Lenin And Revolutionary Socialism

A Five-Part Class Series utilizing Revolution, Democracy, Socialism: Selected Writings of Lenin, edited by Paul Le Blanc

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin boldly developed revolutionary theory and analysis, advancing a strategic, tactical and organizational orientation to overcome war, imperialism, and capitalism with the power of the world’s working-class and oppressed majority. Much can be learned from his ideas and experience.

CLASS #1: Introduction to Lenin

Reading – Introduction: pp. 3-72

Study Questions

  1. Who was Lenin and what was his basic political orientation?  In what ways is he a democratic thinker?

  2. What is the interrelationship between Lenin’s thought and the economic, social, and political realities of his time?

  3. What is the nature of the various criticisms made of Lenin?  How do these criticisms hold up to actual historical reality?

  4. Clarify C. Wright Mills’ remark: “Read Lenin (be careful).”  What is Lenin’s relevance to our own time?

CLASS #2: Marxism and the Birth of Bolshevism

Reading – Marxist Programme & Revolutionary Orientation, Birth of Bolshevism: pp. 83-166

Study Questions

  1. What appear to be essential aspects of Lenin’s understanding of Marxism?

  2.  How does Lenin describe the working class?  What does he see as the relationship of Marxism to the working class?

  3. How does Lenin see the future revolution in Russia?  What is the role a minority working class in the democratic struggle?

  4. What distinguishes Lenin’s Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks in the Russia socialist movement?

CLASS #3: Learning from One Revolution, Preparing for Another

Reading – Challenges of Revolutionary Upsurge; Creation of the Bolshevik Party: pp. 167-215

Study Questions

  1. In what ways does the revolutionary upsurge of 1905 seem to impact on Lenin’s thinking (including religion, soviets, etc.)?

  2. What kinds of alliances can we find in Lenin’s thought regarding strategy and tactics during the revolutionary upsurge?

  3. How does Lenin discuss “democratic centralism”?  How does he conceptualize a health revolutionary party?

  4. What appears to be the logic in Lenin’s fierce internal struggles within the Russian socialist movement?

CLASS #4: Forging Revolution in Time of War

Reading – Imperialist War … Revolutionary Democracy; 1917 Revolution:  pp. 216-284

Study Questions

  1. How does Lenin discuss the interplay between revolutionary nationalism and revolutionary internationalism?

  2. What are the causes of World War I, according to Lenin?  How is his internationalism revealed in these writings?

  3. What is Lenin’s conceptualization of the state?  How does he view the relation of democracy to revolution?

  4. What continuities do we see between Lenin’s anti-war writings and the way he conceptualizes the 1917 revolution?

CLASS #5: Problems of Communism

Reading – World Revolution; Reaching for Socialism—Resisting Bureaucracy: pp. 285-352

Study Questions

  1. What is the relation for Lenin between the Russia revolution and revolutions in other countries?

  2. What lessons of Russian revolutionary history does Lenin seek to share with revolutionaries of other countries?

  3. What problems does Lenin see in achieving socialism after the revolution?  How does he seek to overcome those problems?

  4. In what ways does Lenin wrestle with the problem of bureaucracy?  What kinds of solutions does he reach for?

Trotsky: Permanent Revolution

A Five-Part Class Series utilizing Trotsky: Writings in Exile edited by Kunal Chattopadhyay and Paul Le Blanc

Leon Trotsky was a leader of the Russian Revolution, but also a fierce opponent of the bureaucratic dictatorship that developed under Stalin.  Advancing from exile the perspective of permanent revolution, he defended workers’ democracy, warned prophetically of fascism, and forecast global insurgencies for a better world.

CLASS #1: Introduction to Trotsky

Reading – Introduction, Testament: pp. 3-30, 220-222

Study Questions

  1. What is the basic outline of Trotsky’s life?  What is the outline of his basic political orientation?

  2. What are the fundamental values that seem to be the basis of Trotsky’s life and thought?

  3. What are the key elements of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution?

  4. How does Trotsky’s historical context seem to relate to his ideas?  In what ways does his context compare with ours?

CLASS #2: From Workers’ Revolution to Bureaucratic Dictatorship

Reading – In Defence of October, Degeneration of the Soviet Regime, Stalinism and Bolshevism, Letter to Workers of the USSR: pp. 31-87

Study Questions

  1. What are the key elements that Trotsky emphasises in his description and explanation of the Russian Revolution?

  2. What are essential aspects of Trotsky’s explanation of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian revolutionary regime?

  3. What can one find in Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution that ties in with his analysis of the rise of Stalinism?

  4. What are Trotsky’s arguments regarding the difference between Bolshevism and Stalinism?  Are they persuasive?

CLASS #3: Revolutionary United Front – Against Fascism and Reformism

Reading – United Front for Defence, What is Nazism, Lessons of Spain: pp. 88-146

Study Questions

  1. What is the united front?  How does it differ from the popular front?  Do they correspond to approaches to today’s politics?

  2. How does the united front correspond to the revolutionary strategy Trotsky attributes to Bolshevism in 1917?

  3. What are essential aspects of Trotsky’s analysis of Nazism?  How does he view its victory as avoidable?

  4. Why is Trotsky so critical of all the major left-wing organizations in Spain?  How does he understand their impending defeat?

CLASS #4: Imperialism and Global Revolution

Reading – Proletarians of Colored Races, Chinese Revolution, To Workers of India, Mexico and Imperialism, Nationalised Industry, On Black Nationalism:  pp. 147-201

Study Questions

  1. What is the logic (or what are the logics) of Trotsky’s emphasis on workers of the “colored races” of the world?

  2. How can Trotsky’s writings on China and India be described and characterised?  What are their similarities?

  3. What are the complexities in Trotsky’s writings on Mexico?  Do the writings seem to have practical application today?

  4. What appear to be strengths or weaknesses of Trotsky’s discussion of the situation of African-Americans?

CLASS #5: Problems of Communism

Reading – Transitional Programme, Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay: pp. 202-220

Study Questions

  1. What are transitional demands?  Do they have practical application to realities of our own time?

  2. In what ways does the Transitional Programme reflect previous historical experience?  What is new?

  3. What basic points does Trotsky make in his unfinished “Trade Unions” essay?  Does it challenge earlier assumptions?

  4. Trotsky asserted that capitalism was in decline, yet capitalism is still here?  To what extent was he right or wrong?

The Life & Ideas Of Rosa Luxemburg

A Five-Part Class Series utilizing Socialism and Barbarism: The Selected Writings of Rosa Luxemburg, edited by Helen C. Scott & Paul Le Blanc

Rosa Luxemburg was an outstanding social, economic political theorist and a revolutionary socialist activist and leader.  Her writings provide invaluable insights into the history and dynamics of capitalism and the struggle to replace it with a socialist democracy.

CLASS #1: Introduction to Rosa Luxemburg

Reading – Introduction, two prison letters, and Luxemburg’s last article: pp. 3-32, 214-222, 261-267

Study Questions

  1. How can one summarize Luxemburg’s life?  What are key elements in her story?  How does her time compare to ours?

  2. How does Luxemburg fit in to broader socialist and Marxist traditions?

  3. What are essential elements of Luxemburg’s political orientation?

  4. What is the personal/political interplay that we can see in Rosa Luxemburg? What do ethnicity, gender and class fit in?

CLASS #2: Marxism and Revolution

Reading – Stagnation and Progress of Marxism, Early Christianity, French Revolution, Lassalle’s Legacy: pp. 73-80, 103-107, 39-45, 173-177

Study Questions

  1. What is Luxemburg’s approach to Marxism?  To what extent is it critical-minded?  What are the main points she makes?

  2. How can one characterize Luxemburg’s approach to Christianity?  What points does she make? Does this make sense today?

  3. What is Luxemburg’s understanding of the French Revolution?  What critical-minded elements can we find in her account?

  4. Ferdinand Lassalle was both a comrade and competitor of Karl Marx.  What are the positives and negatives in this account?

CLASS #3: Revolutionary Strategy

Reading – Reform or Revolution, How to Win Reforms, Mass Strike, Women’s Emancipation: pp. 46-102, 108-125, 145-172

Study Questions

  1. What is the nature of Luxemburg’s polemic with Bernstein?  What key points does she make about reforms and reformism?

  2. What are reforms?  How do they relate to revolution?  The  are best way and the worst way to approach reform struggles?

  3. How does Luxemburg envision revolution? How does she see the interrelationship between spontaneity and organization?

  4. Is Luxemburg a feminist?  What is her approach to the relationship of struggles for women’s rights and for workers’ rights?

CLASS #4: Imperialism and Militarism

Reading – Accumulation of Capital, Junius Pamphlet:  pp. 178-213

Study Questions

  1. What is Luxemburg’s understanding of the nature and sources of imperialism? How does it relate to the nature of capitalism?

  2. In what ways do Luxemburg’s analyses of militarism and imperialism shed light (or not shed light) on realities of our time?

  3. In what ways do the readings of this class relate to readings from previous classes?  What is new in these readings?

  4. What are pessimistic and optimistic elements emerge from Luxemburg’s writings for this class?

CLASS #5: Problems of Communism

Reading – Russian Social Democracy, Russian Revolution, Founding of German Communism: pp. 81-102, 223-260

Study Questions

  1. What are Luxemburg’s early criticisms of Lenin, and in what ways is there a shift in later writings?

  2. What does Luxemburg identify as sectarian and opportunistic dangers for the socialist workers’ movement?

  3. In what ways does Luxemburg’s vision of socialism seem to contradict the Russian revolutionary reality?  Explain.

  4. What are key points in Luxemburg’s speech at the founding of German Communism?