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Lenin: one hundred years of the mummified revolutionary myth


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The Conversation

Pablo Pérez López

Full Professor of Contemporary History and professor at Master's Degree in Christianity and Contemporary Culture.

Vladimir Illich Ulyanov, a young man of the Russian high bourgeoisie, adhered to the revolutionary myth by a double route. When he was 17, his admired older brother was executed for participating in a plot to assassinate the tsar. Vladimir ingrained a spirit of vengeful rebellion that was at the heart of his revolutionary spirit. His compulsive reading of works by Carl Marx and other socialists as a student added theory to his passion.

He soon became a leader of Marxist groups, where his nickname, Lenin, was born, and fought his first ideological battles, at first against non-Marxist revolutionaries and then against Marxists who contradicted his interpretation of Marx.

It was a necessary discussion for the interpretation of Marxist thought. Marx's works did not say how the revolution would be carried out or how to organize a socialist State. Lenin began by answering the former: the revolution would be carried out by professional revolutionaries who, by means of a coup, would seize power and transform the State. His opponents entrusted the overturn to the dialectical dynamics of the class struggle.

Lenin was well acquainted not only with Marxist theory, but also with the history of political revolutions, especially the French. He knew how both had been done and what he wanted to do. The discussion broke up the socialist party in 1903. Lenin was left at the head of the faction that supported him: the Bolsheviks.

The leader of the revolution exiled in Switzerland

He concentrated on the network of professionals of the revolution and prepared them for the assault. The opportunity came unexpectedly, with the Great War of 1914, stalled in 1917, which provoked the abdication of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, and triggered a liberal revolution difficult to consolidate. The General Staff of the German army went in search of Lenin, exiled in Switzerland, and transported him to the Russian border. The maneuver was a success: the revolution accelerated and an audacious Lenin managed to end up leading it. What followed was not peace: Russia began a series of civil wars that did not end until 1921, leaving the country exhausted.

Once in power, the Bolsheviks devoted themselves to the purge of their enemies from class or politicians. Democracy could only fit within the party, in the Bolshevik leadership. This was called democratic centralism. Russia became a dictatorship: the dictatorship of the proletariat. They had conquered a state and assured that this was only the beginning of the world revolution. Marxism-Leninism was the way internship to the triumph of socialism. They invited the socialists of the whole world to verify it.

Lenin promoted a military expedition to Germany in 1920 to ignite the revolution there and accelerate the fulfillment of Marx's predictions, which until then only he had managed to make real. He failed. The Poles, proletarians and non-proletarians, refused to let them pass and won a war that contradicted Lenin's thesis .

It did not matter. Russia was such a giant, and communist fanaticism so intense, that it could afford to go ahead with its plan while waiting for the world to recognize its mistake and acknowledge it as the practical founder of the socialist future of mankind.

It was not easy. It was necessary to define what a socialist state was. For example, in Economics, the abolition of private property was established, replacing it with state property. In fact, it copied the system that the Germans had put in place to create a state-owned and planned Economics during the war, which was called Economics socialist.

But the ruin of Russia was so severe that a terrible famine spread at the end of the civil wars. Lenin decreed the implementation of a new economic policy (NEP), which in reality consisted of a limited return to trade and private property, but with another name. There was a recovery.

Bolshevik forcefulness

Their great "political success" was the forcefulness with which they punished any civil service examination and the effectiveness of propaganda. The Bolsheviks became an implacable force that imposed its law with a greater forcefulness than the tsars. One of his revolutionary colleagues understood this very well: Iósif Stalin.

Lenin, ill after an assassination attempt by the widow of a reprisalist, had become aware of Stalin's brutality and recommended that he be removed from the party leadership. When Lenin died on January 21, 1924 -now the hundredth anniversary-, Stalin maneuvered skillfully to avoid his defenestration. He had learned from Lenin and the revolution how to survive.

The cult of Lenin had become the center of the public life of the Socialist State. With his death, it took off: his name was given to the old capital and his corpse was mummified and exhibited -until today-. Stalin skillfully used this cult to consolidate his power in the heart of democratic centralism. Lenin, elevated to the category of myth, symbol of the revolution, would be the main shield of his power and of the Soviet State.