Leninism pp 15-37 | Cite as

Lenin before Leninism

  • Neil Harding


There is, in many Western accounts, an over-determined description of the genesis of Leninism that distorts the historical record, ignores the bulk of Lenin’s early writings or trivializes their content. In these conventional and undemanding interpretations, Leninism is not much concerned with theory1 but is distinctive because of its ‘modern’ grasp of the persuasive power of propaganda and the manipulative potential of front organisations to mobilise the masses. Its ‘origins’ are therefore discerned in Lenin’s writings in 1902, on organisational matters which, it is argued, were themselves largely influenced more by the indigenous Russian conspiratorial tradition than by the constraints of Marxism.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Edmund Wilson, in his influential To the Finland Station, first published in 1940, gave widespread currency to this view (see particularly p. 390 of the 1960 London edition). Similar accounts that disparage the importance of theory in Lenin’s work were retailed in such influential texts as R. N. Carew-Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism (London, 1950), and J. Plamenatz, German Marxism and Russian Communism (London, 1954).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Almost all the widely-used Western texts on Lenin and Leninism give considerable prominence to the decisive impact of the Russian Jacobin tradition. See, inter alia, A. B. Ulam, Lenin and the Bolsheviks (London, 1969) pp. 108–9, R.N. Carew-Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism, p. 166; L. B. Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (London, 1970) p. 4; R. Payne, The Life and Death of Lenin (London, 1964) p. 30; and S.V. Utechin, ‘Introduction’ to What Is To Be Done? (London, 1963) pp. 28–33. The most thorough attempt at an intellectual biography detailing the young Lenin’s debts to the Russian Jacobins is in R. Pipes, Revolutionary Russia (London, 1968). Pipes’ account is almost duplicated in R. H. W. Theen, V. I. Lenin: The Genesis and Development of a Revolutionary (London, 1974) pp. 38–42. A more recent variant on the theme of Russian Jacobinism ousting Marxism in Lenin’s thought is D. Volkogonov, Lenin, Life and Legacy, trans. H. Shukman (London, 1994). More modulated and dispassionate accounts are to be found in L. Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism (Oxford, 1981) vol. 2, pp. 381–412; and the three volumes of R. Service, Lenin: A Political Life (London, 1985, 1991 and 1994).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Psycho-history features prominently in the accounts of Theen, N. Leites, A Study of Bolshevism (Glencoe, Ill., 1953), and E.V. Wolfenstein, The Revolutionary Personality (Princeton, NJ, 1967).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The one indispensable study of the variety of currents in the Russian revolutionary movement of the nineteenth century is Franco Venturi’s Roots of Revolution (London, 1964). See also A. Walicki, The Controversy Over Capitalism (Oxford, 1969), and R. Wortman, The Crisis of Russian Populism (Cambridge, 1967).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Pipes and Theen make these claims particularly forcibly.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    N. Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought (vol. 1, London, 1977; vol. 2, London, 1981).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This was the title of one of the most coherent Russian Populist texts, challenging the very possibility of capitalism developing in Russia: V. V. (V. P. Vorontsov), Sudby kapitalizma v rossii (St Petersburg, 1882).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    V. I. Lenin, ‘What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats’, CW, 1, 133–332.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The Development of Capitalism in Russia comprises the whole of the weighty vol. 3 of the Collected Works. This crucially important text, the summation of seven years’ continuous study, receives scant attention in the popular or academic literature on Lenin.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A brief summary of the progressive transformative role of capitalism in Russia is given in CW, 3, 598–9.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    These were the themes of the programmatic statement ‘Ob Agitatsii’ (On Agitation), written by A. Kremer and Iu. Martov first published in Geneva in 1896 but already adopted as the programme of the St Petersburg Marxists in early 1895. On Agitation is translated in the present author’s Marxism in Russia, Key Documents 1879–1906 (London, 1983) pp. 192–205, hereafter cited as Harding, 1983.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    In G. V. Plekhanov, Selected Philosophical Works (London, 1961) vol. 1.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    For rival interpretations of the role of the St Petersburg Marxists in these strikes see A. K. Wildman, The Making of a Workers’ Revolution (Chicago, 1967) and R. Pipes, Social Democracy and the Saint Petersburg Labor Movement, 1885–1895 (Cambridge, Mass., 1963).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The ‘Manifesto’ of the First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) is given in Harding, 1983, pp. 223–5.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Wildman, p. 83.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    CW, 2, 349.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    A translation of the text of Kuskova’s Credo as well as of the infamous lead article of the’ separate Supplement’ to issue No. 7 of Rabochaya Mysl can both be found in Harding, 1983, pp. 242–53.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    CW, 5, 443.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    CW, 5, 446. This lag of the leadership was persistent theme in Lenin’s text, see pp. 397, 413, 435, 438, 444.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    CW, 5, 465.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    CW, 5, 502.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    CW, 5, 384.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    CW, 4, 368.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    CW, 5, 386.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Kolakowski, p. 389.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Quoted by Lenin, CW, 5, 383.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    For a brief summary of Plekhanov’s account of the relationship between the intelligentsia and the working class, see Harding, 1971, pp. 49–52.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, D. Torr (ed.) (London, 1936) p. 316.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid., p. 319.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    K. Marx and F. Engels, The Holy Family (Moscow, 1956) p. 53.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    MESW, 1, 43.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ibid., p. 46.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Ibid., p. 363.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    CW, 5, 443.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    CW, 5, 480.Google Scholar

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© Neil Harding 1996

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  • Neil Harding

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