The real Lenin

This year’s centenary of Vladimir Lenin’s death has already inevitably seen the publication of books seeking to distort his political legacy. He and Leon Trotsky are still the two historical figures most hated and feared by the capitalist ruling class because it was their political understanding and party-building methods that ensured the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism in the 1917 Russian revolution. Here we are reprinting an abridged review by PETER TAAFFE of a biography of Lenin that first appeared in Socialism Today in issue No.93 July-August 2005, outlining the real relevance of Lenin’s ideas and practice for the struggle for socialism internationally.


By Christopher Read

Published by Routledge, 2005

This book is not exactly in the same genre as recent ‘monumental’ histories by ‘modern’ historians like Richard Pipes or Orlando Figes, seeking to destroy the real lessons of the Russian revolution and of the great figures involved in what was the greatest social overturn in history. It is much more subtle but, in some ways, more deadly in distorting the real lessons of Lenin’s life, his role in the construction of the Bolshevik party and, as leader with Trotsky, of the October revolution.

The author at least appears to have examined Lenin’s collected works. The book is therefore full of many excellent quotes which explain Lenin’s ideas at each stage in his development and that of the working-class movement of Russia. But even when Read makes a correct point about Lenin’s ideas, it is usually quickly followed by a disclaimer. In general, he condemns Lenin with faint praise.

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In defence of Marxist philosophy

Alongside our lead article on Lenin’s real political legacy, MARTIN POWELL-DAVIES examines his materialist philosophy, which has come under recent criticism by the prominent physicist and author Carlo Rovelli.

In 1909, the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin published one of his less well-read works, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. It was based on nine months of research he conducted in 1908 into the scientific and philosophical debates taking place amongst leading scientists of the time.

Lenin’s book took aim at the then fashionable philosophy of ‘Empirio-Criticism’. This was a way of thinking that had been set out by the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach and then adapted by Aleksandr Bogdanov, then a leading Bolshevik, under the label of ‘Empirio-Monism’. 

The development of quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity meant that the debates being analysed by Lenin were soon overtaken by new scientific theories and evidence. The book’s contents are therefore often overlooked. However, Italian theoretical physicist and popular science writer, Carlo Rovelli, gave it unexpected publicity in his best-selling paperback Helgoland, published in 2020.

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More hot air from another COP conference

‘Saying the right thing – and not a moment too soon’, was the headline of the editorial in The Guardian newspaper on the agreement of the final text of the UN sponsored COP28 summit in Dubai, this year’s latest round of global jamborees to discuss the (lack of) response to the looming climate crisis.

The ‘historic’ Paris agreement of COP25 committed national governments to aim to reduce the average increase in global temperatures to 2% above pre-industrial levels by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This was tightened up at the COP26 summit in Glasgow in 2021, aiming for an upper limit of 1.5% which had been just an ‘aspiration’ at Paris. However, the mechanism discussed at those conferences to achieve these cuts was for governments to come up with their own ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs) to the target. These were voluntary and non-binding targets – and in the event, when they were released, even if fulfilled would cumulatively lead to global temperature increases reaching 3%.

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Right-wing conspiracies and how to combat them

Naomi Klein identifies some of the economic and social factors that fertilise the ground for right-wing conspiracy theorists, but doesn’t explain how they can be overcome, argues CHRISTINE THOMAS.

Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World

By Naomi Klein

Published by Allen Lane, 2023, £25

Canadian writer Naomi Klein is best known for her anti-capitalist and climate crisis books, some of which have been reviewed in previous issues of Socialism Today. Her latest book, Doppelganger, is much more personal, inspired by the mainstream and social media world constantly confusing her with US writer Naomi Wolf. This wasn’t such a problem when, in the early 1990s, Wolf was “inspiring women to become feminists”. However, with the advent of the Covid pandemic, Wolf’s evolution took a disturbing turn for Klein, becoming a renowned peddler of Covid conspiracy theories.

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Why Starmer’s New Labour is different to Blair’s

The Tories are in disarray and Sir Keir Starmer is heading for Downing Street within the next twelve months. But a New Labour Mark II government will not in any way be a mere repetition of the Tony Blair original, argues JAMES IVENS.

Launching Labour’s 2024 election campaign, Keir Starmer told voters in his New Year address: “hold on to the flickering hope in your heart that things can be better”. The tenor was that the Tories represent cronyism at the top and a cost-of-living crisis below, and Labour is not the Tories. 

Starmer’s Labour has ejected every pro-worker Jeremy Corbyn policy and the man himself. Yet public exhaustion with Conservative governments will still put Starmer in Number Ten. It did the same for Tony Blair in 1997. But far from pleading for ‘flickering hope’, Blair’s campaign was emphatic – his campaign theme song proclaiming, ‘things can only get better!’

Starmerism is Blairism in the epoch of capitalist decay. So what was Blairism? How did it pave the way for Starmer? What differences will its second incarnation have with its first?

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The SWP and the Israel-Palestine conflict

How does a group like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), describing itself as revolutionary socialist, end up rationalising the actions of an anti-working class organisation like Hamas? The answer lies in their decades-long failure to adopt a consistent class approach to national liberation struggles, argues JIM HORTON, making a contribution to the debate on the way out of the endless cycle of bloodshed in the Middle East.

The ferocious Israeli state terror currently being inflicted on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where tens of thousands of civilians, including thousands of children, have been killed following the horrific attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians on 7 October, has brought into sharp focus the dangers of not adopting a class approach to the situation in the Middle East.

Last year, before the 7 October events, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) published an updated edition of its 2014 pamphlet, Palestine: Resistance, Revolution and the Struggle for Freedom, saying it “goes beyond the headlines of the moment” and asking: “How can the Palestinians win justice and end the occupation for good?”.[i] The SWP’s approach, however, makes it incapable of answering that question.

Other than a call at the end for readers to join the SWP, there is no mention of the need for either workers, socialist or revolutionary parties to be established in the Middle East. Hamas though is referenced 38 times. This gives a hint of the non-socialist solution proposed, and the social forces the SWP believes can help with it.

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Editorial: New twists but a Starmer government still likely

Britain is in a pre-general election period, with the likely prospect of a Keir Starmer-led government coming to power within the next twelve months, if not earlier – the first Labour government since the ‘New Labour’ administrations of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010.

However, even those whose memories go back to the 1974-79 Labour government cannot rely on past experience as preparation for what is coming. A hundred years after the very first Labour government, victorious at the election held in December 1923, a Starmer-led government could be the one that presides over a collapse in the party’s support similar to that suffered by the social democratic PASOK party in Greece or the Parti Socialiste in France. Both were comparable parties to Labour and were electorally annihilated as they implemented vicious austerity in government after the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Potentially, therefore, the Tory party’s ongoing implosion could be put in the shade by the crises Labour will confront in office. A Starmer-led government will face huge economic and social upheavals, be rocked by mass struggles, and doing so with a shallow social base. This poses the question of what forces will step into the vacuum created by the further fracturing of the established parties in the next period, and whether the working class, as an organised force, can play the central role.

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Resisting an infection pandemic

Minor infections often turned lethal until the mid-twentieth century. Now this threat could return, as micro-organisms become more resistant to antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasites and other antimicrobial compounds.

“All of modern medicine is upheld by our ability to control infectious disease”, says Jonathan Stokes, a scientist at McMaster University in Canada. “If we can’t control infection, we can’t administer chemotherapy, do invasive surgery, and preterm birth becomes really, really challenging and risky”.

One-and-a-quarter million people worldwide died with antimicrobial-resistant infection in 2019 – more than from malaria or HIV. A 2016 World Bank review predicted this could rise to ten million by 2050 – about the number now dying each year from cancer. It’s now predicted the number of deaths could be double that. There are already signs the malaria parasite across Africa is developing resistance to the standard treatment.

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Global warning: Capitalist green transition’s critical contradiction

As environmental catastrophe looms large, emphasised by rising temperatures and the increasing prevalence of extreme weather events such as the forest fires and floods that have struck the world over in 2023, the scramble to achieve net zero is intensifying. With growing emphasis on renewable energy and the need to roll out vital infrastructure that will pave the way for a green transition, a global scramble for Rare Earth Elements (REE) and other materials critical for such ventures is well underway. Yet, as efforts to increase exploration, extraction, production and refinement of critical minerals are beginning to ramp up, so too is the competition between rival capitalist forces to corner market share.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that wind and solar energy could account for around 70% of power generation by 2050, up from 9% in 2020, although this is assuming that the global goal of carbon neutrality is met by 2050. Regardless, the IEA reports on a rocketing demand for what it deems ‘green metals’ such as cobalt, copper and nickel, which could see an almost seven-fold increase in production by 2030. Furthermore, the IEA predicts that clean energy manufacturers would need a 40-fold increase in lithium, 25 times more graphite and about 20 times more nickel and cobalt by 2040 than in 2020.

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Introducing Marxism: Understanding Israel-Palestine

Launching the second of our Introduction to Marxism series, JUDY BEISHON traces the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the current brutal war on Gaza.

The world’s imperialist powers have always intervened in the Middle East for their own political, strategic and economic interests. On the one hand dishing out investment, aid, trade deals and promises of protection, and on the other hand threats, sanctions and military force, they have extracted what they can for themselves, to the detriment of the region’s peoples, including national rights.

The Israel-Arab conflict arose out of imperialist interference following the first world war. In the century since, it has seen 13 wars and much other bloodshed in between.

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