Leninist Party and Leadership – Güneş Gümüş

Leninist Party and Leadership – Güneş Gümüş

“For the sake of clarity I would put it this way. Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg, the October Revolution would still have taken place-on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg, there would have been no October Revolution : the leadership of the Bolshevik Party would have prevented it from occurring-of this I have not the slightest doubt ! If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, I doubt whether I could have managed to conquer the resistance of the Bolshevik leaders.”  (Trotsky, 1997:67)

These words of Trotsky, in which Lenin is described the indispensabile figure for the success of the October Revolution, became the subject of a polemic that was the focus of Isaac Deutcher that can  single individual make a decisive difference in history.

Marx and Engels oppose the narration of history through great men / kings / sultans, arguing that the transformative actors of history are classes as collective subjects. But does this mean that people cannot play special roles in specific historical moments in history? Not really. To the extent that the dynamics of the class struggle allow, individuals can have a place and plays decisive roles in the history. Sometimes this special historical role played by these iderives from their personal qualifications[1]“Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Napoleon… heroes of the French Revolution” (Marx, 2009: 16).  Sometimes their being the decisive actor of the history does not depend on their personal qualities or their incompetence: “I demonstrate how the class struggle in France created the conditions and relationships that made it possible for an ordinary and ridiculous personality to play the role of a hero” (Marx, 2009: 12). It is not that difficult for ruling classes to find such characters such as Robespierre and Louis Bonaparte when neededOnce in the hands of the ruling class, there are many possibilities that will appeal to these people. On the other hand, the enormous powers that the ruling class can mobilize (large armies, a powerful bureaucratic apparatus, large monetary resources) equip those who have come to the fore with tremendous transformative capacity. Under these conditions, person A or person B may not be indispensable for ruling classes; there is always a C person to play that role – giving it the full right or half of it. For example, in Russia, bureaucracy could well find another name for itself, if not Stalin. In other words, people are not very decisive on the front of the ruling classes.

So is it the same for the exploited and oppressed (lower classes as whole)?  For example, wouldn’t there be another theorist of the revolution, even without Marx? Of course, and they did, but could he develop the ideology of the lower classes with the same totality, with an advanced level capacity that even the ruling classes cannot ignore? Or when would it be developed? Even the development of such a theory 50-100 years after would make a big difference in terms of the historical impact and achievements of the socialist movement. But what about current revolutionary politics, where timing has far greater implications? For example, without Lenin? Here, we do not see Lenin is not a self-pcolaimed intellectual who has a strong theoretical understanding and intervenes in contemporary politics; Let us state that we consider him around his revolutionary party model  that enables the working class to become a collective subjects. Revolutions failed in Germany, China, Spain, Greece and many other examples because there were no other figures like Lenin with these qualities. Of course, revolutionary leaders, such as Lenin, have a meaningful position in the histroy only in the presence of conditions under which they can organize revolutionary activity.

Trotsky discusses the interaction between the individual and the structure at the milestones of history in the context of the importance of Lenin’s arrival in Russia in April 1917:

“… Lenin’s arrival merely hastened the process. His personal influence shortened the crisis. Is it possible, however, to say confidently that the party without him would have found its road? We would by no means make bold to say that. The factor of time is decisive here, and it is difficult in retrospect to tell time historically. Dialectic materialism at any rate has nothing in common with fatalism. Without Lenin the crisis, which the opportunist leadership was inevitably bound to produce, would have assumed an extraordinarily sharp and protracted character. The conditions of war and revolution, however, would not allow the party a long period for fulfilling its mission. Thus it is by no means excluded that a disoriented and split, party might have let slip the revolutionary opportunity for years. The rôle of personality arises before us here on a truly gigantic scale. It is necessary only to understand that rôle correctly, taking personality as a link in the historic chain. The “sudden” arrival of Lenin from abroad after a long absence, the furious cry raised by the press around his name, his clash with all the leaders of his own party and his quick victory over them – in a word, the external  envelope of circumstance – make easy in this case a mechanical contrasting of the person, the hero, the genius, against the objective conditions, the mass, the party. In reality, such a contrast is completely one-sided. Lenin was not an accidental element in the historic development, but a product of the whole past of Russian history. He was embedded in it with deepest roots. Along with the vanguard of the workers, he had lived through their struggle in the course of the preceding quarter century. The “accident” was not his interference in the events, but rather that little straw with which Lloyd George tried to block his path. Lenin did not oppose the party from outside, but was himself its most complete expression. In educating it he had educated himself in it. His divergence from the ruling circles of the Bolsheviks meant the struggle of the future of the party against its past. If Lenin had not been artificially separated from the party by the conditions of emigration and war, the external mechanics of the crisis would not have been so dramatic, and would not have overshadowed to such a degree the inner continuity of the party’s development. From the extraordinary significance which Lenin’s arrival received, it should only be, inferred that leaders are not accidentally created, that they are gradually chosen out and trained up in the course of decades, that they cannot be capriciously replaced, that their mechanical exclusion from the struggle gives the party a living wound, and in many cases may paralyse it for a long period.” (Trotsky, 1998: 330-331).

Engels stated that as the time interval we dealt with in history narrowed, more space was opened for coincidence that made private individuals effective; On the contrary, he explains that the determination of the economic structure shows itself more clearly when looking at the longer periods:

“(b) Men make their history themselves, but not as yet with a collective will or according to a collective plan or even in a definitely defined, given society. Their efforts clash, and for that very reason all such societies are governed by necessity, which is supplemented by and appears under the forms of accident. The necessity which here asserts itself amidst all accident is again ultimately economic necessity. This is where the so-called great men come in for treatment. That such and such a man and precisely that man arises at that particular time in that given country is of course pure accident. But cut him out and there will be a demand for a substitute, and this substitute will be found, good or bad, but in the long run he will be found. That Napoleon, just that particular Corsican, should have been the military dictator whom the French Republic, exhausted by its own war, had rendered necessary, was an accident; but that, if a Napoleon had been lacking, another would have filled the place, is proved by the fact that the man has always been found as soon as he became necessary: Caesar, Augustus, Cromwell, etc. While Marx discovered the materialist conception of history, Thierry, Mignet, Guizot, and all the English historians up to 1850 are the proof that it was being striven for, and the discovery of the same conception by Morgan proves that the time was ripe for it and that indeed it had to be discovered.

So with all the other accidents, and apparent accidents, of history. The further the particular sphere which we are investigating is removed from the economic sphere and approaches that of pure abstract ideology, the more shall we find it exhibiting accidents in its development, the more will its curve run in a zig-zag. So also you will find that the axis of this curve will approach more and more nearly parallel to the axis of the curve of economic development the longer the period considered and the wider the field dealt with.”  (Engels, 1996: 298-299).

 In the struggle of the exploited and oppressed, the timing often has critical meanings. If social struggles are not advanced when they reach their peak, they will regress and then defeat easily. Revolutionary intervention becomes decisive in such moments; The existence or absence of a revolutionary leadership that will be able to make appropriate political intervention to the process and to build an organization that has the power to maket critical interventions which make bring victory or defeat of the working classes. In this context, special historical figures gain much morei importance fort he proletariat. For one thing, the lower classes often have little capacity to attract individuals who can play special historical. Yes, many talented individuals fill the revolutionary ranks in the conditions of an advanced class struggle, but unfortunately these moments are limited in the human history. The general course of the revolutionary struggle needs long years, where great devotion and costs result in only little gains. For this reason, that kind of talented individuals, who have the capacity to play such impotant roles, do not raid into the ranks of the exploited classes. Contrary to the devices and possibilities that brings tremendous power even to mediocre people who are at the head of the ruling class front, the forces that the exploited classes can mobilize are almost absent when the normal flow of life is not shaken by a revolutionary leap. It is the task of creating the revolutionary party that will activate enormous potentials of the front of the oppressed and exploited and win[2] the working class under the leadership of the party. To properly back this task requires special elements that will determine the fate of the working class struggle. That is why the role of leaders is much more decisive for the proletariat. Let us emphasize once again that it is capacity of building a revolutionary party ,which capable of leading the working clas, as a collective subject  what makes  that special historical figures “special.” While Trotsky said that without Lenin, there would be no October Revolution,  he means that, without Lenin there would be no Bolshevik Party and no leader to persuade this party to take the necessary tactical turns; therefore, the revolution could not be successful.

Gramsci also discusses how indispensable is the leadership for the existence of the party within the revolutionary party which is the primer of the working class. According to Gramsci, a party consists of three elements; leadership, members and cadres that establish links between leadership and members.  Altough a party consists of all these elements is a real party, it is none other than the party leadership that creates the other elements and the party. The capacity of a party directly depends on the capacity of its leadership. In the words of Gramsci, the commandless “army was destroyed; but … the group of commanders is not late to create an army out of nothing ”:

“in order that a party shall exist the converging of three fundamental elements (i.e. of three groups of elements) is necessary:  1.  A widespread element of common, average men, whose participation is provided by discipline and faith, not by a creative and highly organisational spirit. Without these the party would not exist, it is true, but it is also true that the party would not exist “only” with these. They are a force in so far as there is someone who centralises, organises, disciplines them, and in the absence of this force they would break up and cancel each other out in scattered impotence. I do not deny that every one of these elements could become a cohesive force, but we are speaking of them precisely at the stage when they are not this and are not in a condition to be so, or if they are it is only in a restricted circle, politically ineffective, and inconsequential.  2.  The principal cohesive element, which centralises in the national field, which renders effective and powerful the totality of forces which left to themselves would count for nothing or very little; this element is endowed with a highly cohesive, centralising and disciplinary power which is also, perhaps because of this, inventive (if what is meant is “inventive” in a certain direction according to certain lines of force, certain perspectives and certain premises). It is also true that this element alone would not form a party, but it would do so more than the first element. They would be generals without an army, but in reality it is easier to create an army than to create generals. It is equally true that an already existing army is destroyed if the generals disappear, while the existence of a group of generals, trained to work together, in agreement among themselves, with common ends, is not slow to form an army even where none exists.  3.  A middle element, which links the first element with the second, and puts them into contact, not only “physically” but morally and intellectually…” (Gramsci, 1984: 43-44)

Centralism: But How?

Centralism is an indispensable characteristic of the revolutionary party. First of all, the reason for the revolutionary party’s existence is to lead the working class under extraordinary conditions and lead the revolution to victory. It is clear that in these conditions, which is a life and death struggle, the bourgeoisie will centralize all the means it has and fight back. The ruling classes have an advanced level capacity to act centrally not only in revolutionary eras: they use this capacity against the revolutionaries who are the top enemies for their power, organized working class struggle, even any the social demand for reform in crisis conditions. It is clear how the imperialists, who had embraced each other’s throats a few years ago, drove the world to a total war, united to stifle the October Revolution. Even in examples that do not have any traces of that radicality, the situation is not much different. When Syriza thinks about taking the austerity packages to a referendum in Greece, not only the Greek ruling class but also the European troika had interviened. In 1981, when Mitterrand dragged his heels[3] implementing neoliberal attacks in France, he found the rulers of the European bosses again. When Nepal was shaken by a revolution in 2006, former US President Jim Carter was launched to take part in political developments in this tiny country of Asia; he succesfully involved in integrating Maoists into the system. We all have recently seen how many times Chavez’s Venezuela had to deal with the US interventions. Corbyn, which is not very radical today and whose political influence has increased, is targetted not only by the British ruling classes but also by the European Union and the US dminant classes. Samples can be extended. Victory is only a sweet dream if the lower classes do not have the ability to act the same centralised level in the fight against a device that has the capacity to act centrally, not only across the country but also at the international level. The provider of the centralization of the oppressed and exploited is the revolutionary party built in a centralized structure. This party cannot be in a horizontal organization, which disrupts the capacity to act together. Just as the inequality of consciousness within the working class requires the leadership of a revolutionary party of class conscious elements, the inequality of consciousness that will not end in the party also requires the movement of the party under the leadership of an ideological-political-organizational center. The critical emphasis at this point is that the relationship between the ideological-political-organizational center and the rest of the party is not hierarchical.

In the claim that the revolutionary party is to lead the working class under the conditions of revolution, this leadership cannot be gained only by propaganda-agitation. The leadership of the revolutionary party to the working class is an internal leadership; it is won in the conditions of revolution and especially in the process of revolution. Gramsci describes how leadership will be achieved as follows:

“ The principle that the party leads the working class must not be interpreted in a mechanical manner. It is not necessary to believe that the party can lead the working class through an external imposition of authority. This is. not true, either with respect to the period which precedes the winning of power, or with respect to the period which follows it. The error of a mechanical interpretation of this principle must be combated in the Italian party, as a possible consequence of the ideological deviations of the far left. For these deviations lead to an arbitrary, formal over-estimation of the party, so far as its function as leader of the class is concerned. We assert that the capacity to lead the class is related, not to the fact that the party ‘proclaims’ itself its revolutionary organ, but to the fact that it ‘really’ succeeds, as a part of the working class, in linking itself with all the sections of that class and impressing upon the masses a movement in the direction desired and favoured by objective conditions. Only as a result of its activity among the masses will the party get the latter to recognize it as ‘their’ party (winning a majority); and only when this condition has been realized can it presume that it is able to draw the working class behind it. The need for this activity among the masses outweighs any party ‘patriotism’.  The party leads the class by penetrating into all the organizations in which the working masses are assembled; and by carrying out, in and through these, a systematic mobilization of energies in line with the programme of the class struggle, and an activity aimed at winning the majority to Communist directives.” (Forgacs, 2010: 194-5)   

If the revolutionary party needs to win the leadership of the working class with its years of struggle in the organizations it brings together, it cannot achieve this through a member mechanism that operates within an order-command relationship, as in a bureaucratic party structure, or with a member profile that is expected to vote only in a pacifist way, as in reformist parties. The revolutionary party can rise through cadres that can develop a stance in accordance with the requirements of the moment, that is, to lead in its field. The revolutionary party is an organization of leaders. The revolutionary party does not extract its own tactics from abstract principles; it determines the line of struggle by considering the concrete dynamics of class struggle. In addition, it is the party cadres who continue their struggle within the working class to a great extent, which will carry the concrete situation of the class struggle to the party leadership. On these grounds, the freedom to debate is critical for the revolutionary party, without preventing the implementation of tactical decisions taken with full discipline at the time of action. The Bolshevik party of Lenin, which brought the revolutionary party model to the Marxist tradition, was a party where bitter struggles were experienced and when it was necessary, Lenin pushed the limits to persuade the party cadres for tactical turns, but could act with discipline.



Birch, J. (2015, 19 Ağustos) “The Many Lives of François Mitterrand”, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/francois-mitterrand-socialist-party-common-program-communist-pcf-1981-elections-austerity/

Engels, F. (1996) “Engels’ten Breslau’daki W. Borgius’a”, Seçme Yazışmalar 2 (1870-1895), Ankara: Sol.

Gramsci, A. (1984) Modern Prens, Ankara: Birey ve Toplum.

Marx, K. (2009) Louis Bonaparte’ın 18 Brumaire, Ankara: Sol.

Troçki, L. (1997) Sürgün Günlüğü, İstanbul: Yazın.

Troçki, L. (1998) Rus Devrim Tarihi I, İstanbul: Yazın.

Forgacs, D. (2010) Gramsci Kitabı: Seçme Yazılar 1916-1935, Ankara: Dipnot.


1] A striking example of this second species is Stalin. This name, the executioner of the Bolshevik generation, has qualification that allows it to achieve this position. To draw a dark curtain to the Soviet Century, to lead the bureaucracy to be donated to the regime with a counterrevolution requires someone who can act in accordance with the requirements of the device rather than brightness.

[2] In terms of a revolutionary party, the leadership of the working class is not primarily gained with propaganda, but with their position in the critical moments of the class struggle.

[3] It is clear that if he continues his reforms, he will be faced with the expulsion of France from the European Monetary System. He said by saying; “I am divided between my two passions – building Europe and social justice.” As expected from a reformist leader, he started to use his choice of European bosses club and started to apply the cuts (Birch, 2015).

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