Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Vladimir Lenin & His Dictatorial Personality

Who knows, perhaps Vladimir Lenin was so high-handed and so utterly convinced of the truth of all his political - and sometimes philosophical - views because he began his life as part of the Russian nobility. (As did Trotsky. There are also two aristocratic contemporary Trots who lead the SWP/UAF, Alex Callinicos and Charlie Kimber. Virtually all important Trotskyists have either been middle-class or, more regularly, upper-middle-class. The hip Che Guevara, more Commie than Trot, had an aristocratic Argentinian lineage.) 

Nikolay Volsky, a contemporary of Lenin who joined the Bolsheviks in the very early days and became a loyal (literal) disciple of Lenin, eventually split with Lenin because of his intolerance and aggression toward all views of which he disapproved of or had renounced. This began to irk Volsky’s conscience.

Indeed the dictatorial side of Lenin’s character may have been passed on, as it were, to his dictatorial political views. As Lenin’s (plus the SWP/UAF’S) ‘democratic centralism’ is ultimately dictatorial, so Lenin was a man who had a dictatorial personality (in that he was always utterly certain that all his views were true). More importantly, these characteristics showed themselves a couple of decades before he gained state power in Russia in 1917 (after the Bolshevik Coup). 

Bertrand Russell’s account of Lenin is very prescient in this respect.

Russell (a fellow nob who, unlike Lenin and others, never denied his nobility and didn’t pretend to represent ‘the workers’) wrote his The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism in 1920. Indeed Russell even ‘interviewed’ Lenin himself for the book. His overall view was both negative in terms of Lenin’s politics and also in terms of his personality. 

Russell also saw Lenin as being “dictatorial” (27). He commented on Lenin’s “fury with those who misunderstood or disagreed with him”. More than that. Lenin was “too opinionated and narrowly orthodox”. Russell recognised something which many other commentators have recognised with Communists and their views – their religious nature. He said that Lenin had

 “unwavering faith – religious faith in the Marxian gospel, which takes the place of the Christian martyr’s hopes of Paradise…” (30)

More relevantly, Lenin had “little love of liberty”. Russell ends his account of Lenin with a splendid warning:

“I went to Russia as a Socialist, but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts as to the wisdom of holding a creed so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.” (30)

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