Upon returning from China, my author copies of Lenin, Religion, and Theology were waiting for me. Nice welcome home:

Lenin, Religion, and Theology

It weighs in at 360 pages and is available from Palgrave Macmillan and the usual outlets, some of which will give you a look inside the cover. What’s next? After I finish trawling through the tiresome and often truly inane works of the classical economists and their forebears (Grotius, Locke, Smith, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Malthus), I’m dying to settle in for some long evenings with Stalin.

Our grandchildren will examine the documents and other relics of the epoch of the capitalist system with amazement. It will be difficult for them to picture to themselves how the trade in articles of primary necessity could remain in private hands, how factories could belong to individuals, how some people could exploit others, how it was possible for those who did not work to exist

Lenin ‘Three Speeches Delivered in Red Square, May Day, 1919′ CW 29, 330 // Три речи на Красной площади 1 мая 1919 г. Хроникерские записи. LPSS 38, 325

(The index of Lenin, Religion, and Theology draws closer to completion)

Neil Harding’s great 2-volume work, Lenin’s Political Thought, may be a little flat at times, especially when it comes to the intricacies of the dialectic in Lenin’s hands. Yet his ability to deploy earthy images is of the same calibre as Lenin’s:

The revolution was not like a plum falling into the hand when fully ripe without so much as a shake of the tree. It was, to characterise Lenin’s account, more like a turnip. It would swell and ripen in the ground but would take a stout pull to harvest it—otherwise the action of the elements and of parasites would combine to rot it away (Harding, Lenin’s Political Thought, vol. 2, p. 73)

Can you tell I’m doing the proof corrections for Lenin, Religion, and Theology? Good news: the cover is out too:

Lenin, Religion, and Theology

Paul Le Blanc has written this rather nice blurb for Lenin, Religion, and Theology, due out very soon:

In reading this book (which he surely would have done), Lenin himself might have been amused by Boer’s own gift for the outrageously funny, and perhaps offended by an all-too-apt detection of the religious dimensions of his revolutionary perspectives. Modern-day readers will learn much about the Bolshevik ‘god-builders’ against whom Lenin so fiercely polemicized, and about the ironic twists through which latter-day Bolshevik ‘god-builders’ turned this secular revolutionary into a deity.  Boer’s genuine respect for the man and his thought intertwines in fascinating ways with an intimate knowledge of Christian rhetoric and theology, resulting in a fresh, provocative contribution – to intellectual history, religious studies, and Marxist scholarship. — Paul Le Blanc, Professor of History, La Roche College, USA; Author, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party and Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience.

To follow on from the previous post and since I am copyediting my big Lenin book, a discussion of the role of reform:

One might expect that Lenin would opt clearly for revolution over against reform, for an abolition of the current system over against tinkering with it in order to make life more bearable. A selective reading of Lenin’s texts can give this impression. Reform is thereby described as a “tinkering with washbasins” (characteristic of the Zemstvos), that is, introducing reliable water supply, electric trains, lighting, and other “developments” that do not threaten the foundations of the “existing social system” (CW 10: 189; LPSS 12: 263). Such reform may therefore be seen as a response by the bourgeoisie to the strength of the working class, attempting to steer the workers away from revolution by emphasizing reform. Even more, reformism is “bourgeois deception of the workers,” who will always remain wage-slaves as long as capital dominates: “The liberal bourgeoisie grant reforms with one hand, and with the other always take them back, reduce them to nought, use them to enslave the workers, to divide them into separate groups and perpetuate wage-slavery” (CW 19: 372; LPSS 24: 1). In other words, reform is a bourgeois weapon designed to weaken the working class. Yet, should the foundations of the system be threatened, when the proletariat begins its own onslaught of that system, all the various dimensions of “tinkering with washbasins” will be abolished before we can slip out a fart.

It follows that those socialists who see the prime task at hand to be reform miss the elephant in the room, for they wish to alleviate the conditions under which they work and do not realize that the problem lies in those conditions themselves (CW 5: 387; LPSS 6: 42; CW 10: 378–80; LPSS 13: 62–64). As Lenin observes in relation to debates, especially with the Mensheviks, over voting in the Duma elections, the danger is not whether some conservative party or other will win the elections, by fair means or foul, but in the very elections themselves: the danger “is manifested not in the voting, but in the definition of the conditions of voting” (CW 11: 459; LPSS 14: 277–78). One should never rest with what is given, but work to change that given. And the reason is that by fighting on the ground chosen by the enemy, reformists strengthen the power of their enemy.

What, then, is the function of reform? Is it to be dismissed entirely as a bourgeois deception and as a socialist compromise with the status quo? Contrary to initial impressions, Lenin does see a clear role for reform. In a daring formulation that is based on revolutionary experience, he argues that the opposition of revolution and reform is itself false. One cannot have either one or the other; instead, the condition for reform is revolution itself. Without any revolutionary agitation, reform would simply not exist: “either revolutionary class struggle, of which reforms are always a by-product … or no reforms at all” (CW 23: 213; LPSS 30: 282). In this light, reforms may be understood as temporary reconciliation with a partial victory or even failure in which the old system has been shaken but has not yet collapsed (CW 11: 30-31; LPSS 13: 221). More importantly, reform becomes a central feature of revolutionary agitation, a means of raising the consciousness of workers and peasants, a way of both alleviating conditions in the intermediate period and of pointing out that those conditions are the problem. In this way, workers will see through the false promises of reformism and utilize reforms to strengthen their class struggle. Or, to put it simply, as Lenin recommends to public speakers and the Social-Democratic Duma representatives, “five minutes of every half-hour speech are devoted to reforms and twenty-five minutes to the coming revolution” (CW 23: 159; LPSS 30: 221).

It’s almost the 110 years since Langston Hughes was born – 1 February 1902. Part of the Harlem Renaissance, called a ‘literary gutter rat’ for writing poetry of black life in Harlem (NY), attacked for sexual ‘deviance’, and red-baited for being  communist, he was one of the leading poets in 20th century USA – as many will know.

lh02

Put One More s in the U.S.A.

To make it Soviet.

One more s in the U.S.A.

Oh, we’ll live to see it yet.

In 1932 he spent a long stretch in the Soviet Union, especially in the eastern parts.

Good-morning, Revolution:

You’re the very best friend

I ever had.

We gonna pal around together from now on.

Listen, Revolution,

We’re buddies, see—

Together,

We can take everything:

Factories, arsenals, houses, ships

Railroads, forests, fields, orchards,

Bus lines, telegraphs, radios

(Jesus! Raise hell with radios!)

Steel mills, coal mines, oil wells, gas,

All the tools of production,

(Great day in the morning!)

Everything—

And turn ‘em over to the people who work.

Rule and run ‘em for us people who work.

And then there’s the great ‘Ballad of Lenin’

Comrade Lenin of Russia,
High in a marble tomb,
Move over, Comrade Lenin,
And give me room.

I am Ivan, the peasant
Boots all muddy with soil.
I fought with you Comrade Lenin.
Now I’ve finished my toil.

Comrade Lenin of Russia,
Alive in a marble tomb,
Move over, Comrade Lenin,
And give me room.
I am Chico, the Negro
Cutting cane in the sun.
I lived for you, Comrade Lenin.
Now my work is done.

Comrade Lenin of Russia,
Honored in a marble tomb,
Move over, Comrade Lenin,
And give me room.

I am Chang from the foundries
On strike in the streets of Shanghai.
For the sake of the Revolution
I fight, I starve, I die.

Comrade Lenin of Russia
Rises in the marble tomb:
On guard with the fighters forever – -

The world is our room!

One more, with an echo of the popular Lenin poems and songs in the USSR:

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.

lh01

 

(ht cp)

Comfortably voyaging on the Dunai River (ht sk).

When I wonder at the travesty of dumping whole libraries in Eastern Europe after 1989 (worse than the torching of the ancient Library of Alexandria), I remind myself that at least it means I can get them cheaply via second-hand bookshops (not a small bonus, I tell you). All the same, positions that were openly debated have been forgotten, needing reinvention as though they were new discoveries. For instance, here’s Stefan Morawski, from 1965, in a piece called ‘Lenin as a Literary Theorist’:

Absolute freedom of the artist is an illusory freedom. Artistic work is inevitably entangled in the ideological battle. Conscious choice is always better than unconscious commitment. And in our time, there is no possible choice that is more humanistic than alliance with the people struggling for a communist society. What that alliance will be like is another matter. It may be party writing in the sense of the public advocacy of communist ideas; but it may also be an approach to those ideas via categorical criticism of the capitalist system.

Developing these ideas of Lenin’s, we could also say that this alliance may appear in creative work that directly attacks the central problems of ideas of our times, but it may also take the form of active participation in the process of democratization of esthetic culture (e.g., in the sphere of architecture and the applied arts) . The alleged absolute independence of the artist is a fictional freedom; true freedom is every development and extension of esthetic values that are valuable from the point of view of the cultural needs of socialist society. Conscious commitment to the battle for socialism, with varying emotional coefficients and varying intellectual orientation, is always at the same time a battle for artistic de-alienation.

Lenin fallen, after the assassination attempt: ‘V.I. Lenin and the Workers’ (1967).

More on a similar theme here.

‘Insurrection’ (1925), By Kliment Red’ko. The painting is also known as RCP and ‘Revolution’

He first studied icon-painting in the Kiev Cave Monastery (Lavra), after which he went on to work with Nikolai Roerich and Kandinsky.

(ht sk)