V.I. Lenin: Seeking a Path Up the Unexplored Mountain

This is from Lenin's Notes of a Publicist. No direct analogy is implied. This is posted to give a sense of the complexity of real events, and the non-linear, wavelike nature of real-world events and real political advances.

by V.I. Lenin

Let us picture to ourselves a man ascending a very high, steep and hitherto unexplored mountain.

Let us assume that he has overcome unprecedented difficulties and dangers and has succeeded in reaching a much higher point than any of his predecessors, but still has not reached the summit.

He finds himself in a position where it is not only difficult and dangerous to proceed in the direction and along the path he has chosen, but positively impossible. He is forced to turn back, descend, seek another path, longer, perhaps, but one that will enable him to reach the summit. The descent from the height that no one before him has reached proves, perhaps, to be more dangerous and difficult for our imaginary traveler than the ascent—it is easier to slip; it is not so easy to choose a foothold; there is not that exhilaration that one feels in going upwards, straight to the goal, etc. One has to tie a rope round oneself, spend hours with all alpenstock to cut footholds or a projection to which the rope could be tied firmly; one has to move at a snail’s pace, and move downwards, descend, away from the goal; and one does not know where this extremely dangerous and painful descent will end, or whether there is a fairly safe detour by which one can ascend more boldly, more quickly and more directly to the summit.

It would hardly be natural to suppose that a man who had climbed to such an unprecedented height but found himself in such a position did not have his moments of despondency. In all probability these moments would be more numerous, more frequent and harder to bear if he heard the voices of those below, who, through a telescope and from a safe distance, are watching his dangerous descent, which cannot even be described as what the Smena Vekh people call “ascending with the brakes on"; brakes presuppose a well designed and tested vehicle, a well-prepared road and previously tested appliances. In this case, however, there is no vehicle, no road, absolutely nothing that had been tested beforehand.

The voices from below ring with malicious joy. They do not conceal it; they chuckle gleefully and shout: “He’ll fall in a minute! Serve him right, the lunatic!” Others try to conceal their malicious glee and behave mostly like Judas Golovlyov. They moan and raise their eyes to heaven in sorrow, as if to say:

“It grieves us sorely to see our fears justified! But did not we, who have spent all our lives working out a judicious plan for scaling this mountain, demand that the ascent be postponed until our plan was complete? And if we so vehemently protested against taking this path, which this lunatic is now abandoning (look, look, he has turned back! He is descending! A single step is taking him hours of preparation! And yet we were roundly abused when time and again we demanded moderation and caution!), if we so fervently censured this lunatic and warned everybody against imitating and helping him, we did so entirely because of our devotion to the great plan to scale this mountain, and in order to prevent this great plan from being generally discredited!”

Happily, in the circumstances we have described, our imaginary traveller cannot hear the voices of these people who are “true friends” of the idea of ascent; if he did, they would probably nauseate him. And nausea, it is said, does not help one to keep a clear head and a firm step, particularly at high altitudes.


People in this conversation

  • Guest - eric ribellarsi

    This is awesome.

  • Guest - tony

    stalin and stalinism was a betrayal of everything in marxism. Trotsky is the genuine successor to Lenin. Even the Nepali Maoist leader Dr.Baburam Bhattarai said that 'trotskyism is more useful than stalinism in our time'.

    It is clear that there cannot be revolution in one country, and that revolution must be international.

    I think the Kasama project is a good one, but you have not seriously considered Trotsky because you still hold on to some kind of unmarxist and undialectical stageist stalinist vision of socialism in one country and have not related to the genuine marxist tradition of socialism from below, the tradition of Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky.

    why doesn't the kasama project have a discussion on the trotsky's theory of permanent revolution? It is obvious to see from the recent general strike, the Nepali Maoists are going in a more revolutionary, a more trotskyist direction. it is time for all revolutionaries who have come from various stalinist and 3rd worldist traditions to seriously consider Trotsky, and make a clean break with all forms of stalinism.

    check this out:


  • Guest - tony

    sorry wrong link above:

    this one from a consistent and revolutionary perspective on the Nepali conflict, a marxist analysis of the Peoples war in Nepal.


    anyone who reads Lenin should also read this by Stalinism and Bolshevism by Trotsky, so they can tell the difference between genuine revolutionary socialism and stalinism and 3rd world nationalism.


  • Guest - Alastair Reith

    Hi Tony. How's David North's printing shop going? I bet keeping it union free must make the production go nice and smooth.

  • Guest - David_D

    Oh boy... this old Trotsky vs. Stalin thing again. Admittedly, I myself do think Stalin made great contributions to the communist movement, along with committing very serious errors, while Trotsky made some good contributions, but, for various reasons, played a negative role by failing to concretely defend the Soviet Union against imperialist attacks. Trotsky was "left in for, right in essence." Stalin was guilty of nationalism, failing to understand that socialism differs little from capitalism and that class continues, etc.

    Why should a nominally Marxist group use union labor? I would think they'd use their own cadre or other volunteers? I was reading the "national convention documents" of the old "Socialist Labor Party," and was amazed that each year, they complained about all their tremendous expenses, and then quickly realized that if they simply worked harder for cheaper, they'd have no problem at all. Revolutionary cadre aren't steel workers employed by the capitalists.

  • <blockquote>Trotsky is the genuine successor to Lenin.</blockquote>

    Does that work like apostolic succession?

  • Guest - David_D

    Apostolic lol... I am beginning to see the humor is such constructions as "successor." I always hated the cynicism of those who opposed "dogmatic language," but there are two sides to the story. Yes, there are real successors who uphold and develop the work or predecessors, but we can't get too metaphysical about this or engage in too much "culture of appreciation."

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    If I am not mistaken, Slavoj Zizek has been making this Lenin text a starting point for a number of his recent essays...emphasizing the need to "beging from the beginning."

    It might be helpful to add something more to the intro to this Lenin text to help to contextualize IT historically as well.

  • Guest - TOR

    What on earth does Trotsky have to do with this post. I am a Trotskyist myself, but think that throwing around Trotsky's name just for the heck of it in unrelated posts or even in posts regarding the strategy in Nepal is a little silly, especially when parties like the UCPN(M) already see themselves as being in the lineage of Lenin and when you could basically make an argument for many of the elements of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution (eg. the need for the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolutionary movement despite it being a peasant country, the need for the workers to take power to fully achieve the bourgeois-democratic tasks and reforms in an underdeveloped country) just by utilizing Lenin's writings and actions as examples.

    Anyway, this is a good little piece of writing by Lenin, though it could be misused to support an opportunist or revisionist line.

  • Radical Eyes writes:
    <blockquote>"It might be helpful to add something more to the intro to this Lenin text to help to contextualize IT historically as well."</blockquote>

    For context: It is written in 1922, two years after the new revolutionary government had defeated Tsarist armies in civil war. Faced with economic chaos and growing popular discontent, Lenin sought to reconsolidate society and economic life by opening agriculture to capitalist markets and some Soviet industries to foreign exploitation. These seemingly conservative moves by Russia's most radical party outraged some observers.

  • Guest - David_D

    "These seemingly conservative moves by Russia’s most radical party outraged some observers."

    I think that we should definitely bear in mind that radical is not synonymous with revolutionary. The world revolutionary process is a protracted one, and the there is a dialectical relationship between advance and consolidation in the service of furthering that process. We should not advocate "revolutionary suicide" or any sort of "left" adventurism, but keep sober about progressive possibilities, and always seek to forge the broadest front possible while maintaining core principles.

    There's nothing wrong with maintaining some capitalism in a society ruled by a communist party under certain conditions, and there's nothing wrong with foreign direct investment as well. In training communist experts, armed with class consciousness as well as technical ability, all sorts of seemingly "conservative" things can and should be done.

  • Guest - tony

    stalin amd mao were not marxists. the chinese revolution was not a workers revolution but a peasant revolution led by the petit bourgeoisie. these are the facts. the russian revolution was a workers revolution until it was hijacked by stalin and the growing bureaucracy.

    these are the facts.

    the nepali revolution is not a workers revolution and therefore it is not a marxist revolution.

    <blockquote>‘Revolutionary cadre aren’t steel workers employed by the capitalists.’</blockquote>

    then who are they? radical intellectuals supporting a ‘revolution’ on the other side of the world?

  • Guest - Carl Davidson

    I'm of the opinion that the more important debate was Stalin vs. Lenin-Bukharin, not Trotsky vs Stalin.

  • Guest - Radical-Eyes

    Tony, please.

    You are entitled to express and to argue for your political views, of course. (Even if this particular thread seems like an odd place to raise the Trotsky-Stalin struggle.) But you do your beliefs no service by callinig them "facts."

    "1+2=3" is a fact.
    "I am sitting at a keyboard typing right now" is a fact, at least at this moment.

    But statements like "the chinese revolution was not a workers revolution but a peasant revolution led by the petit bourgeoisie"
    "the nepali revolution is not a workers revolution and therefore it is not a marxist revolution" are NOT statements of fact in this sense.

    They are the kind of statements that call for support and elaboration on a variety of levels: from collecting, organizing, and synthesizing wide fields of facts, to defining and clarifying theoretical concepts, to constructing logical arguments that relate the field of facts to the field of concepts, etc.

    Without such substantiation and development the phrases you spout sound like sheer empty dogma to me.

  • Guest - bill martin

    [<strong>moderator note: </strong>Bill's comment has been posted as <a href="/http://kasamaproject.org/2010/05/10/diverted-from-lenin-to-trotsky-vs-stalin/" rel="nofollow">its own thread</a>. Let's discuss the lenin post here, and the Stalin-Trotsky issues there.]

  • Guest - land

    Kasama's pictures are an event in themselves. The wolf picture on "an amazing thing happened" article and this Lenin on the mountain picture. I think I am going to make a list of all our amzing pictures.

  • Guest - land

    I have been meaning to respond to this article. First - to Radical Eyes - Could you say more on Zizek making this Lenin essay a starting point for his recent essays.

    This article to me spoke to alot of the debate we have been having on Nepal. For instance - do we have to have 100% assurance we will always win before we "start the ascent". And why is is part of the ascent to understand that the complexity of events may mean you will have to figure out the descent. I think it is harder. You could fall down and that would be easier but if you go in a careful way you take chances you may not have a chance to see in advance.

    But the part that struck a chord was the section that said no you can't start up the mountain because you do not have your plan all in place. Plans are never all in place. That would mean everything is inevitable. Which it isn't. John Steele makes that point at the end of Where's Our Mississippi. "The road was made by walking...and fighting" And the only way is to begin, practically and theoretically both.

    I loved this article.

  • Guest - land

    I have been reading over and thinking about Kasama's Shaping the Kasama Project: Contributing to Revolution's Long March http://mikeely.files.wordpress.com/2009/06...project.pdf.pdf

    In analogy to the Lenin article
    are we going up the mountain or on our way down? I think we are going down. The going up seems to be the time of the 60's and 70's that people refer to around the creation of the mini-party.
    And possibly Revolutionary China.

    Reconception today is at such a primitive stage.
    Is climbing the mountain analagous to just grabbing onto the most appealing theory and rushing into doing it without much depth or maturity.

    The people who are watching the descent and saying "I told you so" would rather just keep to what is known and evade the new thinking around core issues.

    I would be interested in knowing how Zizuk uses it.

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