BY JACK BARNES
AND STEVE CLARK
The political battle waged by Lenin within the Soviet Communist Party leadership in 1922-23 did not end in victory. The civil war devastation, above all the deaths and political exhaustion of broad sections of the most conscious and selfless cadres in the working-class vanguard, compounded by the defeats of revolutionary struggles throughout Europe and Asia, weighed too heavily in the scales.
In January 1923 an opportunity for the working class to take power in Germany was lost due to the vacillations of the Communist Party leadership there and most of the central leadership of the Communist International including Lev Kamenev, Gregory Zinoviev, Karl Radek, and Joseph Stalin. And in 1927-28 the more consolidated Stalin leaderships insistence that the Communist Party in China subordinate itself politically and organizationally to the bourgeois Kuomintang resulted in the defeat of the second Chinese Revolution and the massacre of workers and communists in Shanghai, Canton, Wuhan, and other cities.
Following World War II, in the wake of the victory of Soviet workers and peasants over German imperialisms invasion and a new rise of national liberation struggles across Asia and Africa, capitalist property relations were overturned and workers states established across much of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in China and the northern half of Korea and of Vietnam.
Most significant of allof a different order of political importancethe triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the caliber of its proletarian internationalist leadership registered a renewal, for the first time in more than three decades, of the example of a communist government course that had been brought to an end with the defeat of Lenins final fight.
All these experiences from the past century have confirmed that the proletariats conquest of state power and expropriation of capitalist-owned land and industry have no automatic bias toward the construction of socialism. The proletarian dictatorship opens the transition from capitalism to socialism. The victorious workers state can then either go forward toward socialismas an integral part of the world revolutionary struggle against imperialist exploitation and oppressionor backward toward laying the basis for capitalist counterrevolution. Advances are made possible by resolute communist political leadership, by deepening politicization of a growing working-class vanguardprepared for the inevitability of the unexpected and unforeseenand, above all, by new victories in the world revolution.
In a speech to party cadres and students at the University of Havana in November 2005, then Cuban president Fidel Castro addressed this challenge of communist leadership and political consciousness. He pointed not only to the consequences for working people and youth in Cuba of Washingtons decades-long military threats and economic warfare, but the social inequalities, political pressures, and corruption produced by Cubas inescapable immersion in the capitalist world.
Do you believe that this revolutionary socialist process can fall apart or not? Castro asked those present at the University of Havana meeting in 2005. When they answered with a resounding No! Castro replied: Have you ever given that some thought? Have you ever deeply reflected about it?
Earlier Castro had described in some detail the corrosion of proletarian solidarity in Cuba brought about by growing numbers of parasites who produce nothing and just takesiphoning gasoline from cars on the street, or from pumps at state-run filling stations, or stealing in myriad ways the wealth created by the labor of working people. He compared the incomes of these individuals to those of Cubans working in factories, in industries, in the electrical and water utilities, or even to doctors, engineers, or university professors.
Such theft of social resources and materials, Castro said, is not just a present-day illness. Nor is it simply a product, he said, of the Special Periodthe term used in Cuba to describe the years of deep economic crisis and hardship in the 1990s following the collapse of Cubas trade with and assistance from the Soviet Union and regimes across Eastern and Central Europe. But the Special Period aggravated the situation, Castro said, because we saw the growth of much inequality and certain people were able to accumulate a lot of money.
Were you aware of all these inequalities I have been talking about? Castro asked those gathered at the University of Havana. Were you aware of certain generalized habits? Several minutes later, Castro repeated his question: Is the revolutionary process irreversible, or not? What ideas or degree of consciousness would make the reversal of the revolutionary process impossible?
Recalling what has happened more than once over the past century in countries where bourgeois rule had been toppled, Castro emphasized that some people thought that socialism could be constructed with capitalist methods. That is one of the great historical errors, he said, including of those who called themselves theoreticians, blanketing themselves from head to toe in the books of Marx, Engels, Lenin and many others.
That is why I commented that one of our greatest mistakes at the beginning of, and often during, the revolution was believing that someone knew how to build socialism. No, that could only be discovered in practice by the combat-tested and politicized toilers themselves.
Due to the political consciousness of Cuban working people, and their readiness to defend their historic gains arms in hand, Castro said that the danger of destruction of the revolution comes not from an assault or invasion from U.S. imperialism. The Cuban Revolution, he said, has reached the point where we can affirm today that our country is militarily invulnerable, and not because of arms of mass destruction, which the Cuban government neither possesses nor aspires to develop or deploy. We have a people who have learned to handle weapons. We have an entire nation which, in spite of our errors, holds such a high degree of culture, education, and consciousness that it will never allow this country to become their colony again.
The revolution can self-destruct, however, Castro reiterated. They can never destroy us, but we can destroy ourselves, and it would be our fault.1
Fidels conclusion was prominently cited and affirmed once again in January 2009 by Cuban president Raúl Castro in his speech on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the revolutions triumph, addressing the challenge that remains at the center of leadership and policy decisions taken by the revolutionary government of Cuba.
Revolutionary prospects for 21st century
As capitalism in the twenty-first century enters its deepest economic and social crisis since the decades spanning the first and second imperialist world wars, programmatic and strategic matters in dispute in the communist workers movement in the early 1920s once again weigh heavily in prospects for the working class worldwide to advance along its historic line of march toward the conquest of power.
One of capitalisms infrequent long winters has begun, noted a political report adopted by the Socialist Workers Party in 2002, half a decade prior to the 2007 financial implosion that announced the imperialist orders latest global crisis. And with the accompanying acceleration of imperialisms drive toward war, its going to be a long, hot winter.
Even more important, slowly but surely and explosively, it will be one that breeds a scope and depth of resistance not previously seen by revolutionary-minded militants throughout todays world .
We find ourselves in the very opening stages of what will be decades of economic, financial, and social convulsions and class battles. [We] must internalize the fact that this worldthe likes of which none of us have known before in our political livesis not only the world that must be faced today, but the one we will be living and fighting in for many years.
By acting on this reality today, we will not be caught short politically as wars erupt, deeper social crises explode, pogroms are organized and attempted, and union conflicts become life-and-death battles. The proletarian party that exists tomorrow can only grow out of the proletarian party we put together today.2
In this effort, the political lessons of Lenins final fight, recounted in his own words in these pages, take on increasing importance for the working class, and for youth attracted to the power of working people to put an end to capitalisms exploitative and oppressive social relations and transform the course of human history.
Before Pathfinder Press published the first edition of Lenins Final Fight, in English in 1995 and Spanish in 1997, these articles, letters, speeches, resolutions, and notes by Lenin had never before been collected and presented in a single bookanywhere, or in any language.
From December 21, 1922, until March 6, 1923, when Lenin dictated what turned out to be his final letter, every single thing he is known to have written is contained in these pages. They are presented chronologically, as Lenin led the defense of Bolshevisms proletarian internationalist course in the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. Other writings and speeches by Lenin after late September 1922, when the fight opened, are also included, as is Lenins political report to the eleventh congress of the Soviet Communist Party in March 1922. A few letters, notes, and articles by other Bolshevik leaders who figured prominently in the struggle have been included as well, when they are needed to clarify central political issues.
Joseph Stalin was general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for more than three decades, and head of state in the Soviet Union for much of that time. During those years, many of Lenins writings contained in these pages were suppressed. A few years after Stalins death in 1953, a section of his political heirs, including then-Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, sought to wash their hands of some of the Stalin regimes most notorious acts. Only then were most of these writings by Lenin acknowledged and, over time, published in the Soviet Union. Some had not been available anywhere since the mid-1920s.
A number of long-sequestered documents were finally translated and printed in the English-language edition of Lenins Collected Works published in Moscow between 1960 and 1970, and in the Spanish-language edition published there between 1981 and 1990. But these documents by Lenin were scattered throughout the Collected Works (in English, vols. 33, 36, 42, and 45; in Spanish, especially vols. 45 and 54), making it difficult for readers to follow the political trajectory of Lenins half-year-long fight. Prior to their publication in Spanish in Moscow, some of the documents had been printed in an Argentine edition of Lenins Collected Works published from 1960 to 1967, in a book published in Spain in 1970, and in the Cuban magazine Pensamiento Critico in 1970.
Several works by Lenin that appear in these pages for the first time in either English or Spanish are indicated in the source notes to each piece.
One item was published for the first time, in any language, in this book. That is the March 1923 report prepared, at Lenins request, by three of his secretaries concerning a Political Bureau-initiated whitewash of Great Russian chauvinist abuses in the republic of Georgia. Kept secret by Moscow until 1991, the final section of that long-suppressed report, On the Conclusions of the Dzerzhinsky Commission, appears in appendix 1.
Chapter divisions, titles, and footnotes have been prepared by Pathfinder, as well as a chronology of important events and a glossary of names of individuals, organizations, and publications. While chapter titles focus on a central aspect of the struggle during a particular time period, those chapters often also contain material by Lenin on other questions related to the communist course he was fighting to advance. For each item the source and related information appear as the first footnote. A list of initials and acronyms used in the book is also included.
The previously mentioned English and Spanish editions of Lenins Collected Works were used in preparing this book. The existing translations in each language, however, were compared and corrected against the fifth Russian-language edition of Lenins writings, published in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Special appreciation for their collective effort in checking and correcting, against the Russian original, the translations published in the Spanish edition of Lenins Final Fight is due to a team of volunteers from the University of Matanzas in Cuba: Edith González, Idalmis Izquierdo, Diosmedes Otero, and Landelino Sierra.
2. Jack Barnes, Capitalisms Long Hot Winter Has Begun (July 2002), in New International no. 12 (2005), pp. 184-85, 146-47 [2005 printing]. Barnes is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States.