File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 338

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 1997 05:16:46 +0100
Subject: Re: M-I: Re: Marx and Lenin

In message <>, Rebecca Peoples
<> writes
>how come there is virtually no reference or use of
>the value concepts of Capital? Lenin had no conception of  commodity or
>capital as social relations of production. He had not got a clue as to
>to the essential meaning of Capital in terms of value relations.
I think he did. One of his earliest works The Development of Capitalism
in Russia is a masterpiece of Marx's theory of Capital. Interestingly
for latter-day Narodniks Lenin deploys Marx's reproduction schemes from
Capital volume two to attack the theory that there can be no capitalist
development in Russia because its products could find no market there.
Lenin shows himself in The Development...  to be fluent in concepts such
as value, surplus value, constant and variable capital, as well as the
schematic representation of the reproduction of means of production and
consumption, and later the subdivision of surplus value into its
constituent parts (It's almost embarrassing to be passing judgement on
Lenin's grasp of political economy like a schoolmaster, when he did so
much to change the course of history, but you did ask).

Lenin's style of representation was studiously empirical, rather masking
the Marxist categories that underpinned his analysis. I believe this was
a willful rebuke to the scholastic methods popular amongst the recruits
the Russian Social Democrats found amongst the intelligentsia. However,
even in later works like Imperialism, the mobilisation of empirical data
is not different in its underlying method from Marx. Like Marx, Lenin is
interested in the historically transient social forms that labour
assumes. He is interested to investigate the elements of transition at
work in particular forms of social domination. 

Lenin's political writings on national self determination, economism (by
which he meant adapting to popular spontaneity, not a preoccupation with
economic questions), and social chauvinism (Jim B is right that Nascent
Trends of Imperialist Economism is amongst his best) are very important.
But I don't think it is right to reproduce the anti-Leninist myth that
Lenin was essentially a political tactician, uninterested in theoretical
matters. If anything the reverse is the case. Lenin's politics arose
from his theoretical grasp of the most up-to-date trends of his day.

>This is partly why I have never subscribed to Leninism or what is
>called trotskyism. However if I am proven worng it would make life
>esier for me because then I could join one of the leninist outfits that
>dominate the radical left. So please James prove me wrong.

I don't know if all this proves anything. I don't even know if I would
make any continuing claim for Lenin's model of the democratic centralist
party in today's circumstances. Lenin's point in party organisation
after all was to intervene in a growing mass politics, by subverting the
bourgeois party form by creating a revolutionary party. That was not
meant as an endorsement of party politics, because his party was
dedicated to overcoming the separation between politics and economics,
and hence the abolition of party politics.

But do any of those conditions still obtain today? Only in the most
attenuated form. In almost every country I have looked at the levels of
popular participation are collapsing. Political parties mean very little
whether they are reformist, revolutionary or conservative. As an
organisational form the kind of party Lenin proposed in different
circumstances would be a barrier to popular influence today, where it
was a bridge to the same then. I don't think even Lenin would join a
Leninist party in 1997. Instead he would be looking for the forms of
political organisation that are appropriate for contemporary

James Heartfield

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