There’s no universal model of Leninism

March 12, 2013

IN REPONSE to "Leninism is unfinished": My old friend Paul LeBlanc--in arguing against another old friend, Louis Proyect, who was in the U.S. SWP with myself and Paul decades ago--cites the Comintern's 1921 resolution on the organization and activity of the Communist Parties as proof that there is more to Lenin's organizational efforts than simply an attempt to build a standard social democratic party under Russian conditions.

In particular, Paul cites, time and again, the 1921 Third Congress Resolution on the Organization and Activities of the Communist Parties.

Paul writes:

There is no question that Lenin was profoundly influenced by other comrades in the pre-1914 Socialist International, particularly George Plekhanov and Karl Kautsky. But his thought cannot be reduced to that. Nor did his thinking stop in 1914. In fact, the 1921 Comintern theses "The Organizational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of Their Work" were put forward at Lenin's insistence. Not only did Lenin help to shape the theses (which included a substantial emphasis on democratic centralism), he also defended them after they were adopted.[6]

Apparently to present a Lenin more consistent with political points he wishes to stress, Proyect chooses to leave this and much else out of his account of the history of the Bolsheviks.

Yet Lenin took the extraordinary step of renouncing and denouncing that resolution at the next Comintern Congress, even though in the context of his report, it had to be dragged in by the hair.

After talking quite a bit about the first five years of the Russian Revolution, including a lot of what he considered mistakes, Lenin says the missteps of the capitalists have been much greater and uses that as a pretext to take up the 1921 resolution:

I don't think it will be an exaggeration to repeat that the foolish things we have done are nothing compared with those done in concert by the capitalist countries, the capitalist world and the Second International. That is why I think that the outlook for the world revolution--a subject which I must touch on briefly--is favorable. And given a certain definite condition, I think it will be even better. I should like to say a few words about this.

At the Third Congress, in 1921, we adopted a resolution on the organizational structure of the Communist Parties and on the methods and content of their activities. The resolution is an excellent one, but it is almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is based on Russian conditions. This is its good point, but it is also its failing. It is its failing because I am sure that no foreigner can read it. I have read it again before saying this.

In the first place, it is too long, containing 50 or more points. Foreigners are not usually able to read such things. Secondly, even if they read it, they will not understand it because it is too Russian. Not because it is written in Russian--it has been excellently translated into all languages--but because it is thoroughly imbued with the Russian spirit. And thirdly, if by way of exception some foreigner does understand it, he cannot carry it out. This is its third defect.

I have talked with a few of the foreign delegates and hope to discuss matters in detail with a large number of delegates from different countries during the Congress, although I shall not take part in its proceedings, for unfortunately it is impossible for me to do that. I have the impression that we made a big mistake with this resolution, namely, that we blocked our own road to further success.

I KNOW Paul is aware of Lenin's speech and interprets it differently. But can a denunciation be stronger than saying that a resolution diminishes the prospects for world revolution? How much bigger does a repudiation get than saying that, with this one resolution, "we blocked our road to further success"?

If Paul is right that this resolution is a significant milestone in the emergence of a specific Leninist theory of organization, perhaps we should take into account Lenin's damning conclusion a year later.

And what was his criticism? First, that the resolution was a mess (The English version is almost 14,000 words, and the document goes from contradicting itself on abstract generalities to highly detailed instructions on how parties should be set up, what reports should be presented, etc.)

But mostly his criticism was that it was "too Russian"--that it was a mistake to try to export the Russian party model because people from other countries can't understand what is being said because they do not know the Russian history and conditions that shaped the Russian Communist Party; and even if by some miracle someone understood it, they could not apply it correctly, for they did not have Russia's situation.

Based on the nine decades since Lenin fell silent, I think the verdict of actual experience is quite clear: Lenin was right when he condemned the resolution. What we have come to know as "Leninism" is a dead end that has "blocked our own road to further success."
Joaquín Bustelo, Atlanta

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