Friday, July 27, 2012

"Overcoming moods which retard revolution"

Leninist Theory of Revolution and Social Psychology

B. Porshnev
Novosti Press Agency Publishing House


Prior to the triumph of the October Socialist Revolution Lenin’s interest in socio– psychological processes and phenomena was oriented quite differently than after its victory. Before the victory the comprehensive communist education of the masses was not the active purpose of Leninist social psychology. He described such orientation as deception of the workers by the parties and leaders of the Second International. While socio-economic conditions remain capitalist, while the working people remain under bourgeois oppression which sometimes takes refined forms it would be deceitful to assume that the majority of the exploited was capable of developing firm socialist convictions and character. It is only when exploitation is done away with, Lenin wrote, “...only after this, and only in the actual process of an acute class struggle, that the masses of the toilers and exploited can be educated, trained and organised around the proletariat under whose influence and guidance, they can get rid of the selfishness, disunity, vices and weaknesses engendered by private properly; only then will they he converted into a free union of free workers.”   [38•1

Before the victory of the socialist revolution all Lenin’s observations and thoughts on social psychology gravitated to one decisive purpose. In the conditions of an autocratic-capitalist system the important thing was concentration, merging and thus boosting revolutionary sentiments and overcoming moods which retarded the revolution. “It was the task of the older generation,” Lenin said in 1920, “to overthrow the bourgeoisie..., arouse hatred of the bourgeoisie among the masses, and foster class-consciousness and the ability to unite their forces.”   [38•2

This was by no means a simple and direct process. On the one hand, as was shown by the 1905 revolution, “The long and undivided rule of the autocracy has stored up revolutionary energy among the people to a degree perhaps never before known in history.”   [38•3  On the other hand, that people were part of capitalist society and therefore “not free from the shortcomings and weaknesses of capitalist society. It (the proletariat—Ed.) is fighting for socialism, but at the same time it is fighting against its own shortcomings.”   [38•4  Yet at times these shortcomings overrun it. When the First World War flared up, “Everywhere the bourgeoisie vanquished the proletariat for a time, and swept them into the turbid spate of nationalism and chauvinism.”   [39•1  But in the final count the main trend made itself felt.

The essence of that basic trend was increasing psychological awareness and clear understanding that the existing society was divided into two opposed camps—“us” and “them”. Lenin wrote of this with great force: “This member of the oppressed class, however, even though one of the well-paid and quite intelligent workers, takes the bull by the horns with that astonishing simplicity and straightforwardness, with that firm determination and amazing clarity of outlook from which we intellectuals are as remote as the stars in the sky. The whole world is divided into two camps: ‘us’, the working people and ‘them’, the exploiters. . . ‘What a painful thing is this ‘exceptionally complicated situation’ created by the revolution,’ that’s how the bourgeois intellectual thinks and feels. ‘We squeezed ‘them’ a bit; ‘they’ won’t dare to lord it over us as they did before. We’ll squeeze again—and chuck them out altogether,’ that’s how the worker thinks and feels.”   [39•2

We shall return to the extensive theoretical significance for social psychology as a science of this “us” and “them” principles briefly outlined by Lenin.

At this point it interests us as a concrete indication of the complete, maximum maturity of the proletariat’s revolutionary spirit. Once the awareness of the world’s separation into “us” and “them” has been formed, the decisive battle is inevitable. “The determination of the working class,” wrote Lenin, “its inflexible adherence to the watchword ‘Death rather than surrender!’ is not only a historical factor, it is the decisive, the winning factor.”   [40•1  This factor urges the proletariat to give armed battle and win. “An exploited class which did not strive to possess arms, to know how to vise them and to master the military art would be a class of lackeys.”   [40•2

Although Lenin held that the task of complete liberation of the spirit of the masses from capitalist heritage became possible only after the socialist revolution, the very revolutionary struggle, the revolution itself served as a powerful educator of the masses.

“The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary, struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will.”   [40•3  When a revolutionary war attracted and interested the oppressed people, Lenin said, it engendered “the strength and ability to perform miracles.”   [40•4

This is true both of the foremost revolutionary class, the proletariat, and the peasantry. In Lenin’s words, “Out of a mob of muzhiks repressed by feudal slavery of accursed memory, this (1905—Ed.) revolution created, for the first time in Russia, a people beginning to understand its rights, beginning to realise its strength.”   [41•1

While there was no such reciprocal influence of the revolution itself on the psychology of masses in the pre-revolutionary, “peaceful” conditions, all of Lenin’s socio-psychological observations were centred on one single task—to make the best possible appraisal and unite those potential forces in society which could, directly or indirectly, bring closer the onset and victory of the revolution. It was the job of tirelessly merging all separate rivulets, streams and drops of social protest. This undoubtedly required, first of all, the pursuit of the objective final community of interests, yet the immediate task was the subjective, the psychological aspect. The task, as Lenin saw it, was “to gather, if one may so put it, and concentrate all these drops and streamlets of popular resentment that are brought forth to a far larger extent than we imagine by the conditions of Russian life, and that must be combined into a single gigantic torrent.”  [41•2  Leninist science of revolution demanded such scientific detection of any signs of upsurge, even utterly insignificant tendencies which could be brought together and summed up in the revolutionary camp. Lenin wrote as early as 1901 that public unrest was growing among the entire people in Russia and it was the duty of Social-Democrats to teach progressive working– class intellectuals “to take advantage of the flashes of social protest that break out, now in one place, now in another.”   [42•1

The foremost task was the summing up of the manifestations of discontent and protest among the working class. Lenin described with amazing precision certain psychological regularities of the effect the actions of one group of workers had on others: “...the workers of neighbouring factories gain renewed courage when they see that their comrades have engaged themselves in struggle... It is often enough for one factory to strike, for strikes to begin immediately in a large number of factories. What a great moral influence strikes have, how they affect workers who see that their comrades have ceased to be slaves and, if only for the time being, have become people on an equal footing with the rich!”   [42•2  This “infection” goes beyond spreading such moods and actions, it also raises them to a new level. “When the movement is in its early stage,” wrote Lenin, “the economic strike often has the effect of awakening and stirring up the backward, of making the movement a general one, of raising it to a higher plane.”   [42•3  In 1905 Lenin gave a vivid description of one such quantitative and qualitative shift: “The compositors’ strike in Moscow, we are informed, was started by politically backward workers. But the movement immediately slipped out of their control, and became a broad trade union movement. Workers of other trades joined in. Street demonstrations by workers, inevitable if only for the purpose of letting uninformed fellow-workers learn of the strike, turned into political demonstrations, with revolutionary songs and speeches. Long suppressed bitterness against the vile farce of ‘popular’ elections to the State Duma came to the surface.”   [43•1

Lenin thus commented on the influence of the workers’ strike movement, on the sympathies and sentiments of the peasants: “Only the waves of mass strikes ... roused the broad masses of peasants from their lethargy. The word ‘striker’ acquired an entirely new meaning among the peasants: it signified a rebel, a revolutionary, a term previously expressed by the word ‘student’. But the ‘student’ belonged to the middle class, to the ‘learned’, to the ‘gentry’, and was therefore alien to the people. The ‘striker’, on the other hand, was of the people; he belonged to the exploited class.”   [43•2  This observation traced once again the shaping of the “us” and “them” anti-thesis among the people. Many little bridges were built, such as the preference of the word “striker” to the word “student”, creating a psychological community of the workers and the peasants and their common alienation from the “gentlemen”, although the socio-economic roots of the peasants’ and the workers’ revolutionary sentiments were quite different.

Lenin spoke of the apathy of the peasants only in a political sense, meaning their alienation from the proletarian movement. The peasants came to 1905 with their own blind revolutionism. “The peasant needs land, and his revolutionary feeling, his instinctive, primitive sense of democracy cannot express itself otherwise than by laying hands on the landlords’ lands.”   [44•1

Lenin associated this psychological trait with economic peculiarities—there were more remnants of serfdom in the agriculture of Russia than anywhere else, hence greater primitive and direct revolutionism among the peasantry and the working class closely linked with them. Yet this “revolutionary sentiment,” Lenin explained, undoubtedly expressed “a general... protest, rather than proletarian class-consciousness”.   [44•2

Both Mensheviks and Economists paid lip service to social psychology, but to them the psychological differences between the workers and the peasants only served to support the apriori dogmatic thesis that no consistent union was possible between the working class and the peasantry in a revolution. Having thus built a stone wall between the proletariat and the peasantry they were incapable of taking a single revolutionary view of the moods of both.

Lenin boldly refuted these dogmas, showed their incompatibility with Marxism. He saw with absolute clarity that revolution in Russia, as in many other countries, could win only by bringing together all mass forces of protest and social discontent, that to disunite them in keeping with scholastic dogmas would be tantamount to betraying the revolution. Genuine unity of the revolutionary efforts of the proletariat and the peasantry required a study of both common and specific features of their social psychology and through this, the possibilities of the workers’ psychological influence on the peasant mass. Lenin described the weaknesses and vices of peasant psychology in a severe and realistic manner. “The peasants .. .were soothed as one soothes little children... How did they deceive the peasants? By feeding them with promises.”   [45•1  Above we have read Lenin’s description of the non-revolutionary, reactionary aspect of peasant psychology. Yet even when speaking of its revolutionary side, he tirelessly stresses it is not up to the level of proletarian revolutionism. “ However,” he wrote, “solidarity, organisation, and class-consciousness are naturally much less developed among the peasants than among the workers. Thus there still remains an almost untapped field of serious and rewarding work of political education.”  [45•2  These last words show that he did not consider the situation hopeless. Yet, it is of importance that the peasant mass, including the village poor, because of their economic position “have always and in every country proved to be less persistent in their struggle for liberty and for socialism than the workers.”   [45•3

All these observations of Lenin serve one purpose—to find everything, including psychological traits, that may be employed not to divide, but to unite the workers and peasants in common revolutionary action. There was, for example, a remarkable point which gladdened Lenin at a time when a certain lack of understanding had developed between Soviet proletarian power and the peasants (1921). He writes of a peasant who was not in sympathy with the Soviet government on several points. “The poor peasants of his district had called him a ‘bourgeois’, and be felt this to be an affront..., a disgraceful name... And there is a world of meaning in the fact that this term has come to be regarded as an odious one by the peasants... It is the basis of our propaganda and agitation, and the influence exercised by the working class through the state.”   [46•1  To Lenin this fact was one of the numerous signs that, the working class was guaranteed the support of the peasant masses, except for the kulaks and profiteers. This purely psychological point marked a certain stage in the shaping of “us” in which the peasants, together with the workers, oppose themselves to “them”, the bourgeois.

Thus it was not only at times of revolution or revolutionary situations but also in the years of rudimentary forms of revolutionary struggle, even in the years of dark reaction and decline that Lenin’s mind invariably sought and detected the seeds of revolutionary possibilities of the popular masses, their spontaneous and unconscious moods of discontent and protest, in order to add up and multiply them.

When he was interested in opposite psychological phenomena, such as traditions, habits and customs accumulated by the people over centuries, he did so with a view to possible removal of these obstacles from the path of the revolution.

“The force of habit in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force,” wrote Lenin.   [46•2

To overcome habits is a tremendous job before the revolution and even after its victory. The “struggle against, habits that, in the course of hundreds and thousands of years have become second nature to every petty proprietor is something that requires many long years of persistent organisational work after the exploiting classes have been completely overthrown.”   [47•1  What then can he said of the burden of habit in the dark pre– revolulionary years! Lenin remarked with regard to the violation of Finland’s Constitution in 1901: “We are still slaves to such an extent that we are employed to reduce other peoples to slavery.”   [47•2

But Lenin paid much less attention to such psychological traits and features as habits and submissiveness than to adding up, even by tiny grains, the sentiments of discontent and struggle.

The people seemed to be asleep, yet their sleep was so light that on the slightest ground they might jump up in great excitement. Lenin spoke of this duality in a lecture on the 1905 Revolution: “The broad masses, however, were still too naive, their mood was too passive, too good– natured, too Christian. They flared up rather quickly; any instance of injustice, excessively harsh treatment by the officers, bad food, etc., could lead to revolt.”   [47•3  The same psychological trait of the masses, excitability, as it were, was noted by Lenin in 1905. “Mock elections will never rouse the masses,” he wrote. “However, a strike, a demonstration, mutiny in the armed forces, a serious students’ outbreak, famine, mobilisation, or a conflict in the State Duma, etc., etc., etc., ran really rouse the masses, constantly, at any hour.”   [48•1

All these were grains which would in time add up to be one action against I he monarchy and the existing system of all forces of protest, accumulating in society. “The growth of mass strikes, the enlistment of other classes in the struggle, the stale of the organisations, and the temper of the masses will all suggest of themselves the moment when all forces must unite...”   [48•2

Despite persisting naive faith in the tsar and primitiveness of social views Lenin emphasised “the significance of the revolutionary instinct now asserting itself among the proletariat. The political protest of the leading oppressed class and its revolutionary energy break through all obstacles, both external, in the form of police bans, and internal, in the form of the ideological immaturity and backwardness of some of the leaders.”   [48•3

Lenin, noted a similar disruption of habits and traditions in describing the experiences of the masses in the First World War. He wrote of millions of semi-proletarians and petty bourgeois deceived by chauvinism, “whom the horrors of war will not only intimidate and depress, but, also enlighten, teach, arouse, organise, steel and prepare for the war against (he bourgeoisie of their ’own’ country and ‘foreign’ countries.  [48•4  In 1917 Lenin wrote of this with greater certainty: ”...the Russian people—who have always shed blood without a murmur, and have done the will of an oppressive government, when quite ignorant of its aims and purposes—will undoubtedly throw their weight, into the struggle with so much more courage and vigour when it came to fighting for socialism...”   [49•1

In conclusion we would like to make the following two points.

Why was Lenin certain that the moods of protest and discontent, the force of resistance would be inevitably summed up? First of all, because the proletariat plays the role of liberator not only of itself, but also of all working people, all society, from exploitation and antagonism. Further, because this authority of the working class relies in turn on the authority of the world revolutionary experience and movement. The working class needs authority, wrote Lenin. “The proletarians of every country need the authority of the worldwide struggle of the proletariat. We need the authority of the theoreticians of international Social-Democracy to enable us properly to understand the programme and tactics of our Party. But, of course, this authority has nothing in common with the official authorities in bourgeois science and police politics.”   [49•2

Finally, it is to be noted that Lenin had an equally clear understanding of the psychology of the masses and of the upper classes. Whereas at one social pole you have growing protest and wrath, on the other, you have the development of opposing attitudes of the upper classes. We shall quote an example of how Lenin characterised these attitudes. “Generally speaking, it must be said that our reactionaries (including, of course, the entire top bureaucracy) reveal a fine political instinct. They are so well-experienced in combatting oppositions, popular ‘revolts’, religious sects, rebellions, and revolutionaries, that they are always on the qui vive and understand far better than naive simpletons and ‘honest fogies’ that the autocracy can never reconcile itself to self-reliance, honesty, independent convictions, and pride in real knowledge of any kind whatsoever. So thoroughly imbued are they with the spirit of subservience and red tape that prevails in the hierarchy of Russian officialdom that they have contempt for any one who is unlike Gogol’s Akaky Akakiyevich, or, to use a more contemporary simile, the Man in a Case.”   [50•1


 [38•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 31, p. 187.
 [38•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 31, p. 290.
 [38•3]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 8, p. 448.
 [38•4]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 29, p. 208.
 [39•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 21, p. 418.
 [39•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 26, p. 120.
 [40•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 30, p. 454.
 [40•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 35, p. 195.
 [40•3]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 23, p. 241.
 [40•4]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 30, p. 153.
 [41•1]   Lenin. Coll. Works, Vol. 17, p. 89.
 [41•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 5, p. 420.
 [42•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 5, p. 288.
 [42•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 4, p. 315.
 [42•3]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 18, p. 84.
 [43•1]   Lenin, Colt. Works, Vol. 9, p. 348.
 [43•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 23, p. 243.
 [44•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 8, p. 247.
 [44•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 12, p. 64.
 [45•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works. Vol. 25, pp. 140, 147.
 [45•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 17, p. 382.
 [45•3]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 11, p. 395.
 [46•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 32, p. 118.
 [46•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 31, p. 44.
 [47•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 29, p. 523.
 [47•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 5, p. 310.
 [47•3]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 23, p. 245.
 [48•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works. Vol. 9. p. 366.
 [48•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 18, p 109.
 [48•3]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 8, p. 93.
 [48•4]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 21, p. 40.
 [49•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 26, p. 346.
 [49•2]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 11, pp. 412–413.
 [50•1]   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 5, pp. 281–282.

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