Lenin: Transcending Democracy

lenin

Unfortunately for the people of Russia, they did not know (it’s fairly safe to conjecture) the extent of the totalitarian regime which they were signing-on for when they acquiesced to the Bolshevik seizure of power during the Revolution of 1917.  The Bolsheviks were led intellectually by Lenin, and Lenin adhered to Marxism.  Neither Marx nor Lenin ever pretended to be anti-centralization.  In fact, a fundamental part of Marxist doctrine is that Capitalism precedes Communism precisely because it begins the process of gathering-up all the production and distributive energies of a large society into a few powerful centers of control.  It is those control-centers which Communism will inherit after the inevitable Revolution.  The Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism, unlike other strains, is very much designed to be a top-down system.  Democracy and local autonomy were never central to the plan.

 

As I will soon show, Lenin grew to hold democracy in disdain.  But in 1905, he was on the democratic bandwagon with the rest of the Revolutionaries.  Writing in Two Tactics Of Social Democracy In The Democratic Revolution, Lenin states… “Whoever wants to reach Socialism by any other path than that of political democracy will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and political sense”   […]  “The spread of this socialist enlightenment depends on the fullest possible achievement of democratic transformations.”

 

But even then, Lenin was quite willing to shunt elections to the side if he thought them impractical…

 

It might be argued that a provisional government, being only provisional, cannot carry out a constructive program that has not yet received the approval of the entire people.  Such an argument would merely be the sophistry of reactionaries and absolutists” […] “Somebody must convene the constituent assembly;  somebody must guarantee the freedom and fairness of the elections;  somebody must invest such an assembly with full power and authority.  Only a revolutionary government, which is the organ of the insurrection, can desire this in all sincerity, and be capable of doing all that is required to achieve this.”

 

But by 1917, writing in The State And Revolution, Lenin’s thirst for democracy had slackened.  “A democracy,” he proclaims, “is a State which recognizes the subordination of the minority to the majority– that is, an organization for the systematic use of force by one class against another, by one section of the population against another.”

 

But even we accept that majority rule is legitimate, says Lenin, democracy as practiced is… “curtailed, wretched, false,” and is “only for the rich, the minority.”  He calls the ideal of universal suffrage a “false notion,” declaring that the present-day State is incapable of… “revealing the will of the majority of the working people and of securing its realization.”

 

Lenin does not approve of any government ran, or supposedly ran, by a large of group elected representatives.  Says Lenin, “parliament is given up to talk for the special purpose of fooling the common people,” and he wants none of it.  If Russia must have democracy then, he says, “we can and must imagine democracy without parliamentarism.”

 

Part of the reason, perhaps, that Lenin has tilted so anti-democratic between 1905 and 1917 may be that the full extent of Marxist revolutionary theory has by 1917 become clear to him.  There can be no true democracy following the Revolution, for this will be a time of repression… the former ruling class will be kept from having a voice in the running of the country.  Lenin declares that “the exploiters and oppressors of the people” will face “exclusion for democracy” and suffer “suppression by force.”  For Lenin, this is merely a special case of the best democracy can ever offer– the tyranny of the majority over a minority.  The Revolution will bring, for the first time, the expansion of democracy so that becomes… “democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the money-bags.”  However –because “the Dictatorship Of The Proletariat” will impose “a series of restrictions of the freedom of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists” in order to “free humanity from wage slavery”– this will not be “complete democracy.”  States Lenin, “it is clear that there is no freedom and no democracy where there is suppression and where there is violence.”

 

“Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy– and the more complete it is, the sooner it [democracy] will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord.”  Speaking in a rather utopian tone unusual to Lenin, he predicts that, with the full advent of communism, there will no longer be cause to subordinate the will of a minority to the will of the majority…  “The subordination of one man to another, of one section of the population to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination.”

 

The communist Revolution will transcend democracy.

 

Still writing in The State and Revolution, Lenin acknowledges that “democracy is of enormous importance to the working class in its struggle against the capitalists for its emancipation.”  But, he adds, “democracy is by no means a boundary not to be overstepped.  It is only one of the stages on the road from feudalism to capitalism, and from capitalism to communism.”

 

Following, I quote Lenin at some length, for he explains in a nutshell how Marxism predicts the eventual demise of the State….

 

“Only in a communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists has been completely crushed, when the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (that is, when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then the State ceases to exist, and it becomes possible to speak of freedom.  Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realized, a democracy without any exceptions whatever.  And only then will democracy begin to wither away, owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in call copy-book maxims.  They will become accustomed to observing them without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for coercion called the State.”

 

Lenin believes that with the cessation of exploitation and poverty, “the violation of the rules of social intercourse” will wither away just like crime’s counterpart, the State’s coercive apparatus.

 

Although a few paragraphs back I branded Lenin’s talk of transcending the State and democracy as utopian idealism, he makes a good point when he remarks that, even in the present degraded state, we need only look around us in our day-to-day lives, to see… “how readily people become accustomed to observing the necessary rules of social intercourse when there is no exploitation, when there is nothing that arouses indignation, evokes protests and revolts, and creates the need for suppression.”

 

I feel Lenin has really nailed an important consideration of human nature here with his mention of indignation.  It is true that in our lives, spent mostly at work and with the family, we are seldom aroused to transgress against the dignity of others unless we feel, first, that our own dignity, our own worth, has been devalued by someone.  When someone treats us as if we are powerless, then they really do, in a sense, subtract power from our existence.  We have been lessened, made less worthy.  We have had to suffer the fact that our desires come second to the desires of someone else.  We do not like this feeling, this indignation– this un-dignifying.  We will lash out to restore to ourselves some level of dignity and power.

 

When the instruments of subjugation used against us have been given legal sanction, then this lashing out will take the form of a crime.  On the other hand, if the degradation we have suffered is not explicitly backed by law but is merely socially tolerated, then our lashing-out will be viewed, not as criminal behavior, but as immoral or uncivilized.

 

Lenin wrote that Marxists “do not in the least deny the possibility and inevitability of excesses on the part of individual persons, or the need to stop such excesses.”  [but]  “this will be done by the armed people themselves, as simply and as readily as any crowd of civilized people, even in modern society, interferes to put a stop to a scuffle or to prevent a woman from being assaulted.”

 

In reality, Lenin had no problem with the idea of State.  He was no Anarchist.  He was a Marxist.  That meant, for an indefinite amount of time, he favored not just a State, but a Proletarian Dictatorship.  In The State And Revolution, Lenin quotes Engels as saying that, “the Proletariat needs the state, not in the interests of freedom, but in order to hold down its adversaries.”  Lenin is completely onboard with this idea, writing that “the Proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force, an organization of violence, both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population — the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and semi-proletarians– in the work of organizing a socialist economy.” 

 

Of course, Engels had gone on to add that “as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom, the State as such ceases to exist.”  Nevertheless, Lenin never really tried to work toward the annihilation of the State.  In fact, he moved in quite the opposite direction, absorbing everything he could beneath the smothering embrace of Mother Government.  He assumed that the people who resisted the ever-more-encroaching State did so out of ignorance of how the State, in the proper hands, could be benevolently used.  He thought he understood the people’s antagonism toward Government, but he was not swayed by their emotional viewpoint.  “The State, which for centuries has been an organ for oppression and robbery of the people,” he writes, “has left us a legacy of the people’s supreme hatred and suspicion of everything that is connected with the State.”

 

As Lenin had done with the idea of democracy, he attempts to turn the idea of small government into a “bourgeois” notion.  “All the habits and traditions of the Bourgeoisie in particular, also oppose State control,” says Lenin in The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government — and he then immediately–  without providing any rationale– goes on to associate anti-government types with those who, similar to the bourgeoisie, “uphold the inviolability of sacred private property, of sacred private enterprise.”  He even goes so far as to claim that Anarchist ideas are actually Bourgeois in nature… “It is now particularly clear to us how correct is the Marxist thesis that Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism are Bourgeois trends.”  

 

He is on firmer ground when he further states that the Anarchists are “irreconcilably opposed” to “Socialism, Proletarian Dictatorship, and Communism.”  That much is certainly true.  Lenin believed, not only that it was humanly possible to plan, in detail, something as large as the Russian economy, but that communist goals required it, and that allowing things any room for “spontaneity” (a condition Lenin loathed) could sabotage the whole system.  I also get the impression that Lenin was feeling threatened by Anarchist sentiment… for he went so far as to try to paint Anarchists as bedfellows with the Bourgeois… The struggle before us, he states, “is a great fight of world-historic significance, a fight between socialist consciousness and Bourgeois-Anarchist spontaneity.”

 

Once in power, Lenin wanted to create a nation of expert and highly productive specialists… but he did not know how (don’t blame Lenin too much; the economy, like the weather, is too complex for one man to perfectly dominate).  The best he could come up with was this idea that the State would create and assign the roles of “specialist.”  This is why he could write, in What Is To Be Done (1917) that “specialization necessarily presupposes centralization, and in turn imperatively calls for it.”  If there had ever been any confusion, or (wrongly) perceived overlap, between Marxists and Anarchists, Lenin was prepared to clear-up that confusion right away.  “We are not utopians,” writes Lenin in The State And Revolution.  “We do not dream of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination.  These Anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the Proletarian Dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different.” 

 

Over and over again Lenin stresses the need for State “control, accounting, and supervision.”  In The Immediate Task […], he wrote that “without comprehensive state accounting and control of the production and distribution of goods, the power of the working people, the freedom of the working people, cannot be maintained, and that a return to the yoke of capitalism is inevitable.”

 

Lenin’s ideal economy was, absurdly, “to organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service.”  His aim is to “reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid foreman and accountants.”  The people, “as they are now”… “cannot dispense with subordination, control, and foremen and accountants”

 

Ironically, instead of freeing the worker, Lenin was much more concerned with DISCIPLING the Russian worker.  In The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government, he proclaims that “the Russian is a bad worker compared with people in advanced countries.  [Therefore] “the task that the Soviet government must set the people in all its scope is– learn to work.”  Labor discipline, he declares, “must be supported and pushed ahead with all speed.”  He wants no less than the complete remodeling of the Russian people, as if they were but clay in his hands, and he demands the commencement of the “prolonged and persistent efforts” which will be necessary “in order to bring about a complete change in the mood of the people and to bring them on to the proper path of steady and disciplined labor.”

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