In Raymond Aron’s academic analysis of Lenin’s revolutionary genius, it is essential to consider the intersection of intellectual and moral qualities. This combination is crucial not only in the warrior genius but also in the revolutionary one. Lenin exemplifies this fusion through his exceptional intelligence, coupled with the ability to maintain a clear, long-term vision of goals despite unforeseen obstacles along the way.
In the political landscape, similar to the dynamics of military operations, chance and uncertainty are recurrent elements. However, the distinction of the revolutionary genius lies in deep passion and loyalty to fundamental principles, with the revolution itself being the core principle. A crucial element is the sharing of the will to power or the overthrow of power between the revolutionary genius and the masses.
Lenin, in his role as a revolutionary genius, demonstrates a remarkable ability to maintain a future-focused vision on the ultimate goals, namely the conquest of power. This approach differs from merely adapting to accidental circumstances, placing greater emphasis on the seizure of power as the ultimate end.
His most significant political innovation was the creation of the Bolshevik-type party. In “What is to be Done?”, published in 1902, Lenin proposes a revolutionary vision that diverges from traditional Marxism. This work, with its radical ideas, has changed the universal history of political theory. Lenin argued that the working class, if left to itself, would not achieve full awareness of its historical role. This role had to be externally imparted, particularly by intellectuals, a notion that deviates from orthodox Marxism.
Lenin introduced the concept of a centralized and disciplined party, akin to a military general staff, with a Politburo functioning as the decision-making core. This structure ensured that party members were professional revolutionaries, adhering to a discretionary authority. This innovation marked a clear break in the history of Western social democracy and was not immediately accepted by all Russian social democrats. Lenin’s vision was initially perceived as an expression of a party destined for clandestine action under an absolutist regime, rather than as the introduction of a revolutionary tool.
However, despite criticisms and initial lack of universal acceptance, the Bolshevik-type party has proven to be an effective tool in multiple circumstances, maintaining its relevance and power to this day. Lenin’s ability to devise and implement such innovation demonstrates his acumen and unique perspective in the revolutionary political landscape.
Lenin’s revolutionary genius manifests in his ability to anticipate and create the winning faction in a revolution, a concept that finds parallels in Hegel’s analysis of the French Revolution, where a direct conflict emerges between the particular and the universal. In this sense, Lenin prepares the ground for a faction destined to embody the very essence of the revolution, using methods that will allow it to prevail over other factions and govern on behalf of the revolution itself.
A crucial point in Leninist theory is the role of Trotsky in the context of Lenin’s party theory. Trotsky criticized Lenin for substituting the party for the proletariat, then the Central Committee for the party, culminating in the figure of the General Secretary as the supreme representative of the proletariat and the holder of absolute power. Despite these criticisms, Lenin and Trotsky jointly applied this party theory.
A key point in Lenin’s analysis is his tendency to create in advance the faction destined to be victorious, embodying the revolution. This approach reflects Lenin’s innovative theory of the party. Lenin’s approach was to replace Marxist objective necessity with voluntarism, thus paving the way for an inevitable conflict between the party and all other entities. The history of pre-revolutionary Russian social democracy is marked by the propensity of different factions to excommunicate each other, a phenomenon already evident at the beginning of the 20th century and particularly accentuated at the Brussels Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903.
The distinction between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, which emerged from this congress, represents a turning point, transforming into an irreconcilable clash that symbolizes the struggle between factions, characteristic of every revolution. Lenin, with his rigorous and rigid party theory, paved the way for the faction that would fully embody the revolution, thus becoming the equivalent of the Jacobins of the French Revolution, but with a more enduring and definitive presence.
This tendency towards division and reciprocal excommunication among the various Russian revolutionary factions continued throughout the country’s revolutionary history, extending even to contemporary revolutionary groups. The party’s rigid discipline and the confusion generated by the rigid adherence to the class, on behalf of which the party acted, continued to manifest, extending into the revolutionary groups existing in the current political landscape.
Lenin’s conception of the revolutionary party, characterized by a rigid structure and strict discipline, represents a significant innovation in the field of political theory and practice of the 20th century. This vision of the party, comparable to a religious order or a wartime army, is distinguished by its unique fusion of faith and discipline, theology and realism. Lenin, with this innovation, created a versatile and effective tool, particularly suitable in contexts of revolutionary war or guerrilla warfare. The Russian and Chinese civil wars, as well as the period of the French Resistance, highlighted this effectiveness, where the French Communist Party, following the principles of the Soviet Bolshevik party, showed a combination of visible and clandestine structures, thus contributing to a form of extreme effectiveness.
The creation of Lenin’s party marks a turning point in guerrilla warfare techniques, influenced by the teachings of Clausewitz and the experience of the Spanish Civil War. This innovation also transformed democratic politics, as demonstrated by the French Communist Party, which maintained coherence and self-awareness for about half a century, remaining revolutionary without resorting to insurrection. The structure of the Bolshevik party, a combination of democratic centralism, faith, and discipline, was a brilliant invention by Lenin, whose political genius lay in achieving the set goals.
Despite this innovation, Lenin remained faithful to Marxist principles. He always believed that, by serving the party as the incarnation of the proletariat, he simultaneously served the cause of the revolution. Despite the apparent substitution of the party for the class and the party for the proletariat, Lenin never doubted the validity of the historical Marxist schema, nor did he doubt that the party in power was indeed the proletariat in power. This fidelity to Marxist principles was accompanied by the conviction that the revolution carried out by the party was an act performed both in the name of and through the proletariat.
Lenin’s innovation in political tools and his fidelity to Marxist principles materialized in a conceptual system used to interpret and analyze concrete historical dynamics. Furthermore, by placing Russia in a global context and interpreting capitalism not only as an economic regime but as a concrete global reality to be destroyed, Lenin saw the Russian Revolution as the beginning of a world revolution.
An interesting aspect of Lenin’s thought is his utopian tendency, as evidenced by “State and Revolution”. In this text, Lenin describes the popular uprising as the prelude to a new world, while remaining realistic and pragmatic in his post-revolutionary decisions. The phase of “War Communism,” followed by the New Economic Policy (NEP), demonstrates this combination of utopia and pragmatism. In this period, the Bolshevik party faced increasing difficulties, leading to a form of state terrorism that was implicit in the conception of a single party as the sole incarnation of the revolution.
In his revolutionary endeavor, Lenin distinguished himself through the early creation of a party that embodied the revolution. This party, structured with rigid centralism and iron discipline, transformed into an instrument for the rise to power, enabling Lenin to seize control of the state with a coup d’état. With this move, Lenin not only succeeded in identifying his party with the revolution itself but also justified the elimination of other revolutionary parties, labeling them as counterrevolutionary. In this process, every non-Bolshevik entity logically became an enemy of the revolution.
The crucial aspect that distinguishes Lenin and elevates him to the rank of revolutionary genius is not solely his capacity for innovation and adherence to Marxist principles but also his extraordinary ability to grasp circumstances and make crucial decisions, often controversial, which proved to be correct. His opposition to the patriotic war in 1914, the publication of the pamphlet “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,” and his April Theses of 1917 are clear examples of this. Similarly, his decision to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and to introduce the New Economic Policy (NEP) demonstrate his skill in balancing ideology and practical reality.
Historically, Lenin’s figure has often been contrasted with that of Trotsky, particularly regarding the role in the Red Army. While Western historians tend to view Trotsky as the real architect of military decisions, Soviet literature often glorifies Lenin’s role. However, one of Lenin’s great qualities was his ability to delegate significant responsibilities without feeling threatened, recognizing and valuing Trotsky’s contribution.
Contrary to psychoanalytic interpretations, Lenin’s personality appears as that of a balanced man with a rich emotional life, in contrast to interpretations that seek to find traumatic roots or instability in his behavior. His appreciation for music, literature, and nature underscores a human aspect that coexisted with his revolutionary dedication. Lenin embodied the prototype of the twentieth-century revolutionary, completely absorbed in political action but also capable of a patient and strategic approach.
In conclusion, for Aron, Lenin is to be considered a revolutionary genius in the fullest sense of the term. His unique combination of strategy and revolutionary faith, along with the ability to adapt and effectively lead in times of crisis, place him as a central figure in the history of the 20th century, a man who not only changed the world but also embodied the revolutionary genius in a pure and powerful form.