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.

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2 thoughts on “Lenin, the Gospels and What Is To Be Done?

  1. So Stalin is Paul then? Or maybe Trotsky is Paul and Stalin is the Pastorals (which tend to lead to the “institutional Church” at the expense of more revolutionary Paulinism)?

    1. I’d go with Trostsky as Paul and Stalin as the Pastorals, except that I think we can find a bit of Stalin in Paul too (I know your own work is going to argue, implicitly, against such a connection, so I may have to give it up …).

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