Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Lenin, Machiavelli and History Today Magazine

“Some medieval courts not only condemned their worst opponents to death, but they also prescribed a series of extremely cruel and bloody forms of execution to be carried out one after the other. The thirst for revenge and urge to deter others mixed with the fear that those subjected to torture could return and take revenge. The Russian Revolution and its best-known leader, Vladimir Illyich Lenin, have suffered a similar fate over the past 90 years. Up to this day, propagandistic efforts have not ceased to strike dead this most important revolution of the twentieth century”.

While this quote from Peter Schwarz is taken from his article on the German Magazine Der Spiegel[1] the same could be said of the History Today Magazine. It would appear that not a month goes by without an article attacking in some form Marxist conceptions or leading Marxist figures. It would appear that History Today has a particular grievance against Vladimir Lenin.

A simple search of the History Today archive would bring to the attention of the reader over thirty articles, and one must say very few of these are worth the paper they are printed on. The latest one in the  November issue is no exception. Its title Lenin: The Machiavellian Marxist by Graeme Garrard gives its intentions away. It also follows a similar pattern; it is almost like History Today has a template for these kind of articles.

One problem that arises with these type of articles is the choice of writer. Graeme Garrard who is a reader at Cardiff University and is an established historian but like many who write on revolutionary politics has little or no grasp of what life in a revolutionary party today or yesterday was like. It was not always like this.

While Lenin studies are not in a very good place at the moment as the Marxist writer David North points out the situation in Trotsky studies is worse and has “deteriorated in the 1990s. American and British scholarship produced nothing substantial in this field during the entire decade. The only published work that perhaps stands out as an exception, though a minor one, is a single volume of essays, produced by the Edinburgh University Press in 1992 under the title The Trotsky Reappraisal. During this decade, a disturbing trend emerged in Britain, which consisted of recycling and legitimising old anti-Trotsky slanders. This trend was exemplified by the so-called Journal of Trotsky Studies, which was produced at the University of Glasgow. The favourite theme of this journal was that Trotsky’s writings were full of self-serving distortions”.[2]

In many ways, Garrads is characteristic of the approach to historical and political issues taken by other writers. Comparing the revolutionary figures such as Lenin and Trotsky to religious fanatics is not new.

Another distortion peddled is that the October revolution was coup. First, the establishment of the first worker's state was not a coup carried out by a small group of supporters of Lenin. “The October revolution was the product of the struggle of millions of workers, impoverished peasants and war-weary soldiers, who joined the Bolsheviks because they regarded the party as the most consistent defender of their interests.”

A further point which again is not new is that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin were only able to live as revolutionaries off the backs of Russian Peasants and English workers. This is a cheap and very right-wing approach to historical questions. , Lenin and Marx lived under capitalism, not socialism.

Garrards use of only one other historian is a little strange. Ullam is a gifted historian but has certain baggage regarding the Russian revolution, and Garrard should have drawn on other sources.

The reference Garrard makes to Lenin being Machiavellian is absurd and would take too long to expose the stupidity of such a comment. Again he is not alone in making this remark, and the company he keeps is not very pleasant.

The last point the author makes is perhaps the most perplexing. Much of the article is given over to what happens to the state under Socialism. Lenin's and Trotsky position was clear as day it would wither away mankind would live under a society based on need, not profit. His last sentence is strange given that what happened to the Soviet Union after Lenin died is common knowledge. Why did Garrard not mention the betrayal of the Russian revolution by Stalinism?

Why are these articles being written? After all, we have had the “Death of Marxism, “The End of History”, why to bother with figures such as Lenin, Marx, Trotsky. The reason being is that many workers and young people are looking for a socialist alternative. Many are now turning to a systematic study of the October Revolution.

They are being met with a  web of lies and distortions left by bourgeois and Stalinist propaganda. It explains why 90 years on History Today continues to vilify the Russian Revolution and its revolutionaries

[1]Der Spiegel churns out old lies on the October Revolution- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/12/spie-d15.html
[2] Leon Trotsky, Soviet Historiography, and the Fate of Classical Marxism
By David North
1 December 2008