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Why Lenin should be read

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The Socialist Workers’ Union (SWU) attached to the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) held a commemorative event “Read Lenin: The great man who changed the world” to mark the 91st death anniversary of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin on January 22, at the Viharamahadevi Open Air Theater. The keynote speaker was JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva. An abridged translated version of his speech is given here.

Sri Lanka is now at an important juncture in its politics. Dramatic changes have taken place, and the political arena is buzzing with news and views on democracy, punishing the corrupt officials and so on. One might wonder why the JVP and the SWU was discussing Lenin instead of all these discussion around us.

Sri Lankans made a huge change, with many hopes in their minds. We also supported this attempt, but we warned the people not to expect dramatic changes. Now, some of those, who were in the midst of the struggle are asking if there is no real change. It seems to be the same as before. One has to admit that there is change. But the change is not qualitative. We need that change. If there is to be real change, good governance, communal harmony and economic development to the level we expect, a social transformation is needed.

The change that has happened has to be transformed into a real change. The vanguard of this battle will be the working class and the left movement of the country. The best guide the left movement can have at this juncture is Lenin and therefore, we decided to initiate a discourse on Lenin.

There are two main schools of critics of Lenin. One is the bourgeoisie school of thought, which considers Lenin to be a dictator, similar to the Tsar of Russia. The other school of thought, the opportunists think Lenin misinterpreted Marxism. These are people who cling on to what Marx said without going into the meaning or the practical application of Marxism. They feel Lenin misinterpreted Marxism. But we believe Lenin is the pioneer, who implemented Marxism in the modern world.

Lenin was born in a middle class family with some political consciousness in 1870. His elder brother, who was an anarchist, was hanged in 1887 on the charges of conspiring to kill the Tsar. Through this incident, Lenin understood that his brother took the wrong path. He figured out that killing, or changing the ruler will not change the system. There will be another Tsar. Therefore Lenin decided that the society should change. It is applicable anywhere. Whether you vote a ruler out, or take to the streets and remove a ruler, without changing the society you cannot achieve real change.

It is important to understand the importance of Lenin in today’s world. Marx introduced his critic of capitalism in its initial stages. However, by 1900, the earlier free capitalism was being replaced by monopolistic capitalism during the transformation to the imperial age. It was Lenin who adapted Marxism to the monopolistic capitalism in the present, imperialist period. Therefore we refer to this ideology as Marxism-Leninism.

Furthermore, Lenin practiced this developed Marxism, creating the first socialist state in the world. Marx, at his time, believed that socialist revolution could be carried out in a developed society. However, Lenin saw that the situation has changed in the imperialist period and said that socialist revolution could take place even in a backward society.

We also know that Lenin was a skilled organizer. He created the concept called Bolshevism. It gives the conceptual foundation to a centralized, disciplined, well organized revolutionary movement. The oppressed class cannot be led without such a disciplined movement. The party should be centralized, but in a democratic manner. It should have discipline and should have a theoretical base. This is what Bolshevism offers. JVP is a party that has been constructed based on Leninism.

Even today, there is a misconception that there should be independent trade unions. Lenin never believed in this. Independent trade unions are tools used by capitalists to use the working class to their own ends. A working class trade union must be attached to the party which guides it.

Lenin also discussed how different conditions and opportunities should be used in the socialist revolution. A political movement has to work within the existing society, and not in an imaginary world. In such a society, it is the responsibility of the party to make advances that could be made within the system whenever possible. Lenin showed how we could use the different circumstances towards the revolution. For example, in 1905, in feudal Russia, a movement against the Tsar erupted. This was a bourgeoisie movement. However, Lenin did not discard the moment. He showed how this moment should be seized, not to stop at toppling the Tsar but to progress towards socialist revolution through the bourgeoisie revolution. He wrote this in a document ‘Two strategies of Social Democracy.’

In March 1917, when the Tsar was replaced by a provisional government, some Bolsheviks argued that they should join the government. But Lenin urged that although the Tsar was gone, the new government was carrying out the same policies. Therefore, Lenin said that a socialist government should be formed.

The JVP is saying something similar these days. It is true that Mahinda Rajapaksa government was defeated. But merely defeating Rajapaksa does not ensure the establishment of democracy and good governance. We have to fight for it. One was will be to ensure that the JVP gets a larger membership in the parliament after the elections that are to take place later this year. For the JVP to tell something like this, the initial example was given in 1917 by none other than Lenin. Although the class societies of Russia in 1917 and Sri Lanka in 2015 are vastly different there are certain similarities on the surface which enable us to adapt certain teachings of Lenin.

Lenin clearly understood the circumstances and changes in capitalist society. He saw how power was transferred from feudal class to capitalist class and later he picked the correct opportunity to lead the socialist revolution in October 1917. He had warned against an attempt to overthrow the government in June when there seemed to be a chance. He saw that the opportunity was not right. He waited until the correct moment.

Lenin saw that socialism could not advance in one country. He urged the international revolution. In this process he created the Third International in 1919. He also searched for other strategies to further the revolution. One such strategy was to enter into the national liberation movements against the colonial rule and take its leadership which was then under the local bourgeoisie. Lenin urged that the working class should give the leadership to the movements. It was through this that the revolution succeeded in certain colonial countries.

Another important task Lenin did was to give an example to the working class to govern. The working class had been governed, but had not been ruling until Soviet Russia was born. Lenin started leading this with no prior example to guide him. It was a difficult task and mistakes were made. However, Lenin learned from the mistakes and gave a lesson to the working class in governing a country.

There is a misconception that communists want to destroy all that has been developed by the capitalist society. This is utter rubbish. Lenin showed that socialism is build not by totally destroying a society, but on what has been already constructed by the capitalist or earlier systems. Socialist society should be built using the technology, science, economic strategies and cultural heritage that was given us by capitalist system. Socialists should develop these into something better by removing the reactionary aspects of them.

The bourgeoisie accuse us of neglecting cultural heritage, religion and other aspects of life in these countries. However, it is their people who break Buddha statues to find treasures inside them. While doing that they accuse us of planning to destroy temples. A revolutionary is a well read and a cultured person. One can easily be a destroyer. But it is difficult to be a constructor. A revolutionary is not a destroyer. He is a constructor. Lenin was a cultured person and he showed this when they were redesigning the city of Moscow. He told the architect that old Tsarist symbols such as the Kremlin, the Red Square and the St Basil’s cathedral should not be touched when redesigning the city. Even now, these are the landmarks of Moscow. Furthermore, the Moscow subway system was also a concept of Lenin.

Lenin was an exemplary character, from whom we could learn an immense lot. He was a good leader, an intellectual, was well-read and cultured, was a skilled writer, a successful organizer, but among all these, a simple person. He was totally different from Heads of States we have seen in Sri Lanka.

Today Sri Lanka is in a transition period where certain changes have been made. However, there is a lot to be done. This is why Lenin is important. He showed us how we could use the opportunities that arise to make sure that our ultimate goal is reached.
(Translated by Chamara Sumanapala)

Tilvin Silva (Pic by Chamara Sumanapala)


Lenin and the Petitioners by V Serov


Last modified on Sunday, 01 February 2015 00:18
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