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Lars Lih online: Recent studies on Bolshevism, Lenin, and Kautsky

April 16, 2013

Lars Lih is widely known as one of the most influential and innovative contemporary historians of Marxism. He has provided the following listing of his online articles on Lenin, Karl Kautsky, and Bolshevism. For each article, I have added a quotation indicating its topic. I’ve also added a stimulating recent interview. See also “More ‘Lars Lih Online’: six further studies of Bolshevism.” — John Riddell

1. Kautsky-as-Marxist data base (2011)

“The Kautsky-as-Marxist database is a collection that I have compiled of all comments by Lenin in his final decade, 1914-1924, that bear on the issue on his attitude during those years toward Kautsky’s prewar writings—or rather, his writings up to and including 1909.”

2. Lenin and ‘Bolshevism’: 1912, 1917, 1920 (three-part series, 2012):

a. A faction is not a party

“Lenin’s views on this topic in the years before World War I can be summed up succinctly: Bolshevism was a faction (fraktsiia), a part of a larger whole: namely, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).”

b. How the party became (bolshevik)

“When Lenin returned to Russia at the beginning of April 1917, he carefully avoided using ‘Bolshevik’ to refer to the party.  Several reasons led to this reluctance. … but [Lenin] soon discovered that the name of the party wasn’t up to him, or even up to the party!  People outside the party, both friends and foes, knew it as the party of the Bolsheviks, and—especially in the new context of open politics and electoral competition—their outlook was decisive.”

c. Bolshevism and revolutionary Social Democracy

“[For Lenin in 1920,] the focus was no longer on setting up soviets, but rather on the party as a vehicle of revolutionary preparation in a non-revolutionary situation. The question then arises: what kind of party? And Lenin answers: a Bolshevik-type party, as opposed to the philistine, opportunist, careerist parties of the pre-war Second International. [But] Lenin’s rejection of theactual parties of the Second International does not mean he is rejecting its party ideal.  … Lenin goes out of his way in “Left-Wing” Communism to claim that ‘history has now confirmed on a large, world-wide and historical scale the opinion we have always advocated, that is, that revolutionary German Social Democracy came closest to being the party which the revolutionary proletariat required to enable it to attain victory’.”

3. Falling Out over a Cliff (2012)

“If the standard story is correct, and Lenin really did have the conscious intention of using the Prague Conference [1912] to make the Bolshevik faction equivalent to the party as a whole, then he thoroughly deserves the severe condemnation he received from his political foes at the time…. Any such secret intention on his part meant that the process of calling the conference was deeply dishonest and calculated in a disloyal way to wreak as much damage as possible on the parent organisation…. But, since there is no real reason to believe Lenin had any such secret intention, these dire conclusions do not follow.”

4. Lenin, Kautsky, and ‘the new era of revolutions’ (2011)

“In autumn 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Lenin wrote to his associate, Aleksandr Shliapnikov: ‘I hate and despise Kautsky now more than anyone, with his vile, dirty, self-satisfied hypocrisy.’ … Ultimately more useful in understanding Lenin’s outlook, however, is another comment, made around the same time to the same correspondent: ‘Obtain without fail and reread (or ask to have it translated for you) Road to Power by Kautsky [and see] what he writes there about the revolution of our time! And now, how he acts the toady and disavows all that!’”

5. An introduction to Kautsky’s ‘Republic and Social Democracy in France’ (2011)

“The Marxists were far from politically indifferent [to the republic], Kautsky asserted: they strongly supported the republic, and in particular saw the democratic republic as the only possible form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the bourgeois Third Republic was not particularly democratic – in fact, it was accurately described as a ‘monarchy without a monarch.’”

6. Kautsky, Lenin, and the April Theses (2010)

“Kautsky’s article may provide an answer to a long-standing historical mystery. In April 1917, Lenin made certain ideological innovations that seemed to come out of the blue. Historians have proposed various explanations, but none have been generally convincing. I believe that the key to the mystery lies in the impact of Kautsky’s article on Lenin’s outlook.”

7. ‘We must dream!’ Echoes of `What Is to Be Done?’ in Lenin’s later career (2010)

“Lenin himself did not talk directly about What Is to Be Done? very much…. Even in Soviet Russia, What Is to Be Done? was only discovered again after Lenin’s death. In fact, it’s really a myth that What Is to Be Done? served as the founding document of Bolshevism. Nevertheless, it became clear to me that some of the major themes, often accompanied by characteristic vocabulary, do surface again and again in Lenin’s writings.”

8. Chávez’s gift to Obama: What’s to be made of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? (2009)

“Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, has just announced on Venezuelan television that the next time he meets with President Barack Obama, he will give the American head of state a short book written in 1902 by one Lenin, entitled What Is to Be Done? (Chto delat’?). A surprising announcement. The last time Chávez showed his willingness to fill out Obama’s reading list, he gave him a topical book on the situation in Latin America. But what topical interest can be found in a book over a century old, written under the drastically alien circumstances of tsarist Russia?”


Interview: On Marxism and Melodrama

A discussion with Lars Lih in, October 2013.

Other articles available in digital form

Lars Lih also offers to provide digital versions of three additional articles, originally published in scholarly journals, to interested scholars who lack access to academic online resources. PDFs will be provided for personal research purposes only. Send inquiries to larslih [at]

1. “The Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism: The Debates of April 1917 in Context,” in Russian History 38 (2011), 199–242.  A new look at the debates of April 1917 that stresses the continuity between prewar Bolshevism and the Bolshevism of 1917.

2. “Democratic Revolution in Permanenz,” in Science and Society, Vol. 76, No. 4, October 2012, 433–462  A new look at the debates in 1905-6 around the concept of “permanent revolution.”

3. “The Non-Geometric Elwood,” Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue canadienne des slavistes Vol. 54, Nos. 1–2, March-June 2012, 185-213.  A critique of the academic study of Lenin in the person of one of its best practitioners.

All articles referenced on this page are Copyright © 2009-2013 by Lars Lih.

Books by Lars T. Lih

Lenin, Reaction Books (2011)

Zinoviev and Martov: Head to Head in Halle, co-authored with Ben Lewis, November Publications (2011).

Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is To Be Done?’ in Context, Haymarket Books (2008)

Stalin’s Letters to Molotov, 1925-36, Yale University Press (1996)

Bread and Authority in Russia, 1914-21, University of California Press (1990)

Creative Commons Licence
These works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

  1. Dr Paul permalink

    I’ve read Lars Lih’s articles with considerable interest, as I think he has written something very new and different to what I’ve read about Lenin and Bolshevism by left-wing activists and academics alike. His articles on the topic should be made up into a book.

  2. permalink

    Thanks, John. Lars Lih is making a major contribution to unscrambling the nonsense that we have all absorbed unwittingly from the Stalinist distortion of Marxism. Also, Daniel Gaido’s big anthology on “Permanent Revolution” adds valuable perspective on this maligned and misunderstood concept.Regards,Henry Lowi

    Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2013 19:42:12 +0000 To:

  3. Jacob Richter permalink

    And Trotskyist distortions of Marxism, too. Lars Lih wasn’t very kind when quoting Trotsky’s scandalous “civil war with the peasantry” statement regarding his take on “permanent revolution.”

  4. Jacob, I think Lars is making a broader point here. He contends that all wings of Russian Social Democracy held that the peasantry would necessarily oppose a socialist revolution. They had different answers as to how to deal with this obstacle. But the underlying prediction, in my view, did not prove to be accurate. The peasantry did support soviet power, even when it expropriated the capitalist class; the peasants gave the great land reform a distinctively collectivist and egalitarian twist. Consideration of the role of peasants in 20th century revolution should start with that reality, not with the mistaken prediction of the Russian social democrats.

  5. Jacob Richter permalink

    Yes, but you refer here to “socialist revolution” and not “democratic revolution.” When Trotsky openly admitted his “civil war with the peasantry” stance, this was in the context of a worker-minority-led “democratic” permanent revolution.

    Contemporarily, in countries where this rural and mainly petit-bourgeois force is the demographic majority, it and its urban counterparts should be in the lead, not the working class minority.

  6. Pham Binh permalink

    Here’s a link to a condensed version of the “Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism”:

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