Socialist Worker

What's Lenin got to do with our struggle now?

There is much we can learn from the Russian revolutionary Lenin, argues Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker's sister paper in Greece.

Issue No. 1863

STRATEGIES AND tactics sometimes seem like dirty words to young activists getting involved in the movement today. They see tactics as something used to fool people. People say, why can't we just confront our enemies head on? But the new movement, born at Seattle in 1999, has already had to face tactical questions.

For example, what did the movement do after police shot anti-capitalist protesters in Sweden or after 11 September? We cannot avoid the question of strategy and tactics. One of the best sources to throw light on these discussions is someone who was a leading player in one of the greatest movements ever seen, Lenin.

Lenin was a leading figure in the movement at the beginning of the 20th century, which aimed at overthrowing capitalism, not just in Russia but across the whole world. What does Lenin have to say about strategy and tactics? During the height of the Russian Revolution in the summer of 1917 Lenin took time off to write a pamphlet, State and Revolution. It is a statement on the strategy of the movement and how we can confront and change capitalism.

He addresses those who argued that capitalism can be changed in a piecemeal way. Lenin says we have to confront capitalism at a political, not just an economic, level.

THE CENTRAL idea of State and Revolution is that a movement aimed at overthrowing capitalism must remove the state from the hands of the ruling class, dismantle it completely and replace it with a workers' state. This strategy has been contested many times. People ask why we have to have a political movement orientated to workers' power.

Lenin argues that whenever the movement begins to force change in the system it also begins to come into confrontation with the forces of the state. The state will use the police, and if the police fail it will use the army, and it will use the media to create hysteria against the movement. Even if any group successfully took control of one factory or town, they would then have to deal with the ruling class using the state to intervene against them.

Lenin argues for the movement to be turned into a political movement that confronts and disarms the state and establishes a workers' state. This will then create the possibility for all other changes to go forward. If the strategy of the movement is to concentrate forces on confronting and overthrowing the state and establishing a workers' state, that gives an orientation to the kind of tactics used.

LENIN WAS a theorist of the strategy of the movement in State and Revolution. He was also a tactician of the movement. He tried to sum up the tactical ideas that flowed from his strategy in another little book, Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. He wrote this book a few years after State and Revolution, when the Russian Revolution was followed by a whole wave of revolutions across Europe.

Lenin tried to sum up the Russian experience to help revolutionaries, who were dealing with the problems of leading movements in their countries. He said there were two traditions on tactics in the movement at the beginning of the 20th century. One was the French tradition, the tradition of the barricades. This flowed from the class struggle in France that had peaked on many occasions, such as in the 1871 Paris Commune.

The other major tradition was the German tradition. In Germany there had not been the kind of upheavals that had characterised French society during the 19th and early 20th century. In Germany the tradition of building the movement was through the ballot box and using elections.

There was also a tradition of creating a network of working class newspapers, which opened up the possibility of a huge working class movement in Germany. Lenin goes beyond the idea of counter-posing the two tactics, the barricades and the ballot box.

He argued the Russian experience was one of using, at different times, both the French tactic and the German tactic. In 1905, during the first Russian Revolution, the Russian revolutionaries had to confront the question of how you organise not just strikes, but mass demonstrations, barricades and uprisings.

After the defeat of the 1905 revolution they had to go back to using votes for the restricted parliament, the Tsarist Duma, and building networks through the distribution of the revolutionary newspaper.

LENIN ARGUES that revolutionaries who want to advance the movement have to be flexible in their tactics. This is very important because even at the peak of the Russian Revolution, revolutionaries had to make rapid changes and turns in just a few months. For example, in April 1917 Lenin argued for a break with the reformist idea of establishing a provisional government.

This was during the first wave of the revolution when Tsarism collapsed. Workers established dual power, whereby there were workers' councils on the one hand and a provisional government using the existing state institutions on the other.

In the middle of the revolution Lenin argued for meetings and conferences for revolutionaries to clarify their ideas. He wanted to concentrate on new forms of democracy being thrown up by the rank and file.

That meant winning workers to the idea of all power to the soviets. But the second phase of the revolution threw up another contradiction. In August 1917 there was an attempt by the generals to carry out a Tsarist coup. They threatened the revolution with a bloodbath.

Lenin argued for a united front with reformists against the generals, and revolutionaries and reformists worked together to block the military coup. This was a tactic to build unity against the threat of dictatorship. And it was central to winning a majority of Russian workers to the idea of revolution and workers' power.

This unity against the coup opened the way for the victory of the revolution in October 1917. Lenin's legacy outlines the broad ideas of workers' revolution and workers' democracy and, within this broad strategy, the flexible twists and turns needed at different moments. We are not in the middle of a revolution today. But we are in a growing movement.

In February we organised millions on demonstrations. Compared to that, simpler tasks like building networks around a paper like Socialist Worker may seem humble. But we have to know how to combine tactics.

New mass demonstrations will come in September, but at the same time we have to organise the people who have come together in the movement to discuss and debate with us. From the anti-war movement, we know we are good activists. But we should also spend time reading Lenin.

In his own words

'Everyone can learn to govern'

'WE DEMAND an immediate break with the prejudiced view that only the rich, or officials chosen from rich families, are capable of administering the state, of performing the ordinary, everyday work of administration.

'We demand that training in the work of state administration be conducted by class-conscious workers and soldiers and that this training be begun at once, ie, that a beginning be made at once in training all the working people, all the poor, for this work.'

From Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?

'UNDER SOCIALISM, all will take part in the work of government in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing... 'Socialism will raise the masses to a new life, will create conditions for the majority of the population that will enable everybody, without exception to perform 'state functions' and this will lead to the complete withering away of the state in general.'

From State and Revolution

Imperialist war to the class war

'THE WAR has undoubtedly created a most acute crisis and has increased the distress of the masses to an incredible degree. 'The reactionary character of this war, and the shameless lies told by the bourgeoisie of all countries in covering up their predatory aims with 'national' ideology, are inevitably creating, on the basis of an objectively revolutionary situation, revolutionary moods among the masses.

'It is our duty to help the masses to become conscious of these moods, to deepen and formulate them. 'This task is correctly expressed only by the slogan: convert the imperialist war into civil war.'

From Socialism and War

Work in all areas for socialism

'WE DO not and cannot know which spark-of the innumerable sparks that are flying around in all countries as a result of the economic and political world crisis-will kindle the conflagration, and we must set to work to 'stir' up all and sundry, even the oldest, mustiest and seemingly hopeless spheres.'

From Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder


State and Revolution, £5.95. Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, £2 offer. Building the Party: Lenin Vol 1 by Tony Cliff, £9.95.

This article is based on a talk, 'Lenin: strategy and tactics for the movement', given by Panos Garganas at the Marxism 2003 event.

The tape of the full meeting, along with the above books, can be ordered from Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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Sat 9 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1863
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