Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.1 (2004) 55-80
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Lenin's Revolutionary Career Revisited
Some Observations on Recent Discussions
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I appreciate the opportunity the editors of Kritika have given me to express my views on the recent discussion of Lenin's revolutionary career. This is especially fitting, I believe, in an issue devoted to a reconsideration of political history. In particular, it provides an opportunity to address recent treatments of the evolution of Lenin's views and the course of his revolutionary career, treatments that have invoked my past writings about Lenin. 1 It also permits me to take up a broader historiographical issue: whether in the fifty years that I have scrutinized Lenin's revolutionary career—in various historical settings and from various angles of vision—my views about him as a revolutionary politician have significantly changed; and if so, in what respects, and to what degree? I greatly welcome the opportunity to address this broader historiographical question for two complementary reasons. The first is that it is only recently, in fact, that I have completed for publication a sequential analysis of Lenin's entire revolutionary career, in which I have scrutinized his political behavior and the views and attitudes underlying it—often from day to day, and at critical moments, even from hour to hour—during the years stretching from the turn of the century up to the Bolshevik seizure of power. 2 [End Page 55]
The recent discussions in Kritika and Slavic Review of my interpretation of Lenin's views and behavior as a revolutionary politician actually were focused almost exclusively on a study that I wrote a half-century ago, The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism. Regrettably, the participants in these two discussion articles almost entirely ignored the writings that I published in subsequent years about later aspects of Lenin's revolutionary career. 3
Under the circumstances, I deplore all the more the exclusive attention paid in these recent discussion articles to my treatment of Lenin's views in The Russian Marxists and the Origins of Bolshevism: not only because this study was written a half-century ago, but also because it was devoted almost exclusively (as its title suggests) to a retrospective examination of the views articulated during the earlier years of their revolutionary careers by the major participants in the debates of the Second Party Congress of the RSDRP (Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party), held in the summer of 1903, which culminated in the split between Bolshevik and Menshevik factions.
Thus the retrospective treatment of Lenin's and Martov's views in my 1955 monograph ranged back to the mid-1890s, when they had originally emerged as significant actors in Russian Social Democracy as a result of their leading role in the organization of the St. Petersburg Union for the Liberation of the Working Class (Osvobozhdenie truda). My retrospective treatment of the political views of Georgii Valentinovich Plekhanov and Pavel Borisovich Aksel'rod, moreover, ranged back to the mid-1870s—to the schism within the Populist organization Land and Freedom—in the wake of which they assumed a leading role in the organization of the group Black Partition (Chernyi peredel) to oppose the views and practices of the terrorist organization People's Will (Narodnaia volia). It was in the course of their involvement in Black Partition that Plekhanov and Aksel'rod underwent the process of conversion to Marxist ideology that induced them in 1883 to participate in the organization of the first orthodox Marxist group in Russia, the Union for the Liberation of the Working Class. [End Page 56]
While treating these now-familiar aspects of the earlier development of Marxism and Social Democracy in late 19th-century Russia in my 1955 monograph, I also sought to trace the historical links between the concepts of "consciousness" and "spontaneity" ("elementalness" being a more appropriate translation of the term stikhiinost...