Back to Lenin? Bolshevism as Barbarism

Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland (College Park) and author most recently of "The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century" (University of California Press, 2012).


lenin147It has become fashionable among leftist circles to invoke a return to Lenin, to radicalism, to utopia. Among those who advocate such imperative to “retest the communist hypothesis” one can count French philosopher Alain Badiou, a former admirer of the Khmer Rouges, and Slovene thinker, Slavoj Zizek, the new idol of Western university campuses, subject of documentary hagiographic movies, and prophet of a new phantasmagoric world revolution. Did the partisans of such positions ever stop to think how it would sound a call for “retesting the Nazi hypothesis”? One must be totally oblivious to history, an incurable cynic, in order to ignore the fact that Leninism, just like National-Socialism, means political terrorism, the apotheosis of fanatical partisanship, the boundless cult of violence and nihilism, etc. In short, Leninism presupposes all of what Polish poet Aleksander Wat called the destruction of the inner man. Leninism is theoretical and practical anti-humanism.

There have been conferences and symposia where Lenin is presented, in an academic context and without any trace of compassion for the millions of victims of “the great experiment,” as the philosopher of the break with an order putatively condemned by history. All in all, it is unsurprising that the prophets of violence worship Lenin. What is surprising is that intellectuals, who should have learnt from the catastrophes of the 20th century, are engaged in an endeavor driven by n programmatic irresponsibility. It is simply shocking that in countries where the Leninist model was implemented, one can still read and hear hymns honoring the architect of a criminal system.

Should we be amazed by all this? What could one expect from the epigones of Georg Lukacs, the Marxist philosopher who declared, in a 1970 dialogue with Italian sociologist Franco Ferraroti, that he preferred the worst form of socialisms to the best incarnation of capitalism. A perplexing statement, which was parodied by Leszek Kolakowski as follows: “This is why one can see endless crowds of people seeking asylum lining up in front of the embassies of Albania and not of those of Sweden.” Real history does not matter for such sectarians. What does matter is the dogma to which they are faithful in total disregard of reality. If facts stand in the way, they adopt a position mirroring the statement of one famous German philosopher: “Too bad for the facts!”  It is quite telltale that one of Hugo Chavez’s intellectual heroes was Istvan Meszaros, one of Lukacs’s former students who, unlike other Hungarian former neo-Marxists converted to liberalism (e.g. Agnes Heller and Janos Kis), has remained a  flaming Marxist, faithful to the dialectical sophistries of his mentor.

An excellent example of such world-view is a recent memoir by a Romanian Marxist intellectual, Ion Ianosi, who happened to be deeply involved for long stretches of time in the ideologization of the country’s culture during communism. The volume’s title is My International. Some critics glorify the book as testimony of heartfelt sincerity. What is missing in those more than 800 pages is an honest analysis of Bolshevism as justification of social genocide. Ion Ianosi seemingly excels on topics such as “Marx and Art”, “Lenin and Art”, pretty much the same fields for which his expertise was called upon during his activity within the Romanian communist party’s Agitprop. But Ianosi shies away from trying his expert pen on topics such as the crimes against humanity inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Even before the Bolsheviks’ coming into power, it was clear that Lenin was a fanatical propagandist, a utopian ideologue fixated on social purity and purification, an heir to Robespierre and St. Just, but no philosopher. Philosophy implies doubt and Lenin was the man without doubts. This does not mean that there were no honorable individuals who fell in the trap of Lenin’s and his followers’ metaphysical verbiage. The dean of Russian social-democracy, Georgi Plekhanov was right. Lenin was never a philosopher. What did he want, though? Maybe we should remember Louis Althusser’s (a French philosopher who exerted great influence over Badiou) idea: “Lenin did not found a new philosophy of praxis, but a new praxis of philosophy.” A praxis that resulted in mass murder.

Lenin was the practitioner of a simplistic, partisan, and exclusivist philosophy. He rejected emphatically any possibility for a middle path, of a tertium datur between what he called “bourgeois ideology” and the “proletarian” one. Lenin’s Manichaeism was inexorable. For Lenin and his followers, ideas were (are) always the manifestation of class interests. Greatly valued by many people of the Left, Nikolai Bukharin, Lenin’s favorite executed by Stalin, did not adopt a different approach, thus drawing Gramsci’s harsh critique. The latter, author of a Gnostic version of  revolutionary theory, was one of the very few Marxists able to take seriously the autonomy of superstructures and the role of historical will. This is the meaning of a notion essential for the Leninist conception about ideas, ideologies and philosophical consciousness: partiinost – partisanship, class position, militant commitment, total and abject subordination to the party line.

Leninism is a revolutionary doctrine that sanctifies political violence and condemns entire social categories to state-engineered extinction. It is a secular demonology constructing a cosmogony of exclusion rooted in the visceral contempt for the rule of law, legality, and the universality of human rights. “Back to Lenin” means a return to barbarism, blindness, and murder.    

Editor’s note: Don’t miss Vladimir Tismaneanu’s interview at Frontpage about his new book, The Devil in History, here.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.  

  • Chezwick

    I was seduced by Marxism when I was 15 and 16. I read the 'Manifesto', I read Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Victor Serge, even Mao's little red book. I even momentarily embraced the terminology of the genre,…trying to rattle off phrases like "progressive forces", "scientific socialism", "dialectical materialism", etc., in everyday discourse….as if I actually knew what I was talking about.

    By the time I was 17, I'd come full circle and was reading Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov, Milovan Djilas, Roy Medvedev and other dissident literature, as well as the incomparable Robert Conquest. The point is, I grew up. It didn't take long because the building blocks were already in place, values long inculcated in me by my parents and, to a lessor extent, by a public school system that hadn't yet been intellectually corrupted.

    These values included a basic love of country, as well as intellectual and moral powers of discernment. On a very basic level, I understood that the pluralism of the West was preferable and superior – morally and practically – to the ideologies of collectivism.

    What continues to astound me is that adults – thinking, (semi) rational adults, continue to be enamored with the falsehoods and fables of collectivism. It's a willful blindness…..and in my humble opinion, it's rooted in psychology, specifically, feelings of inadequacy and alienation, turned inside-out and then manifest as a form of moral superiority. Liberals and leftists "care about people"…..that's what distinguishes them from the rest (at least in their own minds). It apparently matters not that the resulting policies invariably breed a poverty of economy and soul.

    Time to stop dabbling in "concepts" and "abstractions". Time to grow up.

  • Chezwick

    To the site Administrator: I posted a comment that apparently took too long and therefore automoatically triggered your "must be approved by site Administrator" response. Please post it. Thanks.

  • john

    Excellent article written by an obviously intelligent man.!

  • Prof. L. Wessell

    I would like simply to chime in a comment derived from those days long ago when I taught German literature. There is short drama by Bertolt Brecht called "The Measures Taken". The theme is interesting. A young communist wants to change the world and, stupidly, messes up the praxis of the Communist Party. Instead of pushing evil capitalists to ever more evil (thereby creating the conditions for THE revolution), sympathy for the victims leads the would-be communist to aid the suffering instead of "radicalizing" them. In the course of the drama, a "Lehrstück" / pedagogical work, the true ethos of communism is revealed by a chorus representing the party. The ethos of communism is (and I must quote from memory at the moment): "Reach down and embrace the butcher, but change the world, it needs it". The liberational goals of communism are only allegedly reachable through the application of the superior knowledge of marxism which, scientifically (sic) speaking, can mean murdering the innocent, harming the exploited, massive destruction, all of which equals the "butcher" or their in no "change".

    Should anyone be interested in the gnostic mythopoetic" origins of Marx's thinking and his integration of it with his "scientific" thinking, look up my name on Amazon as I wrote two books on the subject.

    • tismaneanu

      Thanks a lot for the comment. I look forward to reading your books about the role of myth in Marx's thought. About Brecht's infamous play ("Die Massnahme"), a tribute to the Comintern's cynicism, there are fascinating remarks in Koestler's memoirs.I just read that the unrepentantly Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE) organizes a Brecht Festival in Athens…

      The play's music was by Hans Eisler, a modernist composer, later the author of the GDR anthem and a very tormented character who never broke with the Bolshevik Left. Eisler's brother, Gerhard, was an Agitprop hack in the GDR (during the war he lived in the States and was most likely a Soviet spy). The sister was Ruth Fischer, in the early 1920s a flaming German communist, then an anti-Stalinist author ("Stalin and German Communism" is a classic). Again, Koestler wrote great pages about the Eislers.

    • tagalog

      I read The Measures Taken in college, back in the 1960s. "Die Massnahme," was that its German title? It's about Soviet agitators trying to spread Bolshevism to China, and the decision to murder one of the Soviets when he acts as an individual to fight oppression, thereby betraying the existence of the Soviet Communists in the area, is that right? Is that the play?

      Brecht was a slippery character. Just have a look at the transcript of his testimony before HUAC. You can find it in the book Thirty Years of Treason. He left the U.S. immediately after giving his testimony and never came back.

  • choptop

    I once dropped a graduate course in literature that focused on "theory." A work by Zizek was the final straw for me. It wasn't just "difficult," it was an incomprehensible mess. The english department paid to bring Zizek to give a "talk" at the university. Being a hero, most of the english faculty and most of the grad students attended. Of course, all of the grad students hailed the talk as "brilliant, though difficult." Most of the faculty seemed to agree. A few professors admitted, privately, that Zizek was either insane or had some sort of serious attention deficit disorder.

  • emptorpreempted

    But Sweden was always better than Albania.

  • tagalog

    There has always been a train of thought among some people that holds that Lenin's Communism was more benign than that of his successors, and that therefore Lenin was on the side of the Good.

    One would have thought that emerging knowledge of the Lenin Terror, the War Economy, the 1921 Famine, and other similar acts of oppressive authoritarianism would have driven that train of thought out of peoples' minds permanently.

    Evidently not. It appears that, despite a century of adverse experience in every conceivable social order, it remains the conventional wisdom among leftists that TRUE Communism has never really been given a chance to develop, and that the observed phenomenon of communist revolution degenerating into tyranny is not attributable to the inherent faults of Marxist collectivist thinking.

  • Rothschild

    Lenin's Jewish roots put on display in Russian museum
    http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Len

    • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

      There was nothing in Lenin's philosophy linking him to either Judaism or to Jews living in the Russian hell. It was no wonder that many Jews idealized him and thought they would escape antisemitism by going red. They were wrong, but your comment is repugnant. There are rumors spread by antisemites that he carried some Jewish blood, and you are a good Nazi if you buy into that canard.

    • reader

      Yeah. Lenin had a grandfather who converted out of Judaism. He also had a German Luteran grandmother and a father who was a Russian. Even by Nazi Nuremberg laws, it would be a stretch to call his roots "Jewish."

      • tagalog

        Having one Jewish grandfather would be enough to have consigned Lenin to an extermination camp as a Jew under the Nuremburg Laws.

        But Lenin wasn't raised as a Jew and he didn't see himself as a Jew.

        • Watcher

          To be Jewish, according to Halacha, ones' mother must be Jewish. So, his grandfather was Jewish but HE was not. Shalom!

          • tagalog

            That's the Jewish way of counting. I have significant doubts that the Nazis followed the Jewish practice. But that's just me.

            Aleichem shalom.

    • Ghostwriter

      And most Jews would be ashamed to have Lenin as one of there number. The Communists ATTACKED religion in all forms,Judaism included. Many Jews emigrated to America during Lenin's lifetime and some were influenced by him. These days,most Jews would hate Lenin because of all the misery he gave their religion. In that,he was no different than Hitler.

  • Drew

    Y'all better not be dissin my boy Vlad Illyich…
    Time to throw down mo' lyrics: http://connecthook.wordpress.com/mine/various/610

  • PAthena

    Question: Did Lenin establish the "Reign of Terror" and want to prevent "Thermidor"? This would be a connection to Robespierre and the French Revolution. He would have established the Soviet Union as a permanent "Reign of Terror."

    • reader

      This may be the best book about Lenin and the Bolsheviks in English:
      http://www.amazon.com/Lenin-His-Comrades-Bolshevi

    • tagalog

      I doubt there's any direct causative relationship between the French Reign of Terror and Lenin's Red Terror. For one thing, the French Reign of Terror was put in place to keep the aristos and the Church in line, while the Red Terror was aimed at anyone who was deemed to be interfering with the Bolshevik plan of action. In the Soviet regime, you could be democrat, tsarist, anarchist or socialist; just grist to be ground up in the collective mill.

      The French Revolution has, however misguided, its roots in the Enlightenment, while the Russian Revolution's most obvious influence is a thousand years of history of living under the rule of the knout.

    • Omar

      Yes. Lenin's "Red Terror" was indeed inspired by Robespierre's Reign of Terror in France during the 1790s. It is important to remember that Robespierre was the father of Communism. He and his Jacobins overthrew the monarchy of King Louis XVI (who was an American ally) not because the king was an absolutist, but because the Jacobins wanted total power for themselves. While Britain's King George III may have opposed the revolt openly (he did so mainly because he feared a revolt against himself, not because he disliked the Jacobins), there is some indication that his regime may have secretly financed the Jacobins and their revolution, as Britain was angry that Louis' France supported the American Revolution and the independence of the United States of America. So, as we can all see, left-wing anti-Americanism goes as far back as the French Revolution. That's the reality.

  • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

    I think the last word on life under Lenin was Ayn Rand's We The Living, in my view her best work and the most based on her own life under the NEP. See http://clarespark.com/2011/01/12/ayn-rands-we-the…. As for Lenin, the best book I have read on that subject is Jacob Talmon's last big book that writes the intellectual history in the West that created a Lenin. On the Leninists at large in academe see http://clarespark.com/2013/05/06/the-new-left-act…. "The New Left Activist Scholars."

  • http://shugartpoliticalaction.shugartmedia.com/uncommonsense/ Chris_Shugart

    Sometimes intellectual analysis requires more effort than is needed. When I encounter phrases like "French philosopher," "Italian sociologist," and "Romanian Marxist," I know the odds are that these are combinations from which no good can possibly come. Politics, as well as life in general, can be simple and obvious.

  • lanovelhistory

    This interesting article is quoted with appreciation and discussed here:
    http://theatheistconservative.com/2013/05/07/the-

  • Omar

    Leftists will never understand the misery that their totalitarian ideology caused against the people of the world. Communism should be outlawed, period. It has caused nothing, but indoctrination and misery in the world.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

      Isn't it amazing how many starve and die in communist utopias?

      They must have another definition for the word they don't share with the rest of us.

      • You Know Who

        It's amazing gor would create atheists and let this sort of thing happen

        • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

          Not really, He may have a sense of humor and wanted something to laugh at.
          As far as communists and the pain and suffering in the world. Perhaps the devil deserves the blame. And maybe God created us to think and act based on free will.

          God doesn't deserve all the blame for your stupid. You do.

          • You Know Who

            So god had a sense of humor and starving people is funny to him.

            You're a sick man

          • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

            Nope, God gave free will and evil flourished due to people such as yourself that reject God's values.

          • reader

            Did your parents have a sense of humor? You're one of those idiots who mistake circular logic for sophistication, but your IQ issurely low, you know troll.

        • U.B Stupid

          "Gor" invented the ultimate global-warming scheme.

        • Omar

          Voldemort, you don't make sense half the time. Most of the left, with the exception of the religious left and followers of liberation theology, do not believe in religion as strongly as conservatives. I am an agnostic, but I don't judge people based on beliefs, unless those people are religious extremists who commit atrocities in the name of a religion, such as radical Islamists.

    • Jacobite

      Leftists understand the suffering Leftism produces. Hey, that's why they're Leftists. Some Brit writer said: "Leftism is a relentless war against everything normal." Now who wants to conduct a war against normal people? Correct — abnormal people. Watch some tape of any Democratic Party Convention since 1972. Yep, looks like a carnival side-show train derailed someplace. The reason US Leftists are so predictably anti-American is because most of them are either non-Americans (i.e., NW European) or non-normal Americans.

      • Omar

        Yes, but the fact remains that left-wing anti-Americanism dates back to the French Revolution. Why did the Jacobins revolted against King Louis XVI? Unlike most of the French people (who revolted because they wanted to get rid of the monarchy), Robespierre and his Jacobin henchmen revolted because they wanted total power for themselves. The Jacobins did not care about the king's absolutism, as the Jacobins established totalitarianism in France soon after the royal family was deposed (the Jacobins initiated the Reign of Terror, which killed thousands of innocent people during the 1790s). There may be some indication that Britain's King George III may have helped to fund the Jacobins in the French Revolution because George was angry at Louis for supporting the American Revolution and the independence of the United States (King Louis XVI was an American ally). Based on this indication theory, it makes perfect sense to see and understand that left-wing anti-Americanism goes as far back as the French Revolution.The Jacobins are responsible for all of the hell that the left has caused in the world, throughout history and in the modern world.

  • ProphetOfDoom65

    It is to my great dismay that there are multitudes of people in USA and Europe who worship this criminal. I lived in that country, in the "communists paradise". The shadow of Lenin's corpse was cast over 1/6 part of all the land mass of the Earth. That "paradise" collapsed because people from more than 100 nations living there hated the system he created. Lenin was an "equal opportunity" hater – starting from capitalists to Jews, to Christians, to Muslims, to tiny nations of Siberia and etc. All had been enslaved and subjected to re-education all eradication (when subjects were too stubborn). That "monster of a revolutionary" is the father of terrorism, disregard to human life, rejection of all international and national laws and etc.
    The only thing to love about Lenin is the fact that he died from syphilis.

    • reader

      "The only thing to love about Lenin is the fact that he died from syphilis."

      I agree with everything else but your concluding sentence. What Lenin died of we don't know for a fact. He may have suffered from syphilis for sure, but he also was in practically air tight isolation attended by staff hand picked by Stalin for months on end. Right through the end. Felshtinsky laid out a case in that Lenin had been likely poisoned by the future NKVD chief Yagoda, who had been a chemist by trade and Stalin's henchman by occupation.

  • ziggy zoggy

    Tismaneanu is right. Leninism, Marxism, communism, socialism and all the other empty ideologies of the left are nothing but a means to power. That’s all they ever were. The true believers are truly deluded.