Lenin on free will and determinism

In reply to the charge that historical materialism offers a determinism that turns individuals into marionettes pulled by invisible strings, Lenin writes:

The idea of determinism, which postulates that human acts are necessitated and rejects the absurd tale about free will, in no way destroys man’s reason or conscience, or appraisal of his actions. Quite the contrary, only the determinist view makes a strict and correct appraisal possible instead of attributing everything you please to free will. Similarly, the idea of historical necessity does not in the least undermine the role of the individual in history: all history is made up of the actions of individuals, who are undoubtedly active figures. The real question that arises in appraising the social activity of an individual is: what conditions ensure the success of his actions, what guarantee is there that these actions will not remain an isolated act lost in a welter of contrary acts? Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 159.

This is the first appearance of a theme that will reverberate in different ways throughout his writings: the dialectic of revolution. In this case the dialectical problem takes the following form: how do you make sense of the individual act of rebellion within the larger scale of things, ensuring that such an act is not futile, or that it doesn’t run off into some reactionary position? On another level, it opens to the question as to how you negotiate the unexpected spontaneity of revolution? How do you organise and what conditions ensure that you are both ready for that moment and can direct it in the path you want?

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Revolutions are the locomotives of history

A few choice sentences from Lenin during the rapid ‘education’ of the 1905-7 revolution:

Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx. Revolutions are festivals of the oppressed and the exploited. At no other time are the mass of the people in a position to come forward so actively as creators of a new social order, as at a time of revolution. At such times the people are capable of performing miracles (Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 113).

Leninist exegesis: on prayer and the narrow way

Lenin is not usually thought of as one to give advice on prayer, but he is certainly not into outward shows of piety:

This reminds us of the saying about those who, if they are compelled to pray, do it with such zeal that they bang their foreheads against the ground. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 136.

And Lenin’s liking for expanding Gospel sayings of Jesus shows up again, now with the contrast between the wide and easy way versus the narrow gate and the hard way of Matthew 7:13-14:

Well then, if you do agree to follow this road, make an effort to proceed along it independently; don’t make it necessary to drag you; don’t let the ‘unusual’ appearance of this road frighten you, don’t be put out by the fact that in many places you will find no beaten track at all, and that you will have to crawl along the edges of precipices, break your way through thickets, and leap across chasms. Don’t complain of the poor road: these complaints will be futile whining, for you should have known in advance that you would be moving, not along a highway that has been graded and levelled by all the forces of social progress, but along paths through out-of-the-way places and back-alleys which do have a way out, but from which you, we or anyone else will never find a direct, simple, and easy way out. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 6, pp. 126-7.

Makes me wonder whether an article on Lenin’s exegesis of the Gospels isn’t a bad idea …

Lenin, the Gospels and What Is To Be Done?

Looks like I will need a chapter on Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? in my Lenin and Theology book. Up until this work of 1902, I have found scattered biblical allusions in Lenin’s work and some occasionally entertaining reflections on the church, but in this thoroughly engaging text I hit pay dirt. What Is To Be Done? is saturated with biblical references, drawn especially from the Gospels and the sayings and parables of Jesus. For example, in the crucial section concerning organisation of the workers and of revolutionaries, we find:

It is precisely our campaign of exposure that will help us separate the tares from the wheat. What the tares are, we have already indicated. By the wheat we mean attracting the attention of ever larger numbers of the workers to social and political questions … In a word, our task is to fight the tares. It is not our business to grow wheat in flowerpots. By pulling up the tares, we clear the soil for the wheat. And while the Afanasy Ivanoviches and Pulkheria Ivanovas are tending their flowerpot crops, we must prepare the reapers, not only to cut down the tares of today, but to reap the wheat of tomorrow. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, pp. 455-6.

This parable, along with that of the sower, becomes an extended metaphor throughout this crucial section.  What happens in the process is not merely that Lenin draws upon Gospel themes for thinking through revolutionary organisation, but that the sayings and parables themselves become radicalised.

Lenin on freedom

Every now and then in my reading of Lenin’s collected works, I come across a passage that may well have been written this morning:

‘Freedom’ is a grand word, but under the banner of freedom for industry the most predatory wars were waged, under the banner of freedom of labour, the working people were robbed. The modern use of the term ‘freedom of criticism’ contains the same inherent falsehood. Those who are really convinced that they have made progress in critical scholarship wold not demand freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old. The cry heard today, ‘Long live freedom of criticism’, is too strongly reminiscent of the fable of the empty barrel. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 355.

If only the police were like this today

Go to the library of the missionary brotherhood, and take down the handbook of laws. There you will read in Article 783, Volume II, Part I, that it is the duty of the rural chief of police, in addition to preventing duelling, lampooning, drunkenness, hunting in the close season, and men and women washing together in public baths, to keep observation over the arguments directed against the dogmas of the Orthodox Church and the prevent the seduction of the orthodox to other faiths and schisms!

Lenin is here quoting a certain Mr Stakhovich, but he goes on to point out that for the rural police ‘God is very high up and the tsar very far off’ (Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 291).