenin had shown his pragmatic hand by stating that sometimes opposing groups are placed by fickle Time in a position in which they can actually help one another– sometimes just by staying out of each other’s way, offering neither active assistance nor active resistance. In those cases, wrote Lenin, “friendly neutrality may sometimes decide the issue.”
EXCUSE #6: MAYBE THE BOURGEOUSIE WEREN’T WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING…
Once Lenin was in power, he found that there were certain tres bourgeoisie values which would be expedient to hang on to… Things such as: thrift, hardwork, and honest-dealing.
In The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government (April 1918), Lenin instructed the people to… “keep regular and honest accounts of money, manage economically, do not be lazy, do not steal, observe the strictest labor discipline.” True, he admitted, these values were “justly scorned by the Revolutionary Proletariat when the Bourgeoisie used them to conceal its rule as an exploiting class,” –but “now, since the overthrow of the Bourgeoisie” they have become no less than “the principal slogans of the moment.”
EXCUSE #7: ON THE OTHER HAND, CAPITALISM IS DAMNED EFFICIENT
Also contained in The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government –and something I was never taught about at all– is Lenin’s partial surrender to Capitalism.
Lenin admitted that the fledgling Soviet government has no choice but to… “utilize Capitalism (particularly by directing it into the channels of State Capitalism) as the intermediary link between small production and Socialism, as a means, a path, a method of increasing the productive forces.” Lenin felt that, under Socialist control, Capitalism could be tamed by re-channeling its energy. For instance… “the fight against profiteering must be transformed into a fight against larceny and against the evasion of State supervision, accounting, and control.” It was Lenin’s contention that “by means of this control, we shall direct Capitalism, which is to a certain extent inevitable and necessary for us, into the channels of State Capitalism.” In any event, throws out Lenin, “State Capitalism is a step forward compared with the small-proprietor.”
Lenin claimed that, although Capitalism is the notorious vehicle for “the refined brutality of bourgeois exploitation,” it nevertheless also can take credit for coming up with some of the most efficient methods ever invented by the conniving mind of man for squeezing the most juice and pulp out of each worker. Capitalism has given us, exudes Lenin, “a number of the greatest scientific achievements” in the field of productivity, including, through scientific study, “the elimination of superfluous and awkward motions, the elaboration of correct methods of work,” [and] “the introduction of the best system of accounting and control.”
Lenin, in what would be considered shocking language within a decade, actually stated in 1918 that… “the possibility of building Socialism depends exactly upon our success in combining the Soviet power and the Soviet organization of administration with the up-to-date achievements of Capitalism.”
Lenin, putting on a brave face, announced his retreat from the war to annihilate Capitalism with as much cheer and spin as possible. “We must suspend our offensive now,” he said, but keep in mind comrades… “there is hardly a single victorious military campaign in history in which the victor did not commit certain mistakes, suffer partial reverses, temporarily yield something, and in some places retreat. The campaign which we have undertaken against Capitalism is a million times more difficult than the most difficult military campaign, and it would be silly and disgraceful to give way to despondency because of a particular and partial retreat.”
Lenin seemed to be admitting that the world was turning out to be a more complex place than it looked from beneath the Tsarist thumb. “We still often keep repeating the argument that Capitalism is evil, socialism is good,” he says. “But this argument is wrong, because it fails to take into account all the existing forms of economy and singles out only two of them.”
Lenin had come around to the point where he felt that the “only sensible policy” was not to fight Capitalism head-on, but to “try to direct it into the channels of State Capitalism.”
EXCUSE #8 COMPETITION ACTUALLY HAS ITS PLACE
Lenin advocated Communism—but with incentivized pay and economic competition (?!). Giving an example of what he had in mind, Lenin wrote… “we must raise the question of piece-work and apply and test it in practice,” he states. And Lenin, who had just helped lead (at least intellectually) a Communist revolution, felt he had now the task of convincing his fellow Russians that some parts of Capitalism weren’t — you know– that bad really… “Among the absurdities which the bourgeoisie are fond of spreading about Socialism,” he says, in full spin mode, “is that allegation that Socialists deny the importance of competition.” Nothing could be sillier declares Lenin. “We have scarcely yet started on the enormous, difficult, but rewarding task of organizing competition between communes.” Furthermore, upon reflection, Lenin states that he has decided that “the fullest scope must be given for the development of local initiative and independent action.”– (although, as we shall see, when it comes to actual practice, Lenin can’t really bring himself to let loose his grip of the authoritarian reins and turn people TOO much loose).
EXCUSE #9: SOME PEOPLE REALLY ARE MORE VALUABLE THAN OTHERS
Still writing in that most remarkable document, The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government, Lenin– still the head of a Communist government, mind you– announces that the State will be paying specialists more than others. “We have to resort to the old Bourgeois method,” he admits, “and agree to pay a very high price for the services of top bourgeois experts.”
Lenin goes on — not trying to downplay his embrace of certain Capitalist practices, but actually shining a spotlight on them… “Clearly, this measure is a compromise, a departure from the principles of the Paris Commune and of every Proletarian power which calls for the reduction of all salaries to the level of the wages of the average worker.” […] “It is also a step backward on the part of our socialist Soviet state power.”
And he’s not done with the self-flagellation. He readily admits that he has given fuel to all the critics of Communism. Yes, he says, they “will giggle over our confession that we are taking a step backward. But we need not mind their giggling. We must study the specific features of the extremely difficult and new path to Socialism without concealing our mistakes and weaknesses, and try to be prompt in doing what has been left undone.”
Lenin is prepared to take his beating and admit the truth of what he is doing, and move on. I came away with the feeling that Lenin felt the alternative would be to attempt to keep the disparate pay-plan secret– only to have it eventually leak out and discredit his government. Better to take the hits upfront and honestly… unfortunately, this is not a wisdom politicians are usually prepared to accept or endure…
Explains Lenin, “to conceal from the people the fact that the enlistment of Bourgeois experts by means of extremely high salaries is a retreat from the principles of the Paris Commune would be sinking to the level of Bourgeois politicians and deceiving the people.” [We are…] “learning together with the people how to build Socialism”
Lenin compares paying high salaries to specialists with paying “a tribute for our own backwardness.” Nevertheless, he states, “we must not be afraid of Communists learning from bourgeois experts.” […] “Do not begrudge the price for ‘tuition’ . “
EXCUSE #10: IT’S NOT “TAXES”… IT’S A “RESERVE FUND”
In The State And Revolution, Lenin shows that he has already prepared his justifications for why the State must get a pretty good chunk of post-Revolutionary incomes… “Marx shows that from the whole of the social labor of society there must be deducted a reserve fund, a fund for the expansion of production, a fund for the replacement of the wear and tear of machinery, and so on. Then, from the means of consumption must be deducted a fine for administration expenses, for schools, hospitals, old people’s homes, and so on.” Lenin was not the first politician to come up with new names for taxes.
Lenin also proved to be: 1) Anti-Democratic, 2) Pro-Centralization, and 3) quite the Authoritarian. However, he needed make no excuse for these outlooks. As I’ll explain in the next post, when it came to these three positions, Lenin had always been pretty-much up front. Admittedly, and sadly, the average Russian probably had NOT read the works of Lenin and so really didn’t understand the ride they were in for once he and the Bolsheviks seized power.