150 Years After His Birth, Lenin’s Words and Deeds Still Resonate
Karl Marx once wrote that “Hitherto, philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, is tochange it.” Few thinkers have so profoundly worked to change the course of history than Vladimir Illych Lenin, who celebrates 150 years since his birth today. Lenin’s thoughts, his practice, and above all his passion for a just world have served as an inspiration to the exploited, oppressed, and the marginalized people everywhere.
There are those today who question, especially in our age of truly international capitalist development, what relevance someone like Lenin has to our modern world. In fact, Lenin’s insights are more essential than ever in understanding the world we live in today. As Stalin said in his Foundations of Leninism, “Leninism is Marxism in the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.” At the dawn of the 20th century, in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Lenin saw the beginnings of the unstoppable monopolization of industry, concentration of wealth, and unlimited need for expansion that capitalism creates, as well as the all-out destructive imperialist war that accompanies it. Of course, these forces have done nothing but intensify today. In our world of constant ‘military interventions,’ brutal sanctions, and drone strikes by the most powerful imperialist power in history, Lenin’s words resonate more powerfully and urgently than ever. It is no coincidence that Lenin’s ideas have been the driving force behind anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements in every corner of the globe. His works should inspire workers everywhere to resist chauvinism and stand with indigenous and historically looted peoples of the Global South in their fight against global imperialism in all its forms.
In State and Revolution, Lenin correctly analyzed the role and function of the capitalist state. He understood, contrary to the chauvinistic reformists and utopian socialists of his day, that the state was not as a neutral mediator between labor and the capitalist class, but a tool of class conflict that was wielded by one class against another. All this comes together to form what we as socialists know to be a mere pretense of true democracy. As he put it in Soviet Power and the Status of Women, “Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality. But, in fact, it screens the non-freedom and inferiority of women, the non-freedom and inferiority of the toilers and exploited.” In a country that brags about having democracy, why do so many of us feel as though we are constantly forced to choose the ‘lesser of two evils?’ Why do we come no closer to solving homelessness, malnutrition, or poverty no matter which party is elected into the White House? Why is it that, no matter how many times we show up to the voting booth every four years, we never get to vote on whether our military should be occupying nearly every other nation on earth with total impunity? The answer, of course, can only be found through the same concrete materialist analysis that Lenin used to understand the world of his own time, one that bears more and more similarity to our own every single day.
For all people who understand the necessity of revolution and the downfall of the capitalist system, Lenin provides a wealth of knowledge and experience in revolutionary practice and organizing. It is no coincidence that the Bolsheviks emerged as the vanguard of the Russian Revolution in their period of crisis, or that countless other revolutionary movements have succeeded by following the model set forth by Lenin so many years ago. Lenin understood that a Revolution could not simply be formed as a spontaneous act in an instant of pure chaos. This form of disorganized spontaneity, while certainly exciting, fails to achieve concrete results when capitalism enters a period of crisis. Any successful revolution, according to Lenin, takes years of public activism, outreach, and education among the masses in order to have enough strength and willpower to seize the moment when it does arrive. Throughout his life Lenin argued passionately against both chauvinist opportunism and idealist ultra-leftist strains of the Russian socialist movement, pragmatically working among the masses, never shying away from his principles or equivocating on the need for revolution.
There are times in revolutionary organizing when it can seem as though prospects are dim, or that revolution simply is not within grasp. In his own time, Lenin was confronted with these sentiments too, even in the Bolshevik Party. But who in, say, 1907, could have possibly foreseen that they would lead their country to the first working-class revolution in history in less than a decade? Who in Vietnam, Cuba, China, or any other country could have known that the seemingly unstoppable colonial grip over their nations would be smashed? Every meeting, pamphlet, labor strike and speech in the years prior to these revolutions, organized by the most class-conscious and determined members of their societies, played a vital role in liberating their people once the critical moment arrived. So, too, in our own country, as we see crises developing and the contradictions of capitalism sharpening to a fine point, we should take Lenin’s words to heart: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.”
Far from being at the ‘end of history,’ it is becoming more and more clear that a new age of world history is approaching, one that presents both great opportunities and great risks. Today, Lenin’s work is vital to understanding this world. More to the point, his words and deeds provide concrete answers to the cutting question that looms over all people who see through the facade of modern neoliberal capitalism-What is to be done? To all those across the world who live in fear under the heel of imperialism, to all those who go hungry while a tiny few live lives of extravagant luxury, to all those who yearn for a society that puts working people in command of their own destinies, Lenin lives on and will continue to live on.
Written By John C