It is hard to evaluate Lenin and the real question is how we deal with the issue of change/transition/revolution in the present. I think an ‘american Lenin’ would have to intuit the core of Lenin and do something closer to the American system: the format of the American Revolution was in two stages: a revolution for independence…a pause and a constitutional phase bringing a ‘republic’/’democracy’ into existence.
In a transition to a form of neo-communism, which has to be defined at this point, a similar staging is relevant, and this would both clarify and learn from the Lenin/Russian example. But important differences are inevitable.
First, the American system is no longer a democracy: so a revolution toward postcapitalism as democracy evades fascism, step one. Note this point. An American revolution must realize ‘democracy’ in a way the original revolution could not, i.e. via a transition to postcapitalism to refound a democracy in a system that has abolished industrial capital. It could trend in this direction by first attempting to be sure it could control the industrial nexus, by returning it to the Commons. At this point, just as with Lenin, a transition could be possible, letting the market persist via agents of the larger system moving toward postcapitalism. Like Lenin’s equivocation at the start, this could realize a first stage. At some point here the new constitutional phase would take place. We look back at the period of Stalinism. But the communist experiment stopped with Stalin, so that is irrelevant. We must assume some way would exist to protect a revolution, and this would not yet be democracy since that would be defined in the second phase. That constitutional phase must create a separation of powers between the governing functions and a court of industrialism that would mediate the economic aspects. A legal solution to all issues is absolutely essential, so that, among other things, a ‘party elite’ could not seize control of the industrial apparatus.
A system in which industrial property was returned to the Commons could be guarded by a revolutionary army, but this would have to mediate the threshold of control: a large segment would remain in a semi-anarchic/legal open society, with control at the industrial economic level. A hybrid of planning and social markets, and state control of large industriality, could create a flexible system in transition from revolution to constitution. The attacks on Lenin miss the point. But it is also true that each society would revolutionize in its own way. The American system shows a successful, but far too easy, bourgeois revolution, built around two stages: colonial revolt, and constitutional foundation. Remorphing from that to a postcapitaist system would seem impossible, but might in a terminal crisis, be fully realizable. Freedoms as democracy would operate on a scale: industrial freedom of capitalists denies freedom to the other classes. Democratic freedom would limit the freedom of markets. That isn’t all that controversial, actually. It makes sense. It is a simple reciprocity.
Note that in the name of democracy we are letting ‘capital’ and the bourgeoisie create a dictatorship. Its rule is propaganda, and we are not obligated to honor the totalitarian character of a deadly system that is threatening a planet.
Such a system must both operate on its own, and be a unit compatible with a large union of ‘socialist republics’. A republic can also be a democracy at the lower level of populations living in a fretted system controlling macroeconomy, with indifference levels at the level of microeconomy. Property courts would mediate industry by law.
In your long diatribe against Lenin on CounterPunch today, you turn “What is to be Done” into some kind of original sin:
“In his educational treatise What is to be Done? (1903), Lenin formulates the pedagogical relationship between educator (socialist intellectual) and those to be educated (peasants and proletariat) in bluntly instrumental and directive terms.
“This famous (or infamous) text can be situated in the years between 1872 and 1905 that were marked by the absence of revolution. The existing revolutionary parties held gradualist and economistic beliefs, and Lenin could not see any way forward without ‘vanguard’ subordination of the working class to the Leninist educator.”
You don’t seem to understand that Lenin’s ideas on the revolutionary party were a direct application of the model of the German Social Democracy. Lenin wrote:
“Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.”
Lenin’s main point is that the Social Democrat should not aspire to be a trade union secretary, but instead the “tribune of the people.” This tribune will “react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum of people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
Lenin’s example of one such tribune is the German Social Democratic leader Wilhelm Liebnecht. The German Social Democracy was Lenin’s *model* for what was needed in Russia. This type of party did not exist in Russia and it was his goal to build one.
You cite a number of enemies of Lenin in your diatribe including Maurice Brinton whose citation of Lenin’s 1918 article “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government” supposedly sealed the fate of the Russian Revolution and prepared the way for Stalin:
“Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process.”
I am not sure what it is that you teach but history does not seem to be your forte. Lenin’s article was written during the civil war when the USSR was invaded by 8 imperialist armies, including the USA. This was resulted in the death of 7 to 12 million people, mostly civilians, according to the Wikipedia article on the Russian civil war.
Once the civil war was over, the Soviets dropped war communism like a hot potato and moved toward the NEP which hardly maps to Maurice Brinton’s nightmare. Of course the NEP led to a series of other problems that arguably strengthened Stalin’s hand. In any case, the best way to understand what happened in the USSR is not by quoting libertarian communists like Maurice Brinton that sound great one paper. Rather it requires an engagement with the social and economic forces that acted mercilessly on Lenin and all attempts in the 20th and 21st century to build an alternative to capitalism. The lesson that can be drawn is that socialism requires a global framework if it is to succeed. Lenin’s writings and even the fitful attempts of the Comintern to provide such a framework are still useful for those of us who remain inspired by the 1917 revolution.
Although I am happy to see CounterPunch, a website that unfortunately gives far too much space for people who obviously admire Stalin and Stalin Jr. (Vladimir Putin), publish your article, it is a disservice to socialism. My recommendation to you is to read Neil Harding’s “Lenin’s Political Thought” to get a handle on what Lenin believed as opposed to the funhouse mirror of Maurice Brinton et al.
Have a nice day.