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Text and Context in the Argument of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done?

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Lars Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered aims to overthrow what he labels the textbook-myth of Leninism through a comprehensive reconstruction of Lenin’s relationship, both to the Kautskyite orthodoxy that dominated the international socialist movement, and more local polemics. While the resulting rereading of Lenin’s early Marxism is a powerful counter to the ‘textbook-interpretation’ of Leninism, Lih has perhaps ‘bent the stick’ too far in an attempt to prove Lenin’s orthodoxy. Importantly, he misconstrues Lenin’s critique of ‘economism’ through a too-narrow reading of ‘economism’. Lih would have been better served to recognise the importance of Lenin’s polemic as an attempt, not simply to paint his opponents on the Russian Left as ‘economists’, but, more importantly, to grasp the organic nature of reformism and thus the true scale of the difficulties involved in challenging its hegemony within the workers’ movement.

Affiliations: 1: Laurentian University, Email:


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