Lenin, Bolshevism, and Social-Democratic Political Theory

The 1905 and 1917 Soviets

in Historical Materialism
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Lars Lih has contributed to our knowledge of Russian Social Democracy lately. However, serious methodological flaws bedevil this advance in knowledge. Lih’s overall approach displays a very static understanding of political ideas in relation to political movements. In the first section, ‘Lenin, the St Petersburg Bolshevik Leadership, and the 1905 Soviet’, I challenge Lih’s position that Lenin never changed his mind about bringing socialist consciousness into the working class ‘from without’. In the second section, ‘Lenin, “Old Bolshevism” and Permanent Revolution: The Soviets in 1917’, I challenge Lih’s revisionist view that Old Bolshevism’s pre-1917 goal of ‘democratic revolution to the end’ drove Lenin’s partisans to make a working-class, socialist revolution in 1917. On this singular account, Lenin’s April Theses, which called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and the transfer of all power to the soviets, was merely a further expression of Old Bolshevik politics, not a break with it, as has almost universally been held.

Lenin, Bolshevism, and Social-Democratic Political Theory

The 1905 and 1917 Soviets

in Historical Materialism



BogdanovAlexander ‘Pismo k vsem partiiny rabotnikam’ Listovski bolshevitskikh organizatsii v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii 1905–1907gg 1956 [1905] Volume 1 Moscow Gosizpolit

BrennerRobert ‘The Paradox of Social Democracy: The American Case’ The Year Left: An American Socialist Yearbook 1985 London Verso

CliffTony Lenin. 1: Building the Party (1893–1914) 1975 London Pluto Press

DraperHal ‘The Myth of Lenin’s “Concept of the Party”, or, What they Did to What Is to Be Done? 1990 available at: <https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/myth.htm>

HardingNeal Lenin’s Political Thought: Theory and Practice in the Democratic and Socialist Revolutions 1977 Volume 1 London Macmillan Press

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘What Is to Be Done?’ Collected Works 1962a Volume 5 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution’ Collected Works 1962b Volume 9 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies’ Collected Works 1962c Volume 10 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Victory of the Cadets and Tasks of the Workers’ Party’ Collected Works 1962d Volume 10 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich The Reorganization of the Party Collected Works 1962e Volume 10 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Report on the Unity Congress’ Collected Works 1962f Volume 10 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Twelve Years’ Collected Works 1962g Volume 13 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich Socialism and War Collected Works 1962h Volume 21 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘The April All Russia Conference’ Collected Works 1964a Volume 23 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Letters from Afar’ Collected Works 1964b Volume 23 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution’ Collected Works 1964c Volume 24 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘The Seventh (April) All-Russia Conference of the r.s.d.l.p. (b).’ Collected Works 1964d Volume 24 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘Letters on Tactics’ Collected Works 1964e Volume 24 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LeninVladimir Ilyich ‘A Contribution to the History of the Question of the Dictatorship: A Note’ Collected Works 1966 Volume 31 Fourth Edition Moscow Gospolizdat

LiebmanMarcel The Russian Revolution 1970 New York Random House

LihLars T. Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is to Be Done?’ in Context Historical Materialism 2006 Leiden Brill Book Series

LihLars T. ‘Lenin Disputed’ Historical Materialism 2010 18 3 108 174

LihLars T. Lenin 2011a London Reaktion Books

LihLars T. ‘The Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism: The Debates of April 1917 in Context’ Russian History 2011b 38 199 242

LihLars T. ‘Bolshevism and Revolutionary Social Democracy’ Weekly Worker 2012 6 June available at: <http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/917/bolshevism-and-revolutionary-social-democracy/>

LihLars T.CohenStephen F.EnglishRobertKrausMichaelSharletRobert ‘Robert C. Tucker, 1918–2010’ Slavic Review 2011 70 1 242 245

LuxemburgRosa LavinPatrick The Mass Strike: The Political Party and the Trade Unions 1971 [1906] New York Harper Torchbooks

MarotJohn Eric The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect: Interventions in Soviet and Russian History Historical Materialism 2013a Chicago Haymarket Press Book Series

MarotJohn Eric ‘A Maverick in European Social Democracy: Trotsky’s Political Trajectory, 1907–1917’ Science and Society 2013b 77 3 412 415

MarxKarl FernbachDavid The First International and After. Political Writings 1974 [1871] Volume 3 New York Vintage Books

MészárosIstván Marx’s Theory of Alienation 1970 New York Merlin Press

RabinowitchAlexander Prelude to Revolution: The Petrograd Bolsheviks and the July 1917 Uprising 1967 Bloomington Indiana University Press

RiddellJohn ‘Lars Lih Online: Recent Studies on Bolshevism, Lenin, and Kautsky’ John Riddell: Marxist Essays and Commentary 2013 16 April available at: <http://johnriddell.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/lars-lih-online-nine-recent-studies-on-bolshevism-lenin-and-kautsky/>

RosenbergWilliam G. Liberals in the Russian Revolution: The Constitutional Democratic Party 1917–1921 1974 Princeton Princeton University Press

SchwarzSolomon M. The Russian Revolution of 1905: The Workers’ Movement and the Formation of Bolshevism and Menshevism 1967 Chicago University of Chicago Press

Sed’maia (aprel’skaia) vserossiiskaia konferentsiia rsdrp (bol’shevikov); Petrogradskaia obshche gorodskaia konferentsiia rsdrp (bol’shevikov): Protokoly 1958 Moscow Gosizdat

SouvarineBoris ‘Deux nouvelles biographies de Staline’ Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue Canadienne des Slavistes 1975 17 1 143 149

SukhanovNikolai Nikolaevich The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record 1955 [1922] London Oxford University Press

TrotskyLeon ‘Hands off Rosa Luxemburg: Reply to the Slandering of a Revolutionist’ 1932 available at: <http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1932/06/luxemburg.htm>

TrotskyLeon EastmanMax History of the Russian Revolution 1980 [1932] Volume 1 New York Monad Press


Lih 2010p. 172.


Harding 1977.


Lih 2006pp. 526 529.


Luxemburg 1971p. 11.


Lenin 1962hp. 312.


Lih 2012.


See e.g. Cliff 1975 and Liebman 1970.


Schwarz 1967Chapter 4.


Bogdanov 1956pp. 188–94. Schwarz mistakenly refers to this document as ‘Letter to All Party Organizations’ (Schwarz 1967 p. 183).


Bogdanov 1956pp. 191–2.


Lenin 1962cpp. 10–28.


Lenin 1962cp. 19.


Lenin 1962cp. 19.


Lenin 1962cp. 21.


Lenin 1962cp. 20.


Lenin 1962cp. 23.


Lenin 1962cpp. 24–5.


Lenin 1962cpp. 26–7.


Lih 2010p. 146 n. 88.


Lenin 1962ap. 375.


Lenin 1962app. 384–5.


Lenin 1962ap. 386.


Lenin 1962ap. 383.


Lenin 1962ep. 32.


Lenin 1962ap. 375.


Lenin 1962gpp. 94–113.


Lenin 1962fp. 379.


Lenin 1962ap. 440.


Schwarz 1967p. 227.


Bogdanov 1956p. 193.


Bogdanov 1956pp. 193–4.


Marx 1974p. 212.


Luxemburg 1971p. 17.


Rosenberg 1974Chapter 2. Rosenberg’s contribution remains the standard work of reference on the Kadets between 1917 and 1921. Nothing has measured up to it since its publication 40 years ago.


Though Trotsky returned to Russia in May 1917he looked this gift-horse (the April Theses) in the mouth for nearly three months before formally joining the Bolsheviks as a member of their Central Committee – despite the near identity of their politics in 1917. Trotsky’s affinity to Bolshevism became evident as early as the 1905 Revolution but it never led to political cooperation with Lenin’s partisans in the pre-1917 period. See Marot 2013b.


I discuss these modifications in Marot 2013app. 35–8.


Trotsky 1980p. 326.


Marot 2013app. 156–7.


For example Sukhanov 1955.


For example Trotsky 1980.


For example Rabinowitch 1967.


Lih 2011bp. 199.


Lih 2011bp. 217.


Lih 2011bp. 209.


Lenin 1962bpp. 76 52. ‘There are bourgeois-democratic regimes like the one in Germany and also like the one in England; like the one in Austria and also like those in America and Switzerland. He would be a fine Marxist indeed who in a period of democratic revolution failed to see this difference between the degrees of democratism and the difference between its forms . . .’ (p. 52).


Lih 2011bp. 210.


Lih 2011bp. 203.


Lih 2011bp. 217.


Lenin 1962bp. 76. Lenin’s article ‘Two Tactics of Russian Social Democracy’ explains at great length the rationale for all the resolutions of the London all-Bolshevik Congress. Along the way he criticises the Mensheviks presenting the Menshevik position fairly by citing copiously from authoritative Menshevik publicists and press. What a pity so few historians have adopted Lenin’s polemical methods in their own polemics. As a rule Lenin’s presents his opponents’ position fully hiding nothing. Lenin’s opponents often did not adhere to the same standard when attacking Lenin’s position.


Lih 2011bp. 216.


Lih 2011bp. 217.


Lih 2011bp. 217.


Lenin 1964ep. 53.


Lenin 1964bp. 325.


Lih 2011bp. 222.


Lih 2011bp. 222.


Lenin 1964ap. 241.


Lih 2011bp. 199.


Lih 2011bp. 217.


Lenin 1964cp. 22.


Lih 2011bp. 218.


Lih 2011bp. 215.


Lih 2011bp. 234.


Lih 2011bp. 216.


Lih 2011bp. 210.


Lih 2011bp. 230.


Lih 2011bp. 216.


Lih 2011bp. 199.


Lenin 1964dp. 244.


Lenin 1962bp. 264.


Lenin 1964dp. 313.


Lih 2011b.


Lenin 1964cp. 23.


Lenin 1964cp. 22. Lenin repeatedly used these expressions.


Trotsky 1980p. 331.


Lih 2011app. 15 13. Tucker (1918–2010) was attaché to the American embassy in Moscow from 1944 to 1953 advancing the imperial objectives of American foreign policy. He furthered them as advisor to Adlai Stevenson in 1956 when Stevenson ran for President on the Democratic ticket. Tucker entered academia in 1958 as a liberal Cold War warrior. His first work was an intellectually impoverished account of Marx’s theory of alienation which István Mészáros demolished in a scathing critique (Mészáros 1970). Tucker went on to become one of the leading lights of American ‘Sovietology’ widely praised in the field for his two-volume psychobiography of Stalin a work bereft of scientific value. Boris Souvarine wrote a sharp review of Volume 1 (Souvarine 1975). See Lih Cohen English Kraus and Sharlet 2011 for a fulsome tribute.

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