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

Last week at the garage blackboard lectures, I was asked a simple question: what is a successful revolution?

I had been talking about Marxism and theology, and mentioned that the Russian Revolution was the first successful communist revolution. But what is the answer to that question? At a minimal level, it is a revolution that has been able to withstand and defeat the counter-revolution (inevitably heavily supported by international capital, as with the ‘civil’ war in Russia). When it has done so, it can gain some precious space to begin the process of constructing socialism.

That was the answer I gave then. But I suggest there is another part to the answer: a successful revolution provides inspiration for other revolutionary movements. Let me give one example, from the 1930s in China and the sheer inspirational power of the Russian Revolution among Chinese communists.

America, England, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and other capitalist or imperialist powers had sent thousands of political, cultural, economic, or missionary workers into China, actively to propagandize the Chinese masses with credos of their own states. Yet for many years the Russians had not had a single school, church, or even debating society in China where Marxist-Leninist doctrines could legally be preached. Their influence, except in the soviet districts, had been largely indirect. Moreover, it had been aggressively opposed everywhere by the Kuomintang. Yet few who had been in China during that decade, and conscious of the society in which they lived, would dispute the contention that Marxism, the Russian Revolution, and the new society of the Soviet Union had probably made more profound impressions on the Chinese people than all Christian missionary influences combined (Edgar Snow, RSOC, 352-53).

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).

A new post on some rather attractive features of transcendence on the Political Theology blog.

A couple of days I ago I had a thoroughly enjoyable, comradely and fiery discussion with a militant icon of the Left in Australia, the 70-something Carole Ferrier. In reply to her accusation that I am a pseudo-Marxist, I told her she was full of old-fashioned, economist and crude understandings of religion. I guess there are still those who feel that religion is simply an obfuscation, a mystification used by the ruling class to further its exploitation (in short, Althusser’s ‘cynical priests’).  Pity really. But it also struck me that many Marxists are perfectly happy being in opposition. Any successful revolution – of which there are many – is simply a betrayal of the ideal, romanticised revolution that never comes. This is of course a position particularly endemic among Trotskyites, even though Trotsky himself (as Lunacharsky noted) always acted with one eye on the mirror of history. Here Lenin’s criticism of the various Mensheviks, liberals and assorted others is worth remembering: ‘Away, away! Let this cup of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship pass from me!’ (Collected Works, vol. 8, p. 288).

Of course, on saying farewell, I gave a Carole a hug and said ‘Keep the faith!’ She growled and said, ‘I ain’t got no f&@kin’ faith’. Love her all the same.

At the forefront of all serious revolutions in history is the simple slogan: cancel the debts and redistribute the land. As a result, one of the first acts after a revolution is to destroy tax and debtor records, as well as land contracts.

Why? Debt involves not the generous offer of support from a creditor to a lender, but the net flow of wealth and power to the creditor. The current situation in Europe is but the latest example of this pattern of exploitation. Thus, any serious revolution destroys the pattern.

(ht er)