Gerry Healy


Leninism 58 Years On

Published in the daily News Line on the anniversary of the
Death of Lenin, 23 January 1982. Also available as a New Park Publications Pamphlet

   Although Lenin has been dead for 58 years, his literary work  preserves its revolutionary realism, just the same as it did on the day he died. For the unfolding of the history of counter-revolutionary Stalinism in the interim since his death has placed the Leninists of today far behind an understanding of his theoretical achievements and the revolutionary practices which flowed from them. To study Lenin now, in the light of the world crisis of the capitalist system, is the most concrete revolutionary experience of all.

   His name in the interval has been associated with all aspects of Marxist development and, more especially, with dialectical materialism. From even a casual reading of the 45 volumes of his Collected Works so far  published in English, it is clear that the method of Marxian materialist dialectics was his way of building the Bolshevik Party and solving the problems facing the working class in the epoch of imperialism, social revolutions and wars.

Lenin and Marxist History

   The really outstanding periods of his life of struggle were the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1905, the February 1917 bourgeois democratic revolution and the October 1917 socialist revolution. The foundation for this work was already well laid by Marx and Engels, and Lenin simply took up the struggle where they left off.

   Marx and Engels incorporated four main periods of historical development into their elaboration of the dialectical materialist method. First, they acknowledged the revolutionary nature of the bourgeois revolution. Secondly they especially studied and understood the significance of the movement based upon the idealist philosophy from Kant to Hegel. Thirdly, they grasped the revolutionary significance of the class struggle of the working class. Fourthly, they outlined the dialectical materialist method, which included these events as a single historical process – the unity out of which the component parts of Marxism unfolded.

   Lenin’s elaboration of the dialectical materialist method of Marxism began towards the end of the 1880’s. Following the death of Engels at the beginning of the present century, important advances, which were already foreseen by him in his book Dialectic of Nature, were being recorded in the field of the natural sciences. Many scientists who worked on such developments became frightened when they realised their revolutionary implications. They began, especially, to attack Engels for what they called his ‘dialectical mysticism’.

  So the growth of the natural sciences became the battleground from which flowed the necessity for Lenin to staunchly defend dialectical materialism, as against the method of idealism propagated within the natural scientists themselves. The end result was his monumental work Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Published in 1908. This book incorporated the outstanding contributions of Marx and Engels to the dialectical materialist method, as well as confirming the validity of the method in relation to the fresh advances in the natural sciences.

Lenin and the Natural Sciences

   Physics is foremost amongst the modern natural sciences, concerned mainly with the fundamental elements and properties of matter. Dialectical materialism does not operate directly with the changes in the unfolding of the natural sciences. It manifests such changes through dialectical laws which enable the changes to be conceptually isolated and analysed before being reconstructed in a new and higher ‘whole’ of knowledge.  In this way, man’s subjective activity, (thinking), is not something absolute or arbitrary for all time. It is determined by object dialectical nature itself in the interaction between subject and object in the process of cognition.

   Marxism arises and develops in the struggle against bourgeois ideology, whilst it preserves the most important philosophical and economic achievements of the earlier progressive bourgeoisie. There is, however, no room for compromise between the two world outlooks of  materialism and idealism. In Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Lenin emphasised this approach in the following quotation:  

   ‘If natural science in its theories depicts not objective reality,’ he wrote, ‘but only metaphors, symbols, forms of human experience, etc., it is beyond dispute that humanity is entitled to create for itself in another sphere no less “real concept.”, such as God, and so forth. The philosophy of the scientist Mach is to science what the kiss of the Christian Judas was to Christ. Mach likewise betrays science into the hands of fideism by virtually deserting to the camp of philosophical idealism. Mach’s renunciation of natural scientific materialism is a reactionary phenomenon in every respect.’ (Volume 14, Collected Works, page 348. This volume contains Materialism and Empirio-Criticism). On an earlier page in the book, Lenin explains the philosophical method of fideism:

   ‘Fideism is a doctrine which substitutes faith for knowledge, or which generally attaches significance to faith’. (Volume 14, Collected Works, page 19).

What Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Achieved

   The history of Bolshevism reveals that although the 1905 revolution  was defeated, its gains were both preserved and superseded through Lenin’s powerful defence of the dialectical materialist method against the idealists in the field of the natural sciences. By the time Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was published, his second emigration had begun and the Bolsheviks as well as the Mensheviks were illegal and being hounded by  the Tsarist secret police.

   The three years which followed were very difficult ones for the illegal Bolshevik Party. Its ranks were heavily infiltrated by police agents and  most of its leaders in Russia were either imprisoned or in hiding. In those precarious times the spirit of revolutionary Marxism and Bolshevism virtually lived on in Lenin himself and he was isolated in emigration. For Lenin, these were the years of almost constant study in  philosophical materialism.. Krupskaya, [Lenin’s wife and political comrade - Ed], in her Memories of Lenin describes the Lenin of  those days in the following way:

   ‘Struggle and study, study and scientific work were always  for Ilyich strongly bound together. Although at first they may have appeared to be only parallel work, there  was always the closest and most profound connection between them.’ (Pages 255-256 Panther edition)

   ‘The aim of his work,’ she writes, ‘in the realm of philosophy was to master the method of transforming philosophy into a concrete guide to action’. (Ibid.)

   Perhaps the most important period of Lenin’s preparations for the October 1917 social revolution was the experience of the Bolsheviks during the outbreak of the first world imperialist war. On August 23rd, 1914, he arrived in Berne, Switzerland, and almost immediately began work on a thesis against the war, which was adopted in the form of a resolution of the Social Democratic Group (Bolsheviks). The final paragraph declared boldly: ‘The Second International is dead, overcome by opportunism. Down with opportunism, and long live the Third International, purged not only of “turncoats”, but of opportunism as well.’

   ‘The Second International did its share of useful preparatory  work in preliminarily organising the proletarian masses during the long, “peaceful” period of the most brutal capitalist slavery and most rapid capitalist progress in the last third of the 19th  and the beginning of the 20th centuries. To the Third international falls the task of organising the proletarian forces for a revolutionary onslaught against the capitalist governments, for civil war against the bourgeoisie of all countries for the capture of political power, for the triumph of socialism!’ (Volume 21. Collected Works, pages 40-41).

  Bolshevism was steeled and trained on how to fight against imperialist war by such decisive policies. It was a fight against those leaders of the Second International who betrayed the international working class into the hands of the capitalist enemy.

   Yet! Such an ‘against the stream’ struggle was not for them a purely defensive one. On the contrary, Lenin had already undertaken a programme of work which was a philosophical renewal on a higher level than even Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.

   Between July and November 1914, he wrote what he described as a ‘Brief Biographical Sketch’ of Karl Marx, which was published by the Granat Encyclopaedia over the signature of V. Ilyin. This sketch included an exposition of Marxism which included sections on the Marxist doctrine, philosophical materialism, dialectics and The Materialist Conception of History and the Class Struggle. Lenin utilised this task as a period of training in preparation for work on his Philosophical Notebooks. In this vital book he superseded the period of Against the Stream, but preserved the hard core of Bolshevik principles and training. It was this major work which opened the door for the victory of the October 1917 socialist revolution.

Lenin and Bolshevism

   On the eve of the revolution he launched a lengthy literary campaign against the character and nature of imperialist war, analysing the reasons for the powerful growth of opportunism within the ranks of the Second International at the beginning of the century which was manifested in the war itself. He traced its growth by a special study of  imperialism and wrote Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Monopoly Capitalism which was also published just before the revolution.

   For Lenin, the Bolshevik Party was always at war with its political opponents, and at no period was this more true than when Lenin was fighting to turn the imperialist war into a civil war under the slogan that  ‘the main enemy was at home’ Only a handful of close colleagues in the emigration and the Left Social Democrats supported him. The masses would take the revolutionary road once again, but for the time being they were dying each day throughout the battlefields of Europe in their hundreds of thousands.

   This was a time when Lenin and his Party were in a ‘state of siege’.  Earlier in his struggle he had written: ‘And I am not at all frightened by the dreadful words “a state of siege in the Party”, “emergency laws against particular individuals and groups”, etc. We not only can but we must create a “state of siege” in relation to unstable and vacillating elements, and all our party rules, the whole system of centralism now endorsed by the Congress are nothing but a “state of siege” in respect to the numerous sources of political vagueness. It is special laws, even if they are emergency laws, that are needed as measures against vagueness, and the steps taken by the Congress have correctly indicated the political direction to be followed by having created a firm basis for such laws and such measures.’ (Volume 6, Collected Works, pages 507-508).

   But a ‘state of siege’ did not at all imply that the Bolsheviks thrust themselves into sectarian isolation. What it did mean was that they refused to liquidate their principles in order to pander to theoretical backwardness by tolerating vagueness and sloppiness in the development of theory as a guide to practice. This meant that in the hour of crisis when decisions had to be made, the historical revolutionary interests of the working class had to be articulated and upheld at all costs. This was the only way to ensure that when the masses again turned to the revolutionary road, the Party  would have the necessary authority to lead them to victory.

   It was only the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and based upon the dialectical materialist method, that could undertake this task. Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution summed up the Leninist conception of the kind of Party that alone stood out on the side of the working class on those dark days of August 1914: ‘In practice a reformist party considers unshakeable the foundations of that which it intends to reform … It thus inevitably submits to the ideas and morals of the ruling class. Having risen on the back of the proletariat, the Social Democrats became merely a bourgeois party of the second order. Bolshevism created the type of the authentic revolutionist who subordinates to the historic goals irreconcilable with contemporary society the conditions of his personal existence, his ideas and his moral judgments.

   ‘The necessary distance from bourgeois ideology was kept up in the party by a vigilant irreconcilability, whose inspirer was Lenin. Lenin never tired of working with his lancet, cutting off those bonds which a petty-bourgeois environment creates between the party and official social opinion. At the same time, Lenin taught the party to create its own social opinion, resting on the thoughts and feelings of the rising class.

   ‘Thus, by a process of selection and education, and in continual struggle, the Bolshevik Party created not only a political but a moral medium of its own, independent of bourgeois social opinion and implacably opposed to it. Only this permitted the Bolsheviks to overcome the waverings in their own ranks and reveal in action that courageous determination without which the October victory would have been impossible.’
(History of the Russian Revolution, page 1016).

   Let us now consider the potential use of the dialectical method today, in the light of the still greater advances in the natural sciences since Lenin’s death.

Lenin – 58 Years On

   In his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin, in a quotation from Engels, emphasised the material nature of the unity of the world.

   ‘The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science.’. (Volume 14, Collected Works, page 117).

   Dialectical materialists readily accept this definition of Engels, just as Lenin did in his day. Cognition is a process of mentally reflecting the real world of nature which consists of matter in constant motion and change. What is important for the student of dialectics is to be able to contemplate philosophically the material unity of the world as matter in motion. To achieve this, we must investigate and acknowledge the enormous advances in physics since Lenin died.

   The world of nature, seen through the developments of the natural sciences, has yielded up enormous quantities of information and knowledge, much of it beginning, interestingly enough, in the year of Lenin’s death, 1924. It was in that year that the physicist Louis de Broglie laid the foundations of quantum mechanics (quantum theory) which studies the motion of small-scale particles.  These particles have unusual properties which are reflected in wave functions.

   The essential features of the wave function cannot be described in the specialist language of classical physics because the particles have simultaneously both wave and corpuscular properties. Only the dialectical category of causality (cause into effect and effect into cause) can reveal the essence of their dualist nature, which discloses the source and role of contradiction in synthesis with nature itself.

The Micro-world and the Process of Cognition

   The dual function of this wave-particle relationship is relative within which is the absolute movement of nature itself. The absolute of nature within these relative particles is called the micro-object. These, in turn, are grouped together as photons, neutrons, electrons, positrons, protons and anti-protons, under the headings of elementary particles, which are inseparable from the various material fields incorporating their complicated structures.

   An elementary particle can be simultaneously a single unit or a system, since its wave motion connects with the wave motion of countless small particles in the atomic and sub-atomic range, which have emerged in recent decades.

The dialectical materialist method of cognition is able to study the movement and change of both the micro and macro worlds as well as the mega-measurements of energy changes in space. For the dialectical laws manifested in the micro coincide with those of the macro and the mega.

All these great discoveries in the natural sciences serve to enrich the dialectical materialist process of cognition. Since they predominantly occur in the micro-world, scientists and technologists have invented and developed various types of instruments and combinations of instruments in order to study the particular functions of the various types of small particles in this area.

   The continuous development of quantum theories enables physicists to perceive the similarity of systems arising from elementary particles, and the relation between these systems or even parts of a system. Maths can reveal how they correspond either in content or form with each other in a given line or place.

   It means that physicists have begun to study contradiction at the very foundation of matter itself, thus confirming Lenin’s emphasis that CONTRADICTION lies in the essence of material objects in their infinite change. The existence of contradiction, which arises in the cognition and reflection of matter in motion, admits the objective presence of motion in objects themselves and in their connection with other objects.

Lenin ‘On the Question of Dialectics’  

   By the year 1915 Lenin had already anticipated such great changes, as a study of his article ‘On the Question of Dialectics’ clearly shows. After an exhaustive study of Hegel’s Science of Logic, together with related works on philosophy, his article reads like an interim assessment of the vast potential knowledge implicit in the creativeness of the dialectical method. For him, this was not only true in the scientific field but in the struggle against all forms of bourgeois ideology as well. So far as Lenin was concerned, they were inseparable.  

   The more the sources of contradiction and objective truth are revealed in the natural sciences, the more vulnerable does bourgeois ideology become. ‘Modern socialist consciousness’, said Lenin, ‘can arise only on the basis of a profound scientific knowledge.’ (Volume 5, Collected Works, page 383). This is especially very true today when we study and learn to understand what is happening in the sciences.

   The [understanding of the, – Ed] mistakes that were being made by Lenin’s opponents at the beginning of this century were centred on his insistence that ‘socialism and the class struggle arise side by side (my emphasis) and not one out of the other.’ (Ibid).  Those comrades who consciously struggle for the development of the dialectical method through the combination of objective practices utilised in building the Workers Revolutionary Party, will understand the political barrenness of the revisionist groups who still believe that socialist theory arises out of the class struggle.

   Those who accept Lenin’s reference to those questions without taking into account the importance of studying the achievements of the natural sciences in relation to the source of contradiction in the micro-world, will be severely handicapped in their work. The language forms today become a barrier unless their content embraces thought derived from the materiality of these revolutionary changes.

   In his Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German  Philosophy, Engels anticipated this when he wrote:

   ‘With each epoch-making discovery, even in the sphere of  natural science, it (materialism) has to change its form.’ In the course of his philosophical work, Lenin quoted these words as a guide towards understanding the relation between such important developments as those now going on in quantum physics.  

   The dialectical negation of the achievements in classical physics during Lenin’s time and the growth of non-classical quantum physics since his death must be undertaken as a powerful source of socialist  consciousness. Although the class struggle in Britain seems, in appearance, to move too slowly for the impatient revisionist camps, it is not so in the micro-world, and not so in the macro-world of the class struggle during these crisis-ridden times.

Leninism and the Future

   Lenin’s opening sentence in On the Question of Dialectics reads: ‘The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section III “On Cognition” in Lassalle’s book on Heraclitus) is the essence (one of the “essentials”, one of the principal, if not the principal characteristics or features) of dialectics. (Volume 38, page 359).

   The quotation from Philo on Heraclitus reads: “For the One is that which consists of two opposites, so that when cut into two the opposites are revealed.’ (Volume 38, page 350).

   Lenin refers further to these opposites when he writes: “Such must also be the method of exposition (or study) of dialectics in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics.’ (Volume 38, page 361),

   Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual.’ (Ibid).

   The opposites individual and universal are mutually exclusive and at the same time reciprocally connected. The cognition of these two contradictory parts in their self-relation is ‘the essence of dialectics.’ In the course of cognition, each part of the ‘whole’ is transformed into its opposite whilst the opposites themselves are in transition into one mother. During this process, the contradiction is resolved and a new phenomenon emerges which in turn contains inherent contradiction.

   ‘The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement”, in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites ... development is the “struggle” of opposite ...’ (Volume 38, page 360).

    Development as a unity of opposites is relative, whilst the struggle of opposites is absolute. ‘For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative’, (my emphasis), writes Lenin. ‘For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.’ (Ibid).

   A frequent error made by students of dialectics is to underrate the role of ‘objective dialectics’ and confine their reasoning purely to the political field of the class struggle. They overlook the importance of what Lenin stressed in his article On The Question of Dialectics when he wrote:

Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a ‘nucleus’ (‘cell’) the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and hereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. And natural science (my emphasis - GH) shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites.’ (Lenin’s Collected  Works, Vol 38, pages 361-362).

An objective moment of nature is any empirically given moment derived through sensation generated by external reflection.

   The objective moment as positive (sensation) dissolves into its own negative and is identified as a moment whose properties are lower than the negative which now includes the positive. The difference between them is one of movement and the time taken for the positive to dissolve into its own negative. The time difference is a measure of motion as the source which appears as contradiction. The dialectical laws of this objective moment of nature are therefore Identity, Difference and Contradiction.

   The Negative P (Particular) is the negative of the Universal whole (Nature). It is transplanted on the Negative P (Particular) reflecting the abstract knowledge we already possess. To resolve the contradiction inherent within the two, they are negated into a synthesis. This synthesis in turn is negated as form arising from external reflection. The opposites of Universal (Semblance) and Individual (Existence) are negated in each other and united in the new phenomena of Appearance.

   Cognition and observation of the movement of small particles in the micro-world of quantum physics reveals a manifestation of the dialectical laws, just as in the development of thought phenomena.

   In the struggle against the idealist theories of some scientists in physics, the help furnished from the use of instruments as a kind of extension of the sense organs has already produced an invaluable verification of the dialectical materialist method. The time is ripe for the use of similar aids in overcoming the powerful stop-gap of idealist rigidity which is very much at the heart of anti-theory in Britain.

   If we consider the dialectical relations between the revolutionary party as the micro and the masses as the macro, it is possible to analyse the problems and difficulties of the party as a reflection of the problems and difficulties of the masses.

   To cognise the manifestation of the dialectical laws through constant analysis of such problems and difficulties will not only deepen our understanding of the dialectical method, but open the way for the development of new practices, utilising advanced technology and dialectical knowledge of the achievements in the natural sciences.

   It is, above all, Lenin’s great work, as the most outstanding follower of Marx and Engels, which has now opened the way for the victory of the world socialist revolution. We Trotskyists are therefore the most consistent Leninists.