The long shadow of Lenin's 'worse is better'
"The greatest genius of our epoch" -- this was the tribute being paid Vladimir Ilyich Lenin by Soviet media as this week's red-letter day approached, the 110th birthday (April 22) of the founder of modern communism and of the Soviet state. That Lenin cast a long shadow over the spirit and events of our times is an understatement; his effects on the politics of the 20th century are enormous and deserve the closest scrutiny.
Leninist doctrines took root in the putrefying soil of breakdown and turmoil at the end of the 19th century. The "proud tower" of moralistic Victorianism was crumbling while the senseless immorality and inhumanity of World War I only underlined the fact that the "Victorian synthesis" had given way to lawlessness and disorder; above all, to flouting the rules and traditions of the game of international diplomacy and international law.
In place of the Old Order of "bourgeois capitalism" and "imperialism," Lenin offered a sweeping New Order of socialism, socialist discipline, a global crusade for a new world order. He insisted that any means could be used -- in the amoralistic times -- to attain the goals: labor camps, secret police, one- party dictatorship, civil and international war, the most lethal weapons. Lenin , the quintessence of self-discipline and advocate of strict discipline within his own party and society, commended the spreading of disorder and discord within "bourgeois" societies, which were at a "lower level" of historical development. "Worse is better" was his slogan. Destruction-followed-by-construction was the Leninist sequence. Nothing stood higher, in his mind, than the cause of socialism.
A few of Lenin's own self-expressed formulas illustrate his point of view.
Morality: "Telling the truth is a petty- bourgeois prejudice. Deception, on the other hand, is often justified by the goal." As to the deceptive campaign promises of the Bolsheviks that helped them gain power in November, 1917, Lenin admitted in 1919 that his utopian slogans were not examples of "true consciousness"; any workers who now insisted on their fulfillment were "deceivers of the people . . . enemies of the Soviet regime."
War and peace: "Politics," said Lenin quoting the Prussian militarist, Karl von Clausewitz, "is the continuation of war by other means." War, too, he added, is also the continuation of politics; wars may be "sorted out" as being just or unjust depending on whose class interests are served. Revolutionary war, said Lenin, "when it is waged by the proletarian dictatorship, is but a continuation of revolutionary peace policy 'by other means.'" National-liberation movements and wars, said Lenin, "will turn against capitalism and imperialism and will, perhaps, play a more revolutionary part than we expect."
It was Trotsky, No. 2 man in the Soviet Republic in the 1920s, who said, "The road to Paris and London lies via the towns of Afghanistan, the Punjab, and Bengal." But Lenin endorsed the notion. Lenin saw the "capitalist rear" composed of hundreds of millions of colonials, not only as a source of revolutionizing energy, but as a means of denying the Western bourgeoisie its vital raw materials.
Weaponry: "Build an army," advised Lenin, "full of enthusiasm, and compel this army to utilize the most violent, the most repulsive of all . . . that we have inherited from capitalism." "[If we] master all means of warfare," Lenin said, "we will certainly be victorious."
Terrorism: "We have never rejected terror on principle, nor can we do so. . . . We would not for one moment assert that individual strokes of heroism are of no importance at all. . . . [Marxism] organizes tactics of strife and renders them suitable for general use. . . . As the economic and political crises become more intense, ever new and different methods of defense and attack will be used in [guerrilla] combat. Hence, Marxism never will reject any particular combat method, let alone reject it forever."
Destruction of world civilization: "Regardless of the degree of destruction of civilization," wrote Lenin, "it cannot be erased from history. It will be difficult to restore, but no devastation will be sufficient to make this civilization and culture disappear entirely." This Lenin formulation has been employed in the Brezhnev period to show that "thermonuclear fetishism" -- that is, excessive concern over the destructiveness of modern weaponry -- should not deter Marxist-Leninists from realizing that a third world war is winnable by the "Socialist" side, will not spell the end of civilization, and will exterminate capitalist imperialism forever.
Global sweep: "We are internationalists. We aim at the firm union and full fusion of the workers and peasants of all nations of the world into one, worldwide Soviet Republic." And note this "chosen peopel" formula developed by Lenin: "the Russian proletariat [is] the vanguard of the international proletariat."
Besides Lenin's successors in Russia, all of whom have renewed the "vow to Lenin" to make good his global plans, other leaders and parties throughout the world have made adaptations of Leninism. The borrowings have been made by both the left and the right.
Hitler, for example, told a close colleague, "I have learned a great deal from Marxism. I admit that without hesitation. . . . I have learned from their methods. . . . I needed only to take over these methods and develop them." In "Mein Kampf" and "Table Talk," Hitler described the way he had "borrowed" the color red, party cells, one-party dictatorship, absolutist and global ideology, labor camps, state-run trade unions, etc., from the Marxist-Leninists and from Lenin's Russia. For his part, Mussolini once called Stalin a "crypto-Fascist." Today, there still are many imitators of Lenin, on the right and left radical fingers, including trans-national terrorists. And the application of Lenin's methods to the nation of Afghanistan has seen the UN, which honored his 100th birthday, condemning today's export of revolution at bayonet tip.