Monday, 6 February 2012
Written in 1967 Israel Getzler's work serves as a perfect example of cold-war historiography, devoted as it is to proving the 'inherently dictatorial' nature of the scheming figure of Lenin, in his opposition to the 'Hamlet of Democratic Socialism' Martov.
This work attempts to provide an explanation of who Martov was, chiefly in reference to Martov's involvement in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, touching upon his role as editor of it's central organ Iskra with Lenin, alongside the position he would later assume as the 'leader of Menshevism'.
This book takes up the debates surrounding the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party at which Martov and Lenin took two distinct positions on party membership, with Martov keen to avoid alienating 'intellectuals' who were "not in a position to join a revolutionary party". While Lenin waged a battle to establish a bulwark against 'every kind of trend of opportunism' with a definition of membership that would make party members of 'all and sundry'.
Within Getzler's account the political differences between Martov and Lenin on this question are reduced to differences in temperament. The genesis of the conflict between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks is dealt with spuriously, the parting of ways between Martov and Lenin was a result of Lenin's 'contempt for and distrust of people' as a 'solitary power, a man inclined both by temperament and by conviction to think little of party morals or personal loyalites' (Getzler, 39).
Getzler rehabilitates the popular academic claim that Lenin's chief work on the nature of the party from this period, What Is to be Done, represented Lenin's dictatorial blueprint, the assumption being that the crimes of Stalinism can be traced back to Lenin's early text and its lack of faith in the workers.
Lenin takes up the question of the party's clamdestine character in relation to its size in What Is to be Done?, noting that Socialists aims could not be obtained in an organization that while supposedly was most "accessible" to the masses, was actually more accessible to the gendarmes and made revolutionaries most accessible to the police.
In actual fact as Lars T. Lih rightly notes in What Is to Be Done? in Context, this work is marked by 'profound confidence in the capacity of workers, through struggle and political education, to arrive at revolutionary conclusions'.
While Getzler's work is stunted by its poor analysis, it does highlight that the debates surrounding the nature of the party and how socialists should organise have not gone away. We should utilise this work and others like it, to draw the necessary conclusions about how we can build the most effective organisation to challenge capitalism, drawing upon the revolutionary tradition that Martov played an instrumental role within.