In Defence of Lenin

Senator Michael McDowell has launched a number of media attacks on Lenin this week. McDowell was irked by the presence of Lenin-themed flags and banners at the recent trans solidarity march in Dublin.

Predictably McDowell’s articles and radio interviews grossly distort Lenin and his contribution to humanity. The Lenin he presents is the caricature with no basis in fact. McDowell’s Lenin is a dictator, a mass-murderer, a builder of concentration camps, an enemy of democracy, human rights and liberty. McDowell falsifies Lenin for his own ends.

Who was Lenin? As leader of the Bolshevik Party he led the 1917 Russian Revolution, alongside Leon Trotsky, where the working class and peasantry of Russia overthrew the backward and oppressive Tsarist monarchy. By 1917 Europe was three years into a war that had killed millions and plunged the working classes across the continent into destitution.

The Russian revolution of 1917 was the catalyst for ending World War One in 1918. This period was marked by uprisings of the working class in almost every corner of Europe and beyond. Ireland did not escape as huge strikes rocked the island. Waves of trade union militancy, inspired by the Russian Revolution’s example, saw hundreds of Soviets declared across Ireland. Red flags were everywhere in the years after 1917. To tens of millions of working-class people at that time Lenin and the Russian Revolution were beacons of hope.

Despite having plunged Europe into war in 1914 the Western capitalist class staged a murderous intervention into Russia in 1918 with the aim of ending Lenin’s Bolshevik government. The Soviet Union at the time was attempting to rebuild Russia and the other Soviet states. The intervention of Western powers like the United States, Britain, France and others triggered the Russian Civil War that led to an estimated 10 million deaths in the fledging USSR. McDowell, of course, never mentions this. During the Civil War Lenin’s government were forced to take harsh measures to secure the state against aggression. It is the latter the McDowell focuses on, but he dishonestly ignores the context of massive Western military intervention in Russia.

In Lenin’s lifetime self-described ‘liberals’ like McDowell were firmly wedded to the racist idea that non-Europeans were intrinsically ‘inferior’ to Europeans and incapable of self-government. Lenin rejected these racist ideas completely and called for equality amongst all workers. He helped form the Communist International, the Cominterm, with the express aim of bringing communist ideas to Africa, Asia and the colonial parts of the world and building communist parties to liberate people from the brutal regimes of Western imperialism under which they lived.

Like all partisan anti-communists McDowell is blissfully unaware of the murderous record of capitalism. His absurd claim is that Lenin somehow originated the political practice of liquating enemies through mass murder. McDowell, of course, knows nothing of the suppression of the Paris Commune which saw 30,000 working class Parisians executed by the French government in 1871. Or the murderous regime of exploitation of the Belgian Congo which saw the population halved in just 20 years. Or the liquidation by the Indonesian government of the Indonesian Communist Party in 1965 which left a million dead and was demanded by the US and Britain as the price for Indonesia’s integration into world capitalism. These are just three of the countless examples over the past 100 years of capitalist regimes engaging in the practices that McDowell falsely attributes to Lenin.

The centenary of Lenin’s death is next year. Yet in 2023 his writings have much to teach us. They are a priceless resource for the working-class at this time of deep and worsening capitalist crisis. Every worker who can see no future under capitalism will find tools and indeed weapons in Lenin’s ideas. McDowell and his class have to make a monster out of Lenin, precisely because they know that his ideas still resonate with workers today.