Young Lenin; the building of socialist tradition in Russia.
The Stalinist legend
The ideas of every generation are closely connected with those before them. It is therefore important to revisit the ideas that had strong roots in Russia before Marxism and try to locate Lenin within these ideas and how he broke-away from them.
The Stalinist myth making machine fabricated a lot of evidence that tied Lenin to Narodnik ideas. The cult-builders attributed this to the execution of his older brother Alexander- who died on a scaffold for plotting the assassination of the Tsar.
The Stalinist legend, further attribute that his brother’s death immediately converted Lenin into revolutionary politics, got influence by Narodism and followed on the foot-steps of his older brother-from his head springs the fully fledged Bolshevik party. This description of Lenin is actually false and an insult to his intellectual integrity.
The reality was very different, at that time there were no clearly defined demarcation lines between the interrelation of ideas between Narodism and Marxism. Another reason, was that, the ideas of Russian Marxism were only confined to a few isolated intellectuals and had not yet taken roots in the industrial working class movement.
Narodism was a radical movement which began in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was born during the Crimean war and the abolition of serfdom. Its most historical moments were during the 1860s and 1860s and, reached its peak with the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II (1881).
The death of the Tsar was supposed to spark a peasantry revolution against the autocracy. However, the terrorist act did not lead to a popular uprising but instead to a more strengthening of the autocracy and the suppression of all revolutionary activities in Russian. This individual act of the assassination the Tsar did not over-throw Tsarism but made the autocracy more repressive.
The foundations of the movement strongly believed above all that the obshcina (peasantry) in Russian would be the foundations of socialism. According, to its main theoretician, ’to achieve a revolution, only the wielded axes of the peasant can liberate Russia’. Nothing apart from these axes will be any use to free Russia from the succession of despotism.
To them, they believed that capitalism could not become the dominant form of production in Russia because Russia was a late-comer and wouldn’t find external markets for its products. Therefore, it could ruin millions of peasants and artisan but could not guarantee them employment or bring them into socialising production.
Lenin breaks-away from Narodism
In fact, for Lenin it took years of studying and thinking to become a Marxist. Firstly, he had to break-away from the conservative views of his family. And, with the Narodniks stand of his older brother. Marx’s Capital Vol I was published in Russia in (1872) many years before it was published in French and English. A book which two decades ago was described as constituting an abstract speculation with no relevance to Russia by the Russian censor.
The writing of George Plekhanov (The father of Russian Marxism) played a significant role-attacking the idealization of the commune past by the Narodniks and as well as arguing that the working class was to play a chief role in the impending Russian revolution against the Tsarist absolutism.
In many ways, Lenin’s works follows the path already opened up by Plekhanov however while still a disciple Lenin branched out with his own distinct ideas deviating from Plekhanov-who had troubles with cutting his umbilical cord connecting his thinking to the Narodnik evaluation of the peasantry as the agent of socialism.
John Molyneux in his book Lenin for Today (2017), traces Lenin’s break from Narodniks to three interconnected issues. Firstly, the recognition of the fact that development of capitalism in Russia and abandonment of the idea that Russia could avoid or prevent the development of capitalism. Secondly, rejection of individual terrorism as a method of political struggle. And, lastly, recognition of the working class as the leading revolutionary class.
These interconnected issues are fundamental in order to understand Lenin and the role of the working class as chief agents of change for a revolutionary class for ushering a socialist world.