About Marcel van der Linden’s text, “Why Leninism and Bolshevism Are Not the Same”
René Berthier
Article mis en ligne le 8 mai 2020

par Eric Vilain

The examination of the Leninist point of view on the acquisition of revolutionary consciousness by the proletariat is interesting for two reasons : 1. Lenin is disqualified as a Marxist author ; 2. The class content of Leninism is revealed.

Lenin’s theory is nothing but a quasi-integral restatement of Kautsky’s positions. The class content of Leninism is limpid : it is the political doctrine of the layers of declassed bourgeois intellectuals posing as the self-proclaimed leadership of the working class and seeking in it a social basis for their ascent to political power. The reference to Marxism only serves to camouflage the political project of these social strata : Marxism serves them as an ideological alibi. I think it is a profound error to say that “Lenin is contained in Marx”. It is an oversimplification that handicaps any attempt to understand both Marxism and Leninism.

It must be made clear that in Marx there is nothing equivalent to the idea that the proletariat only gains revolutionary consciousness through bourgeois intellectuals... When he writes in the Manifesto that the communists “have over the rest of the proletariat [I emphasize] the advantage of a clear understanding of the conditions of the march and the general ends of the proletarian movement” and that among them there are bourgeois intellectuals who “by their labour have risen to the theoretical intelligence of the whole historical movement”, Marx shows that Leninism is totally outside the Marxist system of thought. In fact, on this question, Marx and Bakunin are absolutely on the same position : For the Russian revolutionary, intellectuals only put into words the aspirations of the people, they are only the “midwives of the thought” of the working class, as he writes.

There is a break, ontological, one would say, between socialism and class struggle, which “do not engender each other” because they “arise from different premises”, says Kautsky, the inspirer of Lenin : “Today’s socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge” and “the bearer of science is not the proletariat but the bourgeois intellectuals” [Kautsky’s emphasis] : “It is indeed in the brains of certain individuals of this category that contemporary socialism was born, and it is through them that it was communicated to the most intellectually advanced proletarians.” Socialist consciousness is an externally imported element in the struggle of the proletariat. Lenin reproduces in What is to be done ? Kautsky’s “profoundly right and very significant words”.

For Lenin, the gap is unbridgeable : “There can be no question of an independent ideology, elaborated by the working masses themselves in the course of their movement” ; therefore, there is no middle ground : bourgeois ideology or socialist ideology”. “Any diminution of the role of the ‘conscious element’, of the role of social democracy, means by this very fact (...) a reinforcement of bourgeois ideology on the workers.” (Lenin, What is to be done ?)