Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

Stalin on “aristocratic attitude towards the masses”

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Our Stalin institutionalists and anti-Stalin fanatics can quibble over the meaning-fulness or -lessness of the following, but it is definitely one of the texts which would make the Manichean officials within the radical Left uncomfortable. It is also an evidence of infinite possibilities during the course of the Russian Revolution, even in 1924. In fact, when I quizzed one of my comrades about the authorship of the text, he could even imagine Victor Serge writing it!

This is taken from Stalin’s speech on Lenin delivered at a Memorial Meeting of the Kremlin Military School January 28, 1924. It is published in volume 6 of his Collected Works, pp 54-66. In this text he deals with “a few facts to bring out certain of Lenin’s characteristics as a man and a leader.” He identifies these characteristics as: “the mountain eagle” (“who knew no fear in the struggle, and who boldly led the Party forward along the unexplored paths of the Russian revolutionary movement”), “modesty”, “force of logic”, “no whining”, “no boasting”, “fidelity to principle”, “faith in the masses”, and of course, ultimately, “the genius of revolution.” It was indeed very refreshing and even nostalgic to read the text – almost a guide to Marxist spirituality (perhaps Roland Boer will illuminate on this in his forthcoming book on Stalin).

At the time when our comrades in their ghettoised complexes boast of their every action as historical, it is of course good to see an attempt to codify “no boasting in victory” and “faith in the masses” as revolutionary values:

Theoreticians and leaders of parties, men who are acquainted with the history of nations and who have studied the history of revolutions from beginning to end, are sometimes afflicted by a shameful disease. This disease is called fear of the masses, disbelief in the creative power of the masses. This sometimes gives rise in the leaders to a kind of aristocratic attitude towards the masses, who, although not versed in the history of revolutions, are destined to destroy the old order and build the new. This kind of aristocratic attitude is due to a fear that the elements may break loose, that the masses may “destroy too much”; it is due to a desire to play the part of a mentor who tries to teach the masses from books, but who is averse to learning from the masses.

Lenin was the very antithesis of such leaders. I do not know of any other revolutionary who had so profound a faith in the creative power of the proletariat and in the revolutionary efficacy of its class instinct as Lenin. I do not know of any other revolutionary who could scourge the smug critics of the “chaos of revolution” and the “riot of unauthorised actions of the masses” so ruthlessly as Lenin. I recall that when in the course of a conversation one comrade said that “the revolution should be followed by the normal order of things,” Lenin sarcastically remarked: “It is a pity that people who want to be revolutionaries forget that the most normal order of things in history is the revolutionary order of things.”

Hence, Lenin’s contempt for all who superciliously looked down on the masses and tried to teach them from books. And hence, Lenin’s constant precept: learn from the masses, try to comprehend their actions, carefully study the practical experience of the struggle of the masses.

Faith in the creative power of the masses—this was the feature of Lenin’s activities which enabled him to comprehend the spontaneous process and to direct its movement into the channel of the proletarian revolution.

The text is available online too at Marxists.org

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

June 16, 2015 at 1:13 am

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