Tony Cliff

In defence of Lenin

(May 1985)

Letter in Socialist Worker Review, No. 76, May 1985, p. 34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

COLIN SPARKS’s review, Lenin and the Patriots (April SWR) contains a few errors.

Colin writes:

Lenin ... began by opposing the demand for “peace” and insisting that to call for anything less than civil war was to capitulate to the muddle-heads who did not see the class lines clearly and who wanted to join with middle class pacifists. Reality was to knock his head against the wall, too: by 1917 “peace” was to become one of the key slogans!

Lenin until 1917 quite rightly opposed the slogan of “peace” as muddled pacifist nonsense. As against this he argued that only civil war could put an end to the imperialist war. However, when the Soviet was established in Russia after the February revolution, naturally the slogan of civil war did not fit and the slogan of peace did. To use Colin’s method one could say that the fact that Lenin was anti-defencist until October 1917 and then turned defencist was because he “capitulated to the muddle-heads”.

Colin describes Zinoviev’s War and the Revolutionary Crisis as a vulgar abuse of Trotsky. First of all one must notice that the article appeared in a book edited by Lenin and Zinoviev, entitled Against the Stream. At the time Zinoviev was the closest collaborator of Lenin while Trotsky, both at the Zimmerwald conference and later at the Kienthal conference, opposed the Bolsheviks sharply, while collaborating with the centrists. Colin writes:

The Zimmerwald conference ... ended without a clear division between the revolutionary current, the “Zimmerwald left” led by the Bolsheviks, and the “centrists” led by Ledebour and his co-thinkers in the SPD.

This was not so. The main guidelines of the future Comintern were forged by Lenin at the Zimmerwald conference.


Tony Cliff

Last updated on 26 October 2019