The Indian Express carried two articles on April 22 on its editorial page. The first by Suhas Palshikar asked if we were going to enter an era of minimal democracy, maximum government, maximum distance between the majority Hindus and the minority Muslims and an apathy towards the poor.
The fear of a totalitarian state taking over or the people willingly handing themselves over to a totalitarian state, which controls them in every possible way, pervades the article. In the second article, D. Raja, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, looks towards Lenin to find answers for a post COVID-19 world. In a way, Raja is telling Palshikar to not lose hope and take the path of Lenin.
We must say that Lenin is the wrong port of call for us not only at this juncture in history but at all times. We need plenty of democracy in this hour, diverse voices and criticism of the government and the state to thrive. But Lenin, like many of the politicians Raja and his party are fighting today, found democracy superfluous and turned Russia, later the USSR, into a one-party state.
I sometime wonder, if India had a Lenin at the helm at the time of Independence, what would have been the fate of other political parties, voices and the press? It is certainly not a state Raja would have liked to live in. His party would have been outlawed and most of its members would be either in jail or would have been simply perished.
Lenin is thought to be the person who brought revolution to Russia. We know that he, in fact captured power, forcibly removing all other socialist revolutionaries — Mensheviks, for example —from the scene. Nothing can be more ironical than to talk about the “October Revolution” in glorious terms and celebrate it. It was the beginning of the end of freedom in Russia. It has been well researched, documented how Lenin presided over the dissolution of what was then called the Constituent Assembly. A majority of its members called themselves revolutionary socialists. Lenin forced it to close after it had sat only for a day. What happened to the dissenters?
It was Maxim Gorky, the stormy petrel of the revolution who denounced the treatment meted out to the critics of the regime. He angrily wrote that they were “mowed down unarmed,” and asked, “Do the ‘People’s Commissars’ not realise . . . that they will end up strangling Russian democracy?
Gorky, a friend of Lenin’s, wrote a series of articles during that period of upheaval, criticising not only the regime but the man leading it consistently. It was difficult for Lenin to shut his mouth for Gorky also used to garner international support or relief when Russia was plunged into a severe crisis, rather a famine, due to his policies. But the non-Bolshevik members of the relief committee were arrested. Lenin’s impatience with his critics and the processes of law led him to put the socialists on trial. It was a sham and a mass show trial. Lenin used the media to defame not only the accused but also representatives from of international socialists, who had come to Russia to ensure that their comrades got a relatively safe trial. It was again Gorky who threatened the Leninist regime, that he would create a scandal if the accused were given death sentences.
It would be timely to recall and know that Lenin favoured execution of his enemies. That the philosophers and intellectuals, found inimical to the project of the Bolshevik revolution, were deported for good and not executed was deemed humanitarian. This sordid episode in the life of the Bolshevik revolution is known as the story of the Philosophers’ Ship in which the best Russian minds were made to leave their land with “one summer coat and one winter coat, two skirts for the day and two for the night, two pairs of pants and two pairs of stockings, together with the equivalent of just $20 in hard currency.”
Lenin began the great purge, which was continued by his successor Stalin. It was Gorky who protested, defended and saved many writers from not only death by execution but from hunger and want of proper clothing. He became a buffer between a cruel ruthless regime and many of the old “nobility”.
In fact, the pain the poor and the working class of India are going through in the name of fighting with the threat of coronavirus reminds one of the agonies that the Russian people had to endure due to the disastrous policy of Lenin.
Living in the times of mob rule and lynchings, it would again be instructive to read Gorky who was furious to see the “proletariat” delivering instant justice to the class enemies. He directly accused Lenin of turning the people into brutes and murderers. His words were very strong: “Lenin, Trotsky, and their companions have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is evidenced by their shameful attitude toward freedom of speech, the individual, and the sum total of those rights for the triumph of which democracy struggled. Blind fanatics and dishonest adventurers are rushing madly, supposedly along the road to the “social revolution”.
In reality, this is the road to anarchy, to the destruction of the proletariat and of the revolution. On this road, Lenin and his associates consider it possible to commit all kinds of crimes, such as the slaughter outside St. Petersburg, the destruction of Moscow, the abolition of the freedom of speech, and senseless arrests —all the abominations which Pleveand Stolypin once perpetrated.”
For the last five years, an experiment is being done on the people of India putting them under severe stress. This is exactly what Lenin, according to Gorky, was doing with the Russians. Again, his words, “Lenin is a ‘leader’ …..and therefore he considers himself justified in performing with the Russian people a cruel experiment which is doomed to failure beforehand.”
Gorky warns, “ Life in all its complexity is unknown to Lenin, he does not know the popular masses, he has not lived with them, but he….has learned how to raise these masses on their hind legs and how—easiest of all—to enrage their instincts. The working class is for a Lenin what ore is for a metalworker.”
Gorky was prophetic and was punished by Lenin who ordered the closure of his magazine even after calling him “one of us”. When Gorky did not stop, Lenin nudged him off to Italy telling him that he needed to take care of his health. Gorky got the message and left Russia. Russia and the short-lived USSR paid heavily for being part of Lenin’s experiment.
The Indian left has better minds to turn to if it wants to learn from the past. Julius Martov, who was ridiculed by Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg are two names which come to mind. Let us read them again and resist the temptations of the hoary Leninist past – which in fact were gory.
The writer teaches Hindi at Delhi University
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