This year two jubilees coincided, one of which the authorities decided not to celebrate with a parade due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the second – because they did not intend to – 150 years since Vladimir Lenin’s birth. But without the special role of the founder of the Soviet state, which arose on the fragments of the empire that lost World War I, there would be no Victory, which established the USSR as one of the leading powers of the world.
It would seem a paradoxical story – today the Victory in the Great Patriotic War is shared by the Church, Nikolay II, and the authorities, who invite heads of foreign states to Moscow, where they sit all together and look at the triumph of Russian weapons, the army marching in even elegant rows past the neatly draped Mausoleum of Lenin, but is he related to the Great Victory more than many others?
“He is directly related to the Great Victory, because he was the creator of the Soviet state, and Stalin, as his ideological disciple and successor to his cause, headed the Soviet state during the war, became the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, and won a historical victory,” said the historian Evgeny Spitsyn in an interview with Nakanune.ru. “This victory was possible for us because of the Soviet system, the foundations of which were laid by comrade Lenin.”
When we talk about Lenin and the world wars, only his calls to finish the First World War come to memory, and “guardians” neither then nor now love Vladimir Ilich for this, nevertheless he ended the war – controversial and debatable peace. Was there another way out?
“World War I was an unfair war for all states, so Lenin called for it to end,” said Aleksandr Kolpakidi, a historian of the special services and writer. “And the ‘Brest Peace’ didn’t come easily, it came with threats and ultimatums. And even such great people, revolutionaries as Kropotkin and Plekhanov, turned out to be defencists and supported imperialist war. Not to mention Western leaders. Lenin’s courage is simply striking, it is very expensive, but in the end it paid off. After all, the workers saw the light of day, and one of the main reasons for his victory was precisely the question of war.”
Lenin wrote that imperialism generates national wars, but socialism, which won in one country, does not exclude all wars at once, and it even presupposes them. Thus, this knowledge was embedded in the very foundations of the new Soviet state. And the preparation for war, which will already be waged on new grounds, has been going on since the birth of “socialism in one separately taken country”. The Second World War was really waged by the USSR on the basis of the “defensive war” of the already victorious socialism, the possibility of which was assumed by Marx and Engels.
“The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in different countries. It cannot be otherwise under commodity production. From this it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will for some time remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois. This is bound to create not only friction, but a direct attempt on the part of the bourgeoisie of other countries to crush the socialist state’s victorious proletariat. In such cases, a war on our part would be a legitimate and just war,” wrote Lenin in the article “Military program of the proletarian revolution”.
And the first slogan that Lenin put forward after the October Revolution – “Socialist Motherland is in danger.”
“The key word here is ‘Motherland’, it was no longer a state of oligarchy, not ‘Vekselbergs-Rotenbergs’, but it was already the people’s state of ‘Ivanovs-Petrovs’, the state of workers and peasants. Therefore, it became the ‘Motherland’. And, naturally, since Lenin spoke in the years when Germans and Austro-Hungarian tried to capture our country, it is also clear that this line continues in the Great Patriotic War,” said the historian and writer Aleksandr Kolpakidi.
Communism is Soviet power, it is the electrification of the whole country
No less important for the Victory of the people, along with the self-determination as the “Soviet people” and the image of the future, was industrialisation. Everyone remembers that on February 4th 1931 Joseph Stalin uttered the historical phrase: “We are 50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We should run this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we will be crushed”.
But not everyone knows that the famous idea of Stalin was first put forward by Lenin, said the historian Alelsandr Kolpakidi in a conversation with Nakanune.ru.
“It, in fact, was already done under the leadership of Stalin. Socialism allows to concentrate efforts in different directions, but it is important to properly highlight these main directions, to concentrate forces there and strike. We haven’t been able to do this in 20 post-Soviet years. Directions are still found, but we are not able to concentrate forces and strike. I.e., of course, without Lenin’s role the Great Patriotic War would not have been won in any way, because he put forward this theory – that only thanks to socialism it is possible to catch up and overtake other countries in a short period of time,” said the expert.
Today, perhaps, electrification does not seem like any miracle, but in fact, despite all the good tsarist undertakings, the country remained backward and deprived of electricity. And it is not difficult to believe this, since today, 100 years later and after the “counter-revolutionary” 1990s, our superpower, building an economy on the sale of oil and gas, is not 100% gasified. But Lenin saw the development of the country not as a dreamer, but as a materialist – only in the creation of a material and technical base, as well as a solid economic foundation.
He paid great attention to industrialisation in his most recent articles and speeches. Lenin believed that it was industry – i.e., heavy industry, the production of means of production – that was the main base of socialism.
Without industry, the USSR would die as an independent country, he said as early as 1922. Here is the beginning of his letter at the All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, i.e., 9 years before Stalin utters prophetic words that will go down in history:
“This is the first time since my long illness that I am able to address a Congress, even though in writing. Permit me, therefore, to confine myself to expressing to you my cordial greetings, and to a few brief remarks on the position and tasks of our industry and of our Republic. Our position is particularly difficult because we lack the means to restore our fixed assets, i.e., machinery, tools, buildings, etc.; and it is precisely that part of industry known as heavy industry which is the main basis of socialism. In capitalist countries these fixed assets are usually restored by means of loans. We are refused loans until we restore the property of the capitalists and landowners; but this we cannot and will not do. The only road open to us is the long and extremely arduous road of slowly accumulating our savings, of raising taxes in order to be able gradually to repair our destroyed railways, machinery, buildings, etc.”
The working class, Lenin stressed, should create a large industry not by “colonisation” and the destruction of small producers, as proposed by the Trotskyists, but on the basis of a lasting alliance with the peasants, a steady improvement in the well-being of the workers of the city and village (this is stated in the article “Five Years Of The Russian Revolution And The Prospects Of The World Revolution” and in the famous “Better Fewer, But Better”).
Learn, learn, and learn again
It was Lenin, as the leader of the Communist Party, who introduced a decree to eliminate universal illiteracy and made education accessible and free for everyone. Adults attended evening schools, courses, and children raised under the new system became the very Komsomol heroes who were the first to go to war. At the same time, the education system, indeed, really adopted a lot from the past, says the author of the education project “The Last Call”, the journalist Konstantin Semin:
The Bolsheviks have always acted in accordance with dialectical logic: if there was something useful in the previous order, they carefully separated it from the harmful and put it at their service.
The position of many educational scientists — who at their time resisted the state diktat of tsarism and were outraged by the “Law on Cookwomen’s Children“, which blocked the path to education for low-income families, and for the rich – opened the path to the best grammar schools and institutions — is also known. The achievements of these educators, says Semin, were adapted to Soviet pedagogy.
“Therefore, in the traditions of the Russian school and the Soviet, you can find many similarities if you want to. The difference is that the Soviet school was accessible and free for all children, not for the children of rich families,” says the expert.
World War II was in many ways a war of technology, and an education that became accessible to all did its job in two decades and made an undeniable contribution to the Victory. Moreover, even World War I has already become a conflict where unprecedented technical, chemical, and industrial means were used. The lag of our country in the sphere of education and development made for the loss of the Russian Empire more than all sealed cars in the world. Moreover, even the pharmaceuticals and medicine, so much needed during any war were absent as such.
“We are constantly told about how the Bolsheviks destroyed the power of the Russian Empire and prevented Nicholas II from installing the Russian flag on the gates of Tsargrad and from gaining control over the straits so that we could be among the winners and redraw the map of Europe,” said Konstantin Semin. “But here, for example, is a fact: Russia by the time it entered World War I completely lacked a chemical industry and pharmaceutical industry”.
What to say about the war if in peacetime the population of the country hardly used medicines at all – they did not know what medicines were. Potions and folk medicine – that’s all we had. If it didn’t help, a funeral service in church awaited you. Konstantin Semin recalls that the main supplier of medicines to imperial Russia was, paradoxically, Germany (and they got everything from bandages to antibiotics that appeared and became necessary).
“In 1917, the Bolsheviks started to create institutions that became both centers of training of new personnel and centers of development of ideas, which were immediately introduced into industry. And if this were not the case, the Soviet Union could not have fought in 1941 and could not have won in 1945,” continued Semin.
Indeed, in addition to the technical equipment of the army, to the personnel capabilities, the Soviet school educated a generation of winners – it really educated – and not only “provided an education service” – the generation that is represented by Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Aleksandr Matrosov, Arkady Gaidar, or those who hoisted the red banner above the Reichstag.
“They are all children of the Soviet era by age, they went to schools in different republics of the Soviet Union that were simply not there before,” said Semin.
At the same time, it is worth remembering, according to the expert, that Lenin did not create all of this so that the country could defend itself and its land against an invasion of Germans or Pechenegs. He created the country for people. And the people then went to fight for it, not sparing their lives.
“The main merit of Lenin was that there was something to fight for,” noted Konstantin Semin. “Not for soil, not for blood, not for the birches. The people fought for the chance to build a human future for themselves and their children.”
Did Lenin love Russia?
The question that for some reason worries many today – did Lenin love Russia? A number of historians oppose Stalin and Lenin – according to this theory the former was a statesman, i.e., a positive character, and the latter dreamed only of a “global” republic and “spat” on Russia. Aleksander Kolpakidi notes that for a man who allegedly did not love Russia, Lenin did too much:
“He was worried about the progress of all mankind, not just the Russian people. He worked not only to overthrow tsarism and to liberate workers and peasants, he worked for the world project. Lenin is not a purely Russian political figure. His goal was to change all mankind according to new foundations, so that people live without wars, so that the world is fair, so that work brings joy to people.“
Historian Andrey Fursov, who holds a different position and perceives Lenin’s personality more critically, nevertheless acknowledges that the result of the revolution is a socialist state that won the war, and that Lenin was a great global figure, as well as a great political technologist and practitioner of the revolution.
“Of course, he was helped by the historical situation and the circumstances, but, after all, it is necessary to be able to take advantage of them,” says Fursov.
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