I had proposed to continue my debate with Chris in Rebel Worker, answering his criticism to my article on the totalitarian state and the vanguard party. In this latest contribution I make the point that Lenin never had a consistent theory of the party and I indicated my sympathy with some of his ideas.
Instead of continuing the debate at the moment, I have turned to look at a recent publication - "Lenin, Life and Legacy," compiled by Dimitgri Volkogonov in 1994 and translated by Harold Shukman.
Volkogonov describes vivdly in his introduction to the holy of holies , Lenin's archives - "The massive steel door open and I was ushered into a large lobby from which led to the holy of holies, Lenin's unpublished documents, numbering 3724 in all. For example I was able to read for the first time a letter of Kropotkin to Lenin, dated December 1920, protesting about the hostages taken by the Bolsheviks against any attempt on the lives of Soviet leaders. Lenin had read the letter and marked it, "For the archives."
After the failure of the attempted coup in August 1991 Volkogonov was appointed to supervise the control and declassification of the Party and State archives. He had in 1988 published a biography of Stalin and worked in the Institute of Military History and had collected material for his draft for the new history of WWII, but was attacked by the Minister of Defence, Yazov who accused Volkogonov of blacking the honour of the Army. Then Volkogonov resigned.
A new reading of Lenin was made possible because Volkogonov was granted access to the archives, but also because Leninism had collapsed in the former Soviet Union. The author of this book confesses "after collecting incriminating evidence for his book Stalin published in 1988, Lenin was the last bastion in his mind to fall"..."To engage in debate about Lenin and to assess his actions is no longer to challenge the legitimacy of all the existing political system." Areas which have become possible to now debate includes Lenin's financial operations, German involvment in the funding of the Bolshevik activity during WWI and Soviet funding of foreign Communist Parties:(excerpt from the Commintern meeting on March 1922 (page 399), Budget for German CP - 446,592 gold roubles; French CP - 100,000 gold roubles; Italian CP - 360,842 gold roubles; Czech CP - 250,000 gold roubles; English CP - unanimous vote for 209,000 gold roubles) and the effects of his last illness on his political judgements.
Lenin never concealed his belief that the new world could only be built with the aid of physical violence. In March 1922, he wrote to Kamenev: "It is the biggest mistake to think that NEP will put an end to the terror. We shall return to the terror and the economic terror."
Volkogonov explains it like this: "The attempt on Lenin's life became the point at which individual terror was supplanted by mass terror as an important component of state policy."
If I am allowed to make some judgements on this book on Lenin so far, I will make two: for most of the Left in Australia today , the bastion of Lenin and Leninism still has to fall. And that the Bolshevik coup and that is how I regard their involvement in 1917, was counter revolutionary. In my continuing debate with Chris I will have to justify those judgements
Volkogonov makes some interesting conclusions in the book (which I endorse). I believe they come from his study of the archives, not previously available to persons of Left views.
When Lenin took control, he was armed only with theoretical plans and had never governed anyone other than his wife. He was simply helpless when confronted with the mountain of Russia's problems. All he could think of was to confiscate, requisition and expropriate everything. To do this he needed only one device, merciless dictatorship.
A mere two or three months before he had been talking about the withering away of the state and now he was creating an army, tribunals, people's commissars, secret departments and a diplomatic service. The new state structure could only be made to work by recourse to the dispersed bourgeois "expert".
Lenin was willing to commit appallingly cruel acts in the name of the revolution. While this Jacobin outlook was a little better than Stalin's brutality, it seemed to give a noble purpose, a certain revolutionary aura to force and cruelty.
Surely it proves my conclusion, that what was created - a totalitarian state under Lenin's supervision.
But there was some attractive features of Lenin's "socialism". There was a broad range of elementary social security, free education, medicine, holiday pay, full employment and a guaranteed minimum wage - but in Volkogonov's opinion accompanied at the cost of the exploitation of the workers and the country's resources.