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Lenin against Premature Revolution

By 1920, Lenin's hope for a revolution outside of Russia had faded. Only in Hungary had other Communists taken power. Hungary had become a Soviet republic in March 1919, but its revolution had been short-lived, its leaders fleeing for their lives.

Lenin was relieved that Russia's civil war was over, and he believed survival of his Bolshevik revolution made it a demonstration as to how to make a revolution. "We now possess quite considerable international experience," he wrote, and he added that "certain fundamental features of our revolution have a significance that is not local…but international." Lenin was preparing a pamphlet to be distributed to delegates at the Second Congress of the Comintern – the Communist International – that was meeting in Moscow in April 1920.  It was a pamphlet on what to avoid while working toward revolution, a work he called Left-wing Communism – an Infantile Disorder.

Bolshevism, wrote Lenin in his pamphlet, had risen on a solid foundation of theory, and the revolution could not have succeeded without "iron discipline." He described the revolution as the creation of "the working class" led by the Bolsheviks. He labeled Social Democratic critics of the Bolsheviks as opportunistic riff-raff. Then he went to the subject of practical tactics and the need to compromise at times. There were, he wrote, good compromises and bad compromises, and he criticized what he called the stupid attempt at purity by "left-wing communists" to dismiss compromise entirely. He had in mind the tactics of communists in Germany, who had the slogan "no compromises" and wanted to divorce their movement from labor unions dominated by the Social Democrats. In his pamphlet, Lenin lectured his German comrades on the need for patience and for working within progressive organizations that were not devoted to revolution. You work with and alongside people, he wrote, showing the way, eventually winning your neighbor workers to your side. He criticized the German communists for believing that they should not participate in "bourgeois parliaments," pointing out that it was not true that parliamentary governments in the West were obsolete.

Looking at Great Britain, Lenin observed that it had no Communist Party as yet. But, he wrote, "there is a fresh, broad, powerful and rapidly growing communist movement among the workers which justifies the best hopes." He pointed to an article written by Sylvia Pankhurst titled "Towards a Communist Party" and the squabble in Britain over whether a Communist Party there should affiliate with the old trade union movement and the Labour Party. Lenin wrote again in favor of working with "progressive" organizations. He saw benefit in working with and befriending people concerning common causes. British communists, he wrote, should first help beat those on their political Right. Workers, he added, would learn that moderate labor leaders were "good for nothings" and will turn to communist leadership.

Lenin described what he thought was the "fundamental law" of his and future socialist revolutions. The first step, according to Lenin, was the creation of a "proletarian vanguard" – in other words, Communist Party activists. Trying to make a revolution prematurely, in his words "to throw only the vanguard into the decisive battle before the entire working class was either supporting the vanguard or at least sympathetically neutral towards it" would be "not merely foolish but criminal."

Lenin was optimistic. In all countries, he wrote, "communism is becoming steeled and is growing. Its roots are so deep," he claimed, that "persecution does not weaken or debilitate it, but only strengthens it." He spoke of a contagion among working people for a new socialist order. He described world revolution as having been "powerfully stimulated and accelerated by the horrors, vileness and abominations of the world imperialist war and by the hopelessness of the situation created by it." And revolution, he wrote, "is developing in scope and depth with such splendid rapidity, with such a wonderful variety of changing forms, and with an instructive practical refutation of all doctinairism, that there is every reason to hope for a rapid and complete recovery of the international communist movement."

Lenin was now to exercise some of the pragmatism that he professed to believe in. In March 1921 his government signed a trade agreement with Britain. That same year, the Soviet Union signed trade agreements with Germany, Norway and Austria. The Soviet Union was able to establish diplomatic relations with industrialized nations other than the United States, and trade with these nations increased, benefiting the Soviet Union. The Soviet regime was eager to appear responsible and worthy of credit in international finance, and it paid its bills.

The Comintern continued to support communists abroad. It extended its activities into the colonies of the powers with whom the Soviet Union was trading, and into China. And the Soviet government excused itself by claiming that the Comintern was independent. 

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