Leninthink and Left-think

The following passages from Gary Saul Morson’s “Leninthink” (The New Criterion, October 2019) speak volumes about today’s brand of leftism:

In [Lenin’s] view, Marx’s greatest contribution was not the idea of the class struggle but “the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and as far back as 1906 Lenin had defined dictatorship as “nothing other than power which is totally unlimited by any laws, totally unrestrained by absolutely any rules, and based directly on force.”

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For us, the word “politics” means a process of give and take, but for Lenin it’s we take, and you give. From this it follows that one must take maximum advantage of one’s position. If the enemy is weak enough to be destroyed, and one stops simply at one’s initial demands, one is objectively helping the enemy, which makes one a traitor.

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If there is one sort of person Lenin truly hated more than any other, it is—to use some of his more printable adjectives—the squishy, squeamish, spineless, dull-witted liberal reformer.

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If by law one means a code that binds the state as well as the individual, specifies what is and is not permitted, and eliminates arbitrariness, then Lenin entirely rejected law as “bourgeois.”…  Recall that he defined the dictatorship of the proletariat as rule based entirely on force absolutely unrestrained by any law.

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Lenin’s language, no less than his ethics, served as a model, taught in Soviet schools and recommended in books with titles like Lenin’s Language and On Lenin’s Polemical Art. In Lenin’s view, a true revolutionary did not establish the correctness of his beliefs by appealing to evidence or logic, as if there were some standards of truthfulness above social classes. Rather, one engaged in “blackening an opponent’s mug so well it takes him ages to get it clean again.” Nikolay Valentinov, a Bolshevik who knew Lenin well before becoming disillusioned, reports him saying: “There is only one answer to revisionism: smash its face in!”

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No concessions, compromises, exceptions, or acts of leniency; everything must be totally uniform, absolutely the same, unqualifiedly unqualified.

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Critics objected that Lenin argued by mere assertion. He disproved a position simply by showing it contradicted what he believed. In his attack on the epistemology of Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius, for instance, every argument contrary to dialectical materialism is rejected for that reason alone. Valentinov, who saw Lenin frequently when he was crafting this treatise, reports that Lenin at most glanced through their works for a few hours. It was easy enough to attribute to them views they did not hold, associate them with disreputable people they had never heard of, or ascribe political purposes they had never imagined. These were Lenin’s usual techniques, and he made no bones about it.

Opponents objected that Lenin lied without compunction, and it is easy to find quotations in which he says—as he did to the Bolshevik leader Karl Radek—“Who told you a historian has to establish the truth?” Yes, we are contradicting what we said before, he told Radek, and when it is useful to reverse positions again, we will.

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Lenin did not just invent a new kind of party, he also laid the basis for what would come to be known in official parlance as “partiinost’,” literally Partyness, in the sense of Party-mindedness….

… The true Party member cares for nothing but the Party. It is his family, his community, his church. And according to Marxism-Leninism, everything it did was guaranteed to be correct.

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[The prominent Bolshevik Yuri] Pyatakov grasped Lenin’s idea that coercion is not a last resort but the first principle of Party action. Changing human nature, producing boundless prosperity, overcoming death itself: all these miracles could be achieved because the Party was the first organization ever to pursue coercion without limits.

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Many former Communists describe their belated recognition that experienced Party members do not seem to believe what they profess…. It gradually dawned on [Richard Wright] that the Party takes stances not because it cares about them—although it may—but because it is useful for the Party to do so.

Doing so may help recruit new members, as its stance on race had gotten Wright to join. But after a while a shrewd member learned, without having been explicitly told, that loyalty belonged not to an issue, not even to justice broadly conceived, but to the Party itself. Issues would be raised or dismissed as needed.

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I remarked to one colleague, who called herself a Marxist-Leninist, that it only made things worse when she told obvious falsehoods in departmental meetings. Surely, such unprincipled behavior must bring discredit to your own position, I pleaded.

Her reply brought me back to my childhood [as a son of a party member]. I quote it word-for-word: “You stick to your principles, and I’ll stick to mine.” From a Leninist perspective, a liberal, a Christian, or any type of idealist only ties his hands by refraining from doing whatever works. She meant: we Leninists will win because we know better than to do that.

In the end, leftism is about power — unchallenged power to do whatever it is that must be done.