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Charles Van Gelderen

A Payneful Travesty

(July 1968)

From International, Vol. 1 No. 3, July 1968, p. 13.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

No figure looms over the twentieth century like Lenin. When the Churchills, de Gaulles, Kennedies of this world will have become merely shadowy figures in history books, the thoughts of Lenin will still be at work shaping the world of tomorrow.

It is a real tragedy that the two men who could have given the world a worth-while biography of the founder of the Soviet Union, Leon Trotsky and Isaac Deutscher, should both have died before they could complete their work. Certainly Robert Payne’s The Life And Death Of Lenin, first published by W.H. Allen & Co in 1964 and now re-issued as a PAN Paperback (15/–) does not meet the need for a definitive life of the leader of the October Revolution. Indeed, the picture which emerges would scarcely be recognised by those who have studied his works and his contribution to marxist theory.

One of Lenin’s most important works, The State and Revolution, in which he tried to rescue the marxist teaching on the nature of the state from the social-democratic epigones who had distorted it, is described by Payne as “so devoid of logic, a kind of utopian dream,” He pours similar scorn on Materialism and Empiro-criticism, Lenin’s major contribution to marxist philosophy, and his Imperialism. This should service as adequate evidence of Payne’s lack of fundamental understanding of marxism. In fact he tries desperately to show that Lenin was not a marxist at all but one who found his inspiration in the 19th Century revolutionary. Nechayev.

The only real perception which Payne shows is his awareness that Stalin played only a marginal role in the Bolshevik Party in the years of Lenin’s ascendancy. His Lenin is a mixture of stalinist iconology and bourgeois demonology. He recognises Lenin’s immense intellectual and moral superiority over Stalin but to him Lenin is the begetter of Stalin. No wonder the critics of the capitalist press have found nothing but praise for it.

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