Lenin and the First Communist Revolutions, II

  • Planning for Leninism: Forging the Vanguard Party

    Once Lenin figured out his organization strategy, he had to put it into practice. This he accomplished in a series of maneuvers within the R.S.D.L.P. At the 1903 party congress, Lenin lost a battle over the definition of party membership (Lenin's opponent, Martov, proposed a marginally less hierarchical party structure). But Lenin managed to turn this to his advantage: "But then a fortuitous incident altered the balance of forces. When the Bund and the Workers' Cause representatives withdrew from the congress because their parties were denied any independence within the structure of the R.S.D.L.P., Lenin's group found itself in the majority. From the resulting distribution of forces derive the names of the two rival factions in the R.S.D.L.P.: the Mensheviks, (i.e., members of the minority) and the Bolsheviks (i.e., members of the majority)." (Carl Landauer, European Socialism: A History of Ideas and Movements) This division gave Lenin's faction its name, and marked a widening division among the Russian Marxists between those who followed Lenin, and those who did not.

    Lenin's next step was to split the party. In 1910, the central committee of the R.S.D.L.P. met in London; attempting to build bridges to fellow travelers, the London congress voted to offer three seats on the central committee to Lenin's hated enemies, the reformist "Liquidators" (as Lenin dubbed them). As Landauer explains:

    Lenin's reaction to this effort at unity... was to split the organization and set up his faction as the party. He assembled a small conference of his followers at Prague in January, 1912. It was attended by only fourteen voting delegates, yet this conference proclaimed itself the supreme organ of the party and as such elected a new central committee of six members (including Lenin, Zinoviev, Orjonikidze), amended the party statutes, and passed a resolution expelling the Liquidators. Henceforth, the Bolsheviks no longer considered themselves a faction in the party; they had arrogated to themselves the dignity and the powers of the party. As it happened, events would legitimize their presumptions. (European Socialism: A History of Ideas and Movements)

    Lenin now had an iron grip on what Paul Johnson aptly calls "a small organization of intellectual and sub-intellectual desperadoes, which he could completely dominate." (Modern Times) In other times and places, control of such a band would hardly have sufficed for a small gangland rumble, but as fortune would have it, Lenin had hit upon the right formula for his peculiar historical moment.

    Lenin's Theoretical Innovations
    The Russian Revolution: March, 1917