JF, Baile Átha Cliath.
One hundred and fifty years have passed since the birth of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known to the world as Lenin. There are very few figures whose life and legacy carries such world-historic importance, a figure of the kind that Hegel referred to as moving beyond mere intention and “falling in with the needs of the age”. Lenin led a revolution of the oppressed masses that put them in charge. The peoples of the former Russian Empire rejected “eternal” laws of markets and private property in order to manage their own relationship with nature and one another. To erase this anomaly in world history – the unwashed masses governing themselves – the global imperialist powers invaded revolutionary Russia. Refusing to accept it, and furious that the emerging market of the Russian Empire had been seized from them, the West, from day one, decried the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a “dictatorship”, one built on repression and violence. But as the years tumbled past it became clear that the workers and peasants could organise their own affairs and following the foreign intervention and civil war, living standards soared. Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the revolutionary masses had disproven all the politicians and scholars of the capitalist elite. His ideas, a revolutionary development of Marxism, have inspired hundreds of millions over the last century, on every continent on the planet. What is so powerful about these ideas? Why did the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party of Vietnam alike espouse Marxism-Leninism? Why does the Connolly Youth Movement do the same today?
Lenin’s first revolutionary innovation was developed in the dark days of the Tsarist Russian Empire. Political liberties were few, while a wretchedly poor working class was increasingly radicalised and influenced by Marxist ideas – a new philosophy based on class struggle and which viewed society on the scientific basis, overcoming illusions about nature and social relations. A young Lenin appeared in the radical circles of St. Petersburg with an incredible understanding of Marxism. Frustrated with the impotence of the mass socialist parties of Germany and France, dominated as they were by middle-class intellectuals and parliamentarians, Lenin saw that the revolutionary working class needed to be unified in its own disciplined party. Unity and discipline along Marxist lines, with free and open political disputes as they arose, allowed Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks, to achieve unparalleled feats. Lenin understood that ‘without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.’ That revolutionary theory was Marxism – not a dogmatic set of rules etched down in ancient times, but a living, breathing revolutionary science for analysing our conditions, learning from the past and plotting a course for the future.
For the global oppressed, a rugged trail in the swamp of class struggle had been cleared. While each nation’s trail was different, and had to be carefully considered, Lenin’s ideas guided them throughout. There are now few countries that have not been rocked or forever changed by the principles of Leninism, particularly in the global south. Lenin understood imperialism as the capitalist world’s driving force. He formulated this in the midst of Europe’s bloody sacrifice of millions for the sake of imperialist profits known to us today as the First World War. Lenin was among the few prominent socialists, alongside James Connolly, who advocated ‘revolutionary defeatism’ – actively undermining the war effort of their own government via revolutionary struggle. It was this utter rejection of imperialism that has made Lenin and Connolly such key figures to study and learn from. Like Ireland today, Russia was dominated by foreign capital, which controlled the resources and industries of the embryonic capitalist power. The Tsarist regime, and the liberal bourgeois regime that replaced it, continued to send their citizens to the slaughter in order to please their imperialist masters right up until their regimes were overthrown. With the increasing erosion of our neutrality by the imperialist EU, alongside increasingly significant financial contributions to European militarism, would we expect anything different from the Dáil today?
In the theories of Marxism-Leninism, combined with our rich history of socialist-republicanism, the Irish people have a fertile ground from which to build a movement that can shake Ireland in the 2020s, as Lenin shook the world in the 1920s. Achieving liberation and socialism will require the construction of a genuinely revolutionary party and taking careful heed of the imperialist contradictions at play on our island. A century and a half on we celebrate and appreciate Lenin’s life and legacy as someone who can aid us in our struggle. In his giant footsteps we will follow and shape an Ireland by and for its people.
The simple words of Langston Hughes express his impact better than this writer ever could:
Lenin walks around the world.
Frontiers cannot bar him.
Neither barracks nor barricades impede.
Nor does barbed wire scar him.
Lenin walks around the world.
Black, brown, and white receive him.
Language is no barrier.
The strangest tongues believe him.
Lenin walks around the world.
The sun sets like a scar.
Between the darkness and the dawn
There rises a red star.
Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism – V. I. Lenin, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/
The State and Revolution – V. I. Lenin, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/
What Is To Be Done – V. I. Lenin, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/
Red Star over the Third World – Vijay Prashad,
Remembering Comrade #Lenin on the occasion of his 150th Birth Anniversary – Vijay Prashad:
The Foundations of Leninism – J. V. Stalin, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1924/foundations-leninism/index.htm
History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), chaps. 1-3, 5-6 – USSR textbook, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1939/x01/index.htm