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The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Lars Lih

So the great Lars “Lih...suggests (quite controversially) that Kamenev was more right than wrong in the debate over Lenin’s ‘April Theses’ of 1917, and that he essentially won the debate.” “Quite controversially,” indeed. Afterall, if that was the case, then how did the October Revolution (which “old Bolshevik curiousity” Kamenev, along with his by then sidekick Zinoviev, opposed) ever take place? Or perhaps, even though it was carried out under the banners of “all power to the soviets,” it created the elusive “democratic (i.e., capitalist) dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” that we foolishly thought Lenin had discarded at the Finland Station in favor of Trotsky’s apparently still heretical “permanent revolution.” That is until Lih emerged from behind a barricade of books at some obscure library to enlighten us misguided “activists” (i.e., Trots) otherwise. Some years ago a fellow by the name of Jack Barnes (who some of the writers and readers of this publication may be familiar with) drew the same conclusion and dispatched one Doug Jenness to do battle with none other than Ernest Mandel over it. Down under in Australia another former Trot, Doug Lorimer, followed in Barnes footsteps, taking on both Mandel and Phil Hearse in the process.

While Barnes’ SWP and Lorimer’s DSP were hoping to court assorted Third World Stalinists, to whom Trotsky and “permanent revolution” were anathemas, Lih’s appetites appear to lie elsewhere. Lih, in essence, claims to have “rediscovered” that Lenin...was little more than an unreconstructed Kautskyite. Needless to say he has a whole chorus of long-time anti-Leninists and anti-Trotskyists cheering him on. Even those who disagree with him, like Paul LeBlanc, bow and scrape before his allegedly “pathbreaking discoveries” which amount to little more than an academic attempt to use Lenin as a vehicle for resurrecting Kautsky while at the same time burying Trotsky. While he is no fan of “Trotskyism,” former SWPer Louis Project has recently written a number of articles far more critical of Lih than many of Trotsky’s self-styled supporters.

Since Lenin supposedly never ceased to be a Kautskyist, “Leninism” therefore has as little relevance as a body of thought than does the “Trotskyism” that was officially abandoned in the 1990s when the Soviet Union went out of business. That supposedly ended the whole epoch inaugurated by the Russian Revolution. As for what Micheal Lowy once called Lenin’s “great break” (i.e., from Kautskyism) represented by the April Theses...well, that must never have happened or was just a tempest in a teapot. Funny, the post-1914 Lenin my generation read, constantly called for a complete break from the Second International and reserved his choicest invective for his former mentor, the renegade Kautsky, regardless of how highly he had regarded him prior to August 4th. Hell, before 1914, Lenin even sided with Kautsky against Rosa Luxemburg who had his number long before any of the Ruskies did. However, after the shooting started we know what the score was, regardless of whatever Lenin may have thought of Kautsky’s better writings. And while Kautsky may have been better before the war than during and/or after it, he was no great shakes even then, championing a mechanistic Darwinist, unilinear stagism that provided left cover for the refiormist party and trade union bureuacracy that Second International Social Democracy regardless of what Las Lih or Eric Blanc may think.

There are, in fact, a number of studies of Lenin and the "Leninist Party" that were written in the middle to late 1970s by a range of Trotskyists, (i.e., the “activists” Lih speaks of) that stressed (or at least took into account) the Lenin-Kautsky connection long before Lars Lih ever entered a library. I would assume that any veteran activist is as familiar with them as I am. These include John Molyneux's (British SWP) "Marxism and the Party," Tony Cliff’s multi-volume biography of Lenin and the Sparts' "Lenin and the Vanguard Party." Ernest Mandel also deals with this in his "Leninist Theory of Organization" although not in as much detail as the others do. So too did Norman Geras in his “Literature of Revolution”. And Paul LeBlanc’s book on Lenin and the Revolutionary Party holds its own there as well. So I fail to see why Lars Lih should be hailed as if he has made the discovery of the ages. Unless there are underlying political reasons for his fans to do so...which there most obviously are. For as one of Lih’s admirers at the British CPGB’s Weeky Worker point out, “the broad sweep of the character of today’s left hinge, one way or another, on one concept: the ‘Leninist party’, or ‘combat party’, or ‘party of a new type’.” Indeed. Especially for those who prefer the “broad based” Kautskyist party of the whole class or revolutionary but not revolution making party of the old type.

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