In the present major crisis of capitalism, even when one is tempted to pretend to ignore the rise of the extreme right and other symptoms of despair, we do discern a need for a political perspective – a need that is expressed here and there in the world in very different mobilizations. The works and actions of Lenin, a major thinker of the Revolution, will be instructive in this search.

I can see in his works six theses which seem to have retained all their pertinence.

1. The revolution, first of all, is a war.

Lenin compared politics to military art, and stressed the need to ensure the existence of organized, disciplined revolutionary parties: because a political party is not just a think-tank (French Socialist Party leaders: thank you for the show!).

2. For Lenin, as well as for Marx before him, a political revolution is also, and above all, a social revolution, that is to say a change of status for classes into which society is divided.

This means that it is always appropriate to question the true nature of the state, of the “republic.” Thus, the crisis of autumn 2008 clearly demonstrated how, in the leading centers of capitalism, the state and public money could be used to serve the interests of banks and a handful of privileged people. The state, in other words, is most surely not “above classes”.

3. A revolution is a series of battles, and it is up to the vanguard party to provide, at each stage of the struggle, slogan and watchwords adapted to the situation and to its potential.

Because it is neither the mood attributed to the “people” nor the “opinion” allegedly measured by pollsters that are able to develop such slogans. When, at the climax of a succession of days of demonstrations, 3 million people are in the streets (which is what has happened in France at the beginning of 2009), there is a need to offer them a perspective other than yet another meeting between union leaders. Otherwise, the movement runs out of steam, and it discourages those who waited in vain for an indication of the precise nature of the objectives and the way to reach them …

4. The major problems of people’s lives are always settled by force, Lenin also emphasized.

“Force” does not necessarily mean, far from it, open violence or bloody repression against the other side! When millions of people decide to converge in one place, such as Tahrir Square in central Cairo, and indicate that nothing will force them to back up in the face of a hated power, it is already fully a matter of force. According to Lenin, it is crucial to dispel the illusions of parliamentary and electoral cretinism, leading, for example, to the situation we are in presently in France: a “Left” geared almost entirely toward electoral campaigns, from which the masses of citizens, rightly, expect .. almost nothing.

5. Revolutionaries must not despise the struggle, contenting themselves with reforms.

Lenin was certainly aware that at certain times, a given reform can be a temporary concession, or a decoy, with the consent of the ruling class, better to put to sleep those who try to resist it. But he considers, nevertheless, that reform is most of the time a new leverage for the revolutionary struggle.

6. Politics, finally, since the dawn of the twentieth century, begins when and where there are millions, even tens of millions of people involved.

In formulating this sixth thesis, Lenin sensed that revolutionary situations will tend to develop increasingly in colonial or semi-colonial dominated countries. And indeed, since the Chinese Revolution of 1949 till the independences in the 1960s of the last century, history has largely confirmed the latter prediction.

In short, one should read Lenin, especially after the flood generated by “the end of real socialism.” Let’s read and reread Lenin again and again, to better build the future!

Jean Salem, is professor of philosophy at the University of Paris, Panthéon-Sorbonne. He is the author of “Lénine et la révolution”, published by Encre marine, 2006.

Original l’Humanite French article: Lire et relire Lénine, pour préparer l’avenir.
Interviewed by Laurent Etre. Translated  by Hervé Fuyet and reviewed by Henry Crapo.

Friday 6 May 2011