The Man of The Proletariat

In Konstantin Fedin’s “The Living Lenin,” he tells a tale of his witness to Lenin after having received wounds from a political assassination attempt by a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries, and in it, he tells us how Lenin was not only prominent by his work, but his stature, composure, speech, and his bodily culmination that delivers his work. He was art himself.


After being shot, Trotsky describes this tragic fate in saying that “ I have not seen a single comrade, not a single honest workman, who let his hands drop under the influence of the news of the traitorous attack on Lenin, but I have seen dozens who clenched their fists, whose hands sought their guns; I have seen hundreds and thousands of lips that vowed merciless revenge on the enemies of the proletariat. I do not need to state how the class-conscious fighters at the front reacted, when they learned that Lenin was lying there with two bullets in his body. No one can say of Lenin that his character lacks metal; but now the metal is no longer in his spirit only, but also in his body. Thereby he is even dearer to Russia’s working class” (Lenin Wounded, 1918). Trotsky particularly describes Lenin as metal, and now not only in spirit, but in body. Similarly, Fedin said that “it seemed as though molten metal had been poured into a pliant form” (The Living Lenin, 1939).


While having gone through this process, Lenin himself embodies the materialist dialectics of Marx. Containing the thesis that Lenin embodies a spirit of metal, but receiving the antithesis that he is shot with metal to prove that he is mortal, flesh, and wounded, but having recovered to the final stage, Lenin embodies the synthesis of his movement and composure being metal just as well. Lenin was able to physically convey Marxism to the masses and truly embody it’s analysis, and this is how they understood him and the science itself.


Trotsky describes at another point how “Lenin embodies in himself the Russian proletariat, a youthful class, that politically is scarcely older than Lenin himself, withal a deeply national class, for the whole past development of Russia is bound up with it, in it lies Russia’s entire future, with it lives and dies the Russian nation.” (Nationalism in Lenin, 1920). Lenin is accurately described as being the whole of the proletariat, and building off off Fedin’s interpretation, is not only the pliable form of the molten metal that has been poured into him, but the molten metal being the proletariat’s spirit and lifeblood. Seeing as Lenin was both the embodiment of Marxism and the people’s actions, he was truly the character to fully embody the dominant driving forces of the revolution.


Lenin was of course the icon of the revolution, and maintaining the revolution’s fire was vital. The creation of multiple state bodies to promote art and life, that created paintings, poems, and much more about Lenin himself was crucial to preserving the revolution and constantly reminding everybody about who, and consequently what, had given them something more worth living for. However, while Fedin’s piece suggests that a critical reading may imply that he is proposing an alternative leadership to Stalin, and while I cite Trotsky for historical purposes, I do not believe that the leadership is either of them. The leadership is that of Lenin and Lenin’s alone. Lenin’s crucial error was that while he was surrounded by many great Bolsheviks, he was unsure as to who was suited to take his position. While many Trotsykists cite that Lenin said Trotsky is the most capable man of the party, we know that this is not true, for Trotsky had given up the battle to Stalin and voted for him to become general secretary, only to fight after he had already accepted defeat.


Many under the command of the state and Stalin tried to make him become the man of the proletariat just as Lenin was, but had not gone through the forging of character, knowledge, and humility that Lenin did. While Trotsky also realized this, he asked “How shall we continue? With the lamp of Leninism in our hands. Shall we find the way?” and goes on to state that “With the collective mind, with the collective will of the party we shall find it!” (Lenin Dead, 1924). Today, we must brush the dead-end, sectarian tradition of Trotskyism away, alongside the warpings, weaknesses, and failures of Stalin’s Marxist-Leninism. Today, we must make a return to orthodoxy and renew Marxism for our age, with it as our analysis, and the working class’ will, spirit, and action enjoined in one, just as Lenin did through himself.




The Living Lenin, Konstantin Fedin (1939)

Lenin Wounded, Leon Trotsky (1920)

Nationalism in Lenin, Leon Trotsky (1920)

Lenin Dead, Leon Trotsky (1924)
Feature Image source:


10 thoughts on “The Man of The Proletariat

  1. But what (whose?) orthodoxy? Even Marx’s thinking evolved over his lifetime. FWIW, I think Marxism’s ongoing resonance has more to do with its adaptability to changing and emerging contexts than with an allegiance to any particular “orthodox” view. Every Marxist position is elaborated in a specific set of historical circumstances — as those circumstances change, so must the analysis.
    But that’s not what you wrote about! Thanks for this thoughtful response to Fedin, who offers an interesting variation on the well-established tradition of Lenin hagiography. This seems like a piece that proposes an ideal model and example of leadership — one that can’t possible exist IRL – which is nearly always the case in terms of how societies imagine political leadership.
    The succession crisis remains intriguing, even after all these years.


    1. In my phrasing of “return to orthodoxy,” to which I probably should’ve explained, I’m talking about the orthodoxy of Marxism that was established by Social-Democracy out of the Second International the the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) belonged to, and more specifically the Erfurt Program by Kautsky of the SPD that was so influential of Social-Democracy. While I’m sure you’ve gone over this in your studies and know the history, I want to write this to contextualize Lenin, the Bolsheviks, the RSDLP that they were a faction of, and Russia itself within the international Social-Democratic movement for the other students who asked as well. Kautsky, who famously drafted and published this program, was admired by Lenin so much in the early years, and within Lenin’s “The Urgent Tasks of our Movement,” a piece that he wrote in 1899 for a newspaper but was unpublished until after his death by the USSR’s Marxism-Leninism institute, he claims that “Social-Democracy is the combination of the working-class movement and socialism. Its task is not to serve the working-class movement passively at each of its separate stages, but to represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to point out to this movement its ultimate aim and its political tasks, and to safeguard its political and ideological independence. Isolated from Social-Democracy, the working-class movement becomes petty and inevitably be comes bourgeois. In waging only the economic struggle, the working class loses its political independence; it becomes the tail of other parties and betrays the great principle: “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.’ ” Lenin also conveyed within this document that the Erfurt program was the best material conveyance of the communist manifesto put into practice.

      I believe that despite Lenin and the Bolshevik’s break from Social-Democracy to “Communism,” the movement, not the belief that we should obtain it because Social-Democracy believed this too, was an unnecessary distinction. While Lenin had been enamored by Kautsky, Kautsky and the rest of the parties behind the Social-Democratic movement had betrayed Social-Democracy in supporting the war, unlike the Bolsheviks and a handful of others who were against it. This is what made Kautsky “the renegade Marxist” that Lenin so-often addressed him by, post-betrayal. Lenin at heart, despite Kautsky and the many social-democratic party betrayals of the movement, was still an erfurtian. Lenin still believed in this merger strategy of the Marxist movement and worker movement to obtain revolution and fight for socialism.

      Within the German SPD prior to Kautsky becoming a renegade, there was the revisionism debates that established the Bernsteinian wing of Social-Democracy, the opportunists that were behind Eduard Bernstein’s beliefs of putting the movement over everything, even before defined socialism, and the Kautskyists wing of Social-Democracy, the revolutionaries.

      I believe that it was unwise again for Lenin to have made this break, and that Social-Democracy should’ve been fought for more ardently, with refusal to leave the movement and a commitment to reforming it. Instead, Lenin resorted to his defeatist mindset of liquidationism and that the Social-Democrats must simply be cleansed of, which was his answer as opposed to reformation. This, however, proved to be fatal in what could have had Russia become leaders of the Second International. Instead, after Kautsky and others’ betrayal, many revolutionary Social-Democrats, including both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks of the RSDLP, held the ZImmerwald conference a few years before the Russian Revolution. This conference eventually became the groundwork for what would become the Third International that the Russian Communist party would be the head of. Lenin, like what Kautsky had done to Bernstein, should have contested the fight within Social-Democracy, and establish an internationalist wing, as opposed to Kautsky’s imperialist wing. While this was essentially what the split over social-democracy was, the fracture was unfruitful in my opinion.

      However, when I mention this return to orthodoxy, it’s the simple task of the merger of the Marxist movement and the workers movement, based around a strategy and program of reforms to make upon the capitalist state to enable revolution. While I agree with your comment that Marxism’s ongoing resonance has more to do with it’s adaptability to changing and emerging contexts, rather than an an allegiance to a particular orthodoxy, I would say that this doesn’t hold true, given the hundreds of sects that were birthed from this split in Social-Democracy and Communism’s establishment. After the Communist movement was established, there was the Sino-Soviet split, and many battles contested between Maoists and Marxist-Leninists over whether the peasantry or the proletariat were the vehicle for social transformation. Maoism also holds the unorthodox view that protracted people’s war is what will win us socialism, despite being entirely unapplicable to modern liberal democracies like America, yet many Maoists still hold this line. Stalin’s Marxist-Leninism has also experienced a warping and distortion, where many of them masquerade as Marxists, but in essence are third-worldists, believing that only people of the third-world can fight for socialism, and proletarian of the global north cannot due to their national interest coming first. Trotskyism also has an idealized view of worker mobilization, and a tendency, just as all the previous aforementioned do, of rejecting participating within bourgeois parliaments. The former of the two both tend to reject the proletariat as their vehicle, and the former embraces a fatalist attempt of ultraleftism, practicing the very same “left-wing communism” that Lenin proscribed as an infantile disorder, proving that he still believed in the Social-Democratic strategy of parliamentary participation as well. However, the Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyists that still aren’t off the rails and practice mass movement politics still believe the social-democratic strategy as well.

      When I mention this return to orthodoxy today, I believe that Democratic Socialism should be fought for to be the 21st (and 22nd) century’s Social-Democracy, that is internationalist, anti-imperialist, and does not practice the same mistakes as before. Our return to orthodoxy should call for the same bourgeois democratic revolution that enabled revolution in Russia, such as the Bolsheviks fighting for shorter workdays/weeks, freedom of press, and releasing the grip of autocracy to enable revolution. In America, we didn’t experience this fight, and the American revolution was simply an institution of a national Bourgeoisie in this land. Our bourgeois democratic revolution should call for the abolition of senate with a replacement of a democratic, proportional representation parliament to allow for a system the two parties of capital can be crushed, an abolition of the electoral college, an abolition of ICE, that is not only inhumane, be prevents immigrant worker organization, and fight against anti-worker laws, like against Janus, Taft-Harley, against Right-To-Work states, and fight to expand what collective bargaining definition covers for our labor unions.

      Just as the Bolsheviks followed their strategy in 1905 of Social-Democracy, we too must return to this orthodoxy that contained the centrality of the proletariat and the reform upon the capitalist state.


      1. Ok. This makes a little more sense now. But I think holding up Kautsky / the Erfurt Program, etc. as “orthodox” confuses more than it clarifies. Why not just say “return to the vision of the Erfurt Program? (Because “orthodox” implies “correct” / right doing, etc….and one of the most important things about the marxist tradition IMO is its diversity and heterogeneity. “Orthodoxy” has been used as a club to discredit and marginalize people who were basically on the same page, but just had a different perspective on tactics or how to move the cause forward.
        Which brings me to Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who ditched whatever enthusiasm they had for the SPD (and they rejected Revisionism from the start — which reminds me, I think maybe there was some confusion about what we meant by Revisionism when we were talking today…so we can clarify that later. Definitely not typing all that). But back to Lenin — the concept of the vanguard party staffed by full-time revolutionaries marked a dramatic break from western traditions of Social democracy which had trade union movements closely allied with the development of political parties. Bolshevism was a unique response to circumstances in the Russian empire — that was Lenin’s “orthodoxy.” Again, there are nearly as many flavor of marxism as there are marxists, and even Marx’s marxism evolved over his lifetime. So I think a term like “orthodoxy” confuses more than it clarifies.


    1. Hey Alexander! I’m glad you liked how I talked about the vote for Stalin to win. I was worried I was gonna go too in depth with Lenin’s final testaments and Trotsky’s struggle, but I think if you’re more interested in it, you should go over those!


  2. I too did not realize how Stalin got the position, your explanation helped to clear that up very well. In the last part of your post, I found myself thinking exactly what Dr. Nelson was thinking, when she asked the question “who’s orthodoxy”? With such a flowing sort of ideology, I understand what you mean by renewing Marxism today, but in such a manner that adapts itself to the times.


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