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Lenin’s Views on Relationship between Politics and Economics

September 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

In his article ”Once again on trade unions, the current situation and the mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin”, Lenin makes a formulation on the relationship between politics and economics. He says: ”Politics must take precedence over economics. To argue otherwise is to forget the ABC of Marxism” (”Selected Works of Lenin”, Vol 4, p 441).
In a previous period, particularly in the 10 years of turmoil, this statement of Lenin’s was always being quoted by some people in a one-sided manner, and was used as the theoretical basis for dealing with the relationship between politics and economics. In their eyes, a Marxist-Leninist must give priority to politics at any time, any place and under any circumstances. This is absolutely a misinterpretation resulting from garbled quotations.

What does Lenin mean by this statement? It was when criticizing Trotsky and Bukharin’s mistakes in dealing with trade unions in early 1921 that Lenin said ”Politics must take precedence over economics.” In those days, the Soviet regime had just smashed the armed intervention by imperialists, and ushered in the new period of economic rehabilitation. Under these cricumstances, Trotsky maintained that trade unions should take the place of the state’s economic management organs. In refuting Trotsky’s argument, Lenin pointed out: Trade unions have an extremely important role to play at every step of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but they are not a state organization, rather a school of administration, a school of communism. He said: ”A wrong attitude towards trade unions will ruin Soviet power and topple the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

When disputing over the role and tasks of the trade unions, Trotsky said that he took an economic approach and Bukharin said that the economic approach was as important as the political approach. It was precisely in order to answer these views that Lenin said: ”Politics must take precedence over economics.” ”Without a correct political approach to the matter a given class will be unable to stay on top, and, consequently, also unable to solve its production problem.”
Though Lenin stressed on the above-mentioned occasion that politics must take precedence over other things, he did not treat this as a universally applicable formula for handling the relationship between politics and economics. Lenin once said: ”It is necessary to have less politics and more economics.” He was always opposed to politics filled with empty talk, and the tendency to study politics exclusively at the neglect of economic work. At the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets, he said: ”We have, no doubt, learnt politics; here we stand as firm as a rock. But things are bad as far as economic matters are concerned. Henceforth, less politics will be the best politics. Bring more engineers and agronomists to the fore, learn from them, keep an eye on their work, and turn our congresses and conferences not into propaganda meetings but into bodies that will verify our economic achievements, bodies in which we can really learn the business of economic development” (”Collected Works of Lenin” Vol 31, P 446).

During this dispute, Trotsky once retorted that Lenin had said at the Eighth Congress of Soviets that we should have less politics and more economics, but when dealing with the problem of the trade unions Lenin had given priority to politics. To this, Lenin answered seriously: ”I have always said, and will continue to say, that we need more economics and less politics. But if we are to have this we must clearly be rid of political dangers and political mistakes.” Lenin pointed out that it was precisely the political mistakes caused by Trotsky and his sort that distracted the Party’s attention from economic tasks and production work, and that made the Party waste time on correcting these mistakes and objecting to the incorrect approach to the trade union movement. Here, it is not difficult to realize that by saying politics must take precedence over economics, Lenin meant that it is only after taking over political power and consolidating this power that the proletariat can go in for socialist economic development. Thus, it is absolutely wrong to apply this statement indiscriminately.

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