Leninism and Stalinism: A letter to the Weekly Worker

This letter to the Weekly Worker is a bit unusual for me, in that it is not in response to an attack on anarchism by the CPGB. It was provoked by reading part of the Manifesto of the Campaign for a Marxist Party by Hillel Ticktin. Ticktin is what passes for a Leninist intellectual these days and made his name by predicting the ultimate collapse of Stalinism for some decades before its ruling class come to conclude that private capitalism allowed more perks than state capitalism.

His discussion of Stalinism made me think it would be wise to ask what, exactly, was the difference between Leninism and Stalinism in terms of the fundamental social relationships of the regime. Yes, Stalinism was more brutal and exploitative than Leninism but both regimes were based on party dictatorship and one-man management in the workplace. Is it really because the terror was applied within the party as well as outside?

Given that problems the anti-Stalinist Leninists have had in actually pin-pointing the period (1927, with the defeat of the Left Opposition! No, 1923 when the Left Opposition had to be formed! No, 1921 with the banning of factions! and so on backwards in time as knowledge of Bolshevik authoritarianism grows...) when the Russian revolution was "betrayed" (to use Trotsky's word), the problem is not trival.

I've noted this problem before. The question is, surely, why the ideological blindness? It cannot be purely the product of ignorance, as the people who make these points are usually party leaders (intellectuals?). Is it just an unwillingess to question certain heroes, an unwillingness to admit that socialism took a terrible wrong-turn in 1917?

And if Leninism is finally laid to rest, will it stop there? After all, 1914 saw the utter failure of Marxism in the form of Social Democracy (it was obvious long before, of course, but support for the war ensured that even Lenin could not ignore it!). The links between the Leninist economic and political programme of 1917 and 1918 with social democracy are all too clear, for those with eyes to see. Equally, the links with certain statements made by Marx and Engels are also clear.

Perhaps more and more radicals may come to the conclusion that, ultimately, Bakunin was right after all in his critique of Marx? Hopefully, but the ability of naff parties like the British SWP to stagger on seems amazing.

Finally, a few notes on the revision of section H of An Anarchist FAQ. I've finished the new section H.6, which will include an expansion of sections H.3.15 and H.3.16 as well as a new section on labour protest (and Bolshevik repression) under Lenin. Now that is a subject which is under-researched! Hopefully the new sub-section will start people looking into it, as well as showing the whole Leninist argument that the working class was "atomised" is staggering given that Bolshevik repression aimed to do precisely that! Sadly, all this plus the detailed account and critique of the Marxist theory of the state has meant a significant increase in that section. But that seems unavoidable, as the need to refute the Leninist account of Marx's ideas needs to be done.

All in all, I've been busy -- and I'm a bit sick of reading Marxist and Leninist theory, plus about the Russian Revolution! Still, the revisions should be done by mid-November -- hopefully around the time that confirmation that the FAQ is in print comes my way!

Oh, btw, I should be speaking on Kropotkin's Mutual Aid at this year's London anarchist bookfair. Originally, I was going to be talking on AFAQ but due to the delays that seems unwise as there is little hope that physical copies will be there.

And there will be a new issue of Black Flag as well! Which means our plan to be bi-annual actually was done, which is nice.

Dear Weekly Worker,

The contradictions of anti-Stalinist Leninism were all too clear in “What is Marxism?” by Hillel Ticktin (Weekly Worker, no. 734). While, rightly, attacking Stalinism as a horrific system his points against it are just as applicable to Leninism.

Ticktin proclaims that “Marxists today cannot be Marxists unless they are anti-Stalinist in their very bones” because Stalinism is “counterrevolutionary” and its “dictatorial, anti-democratic forms, its physical liquidations . . . and its patent economic failure have rightly antagonised the vast majority of the population.”

Yet much the same can be said of Lenin’s regime. The dictatorship of the party was proclaimed and implemented under Lenin, who oversaw the repression, including “physical liquidations”, of opposition socialists, striking workers and rebelling peasants. The “economic failure” of his state capitalist policies was also “patent” and these combined with its “dictatorial, anti-democratic” nature “rightly antagonised the vast majority of the population.” Which was precisely why the Bolsheviks raised the dictatorship of the party to an ideological truism by early 1919 – after gerrymandering and disbanding soviets from the spring of the previous year.

Such acts, combined with the elimination of workplace and military democracy, can only be classed as “counterrevolutionary.” It is equally staggering that Trotsky is proclaimed “the standard-bearer of pristine Marxism” given he defended the “objective necessity” of a “dictatorship of a proletarian party” – in 1937! That this is identical to his views when in power and in the Left Opposition should be well known, but apparently not. So I would agree that “the study of [Trotsky’s] work is crucial to the development of Marxism” if only to see how willing he was, like Lenin, to abandon democracy when required to ensure party power.

So it seems ironic to read that Stalinism “was the ‘ideology’ of a ruling social group in power in the USSR, which exercised a limited degree of control over the surplus product.” Is that not equally applicable to the Bolsheviks under Lenin? What else was the party, unless “a ruling social group”? What else were Lenin’s state-appointed “dictatorial” one-man managers doing, unless ensuring “control” over the labour and product of the workers?

As for the international role of Stalinism, suffice to say the council communists as early as 1921 had seen how the Comintern had “repudiated the international nature of the revolution in favour of the domination of the Soviet Union and its interests, which in fact meant the interests of its ruling group.”

From this it follows that, unlike Leninists, anarchists do not judge a regime by who happens to be in office. A system does not become state capitalist just because Stalin rules rather than Lenin. What makes a regime socialist is the social relationships it has, not the personal opinions of those in power. Thus if the social relationships under Lenin are similar to those under Stalin, then the nature of the regime is similar. True, Leninism was not as barbaric as Stalinism but the degree of repression does not change a social system any more than who the personalities at the top are.

So, yes, “Lenin’s classic argument, that theory comes from the intellectuals and hence from the ranks of the bourgeoisie” can “be easily dismissed” as not only factually incorrect but also because of the authoritarian conclusions that flow from it – such as Trotsky's defence of party rule to overcome the “wavering” of the masses.

Given all this, perhaps it would be far to say that Marxism should be “limited” to those who have repudiated Leninism? Socialism would best be served by rejecting the Bolshevik Myth. I suggest that the ideas of “anarchist and semi-anarchist tendencies” are a far more useful guide to creating a genuine socialist movement rather than trying to resurrect a flawed and failed ideology like Leninism.

Iain McKay



Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles