The way things have been if I don’t see another buttressing quote from either Lenin, Luxemburg or Tony Cliff for a long while I will be happy. So, in that spirit, let’s talk about Lenin!
One thing I have been adamant about for some time is that the revolutionary party was not Lenin’s key innovation. Firstly, even if he intended to found “The Bolsheviks” he did not intend his party to be a new party. He was trying to found a Russian SPD. Later, when the International was trying to found new parties many Communist Parties were not made brand new but founded out of Socialist Party majorities. Despite instants of political hardship (not least of which was Hitler’s invasion of Europe) from the mid-twenties onward the CP was a realistic means for a political career. Lenin intended for the Third International to consist of revolutionary parties, but being in this case is only the same as doing.
Lenin’s real innovation was his discussion of nationalities. The 20th century was in many ways the story of revolutionary nationalism. Lenin was so perceptive he was couple of decades ahead of everybody else, including the actual movements. This is important though, what we are talking about here is Lenin the ‘autonomist’, the man who pointed to an expanded revolutionary subject. His particular concern was linking the workers movement in the Russian heartland with the national movements in the outlying countries of the Tsar’s empire. But there are broader applications.
Firstly we are discussing the matter of hegemony. How do movements against aspects of capitalism become movements against capitalism itself? We’re talking not just movements against occupation or imperialism but for civil rights, women’s liberation, LGBT liberation and so on.
But, more importantly, we’re talking about how we build a working class movement in the first place. Wage labour and subsequent exploitation is based on the separation of workers from the means of production. This is an excellent founding fact but too abstract as a basis for day to day politics. People’s living and working conditions are defined by much more than this, by gender, nationality, sexuality, race and so on. We look both for weaknesses in the current capitalist set up but also potential strengths on the part of the working class. An example, in Lenin’s time whole villages would send their sons off to work in particular factories. There was often a pre-existing sense of solidarity, imported from the countryside. This, added to the concentrating effect of Russia’s huge factories, made the turn of the century Russian working class a force to be reckoned with.
It’s this kind of confluence that we should be looking for today.