Overall, the largest confusion from reading Lenin on imperialist country class structure is failing to account for five simple things: 1) When Lenin was speaking of the international working class(27 ) and not a national section of the international working class 2) When Lenin was speaking of a working class in conditions of economic ruin and war, which were the only conditions which a parasite class could become re-proletarianized 3) When Lenin was speaking of a proletariat just starting to be corrupted and only relatively weakly so and in only a fragment of the class, relative to what would be possible in the long-run future 4) When Lenin was quoting someone else favorably or unfavorably and for what year his analysis applied, especially what year relative to when the imperialist process of buying out workers started, but also relative to Lenin's own life 5) When Lenin was speaking of the situation in his life of Russian semi-imperialism, and not Western imperialism.
If we look at Lenin's life, it was really in the last 10 years that he came up with his statements on the labor aristocracy and the importance of the oppressed nations of the East (and their super-exploitation) come at the end of his life. If we keep these above distinctions in mind, we will not fail to answer the questions of our own day correctly, because we will discern in Lenin what questions are concrete questions and which are issues of internationalist principle. If we do not keep the context in mind with the five points above, and we seek to apply timeless metaphysics to Lenin, it will only appear that Lenin is contradicting himself, at one time writing off whole countries while at other points saying the bourgeoisified workers are only a minority while at still other times saying the question was open for the future.
What Lenin said about the imperialist country workers in general is the following: "The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labour of several overseas countries and colonies."(28 )
The problem with the above statement is that Lenin also clearly said that even in England the corrupted workers or ex-workers of his day were a small group compared with the uncorrupted workers who were still proletarians.(29) So the question arises, which is it--whole country or minority detached from the working-class? At the very least we must read statements like the one above and others like it as a statement of the quintessence of imperialism. Imperialism may not accomplish making everyone in the mother country a parasite overnight, but that is where it is headed without inter-imperialist war or revolution.
It is quite clear that in Lenin's work, utmost attention is paid to context. In the Russian context of his day, Lenin believed the labor aristocracy was insignificant: "The proletariat is the only class in Russia that nobody has been able to infect with chauvinism. . . . In Russia we see a series of shades of opportunism and reformism among the intelligentsia, the petty-bourgeoisie, etc., but it has affected an insignificant minority among the politically active sections of the workers."(30) In his "Preface to F. Sorge Correspondence," in one of his earlier references to the labor aristocracy, Lenin made a point of saying that he would not apply what Marx and Engels said about Amerika and England in Russia.
In 1858 Engels notes the process going on in England, and by 1882 he completely dismisses the politics of the English workers, and he does his duty to stand outside and criticize them from the point of view of the international proletariat.
S/he in the imperialist countries who does not do this as Engels did is no internationalist scientist, just a tactician of social-chauvinism. Lenin took the liberty of saying, "it is clear as daylight that the twentieth-century imperialist monopolies in a number of other countries were bound to create the same phenomenon as in Britain."(31)
Today's dogmatists rip Lenin out of context and quote him on the re-proletarianization of workers in a revolutionary situation, namely one of world war on European soil. Even right after World War I, of course there was no way for Lenin to know that the imperialists wouldn't go at it again for another 20 years. Quite the contrary, Lenin was busy fighting the imperialist intervention on his own soil. This ongoing war situation plus the fact that the workers were still smarting from World War I led Lenin to think that he was still in a revolutionary situation in all of Europe. Only toward the very end of his life did he start warning people that the revolutionary movement cannot always be on the upswing.(32)
It is also towards the end of his life where Lenin made the most systematic statements on the class structure of imperialism and the growing importance of national liberation struggles outside Europe. Yet many of our critics reply to us by talking about Lenin's ideas on economism which he wrote in "What Is To Be Done?" in 1902, as if by doing so they excused themselves from talking about what Lenin was saying from World War I till the end of his life in 1924. Sitting down with the index to Lenin's Collected Works is very useful. The reader will find that Lenin's first reference to the labor aristocracy does not occur till 1905. At that time, Lenin was seeing it only as a matter of political representatives of a class. As late as 1913,(33 ) Lenin was even considering whether movements in the British Labor Party meant that the labor aristocracy was returning to the proletariat. Still, Lenin did not write much on the labor aristocracy until World War I got under way and we can say that with every passing year, Lenin's pronouncements on the labor aristocracy became firmer and firmer.
At first references were to political leaders being bribed. Then he started speaking of a trend of opportunism that has taken up bourgeois ideology in the workers' movement, namely Kautsky and others of the Second International. He starts calling them agents of the bourgeoisie. The next step in Lenin's work is to start talking about a strata of people that originates with the working-class but leaves it. Finally he talks about various strata of people who left the working-class and amalgamated with the imperialist bourgeoisie.(34 ) At first in 1915, he calls these people "near-proletarian" and "semi-petty-bourgeois."(35 ) Next in the historical process of World War I which "reached its full development between 1915 and 1918,"(36 ) in 1919 and thereafter, Lenin proves willing to say on at least three occasions that the labor aristocracy is petit-bourgeois, not just in its thinking but as a class.(37 ) When it came to speaking with the German comrades during World War I, both Zinoviev and Lenin simply referred to the majority of Germany including its cities as bourgeois, which is why they want the war and why communists must hold out in opposition to the war on behalf of the proletarian minority. Thus, for Lenin, there is some issue as to how hardened the labor-aristocracy is--first as a stratum and then as a class.
In 1921, Lenin again came very close to saying that the majority is petty-bourgeois in the imperialist countries. "The petty-bourgeois democrats in the capitalist countries, whose foremost sections are represented by the second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, serve today as the mainstay of capitalism, since they retain an influence over the majority, or a considerable section, of the industrial and commercial workers and office employees who are afraid that if revolution breaks out they will lose the relative petty-bourgeois prosperity created by the privileges of imperialism."(38) He added that the crisis of the economy and imperialist war threatened to drive these petty-bourgeoisie back into the proletariat.
In terms of sheer quantity of work in the last few years of his life, Lenin's interventions in Europe to form a COMINTERN took less time compared only with organizing change of direction toward the New Economic Policy. For the majority of members of the COMINTERN, the whole crux of the issue was not just dropping out of the Second International, because that was not good enough. The issue was understanding the labor aristocracy, the enemy class within the ranks of the proletarian movement. Lenin and his comrades in other countries simply would not allow anyone into the COMINTERN that did not break with the labor aristocracy.(39 )
"Opportunism is our principal enemy. . . . It has been shown in practice that working-class activists who follow the opportunist trend are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie themselves. Without their leadership of the workers, the bourgeoisie could not remain in power. This has been proved, not only by the history of the Kerensky regime in Russia; it has also been proved by the democratic republic in Germany under its Social-Democratic government, as well as by Albert Thomas's attitude toward his bourgeois government. It has been proved by similar experience in Britain and the United States. This is where our principal enemy is, an enemy we must overcome. We must leave this Congress firmly resolved to carry on this struggle to the very end, in all parties. That is our main task."(40 )
Lenin had raised the bar to join the COMINTERN. "They have given no sign of genuine revolutionary work or of assistance to the exploited and dependent nations in their revolt against the oppressor nations. This, I think, applies also to most of the parties that have withdrawn from the Second International and wish to join the Third International."(41)
Lenin systematically insisted that parties chuck their old labor bureaucrat leaders and any comrades with illusions about the labor aristocracy before they were accepted into the COMINTERN.(42) He met ferocious resistance, most often in the form of statements that he was dividing "the working-class." Europeans attempted to form an International without Kautsky on the right and Lenin on the left.
Here is an example of Lenin's fight in the formation of the COMINTERN. "The question of replacing experienced reformist or 'Centrist' leaders by novices is not a particular question, of concern to a single country in special circumstances. It is a general question which arises in every proletarian revolution, and as such it is formulated and quite specifically answered in the resolution of the Second Congress of the Communist International on "The Fundamental Tasks of the Communist International". In point 8 we read: 'Preparation for the dictatorship of the proletariat, not only entails explaining the bourgeois character of all reformism; . . . it also entails replacing the old leaders by Communists in proletarian organisations of absolutely every type--not only political, but also trade union, cooperative, educational, etc. . . . These representatives of the labour aristocracy, or the bourgeoisified workers, should be eliminated from all their posts a hundred times more boldly than hitherto, and replaced by workers, even if wholly inexperienced, as long as they are connected with the exploited masses and enjoy the latter's confidence in the struggle against the exploiters. The dictatorship of the proletariat will require the appointment of such inexperienced workers to the most responsible posts in the state."(43 )
The people who cover up the connection between scientific analysis of context and the revolutionary movement the most are the Trotskyists. The Trotskyists believed the European workers are extremely advanced especially relative to the rest of the international proletariat, and they believed there was a perpetual revolutionary crisis, so they criticized Stalin for seeing even "relative stabilization" in the mid-1920s. For them in the last 70 years, there is no reason to undertake concrete analysis and so Trotskyism goes the way of most religions, in this case the religion worshipping the oppressor nation worker.
Since it is the end of the 20th century and socialist revolution has not prevailed and there has been no world war on European or North Amerikan soil for over 50 years, it is pretty clear that Lenin would expect us to draw some conclusions about the tendencies he spoke of. This becomes most clear when Lenin exposes the science in his thinking so as to make it accessible to anyone. Many times he makes it clear that an analysis is a matter of scientific conclusion and not simple ideological (religious) faith. To preserve the scientific method, Lenin speaks in a way to show how to arrive at different conclusions if necessary. In "Imperialism and the Split in Socialism," Lenin said, "On the one hand, there is the tendency of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists to convert a handful of very rich and privileged nations into 'eternal' parasites on the body of the rest of mankind, to 'rest on the laurels' of the exploitation of Negroes, Indians, etc., keeping them in subjection with the aid of excellent weapons of extermination provided by modern militarism. On the other hand, there is the tendency of the masses, who are more oppressed than before and who bear the whole brunt of imperialist wars, to cast off this yoke and to overthrow the bourgeoisie. It is in the struggle between these tendencies that the history of the labour movement will now inevitably develop."
Completely lacking in scientific integrity, the social-chauvinists cannot admit that Lenin was virtually handing out conclusions here for future generations that depended on 1)the success or failure of the class struggle for socialism 2) the question of who would "bear the whole brunt of imperialist wars."
Clearly Lenin hoped for the victory of the latter tendency of the oppressed masses, but he was completely ready to acknowledge that the other tendency could win out in the history of the labor movement. Now it is our job to add to what Lenin said: "the tendency of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists has won the battle of the last six generations of socialists and workers in the imperialist countries. Entire countries have been bought-off in that time with some of the taint of parasitism even affecting internal semi-colonies and immigrant workers.
Increasingly the fault lines of class struggle correspond with geography. However, the exploiter classes are still the minority globally, and the entrenched parasitism of the old imperialist countries only dictates that special tasks will have to be carried out in the proletarian revolution, tasks taking into account the specific historical conditions of the imperialist countries. Moreover, the more imperialism appears stable because of the size of its petty-bourgeoisie, the more it undercuts its own production of surplus-value, and thus hastens its end."
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