Nationalism in Lenin’s Concept of the Revolutionary Party

I cannot help but notice a contradiction in Lenin’s outlining of his ideal revolutionary party–namely that Lenin simultaneously depends upon and shuns nationalism. On pages 293-95, for example, Lenin outlines the need for an “All-Russian” newspaper which will serve as a “…collective propagandist and a collective agitator, [and]…also a collective organizer.” Yet, while he views this paper as necessary to the success of a Social-Democratic movement, he also contends that “…the Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement” that combats “national chauvinism” (297). Despite this supposedly deplorable national chauvinism, Lenin also seems to enjoy the idea that the Russian proletariat would be the model for an international revolutionary proletariat and situates his narrative on the awakening of the “Russian consciousness” in the history of strikes and rebellion of 19th century Russia (298). In this way, does not Lenin’s proposed party view itself in a nationalist light? Could the party ever have said to be truly “internationally” geared? Also, what implications does this idea of “All-Russianness” have for other nationalities in the transition from the Russian empire–Ukranian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Cossack etc.?

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1 Response to Nationalism in Lenin’s Concept of the Revolutionary Party

  1. dahler says:

    Here’s an attempt to shed light on your questions, while elaborating with some questions of my own.

    I read Lenin’s remarks on “consciousness” on page 298 as commenting on the awakening of class consciousness, instead of a Russian (read: nationalist) consciousness. Read in this light, his remarks cohere his reason for combating national chauvinism: “[T]he Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement. This means, not only that we must combat national chauvinism, but that an incipient movement in a young country can be successful only if it makes use of the experiences of other countries.” (Dmytryshyn 1967, 297). The working class are becoming conscious, and they supposedly suffer the same predicament regardless of nationality.

    That said, perhaps some “Russian-first” sentiment slips in when Lenin imagines the Russian proletariat in particular as trailblazing the path ahead of other socialist parties. “[T]he national tasks of Russian Social-Democracy are such as have never confronted any other socialist party in the world.” It seems that Lenin sees his all Russian party of proletarians as a vanguard of a global movement in nascent awakening. Despite his exclusive focus on a Russian group, the tide it represents remains global in scale.

    My defense of Lenin having been completed, your question prompts me further wonder. What was the ethnic make-up of the “Russian” proletariat? Did they identify primarily as workers or Russians or as both? Even if the Russian proletariat was but the vanguard force of an international awakening, were all of the so called Russian peoples equally swept up in its movement?

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