Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a strong supporter and advocate of the Marxist theory of government, was elected as head of the Soviet government from 1917 to 1922 after the overthrow of the last czar. He left public service because of his worsening health conditions. Knowing that his poor condition might turn for the worse but loathe leaving a government he worked so hard to establish, Lenin wrote a series of letters addressed to the Soviet Congress to serve us a guiding principle in promoting the true essence of communism and the proletarian class struggle. He drafted what are now know as Lenins Last Testament to ease his mind and to ensure that his political goals will be continued in order to preserve the Soviet Republic.
The documents were written between December 1922 and January 1923, the time when The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was in its infancy stage, when Joseph Stalin was head of the Communist Party’s Central Committee; a time when Russians were recruiting nations to join the USSR.
As a caring but ailing parent, Lenin was compelled to leave behind a guide so as to prevent the coalition from collapsing. Lenins Last Testament can be considered his outline for the kind of government he’d like to see the Soviet Union would become if he were alive and able. He was looking ahead to the future of the nation.
As a whole, Lenin’s letters focused on the importance of implementing major changes in the Soviet government and how potential disasters could happen if the programs he outlined were ignored. Lenins Last Testament is segregated into three parts: his letter to the Congress, defining the legislative functions of the State Planning Commission, and about the problem of nationalities.
The letters were only published in 1956 after Joseph Stalin’s death. Understandably, the delay in publishing Lenin’s thoughts were probably due to the fact that he provided an insightful critique on Stalin and the kind of leader he would become.
Letter to the Congress
Vladimir Lenin’s Letter to the Congress is comprised of five parts, written on separate days, presumably during those times that his health would permit him to dictate his thoughts to his another person.
In his first letter, Lenin did not waste time on preliminaries, but was to the point in urging Congress to make the necessary but difficult steps in the country’s political structure. Being one of the current government’s leaders, he felt it his duty to provide a platform for the future of the Soviet people aimed at correcting the flaws and violations that some of its current leaders were committing, with or without conscious thought.
Lenin went on to elaborate on his mandate. The first thing he wanted changed was the number of people serving in the Communist Party’s Central Committee. He proposed to increase the number to up to a hundred, with 400-500 assistants who should be from the lower stratum of society, particularly from the Workers and Peasants Inspection, which was established as a socialist economic planning apparatus.
Lenin explained that this must be done to uplift the Central Committee’s prestige, while preventing certain factions within the group to obtain political advantage. By this, Lenin implied that he did not want Stalin to become the Party’s most powerful politician. Lenin believed that making the Committee membership bigger will aid the government in executing its administrative functions more efficiently.
To avoid future conflicts and promote stability of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Lenin emphasized that the more people are on board the Central Committee, the less concentrated the powers will be. He wanted the additional members to come from the working class. He believed that by involving the ordinary citizens in government matters, it would promote unity particularly in the more hostile nations. Lenin elaborated more on this ideology in his letter addressing the question of autonomy, the part where he unabashedly criticized Stalin’s action.
Lenin was aware, and he pointed this fact to Congress, that the political party was comprised of two opposing quarters. If these two groups won’t be able to reach a common ground, this would cause a split in the Communist Party, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was loathed to imagine how his life-long goal of uniting the states would be ruined as a direct result of the working class being unrepresented in the Central Committee.
Recognizing the time and effort needed to improve a system so flawed, Lenin encouraged Congress to have as working-class members those workers and peasants who are in no position to exploit. Lenin knew that installing traditional politicians wouldn’t bring about the changes he so wanted to happen for his country. Lenin, being a well-educated person, did not forget including proper training and continuing education for the Central Committee members in his program. His primary concern of promoting stability in the Communist Part as a means of keeping the USSR strong, Lenin talked about his views regarding Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, two Committee members engaged in a power struggle.
Speaking first of Stalin, Lenin was aware that as Secretary-General, he held power in his hands. Lenin expressed doubt at how prudent Stalin would be in using that authority. Without saying it, Lenin implied that Stalin had the capacity to indulge in abusive behavior and even power tripping just because he was in a position to do so — a tendency that was highlighted in the invasion of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. As for Leon Trotsky, Lenin saw his excessive self-confidence and tendency to be bureaucratic as a downside to his being the most capable person in the Central Committee. Lenin’s criticism of Trotsky was obviously tempered to make him look a better choice over Stalin.
Seeing that both Stalin and Trotsky were strong, capable and powerful, Lenin hoped to avoid a political contest that would inevitably lead to the Communist Party’s split. Lenin showed foresightedness in this remark as later in the 1920s, Trotsky staged a struggle against Stalin, which failed, leading to his expulsion from the Party and deportation from the Soviet Union. Without Leon Trotsky, Stalin had total control.
Writing about the younger members of the Central Committee, Lenin took special notice on Nikolai Bukharin and Georgy Leonidovich Pyatakov, calling them the most outstanding among the youngest ones. As expected, Lenin pointed some flaws against these two notables. Of Bukharin, he cited his tendencies to be more scholastic rather than an active communist, a trait Lenin obviously wasn’t in favor of. I think his wariness against Bukharin was his interest in non-Marxist economic theories that are different from that of Lenin’s. By talking about Bukharin, Lenin made sure Congress wouldn’t forget his non-Communist tendencies. As for Pyatakov, Lenin acknowledged his outstanding ability and will, but thought him too focused on administrative work to be truly useful in serious political debacles. In actuality, Lenin was critical of Pyatakov’s opinion on the revolutionary tactics and theory that were often contradictory to that of the Central Committee’s. But Lenin also said that these young party members have still room to improve their knowledge and engage more actively in Party matters. This sounds more like a warning to me.
A month after writing his thoughts on Stalin as a politician, Lenin wrote again disparaging Stalin’s character. This was probably caused by an unfavorable interview that happened between the two leaders, leading to Lenin’s branding Stalin as rude. Lenin suggested removing Stalin from his post as Secretary-General on grounds of his rudeness and intolerance. He went on to enumerate desirable traits for an ideal head, which included loyalty, politeness, tolerance, consideration, and stability, among others — implying that Stalin didn’t have them.
Granting Legislative Functions to the State Planning Commission
Lenin’s agenda regarding the State Planning Commission was outlined in a three-part document. In these letters the Soviet leader emphasized how the administrative side of governing should be complemented by a strong executive capabilities.
The State Planning Commission, commonly known as Gosplan, was in charge of economic planning in the Soviet Union, established on Feb. 22, 1921. Initially, the commission had an advisory role. Gleb Krzhizhanovsky was its first head, with Georgy Pyatakov as his deputy. This was the time Vladimir Lenin was still in active service. Lenin described Krzhizhanovsky as a person with a clear grasp of the scientific and technical side of government, I take this to mean that he was considered a Communist at heart who would not hesitate to execute the demands necessary in his position. On the other hand, Pyatakov was clearly an administrator focused on learning, which Lenin thought might complement Krzhizhanovsky’s leadership qualities.
This part of Lenins Last Testament talked about giving the Commission legislative powers, as suggested by Leon Trotsky, particularly in the economic and social development arena. Lenin admitted that when he heard of this suggestion from Trotsky, he thought it was not an attractive idea. But on retrospect, he saw the soundness of that thought. At this point, it would become evident how Lenin seemed to regard Trotsky more favorably compared to Stalin.
I believe this suggestion was Lenin’s way of making sure Stalin’s power won’t remain unfettered. By giving the Commission legislative powers independent from the Central Committee, Stalin won’t have control of the economic future of the country. Lenin further proposed that as an independent body, the Commission’s decisions can’t be subject to ordinary reversal. If there should be a need to reverse a plan, it would have to be heard by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee with specific deadlines for the reconsiderations.
What Lenin articulated about the restructuring of the State Planning Commission was l suggested to him by Trotsky, implying a closer alliance between these two politicians. By giving credit to Trotsky in this letter, Lenin was giving him political backing that he’d possibly need once a standoff with Stalin would become inevitable. Lenin was evidently showing Congress that Trotsky had his support.
As for the leadership of the Commission, Lenin suggested that it should be a person who had both of Gleb Krzhizhanovsky’s and Georgy Pyatakov’s outstanding characteristics as leaders. Lenin envisioned a person with education and a Marxist point of view. More importantly, Lenin wanted someone who would be able to inspire and motivate other men to provide outstanding service to the country. Lenin was probably describing himself here.
Autonomisation or the Question of Nationalities
Autonomisation is the concept of uniting the Soviet Republics through their entry into the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic on the principle of autonomy. Vladimir Lenin proposed voluntary union of all the Soviet Republics, including the R.S.F.S.R., in a new state entity, the Union of Soviet Republics, based on complete equality.
In the last part of Lenin’s Last Testament, he focused on the question of autonomy and equality for the smaller nations of the Republic. He briefly explained how the matter had not been more promptly addressed due to his illness.
For most of the first two parts of the letters, Lenin admonished and criticized Joseph Stalin and Grigory Konstantinovich Ordzhonikidze’s manner of invasion of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. Lenin went on to relate how he disapproved of the violent acts committed by Orjonikidze in dealing with the citizens of Georgia.
In this incident, Lenin once again criticized Stalin and called him a Russian chauvinist who violated the primary base of proletarian class solidarity by acting the big Russian bully. He also accused Lenin of being spiteful — a trait considered basest in politics. Lenin’s message could hardly be mistaken: he did not think Stalin was a good Communist leader.
With regards to Ordzhonikidze’s manhandling in Georgia, Lenin scolded him in the letter, saying that he should have exercised greater restraint, as expected of a Russian leader and man of power and influence.
Although Lenin agreed to the invasion, he wanted the implementation done with extreme caution, not with violence. Lenin also criticized the light-hearted reporting of Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, founder of Bolshevik’s secret police, regarding the atrocities committed by Ordzhonikidze in Georgia. The Soviet leader emphasized that the violence employed was uncalled for no matter how much provocation and insult the Bolsheviks received.
Lenin then went on to define the nationalism of an oppressor and that of the oppressed people. He called the Russians’ attention to their tendencies to commit violence and throw insults without being aware of them, practices that he believed were taken for granted due to their status as the stronger and bigger nation. Lenin advised his followers that as an oppressor they should be well versed with the ideals of a proletarian internationalism, by encouraging solidarity among the working class as a deterrent against wars, dissatisfaction, and secession. In his proletarian concept, Lenin viewed the former rulers of the Soviet Republic as the ruling class, and the Communist as the internationalist.
To prevent the return of the ruling class, Lenin advocated that the Bolsheviks must encourage through goodwill, not force, other nations to join them in their struggle. This idea ties down with what Lenin had been suggesting in his letter to Congress of assimilating more people from the working class to the Central Committee, as a means of promoting solidarity among all the member nations of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
In this regard, Lenin was greatly critical of Stalin’s actions. By acting the bully to the non-Russian nationals, Stalin forgot the very important proletarian attitude of caution, thoughtfulness and a readiness to compromise with minor nations, a mistake that could greatly undermine the Communist Party. Lenin showed his scorn for the two allies: Stalin and Ordzhonikidze.
To avoid repeating the mistake in the Georgian incident, Lenin suggested four measures that the Part must undertake. The first two measures talked about strengthening and maintaining of the socialist republics. The third one was about the imposition of a punishment on Orjonikidze for the atrocities he did in the Georgia, while laying the political responsibility on Stalin and Dzerzhinksy. The last measure was about the use of the national language in the non-Russian nations. Lenin underscored the necessity of taking special care to monitor Russian abuses in the oppressed nations, a measure that requires sincerity from the part of those who will implement them. The Soviet leader may be sick, but he wasn’t blind to the excesses that an invading nation is likely to commit.
Lenin ended his letter by reminding everyone that they should not destroy their prestige and example to their neighbors in the Asia by donning imperialist attitudes towards the non-Russian nationals. He was rallying people to practice what they preached.
From these letters, Lenin, immortalized what his ideologies and plans were for the Soviet Union. Despite the harshness involved during his leadership of the Soviet Union, Lenin was clearly a true Communist at heart who valued the contributions of every individual for the betterment of the whole state. He wanted economic progress and industrialization for his country. He wasn’t a leader who simply wanted power and wealth. During the days when he knew that he wasn’t going to live for long, he wanted the essence of the revolution to be continued by providing a clear platform that did not include Stalin. Lenin truly believed an wanted a system that won’t oppress and exploit those in the lower stratum of society, an ideology that he did not think Stalin valued and honored. Lenin did not forget that it was the peasant class who made the October Revolution in 1917 successful.
Lenin’s criticisms of Stalin probably sprang from what the former perceived in the latter. Like most great leaders, Lenin possessed an intuitiveness that led him to correctly guess Stalin’s true nature and tendencies.
By openly criticizing Stalin in his letters, Lenin made it impossible for his suggestions to be heard and followed as evidenced by their very late publication. If Lenin remained longer in power, the Soviet Union would probably still be standing, perhaps like China but more progressive and powerful. More importantly, the Russian masses wouldn’t have experienced hard and bitter lives. While Lenin’s plans were great, they required a man who could match Stalin’s will and strength. Sadly, it was only Lenin himself who would have made those plans feasible while Stalin was around.
The Last Testament was a great plan written by a great person. However, Lenin had put too much trust on his ability to lead and direct people that he failed to consider if his mandates will still be followed if he was dead already. If he wanted Leon Trotsky to seriously have a fighting chance against Joseph Stalin, he should have made sure of that while he was still alive. A great addition to his letters would be a lengthy proposal for the betterment of the working class. True that Lenin emphasized the need to include working class members in the Central Committee, but there should have been more clear-cut policies and programs described instead of a lot of generalizations.