The shadow and the substance of Lenin after 150 years

Marshall, A. (2020) The shadow and the substance of Lenin after 150 years. Mir Rossii, 29(4), pp. 134-149. (doi: 10.17323/1811-038X-2020-29-4-134-149)

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150 years since Lenin’s birth marks an anniversary that raises questions around Lenin’s meaning today and his ultimate historical legacy. By distinguishing both Lenin the man, and the cult of commemoration that for 60 years surrounded him, from the core method behind Lenin’s own thought, this article addresses the question of if and why Lenin still matters in Europe today. It does so by arguing for an Ilyenkovian reading of Lenin’s main ideas and contributions. The current condition of European politics is, to a significant degree, still a by-product of the rejection of ‘Leninism’ after 1989, Leninism having evolved after 1924 into a sociological construct designed predominantly to facilitate the accelerated industrialization of backward societies. The rejection of Leninism as an alternate form of modernity led, via a consciously post-modern moment in central and eastern Europe, to the substitution of ‘memory politics’, fostering a more openly competitive political culture focused around race, identity, religious faith, and often radical ethnic nationalism. The dangers of such an outcome were foreshadowed in the concerns of the Soviet philosopher Evald Ilyenkov, who sought in the 1960s and 1970s to counterbalance the rise of neopositivist thinking in his era by revisiting the dialectics of the ideal first explored by Marx and Lenin. Whilst Ilyenkov saw mechanistic materialism as the greater latent danger in his own day, he also opposed the subjective idealism of ‘socialism with a human face’, and the idealist currents that arose in response to neopositivist rhetoric in Soviet social life. He found in Lenin an intellectual ally of his own belief that the true definition of the ideal emerges via the collaborative collective activity of society as a whole in a particular historical moment, rather than via embracing one or other of these two extremes. Through Ilyenkov, Lenin continues to speak to our own times.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Marshall, Dr Alexander
Authors: Marshall, A.
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Mir Rossii
Publisher:State University - Higher School of Economics, Moscow
ISSN (Online):1811-0398
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 HSE
First Published:First published in Mir Rossii 29(4): 134-149
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the Publisher

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