Joseph Stalin’s The Foundations of Leninism was published in 1924. What makes it different than today’s writing is that Joseph Stalin was a leftist and also a winner. Therefore, his thoughts on winning are worth considering. The text is timely, since inequality in the US has reached levels unseen since the 1920s:
The first contradiction is the contradiction between labour and capital. Imperialism is the omnipotence of the monopolist trusts and syndicates, of the banks and the financial oligarchy, in the industrial countries. In the fight against this omnipotence, the customary methods of the working class-trade unions and cooperatives, parliamentary parties and the parliamentary struggle-have proved to be totally inadequate. Either place yourself at the mercy of capital, eke out a wretched existence as of old and sink lower and lower, or adopt a new weapon-this is the alternative imperialism puts before the vast masses of the proletariat. Imperialism brings the working class to revolution.
It’s been more than 90 years, but it could’ve been written this morning. Stalin is a desperately needed corrective to the Bernie Sanders phenomenon:
In Stalin’s view, the key is to produce widespread disillusionment intense enough that people are willing to die for it. He quotes Lenin’s “Left Wing” Communism:
The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions, and particularly by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follow: it is not enough for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses should understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes; it is essential for revolution that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. Only when the ‘lower classes’ do not want the old way, and when the ‘upper classes’ cannot carry on in the old way–only then can revolution triumph. This truth may be expressed in other words: revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that for revolution it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand that revolution is necessary and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it; secondly, that the ruling classes should be passing through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics … weakens the government and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to overthrow it rapidly
From the “real” socialist point of view, the best thing about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders is the hope that their followers will get utterly disillusioned with Democrats.
2) The peasantry during the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This period extends from the first Russian revolution (1905) to the second revolution (February 1917), inclusive. The characteristic feature of this period is the emancipation of the peasantry from the influence of the liberal bourgeoisie, the peasantry’s desertion of the Cadets, its turn towards the proletariat, towards the Bolshevik Party. The history of this period is the history of the struggle between the Cadets (the liberal bourgeoisie) and the Bolsheviks (the proletariat) for the peasantry. The outcome of this struggle was decided by the Duma period, for the period of the four Dumas served as an object lesson to the peasantry, and this lesson brought home to the peasantry the fact that they would receive neither land nor liberty at the hands of the Cadets; that the tsar was wholly in favour of the landlords, and that the Cadets were supporting the tsar; that the only force they could rely on for assistance was the urban workers, the proletariat. The imperialist war merely confirmed the lessons of the Duma period and consummated the peasantry’s desertion of the bourgeoisie, consummated the isolation of the liberal bourgeoisie; for the years of the war revealed the utter futility, the utter deceptiveness of all hopes of obtaining peace from the tsar and his bourgeois allies. Without the object lessons of the Duma period, the hegemony of the proletariat would have been impossible.
To be clear, Sanders’ attempt to influence the Democratic platform at the convention is pointless. In the 2004 election, I was a delegate to second round of caucuses, and I voted for Kucinich in the hopes of making Kerry have to sign a more “progressive” platform. It accomplished nothing.
The theory of “defeating” opportunist elements by the ideological struggle within the Party, the theory of “overcoming” these elements within the confines of a single party, is a rotten and dangerous theory, which threatens to condemn the Party to paralysis and chronic infirmity, threatens to leave the Party a prey to opportunism, threatens to leave the proletariat without a revolutionary party, threatens to deprive the proletariat of its main weapon in the fight against imperialism. Our Party could not have emerged on to the broad highway, it could not have seized power and organised the dictatorship of the proletariat, it could not have emerged victorious from the civil war, if it had had within its ranks people like Martov and Dan, Potresov and Axelrod. Our Party succeeded in achieving internal unity and unexampled cohesion of its ranks primarily because it was able to in good time to purge itself of the opportunist pollution, because it was able to rid its ranks of the Liquidators and Mensheviks. Proletarian parties develop and become strong by purging themselves of opportunists and reformists, social-imperialists and social-chauvinists, social-patriots and social-pacifists.
The party has to be a revolutionary vanguard leading the masses, not a bunch of spineless people relying on consultants and public opinion polls. Until more people understand that, “the tactics of ‘patiently explaining’ the mistakes of the petty-bourgeois parties and of open struggle in the Soviets were the only correct tactics.” In other words, not voting and reminding people that you told them so is the proper Stalinist response to the election.
Stalin quotes Lenin again:
“Victory cannot be won with the vanguard alone,” says Lenin. “To throw the vanguard alone into the decisive battle, before the whole class, before the broad masses have taken up a position either of direct support of the vanguard, or at least of benevolent neutrality towards it…would be not merely folly but a crime. And in order that actually the whole class, that actually the broad masses of the working people and those oppressed by capital may take up such a position, propaganda and agitation alone are not enough. For this the masses must have their own political experience. Such is the fundamental law of all great revolutions, now confirmed with astonishing force and vividness not only in Russia but also in Germany. Not only the uncultured, often illiterate masses of Russia, but the highly cultured, entirely literate masses of Germany had to realise through their own painful experience the absolute impotence and spinelessness, the absolute helplessness and servility to the bourgeoisie, the utter vileness, of the government of the knights of the Second International, the absolute inevitability of a dictatorship of the extreme reactionaries (Kornilov in Russia, Kapp and Co. in Germany) as the only alternatives to a dictatorship of the proletariat, in order to turn resolutely towards communism” (see Vol. XXV, p. 228)
Zizek has interesting things to say about the psychology of Stalinism, especially show trials and the importance of Lenin loving cats:
I was a bit surprised that the book ends with praise of “American efficiency”:
American efficiency, on the other hand, is an antidote to “revolutionary” Manilovism and fantastic scheme concocting. American efficiency is that indomitable force which neither knows nor recognises obstacles; which with its business-like perseverance brushes aside all obstacles; which continues at a task once started until it is finished, even if it is a minor task; and without which serious constructive work is inconceivable.
But American efficiency has every chance of degenerating into narrow and unprincipled practicalism if it is not combined with Russian revolutionary sweep…
The combination of Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficiency is the essence of Leninism in Party and state work.
This combination alone produces the finished type of Leninist worker, the style of Leninism in work.