Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lenin & Ukraine

While this is bit off topic, let me try and connect it up. As we're reading Lenin's State and the Revolution this weekend, Putin is sending troops into Ukraine. Although I could not find much in State on the issue of Russian nationalism, I went back and read some of Lenin's earlier writings between 1905-17, and I found this: "Whether the Ukraine, for example, is destined to form an independent state is a matter that will be determined by a thousand unpredictable factors. Without attempting idle “guesses”, we firmly uphold something that is beyond doubt: the right of the Ukraine to form such a state. We respect this right; we do not uphold the privileges of Great Russians with regard to Ukrainians; we educate the masses in the spirit of recognition of that right, in the spirit of rejecting state privileges for any nation."

I don't really enough about the current political Russian political climate to know whether Putin quotes Lenin and the old Bolsheviks to justify invading neighboring states, but nationalist rhetoric is often tied to revolutionary rhetoric, which made stumbling upon Lenin's quote, supporting Ukraine's autonomy rather ironic. Putin often claims that Russians are oppressed by western democratic organizations like the EU, the UN, and NATO, which parallels Lenin's talk of smashing up the bureaucratic machine of bourgeois capitalist states. Putin claims that he is protecting the interests of Russians in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and their right to align with Russia instead of Europe and the EU. But underneath the nationalist rhetoric, is he saying, as Lenin said, that western capitalism does not work for Russia, and that the apparatus of capitalist democracies must be "smashed up" and replaced with another system? Is he calling for a proletariat state, a sequel to the Soviet Union, or simply trying to grow his power?  Either way, by weakening the democracies of states like Ukraine and Belarus, he intends to subsume them in Great Russia. When and where will he stop, I wonder?

Anyway, back to Lenin for a second. In State and Revolution, he claims that Marx did not simply recognize class struggle, but he advocated for a socialist, proletariat revolution that would eventually "wither away" class divisions and pave the way for a "pure" communist state. Yet he's quite obtuse about how this new proletarian state would be run. While he talks of "smashing" the old apparatus, what do you replace it with? He mentions a postal service-type economy, where there's no hierarchy and all workers are paid similar wages. But we all know that the US Posta/ Service, has been losing money every year for decades. I don't know, but maybe this is one reason why the USSR failed, that their "new economy" could not compete globally, and therefore Russia became a comparatively poor nation?  But now that Russia has become a more wealthy nation, their nationalist pride is once again growing. Flexing their muscles. Either way, Lenin's vision of a socialist state that "withers away" class division did not happen. The old USSR had as much social hierarchy and bureaucracy (if not more), as western nations. In other words, the proletarian state morphed into another "bourgeois" state.  As for Putin, who has gotten rich off capitalism, I don't think he wants to smash up any "system" as much as he wants to expand his power, and Russia's border.

1 comment:

  1. I left my book the office today, but I think he does offer a lot of visions about the state post the revolution.
    He gives us multiple stages of communism, the strong centralized democratic state (that is not federal, and unifies the executive and legislative functions), de mobilizing of the military, etc...

    Thus, I would call the USSR less of a failure of Lenin's theory, and more proof that it was never tested.


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