Lenin by Rajan Palme Dutt Book review


‘Lenin’ by Rajani Palme Dutt ,published by Magpie publications,most classically dissects all aspects of the life and Contribution of Lenin. In a most lucid and congealed form it illustrates how Lenin’s ideology was relevant to the world and how Leninism shaped world history. Its aim was to project the significance and role of Lenin not primarily as a Russian leader, but as a world leader at a critical turning point in History. It strives to give the cutting edge of Lenin’s life, work and teaching, and preserve the unity of theory and practice, which formed the basis of Lenin’s outlook.Dutt’s work illustrates how only by practicing and blossoming  of Leninism could people’s liberation make any headway. His book strikes a balance between not eulogising or slandering Lenin, and placing him in dialectical, historical perspective.

Study of Lenin is not a mere academic indulgence or penetration of world history, but is vital to understand the co-relation and crystallisation of economic forces prevailing and dictating the world today. Only by grasping Leninism can a student accurately synthesise or gauge the nefarious design s of globalisation and formulate a strategy to check or combat it.  No theory more lucidly could analyse the sharpened contention of market forces for profit internationally, strangulating the proletariat globally. It is all the more important when world economic crisis has scaled heights unparalleled and new left and revisionist ideologies blowing like a wind.

Epoch of Lenin

In the first chapter on ‘Epoch of Lenin ‘ he traced how the War of 1914 and the Russian Revolution of 1917 were inter related and a turning point in world history.Dutt traced the origins of the bourgeois revolutions in Europe to establish capitalism from feudalism. He pointed out the progressive aspect of capitalist democracy which projected ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and socialised production. with national states and  constitutional government.Dutt also summarised the inherent flaws of capitalism whereby the masses remained in poverty and servitude ,with wealth and poverty escalating to unparalleled depths. The inner contradictions simmered with escalating of commercialism and profit seeking world over.

Dutt pointed out that what distinguished Lenin was his ability to perceive with complete clarity the complete character of the future period, prepared for it and drew the practical, concrete conclusions. He derived this strength from Marxism.

The Working class was now activated on the political scene as an independent entity in garnering mass revolts with political orientation, expressed through revolutionary trade unionism and Chartism in England.The bourgeoisie now turned counter revolutionary.

Scientific critique of capitalism emerged. Examples were Utopian Socialism formulated by St Simon,Fourier and Owen, the other to humanitarian aspirations represented by Carlye and Sismondi . Utopian Socialists were critical of the evils of capitalism and professed a co-operative social order, but without any conception of social development, rejecting class struggle.

Dutt touched upon how bourgeois though was scaling the limt of it’s development and beginning to collapse. He referred to Hegel formulating for the first time a critical, objective understanding of the Universe and how life and society were mutually connected into an integrated force, in a dialectical manner..However his philosophy was still within the boundaries of idealism.

Dutt probed into how Marx contrived on developing the dialectic of Hegel, extricating it from idealism. Marx distinguished from the passive materialism of Feuerbach, of the mechanical materialism of the English and French materialists, calling upon transforming the material world. Marx analysed the development of human history not as a series of accidents, but as a coherent or scientific development, based on given stage of the material forces of production. Capitalism was viewed not as an inevitable, but historical phase, sprouting from condition so feudalism, with a beginning and with an end of the last phase of class society.

Marx discovered the laws of motion of capitalist society, who was able to demonstrate that capitalism in its formative stages in spite of cruelties was progressive in developing productive forces, increasing scope of production, concentration of capital and elevating population of the proletariat. However it turns into a reactionary force, in which overwhelming mass of producers are cut off from ownership.

Dutt dwells on how Marx formulates on subject f the dictatorship of the proletariat to organise production and pave way to a classless communist society.

Dutt summarises the growth of the International Communist League and the first International, and how Marxism began to engulf the entire globe. He touched on the 1848 struggles and Paris Commune of 1871, when the workers established power for six weeks.

Finally he traversed into the zone of Lenin’s contribution.Dutt penetrated into how the first World War events crystallised Lenin’s theory of imperialism. He described how the Socialist International combated views that regarded imperialism as an anti-thesis of Marx’s ideas supporting peaceful advance of Socialism and social reform and as an advancement of capitalism.

Dutt concluded that the World War brought the decline of the old Socialist International. He linked the fate of humanity with the prospects of International Socialism. He asserted that inspite of history entering it’s darkest moments, international Socialism had not failed or taken a complete backseat, with Lenin propelling forces to establish the movement, and to pave path to world revolution.

Life of Lenin

In the 2nd chapter most insightfully or articulately he probes into all the facets of Lenin’s life, his evolution into a revolutionary, the various historical events that revolved in Lenin’s era and how Lenin turned the fate of history.

Dutt summarised the early life of Lenin  who pledged to seek vengeance for the murder of his brother ,just some months  before  he had been expelled from Kazan University .Dutt mentioned how conditions for illegal revolutionary work were virtually non existent,. The father of Lenin was an inspector at School. His two sons and four daughters were all revolutionaries.Dutt mentioned the long training in practical revolutionary work, in revolutionary sacrifice and heroism, its profound theoretical character and unrivalled international background.

He dealt with in 1st part the Conception and Foundation of Lenin’s work.Dutt portrayed how Lenin had himself written how Bolshevism or Revolutionary Marxism in Russia was the outcome of the entire preceding revolutionary development. He elaborated the extraordinary character of the revolutionary movement in Russia, its long training in practical revolutionary work, in revolutionary sacrifice and heroism, its profound theoretical character and its unrivalled international background is essential to grasp in order to understand how the ground was prepared for the development of strong, undistorted and victorious revolutionary Marxism in Russia before all countries.

In vivid detail Dutt summarised how Lenin ideologically confronted the Narodniks  and non –revolutionary legal Marxists. In 1894 through, Who are the Friends of the People, and How Do They Fight the Social Democrats? Lenin projected the course of economic development, he illustrated the role of the working class as the future leader of the revolution for the overthrow of absolutism and the victory of Socialism. On the other hand he rebuked legal Marxism, by his Economic Content of Narodnik Theory and Its criticism in Mr Struve’s Book, and proved that legal Marxism leads to the camp of the bourgeoisie. The distinguishing of the line of Social Democracy from opposing tendencies, and at the same time concrete explanation of practical tasks, was characteristic of Lenin’s leadership from the oustet.

Dutt described how Lenin and his group of revolutionary Marxists organised groups of workers for St Petersburg factories to in1895; finally form the ‘Union for the struggle and Emancipation of the Working Class “the precursor of the Social Democratic Party. The Union led the strike movement in St.Petersburg.Dutt narrated how Lenin was arrested on the eve of publication of the issue of illegal Workers newspaper Workers Cause .In spite of being exiled to Siberia Lenin continued to work in assisting the strike leadership from jail.

Dutt vividly delved into the manner Lenin waged an ideological war on opportunist tendencies, which were fatal to the prospects of the whole future of the working class movement, Lenin tooth and nail refuted Bernstein who promoted economism, and emulating Eastern models .This trend advocated the tendency of leading and organising workers on the basis of immediate practical interests .Dutt explains how In What to Do Lenin prescribes that Marxism or Socialist Consciousness requires complete scientific knowledge of social laws, which must be taught. Social Democracy must be established.

Next Dutt analysed how Bolshevism distinguished from Menshevism,summarising the striking dichtonomy.In depth in every juncture Dutt  penetrated into how Bolshevism made inroads  be it when publishing Iskra or  Spark from1900 to 1903, how Bolshevism split into Menshevism in 1903, the holding of the 3rd Congress in 1905 which demonstrated the power of the mass struggle of workers  and peasants, as the force eradicating the foundations of Czarism, and planting the role of the class conscious workers and their party organisation as the leader  in the resistance, the establishment of the first Soviets in 1905, 1907-1911struglgle against Liquidationist tendencies, Bolshevik Congress og 1912 etc.etc.

Next Dutt embarked on covering how the World War turned Revolutionary Internationalism .It described that from 1914 Lenin was the direct leader of International Socialism, starting with only a nucleus of supporters,   but in few years winning the hearts of millions people engulfing the whole globe .Dutt elaborated how Lenin was the first and only leader of International Socialism to face at the outset the full consequences of the collapse f the 2nd International,. At the outbreak of the War, he was in Austria, and thrown in prison. After being released he went to Switzerland, where he launched his agitation till the advent of the Russian Revolution. By September 1914, he had published his thesis,  on the Tasks of Revolutionary Social Democracy and the European War, which was adopted by the Bolsheviks,  abroad and in Russia, and were developed into the Manifesto of the Central Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Party, written by Lenin in October, and published on November 1st,1914.

Lenin waged a struggle for 3 issues

The first that the War was not a war for National Defence but an Imperialist War, a war of contention of the great Imperialist powers of finance capitalist groups, for world profits and world plunder, for territorial annexations, tribute and colonies. In Lenin’s view Marxism recognised the importance of a Revolutionary War, or of a war of national liberation.

Second, the consequent line of the working class in every country must be to fight their own imperialists, converting the imperialist war into a civil war, to the victory of Socialism. Only when the workers had obtained possession of their own country, could revolutionary rational defence be established.

Third, the collapse of 2nd International, was no mere formal severance of relations between Socialist parties owing to war, but the inevitable result of opportunist degeneration of old Socialist parties and the leadership. A new revolutionary International had to b constructed. cleansed of opportunism.

Next the chapter dealt with the victory of Revolution in Russia, Dutt delved into the chain of incidents preceding the Revolution. Dutt stated that from the very outset the Russian Revolution was mass revolt from below, with it’s first spark lit by the workers of Petrograd, charging down the streets. the victory of revolution was sealed when the soldiers ordered to shoot the workers turned back in revolt and shot at the Tsraist police.

The eight months from the first and second revolution of 1917, witnessed rapid unfolding of the class struggle, successively clear revelation o the role of each class and its representatives, and of the intensive political development and awakening of the masses, up to the final point, of the conscious conquest o power, by the workers in Union, with the peasants and establishment of their own form of government. What delivered a cutting edge within this process of development was the leadership of the Bolshevik party, which intensified from a minority into a majority party.

The eight months constituted, a period of ebb and flow from either side,. A bitter polarisation was created with the complete establishment of power by the workers and peasants, the establishment of Soviet Power, as advocated by the Bolsheviks, or complete counter revolution, as plotted by General Kornilov and Kerensky. The politically inexperienced masses in the Soviets or Councils of Workers Deputies put their faith at first in the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary politicians; the Bolsheviks were at the beginning a minority, based  only on the class conscious workers. The Mensheviks clutched the tail of the bourgeoise, persuading the most upper class politicians to form a government. Thus, the bourgeoisie could form a Provisional new government. under Prince Lvov and Miliukov,the Cadet leader, with one representative of the so called labour group  Alexander Kerensky.

Even before he left Switzerland for Petrograd on April 16th, a completely clear view of the relation of class forces in the revolution. In Letters from Age he defined it.

  1. Find the surest road, leading o the next stage, of the revolution
  2. shal transfer state of power from the government of landowners to capitalists to a government of the workers and poorest peasants
  3. The latter govt. Must be organised on the model of the Soviets of Workers and Peasants Deputies.

After his arrival in Russia Lenin began his battle for his April theses on “The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution.” It charted a 10 point programme which included forming a republic of Soviets of workers and Peasants Deputies, nationalisation of land, nationalisation of banks establishing party Congress ,creation of a New Revolutionary international.

Dutt described how the April Theses burst like dynamite through the fog of confusion which was simmering after the Russian Revolution. Although Lenin’s programme was universally denounced by political opponents of every shade like Plekhanov, the old founder of Social Democracy in Russia.Neverthless within 3 weeks, Lenin’s programme was unanimously adopted by the Congress of the Bolshevik party on May 5-12th, turning into the programme of the overwhelming majority of the workers and soldiers throughout the country.

Most illustratively Dutt described how from the Eight months from March to November Lenin’s revolutionary leadership escalated the highest tempo He narrated the succession and co relation of various events that led to the triumph of the November revolution, highlighting how the Bolsheviks established higher and higher dominance in Petrograd and Moscow. The perfect timing of Lenin’s call for final stage of armed insurrection was described and the flawless symmetry, orderliness or methodology of the conquest of power. The Bolshevik Revolution, in contrast to the March Revolution, was virtually bloodless. Dutt asserted that the Bolshevik revolution was the most democratic in history, with the final transformation a culmination o the whole process, with overwhelming majority of support of population.

In the last period of leadership of World Revolution, from 1917 to 1923, Lenin’s work in Dutt’s opinion was like gigantic torso. Dutt elaborated the conception of the Bolshevik party, where a workers revolutionary party likened to the masses and their everyday lives by a million ties .At the beginning of the Russian Revolution he formulated his conception of the advance to the second revolution, to the establishment of Soviet power, of the dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the pesantry.At the beginning of the last period he formulated the task of the simultaneous advance to the world revolution and the constructing of Socialism in the Soviet Union.

Dutt summarised Lenin’s work in field of world politics, of the civil war, of relations with imperialist powers, of building the new Soviet Democracy, of building the new economic order towards Socialism, of relations with the peasantry, of the Communist parties of the new International, of direct participation and leadership in the working class movement of every country in the world. Alongside, the host of speeches, reports and pamphlets of the period, his 2 books written are landmarks of the International working class Movement.

The chapter dealt with of ending of imperialist war only gave place to the series of civil wars ad interventionists wars with which Imperialism aimed to destroy the Soviet Republic. the German Revolution ending the depredations of German Imperialism and still al the milionfold efforts to overthrow the Soviet regime collapsing.Dutt wrote about how the mass resistance of the population of Russia ,not only the Red Army and the Industrial workers, but in the regions occupied by White agents, and for whom the white revival meant the loss of land; second, because of the refusal of French and British soldiers  to carry on the unjustified war, and lastly because of active resistance of French and British workers against the war of intervention.

Teachings of Lenin

The 3rd chapter covered the teachings of Lenin. It encompassed the General World outlook of Lenin. This part dealt with Lenin’s outlook of dialectical materialism.Dutt described that it was no closed metaphysical system, to turn outdated, as all systems inevitably must. Dialectical materialism needs to be renewed in every age, with every advance of science and of concrete knowledge. Lenin enriched this work-in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.Here Lenin propounded the understanding of dialectical materialism in relation to new problems of Science of the 20th Century, and waged a relentless battle against the reactionary idealist mystical religious tendencies. Without respite, Lenin fought religion and it’s allies. Still he projected how the old passive mechanical materialism, was inadequate to interpret reality in a complete manner.

The 2nd part covered The theory of Epoch-Imperialism. Dutt logically and lucidly explained how Lenin analysed all the symptoms of the new epoch down to their basis in monopoly capitalism .Lenin with crystal clarity illustrated the charter of the new epoch as a whole.Dutt described how monopoly capitalism was parasitic capitalism ,facilitating the majority of mankind to being placed at the mercy of the Great Powers. Phenomenon of labour aristocracy is created whereby the upper strata of the working class bought off  from the super profits ;by concessions, social reform measures, corruption of labour leaders ec.

The 3rd topic is on the World Revolution.Dutt covers the manner Lenin brings out his key thought for the character and development of world revolution. What Marx described in general terms, Lenin explained in concrete terms ,on the basis of his analysis of imperialism.Dutt described how Imperialism drew the whole world closely into a single complex, no longer merely in the sense of the old are uniformity of world market, ,but in a whole series of stages of dependence and servitude.

Dutt concludes that just as the proletariat in each country lead the struggle of all the exploited masses, on the world scale, the international proletariat leads the struggle o the colonial people for the liberation from imperialism. Establishing alliance of the proletariat in the leading Imperialist countries and of the colonial masses fighting for liberation is imperative to give a crushing blow to imperialism.

In the 4th part Dutt analysed subject of Dictatorship of the Proletariat.Dutt explained how Lenin revived the revolutionary Marxist teaching of the dictatorship of the Proletariat.Lenn brought to Marx’s concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a concrete realisation and a new living actuality.Dutt asserted that Lenin was not anti-democratic ,as his enemies claimed.Infact his pursuit for proletarian democracy seeked to establish a much higher form  than bourgeois democracy .whereby classes were abolished and real freedom and equality of a classless society was established. Dutt described how the soviets or council organs ushered a new type of democracy, with the overthrow of the capitalist state machine and creation o the working class as the rulers.

In 5th part   on National and Colonial Liberation Dutt explained how the majority of mankind turned into colonial and semi-colonial subjection, in the era of imperialism. He summarised Lenin’s role in the Second Congress of the Communist International which brought to the forefront the issue of national and colonial struggle for liberation, and the importance o the proletariat in imperialist countries to offer it unconditional support.

Dutt addressed how the Union o the struggle of the proletariat in the leading imperialist countries and of the struggle for liberation of the oppressed nationalities was a perquisite for victory of World Revolution. He recalled how leaders of te Second International overlooked proletarian struggle in imperialist nations and struggle of colonial peoples. One trend supported freedom only within the framework of existing imperialist rule, the other argued that national freedom was no concern for the working class, being only bourgeois.

Tactics and Organisation of Revolution

In final section of chapter Dutt covered the tactics and Organisation of the Revolution.

Dutt dwelled on how  Lenin, in his revolutionary science, encompasses the most elementary questions on the conquest o power and of post-revolutionary construction.Dutt was convinced that Lenin’s conception of tactics reached a development far more complete than was possible in epoch of Marx.

Dutt narrated in the period of proletarian revolution, the workers revolutionary party , has to face much steeper tasks than in the previous epoch.Dutt projected how a long process of working class struggle and experience, of partial battles, victories and retreats, of developing organisation of conflicts and tendencies, is needed before  the working class is empowered and before te mass Communist party is developed .The Communist party is not the first but the last ,highest form o proletarian cultural organisation. The leading Communist party does not originate from the time of formation of first nucleus.

Dutt analysed how this experience covers a series of problems centring around the relationship of the party to the masses, and the conquest o the majority of the working class. In particular the role of the trade Unions and the elation of the party to the trade Unions and other mass Organisations of the working class combination of legal and illegal activity, utilisation of bourgeois parliaments and elections, relation of party to semi-proletarian masses etc.

Dutt elaborated that the most relevant aspect was strategic and tactical problems, faced by the leadership of mass struggles The task of leadership brings to the forefront the whole strength of Marxist Leninist theory and practice, correct estimation of class forces, ,the strength and stability of the bourgeoisie ,the degree of preparedness of the proletariat, determination of the slogans and forms of struggle to mobilise masses on the highest possible scale etc.

Lenin and Communist International

In the fourth chapter Dutt addresses topic of Communist International. He deals with how ten years after Lenin’s death USSR   achieved heights unparalleled in history, with production multiplying four fold. The Communist International sharpened advance of class struggle in Europe, America and Asia. It paved way for the increasing collapse of forms of bourgeois democracy pervading.

Dutt probed on the importance of the third International to confront phenomena of fascism, with the 2nd International failing in endeavour to check he growth of capitalism

Lenin on Britain

Dutt touched on Lenin how paid special attention to Britain and the British labour movement. Lenin fully comprehended why the British working class which pioneered the international working class movement with the epic struggles of Chartism and the foundations of the trade Unions, should have later lagged behind and remained under the yoke of landlordism and capitalism., while younger working class movements, already fertilised victory. The relatively privileged position of a section of workers of the same foundation providing relatively secure conditions of life within which they were more interested to struggle for further improvements of those conditions than to transform the social  order.

Weaknesses in Book

A possible flaw in this book is that Palme Dutt does not review why bureaucratism took a turn in the Soviets, why other parties were banned in Lenin’s reign, possibly drifting from pure Marxism. No attention given to Cultural Revolution .Dutt did not analyse the weakness in practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat in USSR with powerful vanguardist tendencies of the Communist party, possibly he also neglected highlighting Lenin’s political struggle against Leon Trotsky. I also wish Dutt had touched on Lenin terming Gandhi as a Tolstoy and his specific analysis on countries like India and China.

Harsh Thakor has done extensive research on Lenin and his teachings and on Liberation Movements.

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