Østerberg and Leninism

PHILOSOPHY / As a contribution to a possible ideological discussion within the Socialist Electoral Association, I think the article about Lenin is not exemplary


In No. 35 of Orientering Dag Østerberg has an article he has called To Leninism. The essence of the article is to diminish Lenin's contribution to the development of Marxism. (I find the remark that "Lenin cannot at all compare to Marx as a theoretician" uninteresting. Lenin was modest enough to only consider himself a student of Marx.) At the same time, he tries to construct a contradictory relationship between Marxism and Leninism.

Østerberg launches a series of claims without documentation, which to connoisseurs of Lenin's works seem untenable, but which can mislead outsiders. As a contribution to a possible ideological discussion within the Socialist Electoral Association, I think the article is not exemplary, precisely because it lacks factual content. Leninism will be central and fundamental in such an ideological debate, i.a. because of its enormous international importance and influence. But the discussion must be based on factual arguments and the use of original sources, i.e. Lenin's own formulations.

Here are some comments on some of Østerberg's claims:

Pamphlets for imperialism

Lenin's work on imperialism "is mainly a presentation of the English liberal Hobson's theory . . ." If you study Lenin's preparatory work for his book, his Pamphlets for imperialism (approx. 750 pages) the most striking thing is the comprehensive examination of the actual material. Lenin explores monopoly capital in all its main forms (which the bourgeois-liberal Hobson does not): economics, technology, history, geography, great power politics, the national and colonial question, the labor movement, etc.

The pamphlet on imperialism is a critical elaboration and summary of this material.

Economics, technology, history, geography, great power politics, the national and colonial question, and the labor movement.

Hobson's book is just one of 148 other major works (as well as 232 articles) Lenin reviewed. That Hobson's "imperialism" – "which stands on the standpoint of bourgeois social reformism and pacifism" (Lenin) – together with Hilferding's "Financial capital" is one of the most important of the sources Lenin used, is another matter. But just as little as Marx's, Lenin's theory is only a "production" of source material. Lenin's theory of imperialism, i.a. his definition, his positioning of imperialism as the highest stage in the development of capitalism, his comprehensive treatment of its most important aspects and not least that he links its basic economic characteristic – the monopoly – directly to Marx's theory of the accumulation of capital, distinguishes Lenin's work qualitatively from Hobson's and someone else's. Against this background, Østerberg's remark that Lenin – in contrast to Marx – allegedly does not "think in a new way [...] in relation to bourgeois liberalism" is cast in a strange light.

Lenin and the State

When it comes to Lenin and the state, Østerberg almost tries to pit Marx against Lenin: The latter directs attention to the state as the main subject of politics "while with Marx it was a main point that it was a bourgeois mystification and blindness to be very concerned with the state institution". Where did Østerberg get this "main point" from? Which work?

It is true that Marx exposes the bourgeois ideology's mystification of the state, but firstly, Marx repeatedly emphasizes the enormously important role of the state as an instrument of political power for the ruling classes, and secondly, he emphasizes – in contrast to anarchism – that the working class must conquer power in the state and build their own socialist state apparatus. As for Lenin, Marx also saw the state's "essence" to be class rule. I can quickly point out The criticism of the Gotha programme.

It is clear that the state also has a number of other – non-repressive – functions (Lenin also points to this) and it is absolutely correct that Østerberg writes "that the state has undergone great changes since his (Lenin's) time". But has its essence – the real “main point” – changed, Østerberg? Will "a good state theory look completely different from Lenin's"? What do you think e.g. our comrades in Chile will say to such a claim?

Lenin's theory of cognition

And when it comes to Lenin's theory of cognition, Østerberg is very categorical: "As a theorist of knowledge, it is certain that Lenin is wrong about the relationship between the 'subject' and the 'object', and this has had particular consequences for social theory". Firstly: Which social theory? Secondly: Few have emphasized its subjective element and the importance of practice as strongly as Lenin (cf. What must be done).

And neither in the area of ​​cognitive theory can I find any contradiction between Marx and Lenin, as Østerberg tries to suggest. Let us take the big main question of philosophy and the theory of cognition: the question of the cognizability of the world and what is primary – the matter or the idea. Didn't Marx see consciousness as a "reflex of the material world"? In the negative case – as I must interpret Østerberg – what was Marx's consciousness then? Something mysterious? But does this agree with e.g. the famous sentence in Marx" afterword to the second edition of volume 1 of Capital:
"... the ideal is nothing but the material converted and translated in the human mind"? Of course, none of the classics of Marxism-Leninism have perceived the reflection of the material as a purely mechanical reflex, but still as a reflection. Isn't there, Østerberg, a clear correspondence between the above formulation of Marx and Lenin's formulations in i.a. Materialism and empiric criticism and Philosophical pamphlets? Isn't it about the same fundamental truth? It would otherwise be unnecessary to add that the Marxist-Leninist theory of cognition has an infinite number of other sides than just the thesis of the primacy of matter over consciousness. But this is the "main point" of the theory.

Yes, these are just a few short and far from complete remarks. I repeat: the next time you treat Leninism, bring documentation, Østerberg. Then we can have a fruitful debate that can promote an ideological unity on the left.

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