For the hundreds of thousands of new recruits to the latest incarnation of a “new left” in Britain, the Corbynistas, or in the United States, the political activists among the millions who voted for Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination in the Presidential elections, Lenin and “Leninism” has little or no purchase. Tariq is one of a minuscule number of public intellectuals who can mount an uncompromising defence, indeed celebration, of Lenin and reach far beyond the narrow confines of the far-left.
Yes, insists Lenin, and his There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour power. Can we equate 19th century Russian terrorism against the Tsarist state and 21st century Islamic jihadism?
On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to take shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be…to undertake…work in the sphere of art, science and practical endeavour… Here Tariq takes a turn that, in different ways, is sometimes repeated in his book.
He chases a tantalising argument which, although it begins with Lenin, then loses him from the script.
We are introduced to , a secular instruction manual for terrorists, probably written by Mikhail Bakunin.
This expounds the connection between Russian revolutionary “terror” against the monstrous Tsarist feudal state in the 19th century, Russian classical literature from the period and the state murder of Lenin’s older brother, Sasha (for planning to assassinate the Tsar).
Knowledge of these influences on Lenin is essential for understanding his formation as the 20th century’s greatest revolutionary. When its light shone it revealed the whole world, its history, its sorrows, its stupidities, its shams, and above all its wrongs.
This argument is considered thoroughly and of course it is Trotsky alone who challenges it, literally as the Red Army approaches the Polish border in 1920.
Poland’s “conditions were not ripe for revolution…Polish nationalism was an elemental force which could be aroused by a Russian army, no matter what its colours.” Lenin seems rather marginalised here. The militarisation of the revolution meant that the Red Army displaced workers’ soviets, which never recovered.
Here we also have Lenin’s defence of the Zhenotdel, the newly created department for work among women workers and peasants, against much Bolshevik hostility.
German revolutionary Clara Zetkin is a fabulous witness here.