Category: V.I. Lenin
Where to Begin?
worker | October 30, 2020 | 8:49 pm | V.I. Lenin | Comments closed

Where to Begin?

V I Lenin Speeches
worker | September 18, 2020 | 8:30 pm | V.I. Lenin | Comments closed

Where to Begin?
worker | December 18, 2018 | 7:35 pm | V.I. Lenin | 1 Comment

…they take from Marxism all that is acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie, …cast aside only the living soul of Marxism, its revolutionary content. VI Lenin The Collapse of the Second International

Standing with me on a cold corner with a sign urging bank disinvestment, a venerated comrade reminded me of the lasting value of Vladimir Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?. Food for thought: while we read this classic in our political youth, does it retain its relevance as we gain experience and mature?

What Is To Be Done? began as a promissory note to expand a polemical sketch written in May of 1901 entitled Where to Begin. The question lingered in Lenin’s mind for nearly a year before the lengthy pamphlet emerged.

What Is To Be Done? is not an easy read. It is filled with esoteric references to journals, personalities, and events specific to turn-of-the-last-century Russia, as well as unusually named political tendencies. It is easy to confuse the various Rabochaya or Rabocheye (workers newspapers) or forget the meaning of Economism, Narodnism, or legal Marxism.

But Lenin’s goals can be put rather simply:

Identify the political trends or tendencies that are obstacles to advancing to socialism.

Establish conditions necessary for the advancement to socialism.

Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes. Martynov The movement is everything, the final aim is nothing. Bernstein

For Lenin, the epigrams pronounced by A.S. Martynov and Eduard Bernstein– a German theoretician of socialist gradualism– were symptomatic of an infection to the body of revolutionary socialism. For those socialists, socialism was simply the product of the struggle for reforms, an inevitable final step or stage in the evolution of the workers movement. Set in motion, political and economic struggle would– on its own– through timid zigzags (Lenin’s characterization) ultimately lead to socialism.

In Lenin’s words, they and their adherents imagine that movements …pure and simple can elaborate, and will elaborate, an independent ideology for itself, if only the workers wrest their fate from the hands of the leaders. They submit that it is bureaucratic and foot-dragging trade union and political leaders who retard the natural evolution of reformism toward discarding capitalism and constructing socialism.

Democracy+continual reforms=socialism, in the minds of Martynov, Bernstein, the French socialist Millerand, the German socialist Georg von Vollmar and their ilk.

Lenin regards these views as a sharp departure (revision) of the theory of revolutionary socialism, a departure based upon the unjustifiable faith in spontaneity. He views spontaneity as a key concept in understanding both the potential of struggle and its limits. Using the industrial strikes of 1896 in Russia as an example, he shows that the working class movement and the people’s movement will always generate a fight back, a response to exploitation and oppression. But it will always be limited to immediate grievances and immediate remedies without the further introduction of a conscious element, a leap to attacking capitalism itself. The idea that spontaneous political motion will, by itself, find its way to socialism is a false and harmful illusion.

Defiance, resistance, sabotage, demonstrating, civil disobedience, etc. are largely spontaneous responses of individuals or groups; strikes, planned actions with demands, political initiatives, and other collective actions are often spontaneous, in Lenin’s sense, but nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form. Because they have elements of planning and goals, though limited and immediate, these struggles offer the potential for more radical, more profound change. They lack only ideology, organization, and a program of advancement, elements that must come from a united, disciplined, and committed group of socialist partisans. Those partisans must bring a vision beyond simple reformism to provide the tools for overthrowing the grip of capitalist social and economic relations.

[R.M. writing in Rabochaya Mysl says:] That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is that which is going on at the given moment. This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adopts itself to spontaneity. (Lenin) [my emphasis]

The embrace of spontaneity as the wellspring of political and social change is identified by Lenin with withdrawal from the struggle for qualitative change, from meaningful engagement with the source of exploitation and oppression. This surrender to realism, pragmatism, the possible is opportunistic because it courts respectability or an easy legitimacy and compromises the fight for the liberation of working people from the chains of exploitation to garner the nearest goals of the closest moment.

We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic [socialist] consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc. The theory of socialism arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of thought among the revolutionary socialist intelligentsia (Lenin)

Lenin’s distinction between trade-union consciousness and socialist consciousness holds true, over a hundred years later. No events since have shown Lenin’s assessment to be wrong. No working class or popular movement has taken up socialism without its introduction from outside the movement, typically through a socialist political organization. In a world dominated by the ideology of capitalism, in the course of the drab ordinary struggle, the idea of socialism is alien. It is the task of dedicated socialist revolutionaries– armed with a program and of one mind– to bring socialist consciousness to the popular movements.

Those like the Russian acolytes of Bernstein in Lenin’s time– the Economists, the legal Marxists, the Socialist Revolutionaries– …kneel in prayer to spontaneity, gazing with awe (to take an expression from Plekhanov) upon the posterior of the proletariat.

The Communist movement coined the term tailism to more politely capture Plekhanov’s vivid description of political opportunism. Slavishly deferring to the drab, everyday struggles of the trade union movement or the spontaneous peoples movement will get us no closer to socialism.

Political forces will invariably arise that promise to spur spontaneous action by the popular masses through acts of terrorism; they intend to excite the working class, to give it strong impetus to press its supposedly latent radicalism. For Lenin, this is equally a departure from sound revolutionary strategy. Like reformism (Economism), the anarchism of the act (early Narodism and the Socialist Revolutionaries) fails to recognize a role for determined agitating and organizing the people for the overthrow of capitalism and the building of socialism.

Revolutionaries are not aloof from the fight for democratic reforms: He is no Social-Democrat [revolutionary] who forgets in practice his obligation to be ahead of all in raising, accentuating, and solving every general democratic question. [Lenin’s emphasis]. But Lenin also emphasizes that this practice must not for a moment [conceal] our socialist conviction.

But revolutionaries should not be confused into thinking that the fight for democratic reforms is more than it is: Trade-unionist politics of the working class is precisely bourgeois politics of the working class. [Lenin’s emphasis]

Give us an organization of revolutionaries, and we will overturn Russia!

Lenin’s famous proclamation is not an idle boast, but a concise statement of the necessity of an organization of committed, dedicated revolutionaries placing the struggle for socialism above all.

The task before the revolutionary movement is to develop and maintain working class leadership of the popular movements while shedding the patronizing attitude of delivering only that which is accessible to the masses. Recognizing the excellently trained enemy, Lenin insists that revolution must be a profession, combining the skills of propagandist, organizer, and agitator. The revolutionaries must develop tools: leaflets, pamphlets, books, etc., but most importantly a national organ (newspaper, website, etc.) that serves as a collective propagandist, agitator, and organizer, a tool for raising a definitive political line and rallying and making contact with followers.

Of course socialist revolutionaries must come together as an organization, as a party, as a vehicle for overthrowing capitalism. A loose-knit, independent scattering of even the most dedicated revolutionaries could hardly pose a threat to the forces and resources defending capitalism and its ruling class. That party must bring to the masses a program, a road map leading to socialism above all else.

Lenin stresses that a revolutionary organization cannot be seduced by the sirens of primitive or toy democracy, the false radicalism of direct representation so often advocated by young intellectuals and anarchists. Lenin cites the experiences of Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Fabian Society) and Karl Kautsky (German Social Democratic Party)– two sources at odds with Leninism– on their negative practical experiences with the folly of strict referenda democracy. Lenin recognized that direct democratic decision-making under the harsh, war-like conditions imposed by battling capitalism was sheerly utopian.

These are the answers that Lenin gave in his time to the question What Is To Be Done?

Twenty-first Century Relevance?

Does Lenin’s revolutionary theory hold relevance for the struggles of today?

Over generations, Lenin’s insights, admonitions, strategies, and tactics have been muted, diluted, or revised by many prominent left-wing thinkers in capitalist countries. The seduction of parliamentary politics, the burnished image of bourgeois democracy, doubts about the working class as a force for change, the rise of cultural and life-style radicalism combined with many other factors to distract the left from the revolutionary socialist program. The Cold War and the demonization of Communism further prodded the US and much of the academic and student Western European left to distance itself from Leninism. The ABC phenomenon– Anything But Communism– became deeply embedded in the radicalism of the late twentieth century. A new left– purposefully new in order to dissociate from Leninism and Cold War ostracization– sought new forms of radicalism, new approaches to struggle, new types of organizations.

Ironically, the New Left found answers that already failed in the past, in the kinds of politics toward which Lenin had earlier targeted his ideological weapons. And today’s US and European left reproduces many of the same tendencies.

It has been a common thread weaving through the US left that so-called participatory democracy is the foundation of radical politics and emancipatory or empowering for oppositional movements. From the New Left of the sixties to the Occupy and Indignados movements, this approach has been foundational. The fetish for procedure has not only overshadowed establishing a common program, but often blocked the achievement of one.

Organizationally, the insistence upon participatory democracy is stiflingly rigid. It fails to acknowledge the various types of democracy: direct, representational, ballot, referenda, etc.; it fails to recognize the appropriateness of the different types by time, place, and circumstance; and it fails to grasp the organizational fit of different democratic modes.

Accordingly, obsessive participatory, direct democracy becomes an obstacle to the establishment of an effective revolutionary organization charged with the tasks of building a movement for socialism to face the gale forces of the immensely powerful resources and the security apparatuses of a ruthless ruling class. Revolutionary movements must respect democratic norms, but not the cult of procedure that Lenin mocks as toy or primitive democracy.

Occupy and similar movements have floundered on the rocks of organizational chaos grounded in procedural sectarianism, a failure to establish efficient and effective leadership channels. Many once-promising movements fall as quickly as they rise without the appropriate, effective democratic standards.

It is a commonplace with today’s left to assume that removing the brakes that are thought to be restraining broad movements– typically bureaucratic, entrenched leaders– will in itself unleash worker or mass action. On this view, existing popular institutions– trade unions, political parties, advocacy organizations, etc.– only need fresh, democratically elected leaders to unleash the march toward a better world, towards socialism. Rather than tackling the difficult task of planting the germ of socialist thought into the movements, modern-day US leftists too often expect to see the idea of replacing capitalism– the commitment to socialism– flower spontaneously.

History knows of no serious challenge to capitalism emerging automatically, without the intervention of a revolutionary organization. Nonetheless, many in the US left deny the necessity or the desirability of a Leninist organization of revolutionaries. Instead, they count on the magical, spontaneous emergence of a socialist consciousness where none existed before. Swayed by Cold War dogma, they unthinkingly fear the ogre of vanguardism.

Despite many lifetimes of shredded hopes of taming capitalism by working for change within the Democratic Party, a new generation of idealistic youth are placing their hopes in the Democratic Party and a class collaborationist trade union movement. They follow modern day legal Marxists and other theorists of social democracy who ask them to kneel in prayer to spontaneity, expecting a radical vision to spring forth without the intercession of a revolutionary organization. Tailing bourgeois institutions and workers organizations umbilically linked to bourgeois institutions can only bring bourgeois politics, paraphrasing Lenin.

With dissatisfaction and anger growing, with confrontation intensifying, and with more and more institutions and authority discredited, the need for effective responses grows. Over a hundred years ago, Lenin’s famous pamphlet What Is To Be Done? cleared much of the ideological underbrush, discarded most of the false roads and missteps foiling a movement for socialism.

Today, these false roads, missteps, and ideological thickets again block the road to twenty-first-century socialism.

What Is To Be Done? demonstrates the need for a political organization of ardent, committed revolutionaries, united with a program to overthrow capitalism. Since the retreat of Communism, Leninism has unfortunately been discarded by many on the left. But the wisdom of Lenin’s pamphlet is needed now more than ever.

Greg Godels


Social Fissures in India Emerge Amid Lenin Statue Dismantling Row
worker | March 9, 2018 | 7:49 pm | Communist Party of India (Marxist), India, V.I. Lenin | Comments closed

Activists of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) hold placards and shout anti-government slogans during a protest against what they say was the demolition of a statue of Vladimir Lenin in the northeastern state of Tripura on Monday, in Ahmedabad, India, March 7, 2018

Social Fissures in India Emerge Amid Lenin Statue Dismantling Row

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The “statue war” in India was triggered after the razing of the monument to Communist icon Vladimir Lenin in Tripura earlier this week. The act set off a spate of violence and vandalism across the country of statues to other social and political icons on Tuesday and Wednesday.

New Delhi (Sputnik): The situation in different parts of India became volatile after a statue of Vladimir Lenin was toppled on Monday following which a statue of Dravidian reformist, E V Ramasamy was damaged the next day.

In Tripura the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently in power in Delhi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its head, defeated the ruling Communist Party in the recently concluded state elections. Both the BJP and Communist Party blamed each other for the fiasco.

READ MORE: India, Canada Vow to Fight Extremism With Modi’s Trademark Bear Hug With Trudeau

Acts of vandalism have been reported in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. A statue of social reformer E V Ramasamy, popularly known as “Periyar,” was vandalized in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore and in retaliation, a mob desecrated BJP’s founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s statue in the city of Kolkata in opposition-ruled West Bengal. A statue of B.R. Ambedkar, the Dalit icon who played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Indian constitution was also vandalized in BJP-governed Uttar Pradesh.

The Indian Ministry of Home affairs Home on Wednesday had to issue an advisory to the states to stop statue vandalism and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office condemned the incidents.

“Persons indulging in such acts must be sternly dealt with and booked under relevant provisions of the law,” a statement from prime minister’s office read.

There were urgent calls from cross-sections of Indian society to stop the statue vandalism, however social activists say that Indian society remains divided over caste issues and this leads to such incidents on the slightest pretext.

“It is not surprising in India for such incidents to trigger unrest. Although things seem very calm on the surface, society is highly fragmented along caste lines and Gandhi was very particular that no dispute can be solved by violence. The recent incidents are symptomatic of the government and the society straying away from the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi,” Professor T K Thomas, renowned Gandhian, and writer told Sputnik.

Engels On the Importance of the Theoretical Struggle
worker | February 21, 2018 | 9:24 pm | V.I. Lenin | Comments closed

From What Is To Be Done? by V. I. Lenin

D. Engels On the Importance of the Theoretical Struggle

“Dogmatism, doctrinairism”, “ossification of the party – the inevitable retribution that follows the violent strait-lacing of thought” – these are the enemies against which the knightly champions of “freedom of criticism” in Rabocheye Dyelo rise up in arms. We are very glad that this question has been placed on the order of the day and we would only propose to add to it one other:

And who are the judges?

We have before us two publishers’ announcements. One, “The Programme of the Periodical Organ of the Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad – Rabocheye Dyelo” (reprint from No. 1 of Rabocheye Dyelo), and the other, the “Announcement of the Resumption of the Publications of the Emancipation of Labour Group”. Both are dated 1899, when the “crisis of Marxism” had long been under discussion. And what do we find? We would seek in vain in the first announcement for any reference to this phenomenon, or a definite statement of the position the new organ intends to adopt on this question. Not a word is said about theoretical work and the urgent tasks that now confront it, either in this programme or in the supplements to it that were adopted by the Third Congress of the Union Abroad in 1901 (Two Conferences, pp. 15-18). During this entire time the Editorial Board of Rabocheye Dyelo ignored theoretical questions, in spite of the fact that these were questions that disturbed the minds of all Social-Democrats the world over.

The other announcement, on the contrary, points first of all to the declining interest in theory in recent years, imperatively demands “vigilant attention to the theoretical aspect of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat”, and calls for “ruthless criticism of the Bernsteinian and other anti-revolutionary tendencies” in our movement. The issues of Zarya to date show how this programme has been carried out.

Thus, we see that high-sounding phrases against the ossification of thought, etc., conceal unconcern and helplessness with regard to the development of theoretical thought. The case of the Russian Social-Democrats manifestly illustrates the general European phenomenon (long ago noted also by the German Marxists) that the much vaunted freedom of criticism does not imply substitution of one theory for another, but freedom from all integral and pondered theory; it implies eclecticism and lack of principle. Those who have the slightest acquaintance with the actual state of our movement cannot but see that the wide spread of Marxism was accompanied by a certain lowering of the theoretical level. Quite a number of people with very little, and even a total lack of theoretical training joined the movement because of its practical significance and its practical successes. We can judge from that how tactless Rabocheye Dyelo is when, with an air of triumph, it quotes Marx’s statement: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”[21] To repeat these words in a period of theoretical disorder is like wishing mourners at a funeral many happy returns of the day. Moreover, these words of Marx are taken from his letter on the Gotha Programme,[22] in which he sharply condemns eclecticism in the formulation of principles. If you must unite, Marx wrote to the party leaders, then enter into agreements to satisfy the practical aims of the movement, but do not allow any bargaining over principles, do not make theoretical “concessions”. This was Marx’s idea, and yet there are people among us who seek-in his name to belittle the significance of theory!

Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity. Yet, for Russian Social-Democrats the importance of theory is enhanced by three other circumstances, which are often forgotten: first, by the fact that our Party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined, and it has as yet far from settled accounts with the other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path. On the contrary, precisely the very recent past was marked by a revival of non-Social-Democratic revolutionary trends (an eventuation regarding which Axelrod long ago warned the Economists). Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an “unimportant” error may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other “shade”.

Secondly, the Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement. This means, not only that we must combat national chauvinism, but that an incipient movement in a young country can be successful only if it makes use of the experiences of other countries. In order to make use of these experiences it is not enough merely to be acquainted with them, or simply to copy out the latest resolutions. What is required is the ability to treat these experiences critically and to test them independently. He who realises how enormously the modern working-class movement has grown and branched out will understand what a reserve of theoretical forces and political (as well as revolutionary) experience is required to carry out this task.

Thirdly, the national tasks of Russian Social-Democracy are such as have never confronted any other socialist party in the world. We shall have occasion further on to deal with the political and organisational duties which the task of emancipating the whole people from the yoke of autocracy imposes upon us. At this point, we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory. To have a concrete understanding of what this means, let the reader recall such predecessors of Russian Social Democracy as Herzen, Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, and the brilliant galaxy of revolutionaries of the seventies; let him ponder over the world significance which Russian literature is now acquiring; let him. . . but be that enough!

Let us quote what Engels said in 1874 concerning the significance of theory in the Social-Democratic movement. Engels recognizes, not two forms of the great struggle of Social Democracy (political and economic), as is the fashion among us, but three, placing the theoretical struggle on a par with the first two. His recommendations to the German working-class movement, which had become strong, practically and politically, are so instructive from the standpoint of present-day problems and controversies, that we hope the reader will not be vexed with us for quoting a long passage from his prefatory note to Der deutsche Bauernkrieg,[11] which has long become a great bibliographical rarity:

“The German workers have two important advantages over those of the rest of Europe. First, they belong to the most theoretical people of Europe; and they have retained that sense of theory which the so-called ’educated’ classes of Germany have almost completely lost. Without German philosophy, which preceded it, particularly that of Hegel, German scientific socialism – the only scientific socialism that has ever existed – would never have come into being. Without a sense of theory among the workers, this scientific socialism would never have entered their flesh and blood as much as is the case. What an immeasurable advantage this is may be seen, on the one hand, from the indifference towards all theory, which is one of the main reasons why the English working-class movement crawls along so slowly in spite of the splendid organisation of the individual unions; on the other hand, from the mischief and confusion wrought by Proudhonism, in its original form, among the French and Belgians, and, in the form further caricatured by Bakunin, among the Spaniards and Italians.

“The second advantage is that, chronologically speaking, the Germans were about the last to come into the workers’ movement. Just as German theoretical socialism will never forget that it rests on the shoulders of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen – three men who, in spite of all their fantastic notions and all their utopianism, have their place among the most eminent thinkers of all times, and whose genius anticipated innumerable things, the correctness of which is now being scientifically proved by us – so the practical workers’ movement in Germany ought never to forget that it has developed on the shoulders of the English and French movements, that it was able simply to utilise their dearly bought experience, and could now avoid their mistakes, which in their time were mostly unavoidable. Without the precedent of the English trade unions and French workers’ political struggles, without the gigantic impulse given especially by the Paris Commune, where would we be now?

“It must be said to the credit of the German workers that they have exploited the advantages of their situation with rare understanding. For the first time since a workers’ movement has existed, the struggle is being conducted pursuant to its three sides – the. theoretical, the political, and the practical-economic (resistance to the capitalists) – in harmony and in its interconnections, and in a systematic way. It is precisely in this, as it were, concentric attack, that the strength and invincibility of the German movement lies.

“Due to this advantageous situation, on the one hand, and to the insular peculiarities of the English and the forcible suppression of the French movement, on the other, the German workers have for the moment been placed in the vanguard of the proletarian struggle. How long events will allow them to occupy this post of honour cannot be foretold. But let us hope that as long as they occupy it, they will fill it fittingly. This demands redoubled efforts in every field of struggle and agitation. In particular, it will be the duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer insight into all theoretical questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old world outlook, and constantly to keep in mind that socialism, since it has become a science, demands that it be pursued as a science, i.e., that it be studied. The task will be to spread with increased zeal among the masses of the workers the ever more clarified understanding thus acquired, to knit together ever more firmly the organisation both of the party and of the trade unions….

“If the German workers progress in this way, they will not. be marching exactly at the head of the movement – it is not at all in the interest of this movement that the workers of any particular country should march at its head – but they will occupy an honourable place in the battle line; and they will stand armed for battle when either unexpectedly grave trials or momentous events demand of them increased courage, increased determination and energy.”[23]

Engels’s words proved prophetic. Within a few years the German workers were subjected to unexpectedly grave trials in the form of the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists. And they met those trials armed for battle and succeeded in emerging from them victorious.

The Russian proletariat will have to undergo trials immeasurably graver; it will have to fight a monster compared with which an antisocialist law in a constitutional country seems but a dwarf. History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. And we have the right to count upon acquiring this honourable title, already earned by our predecessors, the revolutionaries of the seventies, if we succeed in inspiring our movement, which is a thousand times broader and deeper, with the same devoted determination and vigour.

The Marxist Theory of the State
worker | January 28, 2018 | 11:05 am | A. Shaw, Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin | Comments closed

J.V. Stalin- Lenin: The Genius of the Revolution
worker | January 21, 2018 | 6:56 pm | J. Stalin, V.I. Lenin | Comments closed

Sunday, January 21, 2018

J.V. Stalin- Lenin: The Genius of the Revolution
Joseph V. Stalin –
Speech Delivered at a Memorial Meeting of the Kremlin Military School.
January 28, 1924. 
First Published on Pravda, No. 34, 
February 12, 1924.
Source: Works, Vol. 6, January-November, 1924, pp. 54-66, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954.
I am told that you have arranged a Lenin memorial meeting here this evening and that I have been invited as one of the speakers. I do not think there is any need for me to deliver a set speech on Lenin’s activities. It would be better, I think, to confine myself to a few facts to bring out certain of Lenin’s characteristics as a man and a leader. There may, perhaps, be no inherent connection between these facts, but that is not of vital importance as far as gaining a general idea of Lenin is concerned. At any rate, I am unable on this occasion to do more than what I have just promised.

The Mountain Eagle
I first became acquainted with Lenin in 1903. True, it was not a personal acquaintance, but was by correspondence. But it made an indelible impression upon me, one which has never left me throughout all my work in the Party. I was in exile in Siberia at the time. My knowledge of Lenin’s revolutionary activities since the end of the nineties, and especially after 1901, after the appearance of Iskra, had convinced me that in Lenin we had a man of extraordinary calibre. At that time I did not regard him merely as a leader of the Party, but as its actual founder, for he alone understood the inner essence and urgent needs of our Party. When I compared him with the other leaders of our Party, it always seemed to me that he was head and shoulders above his colleagues—Plekhanov, Martov, Axelrod and the others; that, compared with them, Lenin was not just one of the leaders, but a leader of the highest rank, a mountain eagle, who knew no fear in the struggle, and who boldly led the Party forward along the unexplored paths of the Russian revolutionary movement. 
This impression took such a deep hold of me that I felt impelled to write about it to a close friend of mine who was living as a political exile abroad, requesting him to give me his opinion. Some time later, when I was already in exile in Siberia—this was at the end of 1903—I received an enthusiastic reply from my friend and a simple, but profoundly expressive letter from Lenin, to whom, it turned out, my friend had shown my letter. Lenin’s note was comparatively short, but it contained a bold and fearless criticism of the practical work of our Party, and a remarkably clear and concise account of the entire plan of work of the Party in the immediate future. 
Only Lenin could write of the most intricate things so simply and clearly, so concisely and boldly, that every sentence did not so much speak as ring out like a rifle shot. This simple and bold letter still further strengthened me in my opinion that Lenin was the mountain eagle of our Party. I cannot forgive myself for having, from the habit of an old underground worker, consigned this letter of Lenin’s, like many other letters, to the flames.
My acquaintance with Lenin dates from that time.
I first met Lenin in December 1905 at the Bolshevik conference in Tammerfors (Finland). I was hoping to see the mountain eagle of our Party, the great man, great not only politically, but, if you will, physically, because in my imagination I had pictured Lenin as a giant, stately and imposing. What, then, was my disappointment to see a most ordinary-looking man, below average height, in no way, literally in no way, distinguishable from ordinary mortals. . . .
It is accepted as the usual thing for a “great man” to come late to meetings so that the assembly may await, his appearance with bated breath; and then, just before the “great man” enters, the warning whisper goes up: “Hush! . . . Silence! . . . he’s coming.” This ritual did not seem to me superfluous, because it creates an impression, inspires respect. What, then, was my disappointment to learn that Lenin had arrived at the conference before the delegates, had settled himself somewhere in a corner, and was unassumingly carrying on a conversation, a most ordinary conversation with the most ordinary delegates at the conference. I will not conceal from you that at that time this seemed to me to be something of a violation of certain essential rules.
Only later did I realise that this simplicity and modesty, this striving to remain unobserved, or, at least, not to make himself conspicuous and not to emphasise his high position, this feature was one of Lenin’s strongest points as the new leader of the new masses, of the simple and ordinary masses of the “rank and file” of humanity.
Force of Logic
The two speeches Lenin delivered at this conference were remarkable: one was on the current situation and the other on the agrarian question. Unfortunately, they have not been preserved. They were inspired, and they roused the whole conference to a pitch of stormy enthusiasm. The extraordinary power of conviction, the simplicity and clarity of argument, the brief and easily understood sentences, the absence of affectation, of dizzying gestures and theatrical phrases aiming at effect—all this made Lenin’s speeches a favourable contrast to the speeches of the usual “parliamentary” orators.
But what captivated me at the time was not this aspect of Lenin’s speeches. I was captivated by that irresistible force of logic in them which, although somewhat terse, gained a firm hold on his audience, gradually electrified it, and then, as one might say, completely overpowered it. I remember that many of the delegates said: “The logic of Lenin’s speeches is like a mighty tentacle which twines all round you and holds you as in a vice and from whose grip you are powerless to tear yourself away: you must either surrender or resign yourself to utter defeat.”
I think that this characteristic of Lenin’s speeches was the strongest feature of his art as an orator.
No Whining
The second time I met Lenin was in 1906 at the Stockholm Congress of our Party. You know that the Bolsheviks were in the minority at this congress and suffered defeat. This was the first time I saw Lenin in the role of the vanquished. But he was not in the least like those leaders who whine and lose heart after a defeat. On the contrary, defeat transformed Lenin into a spring of compressed energy which inspired his supporters for new battles and for future victory. I said that Lenin was defeated. But what sort of defeat was it? You had only to look at his opponents, the victors at the Stockholm Congress—Plekhanov, Axelrod, Martov and the rest. They had little of the appearance of real victors, for Lenin’s merciless criticism of Menshevism had not left one whole bone in their body, so to speak. I remember that we, the Bolshevik delegates, huddled together in a group, gazing at Lenin and asking his advice. The speeches of some of the delegates betrayed a note of weariness and dejection. I recall that to these speeches Lenin bitingly replied through clenched teeth: “Don’t whine, comrades, we are bound to win, for we are right.” Hatred of the whining intellectual, faith in our own strength, confidence in victory—that is what Lenin impressed upon us. It was felt that the Bolsheviks’ defeat was temporary, that they were bound to win in the very near future.
“No whining over defeat”—this was the feature of Lenin’s activities that helped him to rally around himself an army faithful to the end and confident in its strength.
No Boasting
At the next congress, held in 1907 in London, the Bolsheviks proved victorious. This was the first time I saw Lenin in the role of victor. Victory turns the heads of some leaders and makes them haughty and boastful. They begin in most cases to be triumphant, to rest on their laurels. But Lenin did not in the least resemble such leaders. On the contrary, it was precisely after a victory that he became especially vigilant and cautious. I recall that Lenin insistently impressed on the delegates: “The first thing is not to become intoxicated by victory and not to boast; the second thing is to consolidate the victory; the third is to give the enemy the finishing stroke, for he has been beaten, but, by no means crushed.” He poured withering scorn on those delegates who frivolously asserted: “It is all over with the Mensheviks now.” He had no difficulty in showing that the Mensheviks still had roots in the working-class movement, that they had to be fought with skill, and that all overestimation of one’s own strength and, especially, all underestimation of the strength of the enemy had to be avoided.
“No boasting in victory”—this was the feature of Lenin’s character that helped him soberly to weigh the strength of the enemy and to insure the Party against possible surprises.
Fidelity to Principle
Party leaders cannot but prize the opinion of the majority of their party. A majority is a power with which a leader cannot but reckon. Lenin understood this no less than any other party leader. But Lenin never became a captive of the majority, especially when that majority had no basis of principle. There have been times in the history of our Party when the opinion of the majority or the momentary interests of the Party conflicted with the fundamental interests of the proletariat. On such occasions Lenin would never hesitate and resolutely took his stand in support of principle as against the majority of the Party. Moreover, he did not fear on such occasions literally to stand alone against all, considering—as he would often say—that “a policy based on principle is the only correct policy.”
Particularly characteristic in this respect are the two following facts.
First fact. It was in the period 1909-11, when the Party, smashed by the counter-revolution, was in process of complete disintegration. It was a period of disbelief in the Party, of wholesale desertion from the Party, not only by the intellectuals, but partly even by the workers; a period when the necessity for illegal organisation was being denied, a period of Liquidationism and collapse. Not only the Mensheviks, but even the Bolsheviks then consisted of a number of factions and trends, for the most part severed from the working-class movement. You know that it was just at that period that the idea arose of completely liquidating the illegal organisation and organising the workers into a legal, liberal Stolypin party. Lenin at that time was the only one not to succumb to the widespread epidemic and to hold high the banner of Party principle, assembling the scattered and shattered forces of the Party with astonishing patience and extraordinary persistence, combating each and every anti-Party trend within the working-class movement and defending the Party principle with unusual courage and unparalleled perseverance.
We know that in this fight for the Party principle, Lenin later proved the victor.
Second fact. It was in the period 1914-17, when the imperialist war was in full swing, and when all, or nearly all, the Social-Democratic and Socialist parties had succumbed to the general patriotic frenzy and had placed themselves at the service of the imperialism of their respective countries. It was a period when the Second International had hauled down its colours to capitalism, when even people like Plekhanov, Kautsky, Guesde and the rest were unable to withstand the tide of chauvinism. Lenin at that time was the only one, or almost the only one, to wage a determined struggle against social-chauvinism and social-pacifism, to denounce the treachery of the Guesdes and Kautskys, and to stigmatise the half-heartedness of the betwixt and between “revolutionaries.” Lenin knew that he was backed by only an insignificant minority, but to him this was not of decisive moment, for he knew that the only correct policy with a future before it was the policy of consistent internationalism, that a policy based on principle is the only correct policy.
We know that in this fight for a new International, too, Lenin proved the victor.
“A policy based on principle is the only correct policy”—this was the formula by means of which Lenin took new “impregnable” positions by assault and won over the best elements of the proletariat to revolutionary Marxism.
Faith in the Masses
Theoreticians and leaders of parties, men who are acquainted with the history of nations and who have studied the history of revolutions from beginning to end, are sometimes afflicted by a shameful disease. This disease is called fear of the masses, disbelief in the creative power of the masses. This sometimes gives rise in the leaders to a kind of aristocratic attitude towards the masses, who, although not versed in the history of revolutions, are destined to destroy the old order and build the new. This kind of aristocratic attitude is due to a fear that the elements may break loose, that the masses may “destroy too much”; it is due to a desire to play the part of a mentor who tries to teach the masses from books, but who is averse to learning from the masses.
Lenin was the very antithesis of such leaders. I do not know of any other revolutionary who had so profound a faith in the creative power of the proletariat and in the revolutionary efficacy of its class instinct as Lenin. I do not know of any other revolutionary who could scourge the smug critics of the “chaos of revolution” and the “riot of unauthorised actions of the masses” so ruthlessly as Lenin. I recall that when in the course of a conversation one comrade said that “the revolution should be followed by the normal order of things,” Lenin sarcastically remarked: “It is a pity that people who want to be revolutionaries forget that the most normal order of things in history is the revolutionary order of things.”
Hence, Lenin’s contempt for all who superciliously looked down on the masses and tried to teach them from books. And hence, Lenin’s constant precept: learn from the masses, try to comprehend their actions, carefully study the practical experience of the struggle of the masses.
Faith in the creative power of the masses—this was the feature of Lenin’s activities which enabled him to comprehend the spontaneous process and to direct its movement into the channel of the proletarian revolution.
The Genius of Revolution
Lenin was born for revolution. He was, in truth, the genius of revolutionary outbreaks and the greatest master of the art of revolutionary leadership. Never did he feel so free and happy as in a time of revolutionary upheavals. I do not mean by this that Lenin approved equally of all revolutionary upheavals, or that he was in favour of revolutionary outbreaks at all times and under all circumstances. Not at all. What I do mean is that never was the genius of Lenin’s insight displayed so fully and distinctly as in a time of revolutionary outbreaks. In times of revolution he literally blossomed forth, became a seer, divined the movement of classes and the probable zigzags of the revolution, seeing them as if they lay in the palm of his hand. It was with good reason that it used to be said in our Party circles: “Lenin swims in the tide of revolution like a fish in water.”
Hence the “amazing” clarity of Lenin’s tactical slogans and the “breath-taking” boldness of his revolutionary plans.
I recall two facts which are particularly characteristic of this feature of Lenin.
First fact. It was in the period just prior to the October Revolution, when millions of workers, peasants and soldiers, impelled by the crisis in the rear and at the front, were demanding peace and liberty; when the generals and the bourgeoisie were working for a military dictatorship for the sake of “war to a finish”; when the whole of so-called “public opinion” and all the so-called “Socialist parties” were hostile to the Bolsheviks and were branding them as “German spies”; when Kerensky was trying—already with some success—to drive the Bolshevik Party underground; and when the still powerful and disciplined armies of the Austro-German coalition confronted our weary, disintegrating armies, while the West-European “Socialists” lived in blissful alliance with their governments for the sake of “war to complete victory.”. . .
What did starting an uprising at such a moment mean? Starting an uprising in such a situation meant staking everything. But Lenin did not fear the risk, for he knew, he saw with his prophetic eye, that an uprising was inevitable, that it would win; that an uprising in Russia would pave the way for ending the imperialist war, that it would rouse the war-weary masses of the West, that it would transform the imperialist war into a civil war; that the uprising would usher in a Republic of Soviets, and that the Republic of Soviets would serve as a bulwark for the revolutionary movement throughout the world.
We know that Lenin’s revolutionary foresight was subsequently confirmed with unparalleled exactness.
Second fact. It was in the first days of the October Revolution, when the Council of People’s Commissars was trying to compel General Dukhonin, the mutinous Commander-in-Chief, to terminate hostilities and open negotiations for an armistice with the Germans. I recall that Lenin, Krylenko (the future Commander-in-Chief) and I went to General Staff Headquarters in Petrograd to negotiate with Dukhonin over the direct wire. It was a ghastly moment. Dukhonin and Field Headquarters categorically refused to obey the order of the Council of People’s Commissars. The army officers were completely under the sway of Field Headquarters. 
As for the soldiers, no one could tell what this army of fourteen million would say, subordinated as it was to the so-called army organisations, which were hostile to the Soviet power. In Petrograd itself, as we know, a mutiny of the military cadets was brewing. Furthermore, Kerensky was marching on Petrograd. I recall that after a pause at the direct wire, Lenin’s face suddenly shone with an extraordinary light. Clearly he had arrived at a decision. “Let’s go to the wireless station,” he said, “it will stand us in good stead. We shall issue a special order dismissing General Dukhonin, appoint Comrade Krylenko Commander-in-Chief in his place and appeal to the soldiers over the heads of the officers, calling upon them to surround the generals, to cease hostilities, to establish contact with the Austro-German soldiers and take the cause of peace into their own hands.”
This was “a leap in the dark.” But Lenin did not shrink from this “leap”; on the contrary, he made it eagerly, for he knew that the army wanted peace and would win peace, sweeping every obstacle from its path; he knew that this method of establishing peace was bound to have its effect on the Austro-German soldiers and would give full rein to the yearning for peace on every front without exception.
We know that here, too, Lenin’s revolutionary foresight was subsequently confirmed with the utmost exactness.
The insight of genius, the ability rapidly to grasp and divine the inner meaning of impending events this was the quality of Lenin which enabled him to lay down the correct strategy and a clear line of conduct at turning points of the revolutionary movement.