The Two Souls of Leninism

Against the Current No. 4-5, September-December 1986

Tim Wohlforth

THERE ARE TWO main theories concerning Leninism. Most Western academics view the Leninist party as a self­seeking group which took advantage of a power vacuum to seize power and establish a dictatorial system which benefits only the small ruling stratum, the party hierarchy.(1) Alvin Gouldner, in a radical version, sees Marxism as representing the false consciousness of workers and the real consciousness of intellectuals.(2) In both variants an elitist ideology and structure pre-figures the future totalitarian society.

The contrary view is no less monistic and linear. Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks are seen as idealistic revolutionaries constructing a party which represented the true interests of the working class. This party led a popular revolution and established the dictatorship of the proletariat for the first time in history. At this point two main variants have been developed. Official Soviet historians see the contemporary Soviet state as a popular regime continuing in the Leninist tradition. Trotskyist currents see a degeneration setting in during which the popular regime succumbs to bureaucratic dominance and a counterrevolutionary statist regime emerges.(3)

The approach I will take in this article will satisfy none of the above schools. I see Leninism as having two souls: it contained an elitist element which pre-figured future totalitarianism as well as a mass popular idealistic element which fed the oppositions of the 1920s. These contradictory sentiments were not only expressed in differing individuals and factions, but within Lenin himself. Further, the emergence of a state socialist(4) system was the result of both volition and objective conditions. The actions of party leaders are not to be excused because of objective difficulties nor can they be fully understood without taking into account these difficulties. To pose the question in classic terms: Stalinism represents both a continuity and a break with Leninism.

The popular, democratic, richly diverse side of Leninism and the Bolshevik party has been developed by a number of writers. Particularly useful is Marcel Liebman’s Leninism Under Lenin.(5) Antonio Carlo documents Lenin’s turn outward to the working class during the 1905 Revolution.(6) Rabinowitch has illustrated both the mass base of the Bolsheviks and their diversity in the period leading up to the October Revolution in St. Petersburg.(7) I do not question any of this which stands in sharp contrast to the parodies of Leninism by so many contemporary sects which claim the Leninist heritage without its mass substance. I hold to the view that the Bolshevik party had a mass base among Russian workers, its party structure was by no means monolithic, and it had a rich conflictive internal life. I view the October Revolution as popularly supported by the majority of Russian workers-the act of masses, not the conspiracy of a few.

Other writers, many of them also radicals, have seen another image of Leninism presaged in its pre-October history. These writers concentrated their fire on Lenin’s famous pamphlets What Is To Be Done? and One Step Forward: Two Steps Backward. Not the least of these was the young Trotsky who raised the prophetic accusation of substitutionism. “The system of political substitutionism, just like the economists’ simplification, derives consciously or unconsciously from a wrong and sophistic understanding of the relationship between the proletariat’s objective interests and its consciousness.”

When the gap is very great between objective interest and actual consciousness there is a tendency “to play tricks with history” either by adapting to existing consciousness or by substituting the party for the proletariat in the pursuit of objective interests.(8) Rosa Luxemburg held similar views: “The working class demands the right to make its mistakes and learn in the dialectic of history. Let us speak plainly. Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee.”(9)

To the extent that Lenin created a distinct Marxism it rested upon his conception of consciousness. Lenin developed the distinction found in Marx between the ordinary consciousness of the working class and socialist class consciousness. Lenin felt that it was the party’s task to develop the latter. Of course he saw the development of socialist consciousness as the result of the interaction of party and class and there is nothing wrong with this concept as long as the working class is recognized to be the ultimate arbiter of its own consciousness. However, as we will see, the concept of consciousness in Leninism would evolve after October to one in which the party, without working class invigilation, became the sole arbiter of consciousness.

The real test of Leninism came after it came to power in 1917. The tendency towards substitutionism and elitism in Leninism prior to 1917 was at best embryonic and contrary evidence of its open, mass, democratic character was far more abundant. Therefore I will concentrate in this article on Leninism in power.

The Question of Coalition

While a spontaneous mass movement is necessary for a popular revolution, while such a movement can undermine existing authority as happened in Russia, it is not possible for the mass as a whole to seize power. Power is actually seized by a relatively small group of organized people. The challenge in any revolutionary process lies in whether or not this power, taken in the name of the people, is actually transferred in some meaningful, permanent, institutionalized way to the people. This certainly was the challenge of the October Revolution.

The insurrection was organized by a coalition of the Bolshevik and Left Social Revolutionary parties with the participation of some anarchists. The coalition formed under the auspices of a Soviet body, the Military Revolutionary Committee, established for another purpose.(10) The results of the insurrection were endorsed both by the Petrograd Soviet and the Second All Russian Soviet Congress. Yet the central force in the process was the Bolshevik Party and its Central Committee. Power on November 8th, 1917, subject to some limitation, was actually in the hands of the Bolshevik Party. The main limitation on that power was the view of the armed insurgent masses who saw the Soviets as the proper possessors of that power, with the Bolsheviks only acting as surrogates for the Soviets.

Within days of the insurrection the Bolsheviks held power only very tenuously. They faced military rebellions organized by Kerensky, as well as considerable opposition within the Soviets. Within this context the proposal for a Soviet coalition government to administer the new power was put forward by the opposition socialist parties and supported by a section of the Bolshevik Party itself. It received strong popular support within the working class.

If such a coalition had been formed, the course of post revolutionary Russia might have been different. It would have meant that power actually passed into the hands of the working class as expressed through the Soviets rather than to a single party which in November 1918 actually did possess power. The future of Russia would then be determined through the competition of socialist parties in the Soviets reflecting itself in the changing composition and policies of the coalition government.

The vehicle for the coalition initiative was Vikzhel, the All-Russian Executive Committee of the Railroad Union, in Moscow. Made up of 40 members from all the socialist groups, though the Bolsheviks were in a small minority, it carried considerable weight as the railroad workers had the power to halt transport and thus stop contending forces and supplies. Its main slogan was for a “homogeneous government formed with the participation of all socialist parties from the Bolsheviks to the NSs.”(11) The slogan was taken up widely in the working class sweeping such Bolshevik strongholds as the Vyborg District and through many Petrograd factories.

The Bolsheviks agreed to negotiate, though for Lenin it was only a matter of gaining some time to stabilize his highly vulnerable regime. Kamenev, who strongly favored a coalition government, was appointed to represent the Bolsheviks. After a considerable amount of effort an agreement was reached between all socialist parties for such a government and its composition was even worked out. It was to be headed by V.M. Chernov, of the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR), and the Bolsheviks were given the most important posts. Lenin’s and Trotsky’s names were left off the list.(12)

The proposal then went to the Bolshevik Central Committee. It received the vote of four members: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Miliutin and Rykov. Then Lenin put forward a motion to break off negotiations which also received only four votes. Interestingly the minutes show that while Trotsky took a hard line of opposition to the coalition proposal he did not oppose a coalition per se. He only insisted that since the Bolsheviks had organized the insurrection they should get 75 per cent of the posts in any coalition government.

The matter was resolved through a proposal to continue negotiations though rejecting the current agreement. Those negotiations bogged down as the consolidation of Bolshevik rule made the party less interested in a coalition while the some of the other parties were convinced the Bolsheviks would fall of their own weight.(13)

Trotsky wrote about the coalition episode in February 1918: “The coalition with the right wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks would not have broadened the social basis of the Soviet Government; at the time it would have introduced into its personnel elements demoralized through and through by political skepticism and by worship of bourgeois liberalism …. We left to the Socialist Revolutionaries the task of continuing the hopeless attempts to effect a compromise. Our own policy was, on the contrary, to mobilize those who labored at the bottom of the scale against all representative bodies which had supported the Kerensky regime.”(14)

A coalition with the Right SRs and the Right Mensheviks could have only been a temporary measure to assure a real transition of power to the Soviet structure. As soon as policy decisions, such as serious action to end the war as well as a radical land policy, had to be made a narrower Soviet coalition would have had to be formed.

Shortly, in reaction to the Bolshevik’s new land policy, the Left SRs did join as a junior partner in a coalition government. This coalition, even though clearly dominated by the Bolsheviks, coincided with the greatest period of Bolshevik popularity in the country, the widest degree of local Soviet influence, workers management in the factories, and an overall free and spontaneous development. The Left SRs even had real influence in the Cheka.(15)

The coalition broke up when the Bolsheviks signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany which granted considerable Russian territory to the Germans. The treaty was widely opposed, including by a section of Left Communists within the Bolshevik Party, led by Bukharin.”(16) The Left SRs took their opposition to the point of an attempted assassination of Lenin which led to a breakup of the coalition and considerable repression in the country.

War Communism

Since the objective conditions facing the new government are quite well known, I will only sketch them here. The Bolsheviks, who had come to power under the slogan of peace, had achieved this peace with the Germans at great cost in territory as well as internal dissension. At the same time a civil war broke out, as internal opponents now received direct aid from the AJlies upset over the Bolshevik peace agreement with the Germans. In the same period chaotic economic conditions developed caused by a combination of lowering of industrial production, chaos in distribution and transportation, and a tendency for peasants to withhold grain under conditions where they got so little in return for it.

The result was an economic disequilibrium which produced mass starvation and threatened to bring down the regime. The Bolsheviks responded with forced grain seizures, severe military measures against those trading in grain (largely workers trying to survive), and moves against independent unions and against self-management in industry.

As a result the regime lost at least some of its popularity in urban areas and almost a11 of it in the countryside. This latter development created favorable conditions for the organization of counter-revolutionary armies. Civil war conditions then intensified the above processes, now called War Communism.

This process required a large scale use of terror which was directed, of course, against actual counter revolutionaries from the old classes, but also against the mass of the peasantry, many workers, and increasingly-as I will soon document-the oppositional socialist parties and anarchists. It created a mental attitude within Bolshevik ranks that held that social change right up to communism could be dictated from on top and all resistance to such change crushed. The belief that Russian society would directly move to full socialism was held by all in the party leadership. The party would be forced to retreat from this utopian notion.

The dissident Russian historian Roy Medvedev has studied this period and concluded that the entire policy of War Communism was a mistake. If another course had been taken the civil war would have been correspondingly less intense, and the development of the terror mechanisms and bureaucracy- which in time triumphed over the revolution-would have been largely unnecessary. He believes that if the Bolsheviks had maintained a trade relationship with the peasantry combined with a tax in kind-the policies which would be instituted in the New Economic Policy (NEP) period after 1921-more grain would have been forthcoming than through confiscation.(17)

A strength of Medvedev’s argument is that it recognizes that objective conditions are not always quite as immutable as they are described. Human voluntary action interacts at every point with structure. Further the decisions at one point in time create the structure at the next point in time. However, I will proceed with my exploration of the two souls of Leninism in power assuming the objective conditions created by the forced confiscations and Civil War conditions as a given.

Trotsky wrote in The Revolution Betrayed that the crushing of Soviet democracy in the Civil War period was the unavoidable consequence of objective circumstances: “Democracy had been narrowed in proportion as difficulties increased. In the beginning, the party had wished and hoped to preserve freedom of political struggle within the framework of the Soviets. The civil war introduced stern amendments into this calculation. The opposition parties were forbidden one after the other. This measure, obviously in conflict with the spirit of Soviet democracy, the leaders of Bolshevism regarded not as a principle, but as an episodic act.”(18) I will show in the next sections that this statement is simply not true.

The Death of Anarchism

The main instrument the Bolsheviks used to create the dictatorship of a single party was the Cheka (The All­Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counter-Revolution and Sabotage). This body was established in December 1917 as a police force which could also judge, imprison, and execute without check except for the highest bodies. The Cheka was, therefore, dictatorship in the purest practice.

The Cheka was headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky, a selfless Bolshevik, who lived a stoical life, yet perhaps for that reason, could be completely ruthless in the way he conducted Cheka affairs. The Cheka devoted much of its time suppressing actual counter-revolutionary activity, particularly in the early stage of the Civil War when such conspiracies were reasonably common. It also acted heroically as shock troops at critical points in the military battle. Yet, within a month of its formation, it began to concern itself with political oppositions not involved in counter-revolutionary activity. This latter concern grew as the White danger diminished.

Cheka persecution of the left began with the anarchists. The anarchist movement in Russia was quite diverse and by its very nature did not represent an organized threat to anyone. Yet its spontanetist ideas fitted extremely well with the overall thrust of the Russian Revolution and individual anarchists were well received in the working class.

The anarchists in general had been quite sympathetic to Lenin once he began to enunciate the positions later published as State and Revolution, positions which appeared, at least, to be quite close to anarchism. In the factory committees anarchist workers blocked with Bolsheviks against the supporters of the Provisional Government. Anarchists participated in the Military Revolutionary Committee and in the October Insurrection. It was an anarchist sailor from Kronstadt, Zhelevniakov, who closed down the Constituent Assembly(19) with the simple announcement that ‘The guard is tired.”(20)

On the night of April 11-12, 1918 the Cheka raided 26 anarchist centers in Moscow, leaving 40 anarchists dead and 500 in prison. Similar raids were then carried out in Petrograd and in the provinces. The main anarchist papers were also closed. The Bolshevik’s excuse was that some anarchists expressed their opposition to the Brest­Litovsk Treaty by resorting to underground activities and terrorism. Yet the Cheka acted against all anarchists quite independent of the attitude of the different anarchist groups towards illegal activity and terrorism.

While some anarchists were later let out of prison and occasionally an anarchist publication would appear for a short period of time, this raid marked the end of real legality and civil liberties for an important revolutionary tendency in Russia. For instance Grigorii Maksmov stated that between 1919 and 1921 he was taken into custody no less than six times. Even pro-Soviet anarchists like the Gordin brothers and Iuda Roshchin were arrested from time to time.

The pattern here would become the Cheka way of dealing with all working class opposition groups. The illegal actions of an individual or one small group in a larger tendency would become the excuse for indiscriminate persecution of that the political tendency as a whole. This terror would temporarily let up and a semi-legal existence permitted-yet the tendency was not allowed to function in a manner where it could win serious working class support.(21)

Some anarchists, in response to Cheka terror, went underground and developed their own counter-terror. However most anarchists did not, confining their opposition to verbal and, when available, literary critiques. In the course of the Civil War most anarchists supported the Reds against the White armies. Many joined the Red Army and played prominent roles. Some became so supportive of the Bolsheviks that they were known as “Soviet anarchists” barely distinguishable from the Bolsheviks.

In the Ukraine Nestor Makhno, a peasant anarchist, created his own army and controlled a relatively sizable section of the countryside. These areas were administered in the anarchist spirit as a kind of free association of communes. The Bolsheviks formed a military alliance with Makhno who played a very important role in the defeat of the Whites in his territory.

In November, 1920, when the Whites had been almost totally defeated, Trotsky and the Red Army moved brutally against Makhno’s forces and wiped them out. I will leave aside the question as to whether or not this suppression of Makhno was necessary. Certainly no serious effort was made to peacefully resolve the clear challenge to state authority posed by Makhno’s armed detachments. The Makhno incident was utilized to launch a new wholesale terror against all kinds of anarchists throughout Russia, anarchists with no connection whatsoever with Makhno.

The raids’ victims included Soviet anarchists who had actively participated in the Red Army. Emma Goldman, who was in Russia at the time, protested the arrests but had no effect. The last legal public action by anarchists occurred in February, 1921, just before Kronstadt. Some 20,000 persons braved Moscow’s cold to hold a funeral procession in honor of Peter Kropotkin. Some anarchists were allowed out of prison to attend.

The Kronstadt Uprising(22) was led by sailors very much under anarchist influence. Its crushing led to new indiscriminate arrests of anarchists. The anarchist movement did not survive the new terror. By 1922 anarchism no longer existed as a movement within Russia. Alexander Berkman, Goldman’s companion and at the time more favorably disposed towards the Russian Revolution, sadly concluded: “Grey are the passing days. One by one the embers of hope have died out. Terror and despotism have crushed the life born in October …. The Revolution is dead; its spirit cries in the wilderness …. I have decided to leave Russia.”(23)

The Repression of Menshevism

The story of post-October Menshevism is fascinating and equally instructive in relation to Bolshevik terrorism directed against working class oppositions. By 1918 the Menshevik party had consolidated itself around the leadership of Martov and Dan. Martov had led the Inter­ nationalist faction of the party which shared a common view with the Bolsheviks on the war. Dan headed the Revolutionary Defensist group which supported the war effort from what it viewed to be a left perspective. This leadership group opposed all illegal activity and expelled any Mensheviks who participated in conspiracies and military actions against the Bolsheviks. They acted consistently, despite persecution, as an opposition from within the Revolution.(24)

The evolution of their political and theoretical positions is extremely interesting. Martov, though on the left of the Menshevik Party, shared with all its members the view that the Russian Revolution would need to pass through a democratic capitalist stage before it developed economically to the point where a working class socialist revolution was possible. This is why he opposed the October insurrection and in the period immediately following the revolution felt it would fail through isolation.

As this eventuality did not occur, and the Bolsheviks carried through wholesale nationalizations, Martov began to develop a new theory. He did not believe the capitalists politically could play a positive role in the revolutionary process now unfolding before him. Further he could not support the notion that the main factories should be returned to capitalists. Therefore he supported a government of the toiling classes which would lead the country through a long transition period which would have combined features of capitalism and socialism.

He concluded that socialism could be the evolutionary result of such a process of development. He favored a return to free trade relations in the countryside, a return of some factories to their owners, while the commanding heights of industry remained in state hands. This perspective was combined with the demand for free Soviets and civil liberties for working class parties. This perspective, which had developed by 1919, presaged by a good two years many features of the Bolshevik’s own New Economic Policy.

Of course it would have been extremely helpful if Martov had thought through such a perspective prior to October as it would have led him to support the Insurrection. But, while we are in the wishing mood, it would also have been helpful if the Bolsheviks had had a clearer idea of the transitional period prior to coming to power and therefore saved the world from the terror and totalitarianism which followed their coming to power.

In the first stage of the Civil War a section of Right Wing Mensheviks broke with the party and participated on the other side along with most Right SRs, the bourgeois parties, and the Allies. Not all Right Wing Mensheviks participated in insurrectionary activity. Plekhanov, when approached by conspirators, stated: “I have devoted forty years of my life to the proletariat, and I will not be the one to shoot it, even if it does follow the wrong road.”(25)

Towards the end of 1918 the reactionary forces around Wrangel and Denikin took over the opposition to the Bolsheviks and suppressed the Right Mensheviks and Right SRs. By the beginning of 1919 even this right-wing section of the democratic movement had given up armed opposition to the Bolsheviks and functioned legally.(26) The main body of the Mensheviks, of course, not only sup­ ported the Red Army against the Whites but in 1919 actually engaged in recruitment drives for the Red Army.

The Cheka undertook surveillance of the Mensheviks on May 23, 1918. On July 23 the Cheka arrested 40 delegates, mostly Mensheviks, attending a factory workers’ conference in Moscow. In June all Mensheviks were expelled from the Soviets and its Executive Committee (VTsIK) and the Menshevik press was closed down.(27) While the expulsions were revoked in November and some Mensheviks let out of prison, the party had at best a semi-legal existence from then on in. Where Mensheviks were allowed to run for Soviet delegates they faced Cheka harassment and workers who voted for them had their food rations cut. Papers appeared very intermittently.

The most interesting period of grace was in January 1919 when the Bolsheviks were optimistic about the outcome of the German Revolution and when they hoped to win over to the Third International major sections of the European socialist parties. The Mensheviks were able to publish a daily paper which was extremely popular, with over 200,000 circulation. In the same period, the SRs were also allowed legally to function.

With the failure of the German Revolution and the refusal of most European socialists to join the Third International, this “Spring” came to an end, the press was suppressed after six weeks of publication, and party members again persecuted. Martov was invited to address Soviet Congresses after 1919 but the Mensheviks were persecuted in such a manner that they had no delegates on the floor.

After 1919 the Soviets had no life separate from the Bolshevik Party. Repression of the socialist and anarchist opposition had transformed these bodies into rubber stamps for the Bolshevik Party which had concentrated in its hands all power. Lenin openly boasted in December 1919: “After two years, we can state, and shall certainly be believed, that we are capable of holding out for several years precisely because we wrote into the constitution the withdrawal of rights from individuals and groups. Nor do we conceal who it is whom we deprive of rights. We declare openly that it is the group of Mensheviks and SRs.”(28)

It was in the aftermath of the Kronstadt Uprising in 1921 that a new wave of repression wiped out Menshevism as a movement in Russia. On February 25, 1921 some 160 Mensheviks were arrested in their Moscow club and the next days many were arrested in Petrograd including Dan. During the first three months of 1921 some 2,000 Mensheviks were taken into long term detention, including the whole central committee.

The Bolshevik case against the Mensheviks was so weak that the first public trials of Mensheviks had to wait until 1931 during the Stalin era. To the extent that Menshevism existed after 1921, it was as an illegal party conducting clandestine activity with its main leaders abroad. Even though Menshevik views were widely held by workers in the agitation which preceded Kronstadt, the party had urged caution and opposed any actions which might be provocative. They were not even indirectly involved in the Uprising itself.

The NEP period was based on combining political repression with economic concessions. In 1922 Lenin summed up the Bolshevik attitude of that period: “Mensheviks and SRs to be shot if they show their noses.”(29)

The Theory of the Single Party State

The Bolsheviks seized power without any coherent theory as to how this power was to be exercised. “Soviet power” could mean a coalition of Soviet parties, or a single party government. In either case no one had openly suggested any limitation on other Soviet parties. However, a new theory of the single party dictatorship had emerged openly in the party by 1919 and went without any serious internal challenge. This theory justified the actual practice which we have documented.

In 1919 Lenin stated: “Yes, the dictatorship of one par­ ty. We stand upon it and cannot depart from this ground, since this is the party which in the course of decades won for itself the position of vanguard of the whole factory and industrial proletariat.”(30) In 1920 Kamenev stated: “The Communist Party is the government of Russia. The country is ruled by the 600,000 Party members.”(31)

It was Trotsky, in the same year, who developed this position theoretically: ‘The exclusive role of the Communist Party is quite comprehensible . . . . We have been more than once accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of our party …. In this ‘substitution’ of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class. It is quite natural that in the period in which history brings up those interests, in all their magnitude on to the order of the day, the Communists have become the recognized representatives of the working class as a whole.”(32)

The theory of the dictatorship of the party as equal to the dictatorship of the class as a whole had a particularly pernicious corollary. According to this theory the dictatorship of the party rests upon the advanced layer of the working class while at least a part of the working class remains infected by alien class ideology. In May, 1918 Lenin was already appealing to the “advanced workers.” He noted “how small is the section of the advanced and politically conscious workers in Russia.”

“There never has been,” Lenin writes, “and never can be, a class struggle in which a part of the advanced class does not remain on the side of the reactionary forces.” In 1920 Lenin urged the Cheka to direct “revolutionary coercion” against “the wavering and unstable elements among the masses themselves.”(33)

In actual practice at certain points in Russian history, such as the year 1920, the “part” of the masses which was not “advanced” in the sense that it disagreed with Lenin, appeared to be all those workers and peasants who were not members of the party. This whole theory assumes that parties do not change and that at all moments they represent a particular class or section of a class.

As Trotsky wrote in 1935: “In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution to common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendency, groups and parties.”(34) It can also be added that parties are also heterogeneous-and sometimes just plain wrong-and do not always represent the interests of the section of the class they usually represent.

The period of 1917 to 1921 under discussion certainly illustrates this point. On more than one occasion the Bolshevik Party was just plain wrong and its opponents more accurately reflected the interests of the workers. Due to the repression of the opposition the workers were not given a chance to choose the alternative oppositionist policies. It may very well be that the Bolsheviks were as wrong-headed as they were–say in 1920–precisely because they had distanced themselves from the masses. The implications of this approach for contemporary politics also needs to be brought out. Many on the left have inherited from an incorrect interpretation of the Russian experience–either in the Stalinist or Trotskyist schools–an approach which sees one revolutionary party (one’s own of course) competing with varieties of revisionism. The revolutionary party reflects the working class’ interests while the revisionists represent petty bourgeois strata. Such an approach has made its own contribution to the splintering and ineffectuality of the left.


I believe that I have proven that the single party state was the conscious construction of Lenin and Trotsky. It was not forced upon the Bolshevik leaders because of the treachery of the working class opposition. It was justified theoretically by the leading proponents of Leninism at the time. I do not see how the practice of Lenin in power can be separated out from Leninism as a general political theory and practice. Any legitimate interpretation of Leninism must include the assertion that party leaders should do what Lenin and Trotsky did given similar circumstances. Since most revolutionary developments in the modern world take place in relatively backward countries and face powerful external threats, similar circumstances can be expected to reoccur.

I further hold that the consolidation of bureaucratic rule in the USSR could not be checked by internal party mechanisms alone. Once mass invigilation is cut off through the suppression of competing working class tendencies, then the bureaucratization of party and state must follow. I do not hold that Leninism and Stalinism are identical. I do insist, however, that Leninism created the conditions for the triumph of Stalinism.

I believe there is much that is positive in the Leninist heritage, or as I state it at the beginning of this article, in its revolutionary and proletarian soul. This is why so many party members had to be purged in the long process of consolidation of bureaucratic rule. However I hold that Leninism is not valid as a democratic, revolutionary, working class heritage. We are now in a Post­Leninist period, a period in which we should insist upon pluralistic working class politics rather than suppression of working class parties, and revolutionary fronts composed of several parties rather than vanguard party leaderships.


  1. For instance: Shapiro, Leonard. The Origins of the Communist Autocracy, Second Edition (New York, 1977).
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  2. Gouldner, Alvin W. The Future of Intellectuals and The Rise of The New Class (New York, 1979).
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  3. Trotsky, Leon. The Revolution Betrayed (New York, 1972).
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  4. I use this term to characterize existing statist regimes which call themselves socialist. However the analysis in this article is perfectly consistent with other labels-bureaucratic collectivism, state capitalism, degenerated workers’ state-reflecting differing theories of the nature of these states.
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  5. Liebman, Marcel. Leninism Under Lenin (London, 1975).
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  6. Carlo, Antonio. “Lenin on the Party.” Telos 17 (St. Louis, Fall, 1973).
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  7. Rabinowitch, Alexander. The Bolsheviks Come to Power (New York, 1978).
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  8. Carlo, A. “Trotsky and the Organizational Question” Critique 7 (Glasgow, 1976-7) pg. 23.
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  9. Luxemburg, Rosa. Leninism or Marxism? (Ann Arbor, 1961) pg. 108.
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  10. See: Leon Trotsky. History of the Russian Revolution, Volume 3 (New York, 1932) pp. 88-123. Rabinowitch, op. cit. pp. 224-248. E. H. Carr The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Vol. 1 (Baltimore, 1950) pp. 109-110. On anarchist participation: Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (New York, 1978) pp. 152-170.
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  11. Haimson, Leopold H. The Mensheviks: From the Revolution of 1917 to the Second World War (Chicago, 1974) pg. 63.
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  12. Ibid. pg. 71.
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  13. Ibid. pp. 73 ff. Carr op. cit. pp. 115 ff. For the minutes of the critical CC meeting see: The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution (London, 1974) pp. 128 ff.
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  14. Trotsky, Leon. The October Revolution (Bombay, 1952) pg. 67.
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  15. Leggett, George. The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police (Oxford, 1981) pp. 41 ff.
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  16. For Lenin and Trotsky’s side of the matter see: Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (New York, 1954) pp. 346 ff. For Bukharin’s position see: Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution (New York, 1971) pp. 62 ff.<
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  17. Medvedev, Roy. The October Revolution (New York, 1979) pp.127 ff.
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  18. Trotsky, Leon. The Revolution Betrayed (New York, 1972) pg. 96.
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  19. I have not gone into the Bolshevik suppression of the Constituent Assembly. I am willing to accept the Bolshevik assertion that this was done in support of the higher Soviet democracy. This article concentrates on the gutting of that Soviet democracy by the Bolsheviks.
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  20. Avrich, op. cit, pg. 156.
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  21. For the story of anarchist persecution by the Bolsheviks see: Avrich, op. cit. pp. 171 ff. and Leggett op. cit.
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  22. 22. The importance of this event, as the Bolsheviks themselves were forced to admit, is that it illustrated the wide-scale discontent with the continuation of the practices of War Communism after the end of the Civil War. Since it was an uprising and therefore a challenge to Soviet authority which went beyond legal protest, its repression is understandable. However, in support of the sailors, it should be noted that legal methods of protest had long since been choked off by the Bolsheviks. See: Paul Avrich, Kronstadt 1921.

  23. Avrich. op. clt. pg. 233.
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  24. For the story of Menshevism in this period see: Haimson. op. cit.
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  25. Ibid, pg. 167.
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  26. The real precursor of the Moscow Trials was the trial of the SRs in 1923. Actions of SR members from the 1918 period were dredged up in order to justify the outlawing of a party–the most popular party among the vast peasantry of Russia–whose members had acted legally ever since.
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  27. Leggett. op. cit. pp. 318 ff.
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  28. Ibid. pg. 320.
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  29. Ibid. pg. 322.
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  30. Carr. op. cit. pg. 236.
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  31. Liebman. op. cit. pg. 280.
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  32. Trotsky, Leon. Terrorism or Communism (Ann Arbor, 1969) pp. 107-109.
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  33. Liebman. op. cit. pg. 226.
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  34. Trotsky, Leon. The Revolution Betrayed. (New York, 1972) pg. 267.
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September-December 1986

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