By Jonathan Maunder
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Lenin: A Study on the Unity of His Thought

This article is over 12 years, 6 months old
Georg Lukács, Verso; £6.99
Issue 338

This newly republished short book is essential in understanding Lenin’s contribution to Marxism. When Georg Lukács wrote it in 1923 he had only recently become a Marxist, radicalised by the First World War and the Russian Revolution. He joined the Hungarian Communist Party in 1918 at the age of 33, and up to that point had written books on literary criticism.

Lukács outlines how Lenin built upon Karl Marx’s insight that the working class is the historical agent which can bring about socialism. Lenin addressed the problem of unevenness in working class struggle and consciousness. This can be seen clearly today. The Visteon workers occupied their factory to force concessions from the bosses, while other workers have not challenged similar attacks. And workers on an individual level have uneven consciousness. An anti-imperialist might not see the need for strikes. A picket line militant might be opposed to abortion.

For Lukács, the significance of Lenin is that he grasped the practical conclusions from this. The winning of the working class to socialist revolution, the linking of immediate class concerns to the broader necessity to overthrow capitalism, has to be fought for in every struggle and for many years before the revolution itself. Capitalist crisis and even mass strikes will not in themselves lead to socialism. Lukács writes, “The Leninist party concept represents…the most radical break with the mechanistic and fatalistic vulgarisation of Marxism.”

Lukács writes that Lenin’s concept of revolutionary strategy involves firstly the clear organisational distinctiveness of the revolutionary party, and secondly “total solidarity” of the party with all struggles against exploitation and oppression. If only the first happens the organisation will be an irrelevant sect, or attempt to be a “substitute” for real mass struggle. If only the second happens, revolutionaries will be submerged in the unevenness of working class consciousness.

Lukács argues that the revolutionary party goes “beyond mere empiricism”. It does not see the reality of a situation as static, which it must passively reflect. Rather the situation is always open to being changed if the party seizes on the key element which can transform it. So the Visteon workers’ struggle was important not just in itself, but because if generalised it would substantially alter the balance of class forces in Britain today.

Lukács goes on to show how Lenin’s theories on the state and imperialism were part of the same world view which shaped his views on organisation.

Unfortunately, in the afterword written in 1967, Lukács argues that the book should be seen as a product of its time written in a naive revolutionary fervour. But as the mass struggles which broke out a year later showed, capitalism continually produces both crises and resistance. This book needs to be discovered by a new generation.

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