After reading this article you will learn about Lenin:- 1. Short Life History of Lenin 2. Background of Lenin’s Thought 3. Political Ideas.
Short Life History of Lenin:
The family name of this world famous revolutionary and a great interpreter of the political ideas of Marx and Engels is Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov. He was born on 22 April 1870 (in old style or system of calculation it was 10 April).
Simbirsk was Ulyanov’s birth-place and it is now called Ulyanovsk. From the end of 1901 he came to be known as ‘Lenin’ because in his writings he used that pseudonym.
Vladimir’s father Ilya Nikolayevich was an educated person and held the post of school inspector. He had also direct and strong connection with Russian particularly Tsarist bureaucracy and in bureaucratic circle he was a respected person.
Ilya Nikolayevich took special care of his children’s education. Though he was very much religious-minded and imparted religion-based education upon his children he was not a bigot.
His elder brother Alexander was a student of Petersburg University and from his early-hood he was revolutionary in his attitude and activities. This mentality led him to be a member of a terrorist and secret organization popularly known as Narodnaya Volya. This organisation was involved in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, and when Alexander’s involvement was discovered he was hanged.
Lenin believed that his brother Alexander was innocent and when he was hanged for no fault of his own Lenin became furious and decided to take revenge. But Lenin’s mother did not approve his decision and she wanted to divert the attention of Lenin. His mother took serious efforts to involve him in studies and because of her efforts Lenin was allowed to be a student of St. Petersburg University and by 1891 he became a law-graduate.
Lenin’s membership of the university and mother’s efforts failed to bring about a break on his connection with the secret organizations, particularly Narodnaya Volya. He was determined to end the autocratic rule of the Tsar and in order to achieve that ambitious objective he began to study the various revolutionary literature. By 1890 Lenin came in close contact with the works of Marx and Plekhanov.
Before Lenin Plekhanov was a great Marxist and he published a number of booklets and articles explaining and interpreting the thoughts of Marx and Engels. Plekhanov’s writings impressed Lenin and he began to study seriously the works of Marx.
His attachment with revolutionary philosophy in general and Marxian philosophy in particular began to increase in astronomical proportion and before the end of the 19th century his name appeared to be a very known figure among the socialist circles.
The secret police and organization of the Tsar intensified their surveillance over Lenin and he was not permitted in the academic affairs of St. Petersburg University. This, however, could not deter Lenin. With added enthusiasm he carried on his revolutionary activities.
Background of Lenin’s Thought:
In his letter to Weydemeyer on 5 March 1852 Marx wrote “And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me the bourgeois historians have described the historical development of this struggle of the classes and bourgeois economists the economic anatomy of the classes.”
Needless to say that the same also holds good for Lenin. Lenin’s political philosophy or what is better known as Leninism did not emerge accidentally. It is coupled with a long and multi-faced background whose understanding is essential for a comprehensive grasp over Leninism.
When Lenin embarked upon the turmoil political and economic situation of the then Russia (roughly in the middle of the nineties of the nineteenth century, he witnessed a host of revolutionaries and socialist thinkers such as Struve, Martov, Krzhizhanovsky, Potresov etc.
There was also Plekhanov who built up a powerful group of Marxists and elaborated, interpreted and propagated the main currents of Marxist thought. Plekhanov’s intellectualism created an impact upon the revolutionary zeal of Lenin.
In the fifties of the nineteenth century Belinsky and Harzen launched, at a limited scale, the revolutionary movement in Russia which created a stir among the peasants, because they believed that only the Russian peasants could form a potential force to save Russia from the Tsarist misrule.
In the 1860s some Russian thinkers and revolutionaries believed that only a reform movement could be a right way. Chernyshevsky gave leadership to this movement. Though many people call Chernyshevsky’s reform movement revolutionary, in practice, it was not so.
Many people think that the purpose of this reform movement was to slow down the terrorist movement which was gathering momentum under the leadership of Lenin. His movement was partially anarchist and partially individualist. It was, however, anti-establishment.
Narodnik (Populist) and Narodnaya Volya (People’s will) parties emerged in the seventies to press the cause of common people, particularly the peasants. The populist or Narodnik Party had no practical experience of revolution or leading the toiling masses to revolutionary activities and, as such, the Narodnik Party failed to achieve even moderate success. After sometimes the party gave the Slogan “Go to the people”. The activities of the party went off to the countryside to raise their enthusiasm.
The successive failures of the Narodnik Party split it into two groups—one terrorist and the other, to some extent, reformist. The former was called Narodnaya Volya and Lenin had weakness for this group.
Lenin’s elder brother was connected with this terrorist group and the group was responsible for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Tsar police did not hesitate to adopt most repressive measures and some were hanged. This could not generate any deterrent effect upon the revolutionaries. Conspiratorial activities went unabated.
In the mid 1880s some Marxists in exile intensified their activities for the cause of emancipation of the working class and most prominent among them were Plekhanov and Axelrod.
Plekhanov was rated as the key factor for transforming populism into Marxism. In has been observed by a critic that Plekhanov’s writings not only converted Lenin but also reared a whole generation of Russian Marxists. Plekhanov emphasized that populists’ method of terrorism was in bankruptcy and hence it could not be relied upon.
He was sure that capitalism was rapidly developing in Russia and would create a vast army of proletariat who would overthrow the autocratic rulers from power. This analysis of Russian capitalism impressed Lenin and he took active interest.
It has been pointed out by Christopher Hill that Russia during the Tsar rule was in fact divided into two opposite class’s landlord and bourgeois on the one hand, and toiling masses on the other. There was no middle class as it is to be found in other capitalist countries of Europe.
In the midst of this terrorist and revolutionary movement the liberal philosophy of the 19th century could not get any scope to flourish in Russia. Moreover, the landed and industrial interests in Russia were chiefly dominated by the foreigners who created a strong resentment among the common people.
This was quite favourable for the advancement of revolutionary movement and, needless to say, Lenin took the full opportunity of this situation. A large number of socialist thinkers and activities had already prepared an academic atmosphere by interpreting and propagating Marx’s thought and ideas.
Political Ideas of Lenin:
1. The Russian Revolution:
A number of Russian revolutionaries ploughed the field for sowing the seeds of revolution and Lenin was undoubtedly the most prominent personality. In fact, without the dynamism and bold leadership of Lenin the Russian revolution would never have been being a reality.
The ruthless administration of Russia sent him to jail and exile for a number of times, but everywhere he continued his schemes of revolution with added zeal and enthusiasm.
In 1893 he returned to St. Petersburg and made efforts to unite the various revolutionary groups. But Russian police did not allow him to remain outside jail to continue revolutionary activities. He was arrested and sent to Siberia.
Lenin was an inborn revolutionary and while in exile he continued his revolutionary activities which resulted in the formation of a revolutionary party known as Russian Social Democratic Labour party (R.S.D.L.P).
Under its leadership number of strikes in the textile factories of St. Petersburg took place. Lenin was at that time in Siberia and when he returned in 1900 he witnessed that Russian social and political situation was quite ripe for a revolution.
At the same time he strongly felt the necessity of a journal to spread and inculcate the principle of revolution among the workers and with the help of Potresov and Martov he clandestinely published a journal called Iskra (The Spark) and immediately it was received by the workers and revolutionaries enthusiastically.
Lenin thought that the publication of Iskra was a positive step towards the materialisation of revolutionary objectives. The years following 1893 were years of confusion and indecision.
In the Minsk Congress the RSDLP was formed, but it could not proceed rapidly towards the fulfilment of revolutionary goals. It simply organized few strikes. There were, moreover, dissensions among the revolutionaries.
How to organize a movement?
What would be the objectives of revolution any movement?
Some revolutionaries advanced the argument that the workers should form trade unions to press their demands upon the capitalists.
The political objectives of any organization will definitely divide the workers. But the core group set up by Lenin, when he was in Geneva, strongly opposed this move. His argument was trade union based on economic factors would make the workers reform-minded and enslave them to capitalists. So Lenin advised his followers to discard such trade unionism.
Before 1905 Lenin was convinced that the peasants and workers must understand the necessity of a revolution and in order to organize and unite them a party organization is a must.
Lenin once said:
It is not sufficient for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes. For revolution it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand that revolution is necessary and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it, secondly, that the ruling classes be in a state of governmental crisis.
Lenin thought that if the government were in crisis that would encourage the backward and politically conscious people to assemble together and form a coherent movement against the government which will precipitate the fall.
This fundamental principle of revolution formulated by Lenin is not imaginary. The revolution of 1905 and two revolutions of 1917 corroborate Lenin’s fundamental law. He was of opinion that the mere presence of objective situation was not enough for any revolution, it must be organized.
Lenin fully realized that the prevailing political situation of Russia was quite congenial for a revolution. The Tsar government was weak and to cover up its weakness it resorted to repressive measures and for that purpose it employed a large number of agent provocateurs. Lenin thought that intensive propaganda and large scale organization of masses could be alienated from the government and simultaneously its misdeeds and weakness should be exposed to the people so that they can form an anti-government attitude.
He also emphasized that the Russian economy was dominated by the foreign investors and capitalists. Lenin was convinced that for the emancipation of the working class it is necessary to seize political power because it is the cause of exploitation.
2. The Revolution of 1905:
In the 1905-war with Japan Russian army received a severe defeat at the hands of Japanese army and this brought about several setbacks for the Russian government.
The autocratic and repressive rule of the Tsar already created an anti-government attitude and the abortive Russia-Japanese war fuelled that dissension beyond all sorts of pacification. People of all sections of Russian society adopted the agitative tactics to curb the governmental activities.
The working class was more militant; Strikes, demonstrations and other tactics were adopted by them. The peasants also joined hands with them and, ultimately, the countrywide agitation made the Tsar rulers helpless.
The workers, peasants and even the members of the bourgeoisie formed organizations to give concrete shape to their movements. In such a situation a revolution took place in Russia in 1905 (22 January). It is also called “Bloody Sunday”.
Russian people demonstrated before the palace of the Tsar peacefully, but repressive and ruthless measures were perpetrated by the Tsar police upon them and this made the people furious. Waves of strikes and demonstrations flooded the Russian Society.
At the time of 1905 Russian revolution Lenin was in Geneva. So the revolution was absolutely spontaneous.
The activities and the policies of the Tsar government crossed all the limits of toleration. But the revolution could not succeed; it was crushed by the Tsar Government.
On the question of leadership of revolution and the tactics to be followed in it severe differences of opinion developed between Lenin representing Bolshevik group and the Mensheviks.
The main cause of the conflict between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks was that the former wanted to cooperate with the bourgeois democratic groups in their fight. Lenin said that the help of the bourgeois democratic liberals should be sought and on this issue he had no difference of opinion with the Mensheviks. But the moot question is are the members of the bourgeoisie liberal?
He was convinced that the Russian bourgeoisie was not liberal at all and accepting the help of this bourgeoisie does not arise at all. During the reign of Alexander II, Zemstovs were set up.
These were local assemblies and were given extensive powers for self-government. But the Zemstovs were in favour of autocratic rule and for that reason Lenin did not support any cooperation with them which the Mensheviks refused to accept.
Lenin could not find any revolutionary trait among the members of the bourgeoisie and he thought that it was anti-revolutionary.
It has been observed by Marcel Leibman “Between the end of revolution of 1905 and the outbreak of war in 1914, Lenin’s struggle against Menshevism became very largely a struggle against liberation and against all tendencies towards alliance between Social Democrats and Constitutional Democrats”.
3. The Revolution of 1917:
Lenin investigated the causes of the failure of the revolution of 1905 and he stated his conclusions in Lessons of Revolution published in 1910.
His analysis contains the followings points:
(a) No cooperation with the so-called Russian liberals,
(b) Only a revolutionary struggle of the masses can lead to victory,
(c) Mere underestimation of Tsarism is not enough; all efforts must be made to destroy it.
(d) Only the working class can provide proper leadership because the peasants are weak and unorganized.
(e) Constitutional tactics adopted by the Tsar government should be discarded,
(f) Mensheviks were the tools of Russian liberals and democrats and hence they cannot be relied upon.
Keeping the above lessons in mind Lenin wanted to launch a final strike against the Tsar authority. From the activities of the Tsar government he realized that it was gradually becoming weak and reckless and trying to save itself from complete disaster.
The agitation of the masses was increasing rapidly. Lenin was determined to utilize the large scale mass discontent.
Lenin was convinced that it was beyond the capacity of the Tsar government to provide bread and other necessaries and ensure peace and allot land to the landless people and under such situation he gave a clarion call to the masses to rise against all sorts of odds and repressions. He openly declared that he would not accept parliament.
By October 1917 the weakness and inefficiency of the government reached their zenith and Lenin thought that the most opportune moment had arrived to launch a final attack and he did that immediately.
The bold leadership of Lenin and the enthusiastic support of the people helped him to corner the Mensheviks. The Bolshevik group under his leadership marched ahead and in October 25, 1917 (New system 7 November), the Bolshevik party captured power. R. N. Carew Hunt writes… “both the social revolutionaries and the Mensheviks were outplayed by a party far smaller, but better organized”.
The success of the revolution of 1917 demonstrates that the fundamental difference between Lenin and the Mensheviks was that the former wanted to adopt a pragmatic policy to win the fight against the Tsar government and the latter were orthodox Marxists. They held that the Russian situation was not ripe for seizure of power.
This orthodox attitude towards the Russian situation was the chief factor of debacle from which the Mensheviks suffered and from which they never recovered. Some critics (mainly from Western countries) accuse Lenin of distorting Marxism. But a proper assessment reveals that he possessed unbound acumen of dealing with practical situations and this made him victorious.
4. Theory of Party:
During their lifetime Marx and Engels could not find sufficient time and scope to prepare a full-dress theory of party. In Manifesto of the Communist Party (henceforth Manifesto) they have said that the working class must form a party to seize political power and establish its dictatorship without which the in emancipation would never be possible.
In his Civil War in France Marx clearly stated that the chief cause of the failure of the commune was workers’ inability to form a party. But when Lenin appeared in the Russian political scene and decided to launch an uncompromising struggle against Tsardom, he felt the necessity of a party and this realization came as early as 1901.
Two issues dominated Lenin’s mind when he was seriously thinking about organizing a party. One is, he thought that a political party of the Western type (bourgeoisie democratic party of Western Europe) could never be able to fulfil the objective of the Russian working class whose chief aim was to overthrow the rule of the Tsar.
Political parties of Western bourgeois democracies always follow a tactics of compromise and cooperation with the capitalist’s class.
The second issue is on the role of the party. Lenin openly challenged the argument and stand of the economists. “The economists interpreted historical materialism as a theory of primacy of the proletariat’s economic struggle as compared with political aims”.
The argument of the economists was that the material interests of the workers is economic interests and those must be met at first and after that they will spontaneously fight for political struggle and domination. To unite the workers, they held, this condition must be fulfilled.
In his famous work what is to Be Done, Lenin attacked this economism. He said that the chief objective of the workers would be to capture political power and emancipation from economic bondage would follow. He also refuted the economists’ argument of spontaneity. The revolutionary principles shall be spread through various means among the workers so that they can form a definite opinion about the exploitation of the capitalists. Hence the theory of spontaneity does not hold good at all.
Lenin has said that without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. Only a well-organized party can preach and propagate it among the workers. He has further observed that left to themselves the workers were not capable of attaining consciousness of the fundamental opposition between their class as a whole and the existing social system.
The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own efforts, is able to develop only trade union consciousness. But for a complete emancipation trade union movement and spontaneity cannot work satisfactorily.
The role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced concepts and ideas of the theory of socialist revolution.
While Lenin was channelizing his efforts for organizing a party for conducting revolution he simultaneously thought of spreading ideology among the workers. It is not true that the working class will develop an independent ideology of its own while guiding a movement.
Only a struggle can form the foundation of an ideology. This naive contention of some persons has been challenged by Lenin. He is of opinion that no independent ideology can develop in the process of labour movement.
In any society there can be only two ideologies bourgeois and socialist and the working class will have to select any one of these two. There is no middle course and hence there is no third ideology.
It is the most important task of a revolutionary party to convince the workers of the necessity of socialist ideology, because only this course will convince them of the extent of capitalist exploitation.
The task of the party is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working class movement from the spontaneous trade union movement to the umbrella of revolutionary movement.
At the beginning of twentieth century, in Russia, there were a number of revolutionary groups who were fighting against Tsardom. Lenin felt the necessity of a united party, because only such an organization could succeed in capturing political power. He wanted to call it a homogeneous All Russian Party.
A centralized and well-organized party was to him the only way. “As against the populists, he conceived of this party as proletarian, as against the legal Marxists, as a party of action as well as of theory, and as against the economists as a party with a political as well as an economic programme”
Lenin thought that in order to be the vanguard of the proletariat the party must be an “iron party”, that is, it must enforce discipline and principles of revolution and protracted class struggle among the members.
Without an “iron party” it was impossible to carry out the dictatorship of the proletarian. Party should be the highest form of organisation for carrying out proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie.
What Lenin wants to emphasize is that without a nod from the central committee or organisation regional branches cannot take any decision.
To fulfill the goals of revolution Lenin thought that the party should be small so that it can function swiftly and quite effectively.
The central committee of the party will dominate the ideological and other aspects of the organisation and from this view of Lenin critics draw the conclusion that he was thinking about the dictatorship of party. From the political experience of Russia, Lenin formed the opinion that only a small party can work efficiently.
As regards the organisation of the party Lenin states that it will not only be small, but will consist of professional revolutionaries. These persons will take revolutionary activity as the in profession.
The allegiance of these persons to both ideology and party shall be beyond all sorts of doubt and suspicion. Explaining Lenin’s view Kolakowski says that such a party of professional revolutionaries must not only gain the confidence of the workers and take over the spontaneous movement, but must make itself the centre of all forms of protest against social oppression.
A small well-organized party will highlight the class interest and expose the class antagonism among the workers and peasants. It will warn the working class against any possible onslaught released by the capitalist and their puppet counter-revolutionary forces.
It may suitably be called general campaign of exposure. Lenin laid great faith on the party. He believed that it was the duty of the party to expose the motives and character of religious fundamentalists and reactionary forces.
Lenin believed that the leadership of the party shall be at the hands of professional revolutionaries who may be workers or intellectuals. But his preference was always for the workers dedicated to the cause of revolution and emancipation of workers. It has been maintained by Christopher Hill that he had very little faith on the intellectuals because they can easily be purchased by the capitalists.
The latter offer them lucrative employment and other comfortable opportunities and amenities and this make them oblivious of revolution. Even they may abandon revolutionary activities. The intellectuals prefer seminars and declarations. They very seldom think how to implement the declarations.
This view of Lenin about the intellectuals was opposed by many of his own party. Even a number of top revolutionaries held the view that large numbers of intellectuals were in favour of revolution and they believed that only a revolution could emancipate the working class.
In 1920 Lenin laid down that the basis of the party should be “democratic centralism” which implies the combination of democratism and centralism or centralisation. Lenin elaborated the principles of democratic centralism under the new historical conditions when the age of proletarian revolution had come. Lenin wanted to apply the principle in the party congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.
All organisations of the party, according to Lenin, are subordinated to the central authority, the decisions of the higher party organisation are obligatory for lower party organisations.
All the units of the party are well-connected and the office-bearers are elected by the members of the party. All the important issues shall be threadbare by analyses in different units of the party and the final decision will be taken by the majority which will be binding on all.
Lenin’s theory of party as well as its role in the Russian revolution may also be explained in the light of the relationship between the party and Soviets. In State and Revolution and other works he has stressed that the proletarian revolution will smash the bourgeois state and that will be replaced by the Soviets.
“The decisive feature in Lenin’s analysis, and those to which he attached the greatest importance were his insistence on smashing the old state apparatus, on replacing it by the dictatorship of the proletariat and his new vision of Soviets as the political machinery through which this dictatorship could best be exercised”.
Lenin thought that after the revolution the proletariat will seize power and dictatorship will be established. All these were categorically stated by Lenin before 1919.
In this year he said:
“The party must win for itself undivided mastery over the Soviets” Critics are of opinion that with the change of time and situation Lenin had jumped from one concept to another.
Dictatorship of the Soviets, dictatorship of the party and dictatorship of the proletariat are not identical terms.
Subsequently the matter was clarified according to the following line. The party will guide and lead the Soviets and will never replace them. That means the Soviets will be in full control of ail the activities of the state and society.
Stalin in his Problems of Leninism has offered a slightly different explanation. He has said that the dictatorship is exercised by the proletariat which is organized into society and is led by the party.
The party, in essence, exercises the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Soviets are the direct expressions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Not a single important political or organizational question is decided by our Soviet without guiding direction from our party.
Lenin’s theory of party has been subject to severe criticisms by both Marxists and non-Marxists.
He and his adherents have always assured us that Lenin is neither distorting nor amending the central principles of Marxism. But if we look at his theory of party we will witness a clear negation of this contention. Both Marx and Engels have all long advocated the establishment of dictatorship of proletariat after the seizure of power by the proletarians.
Instead of advocating for dictatorship of proletariat, Lenin ultimately supported the dictatorship of party which Marx and Engels never wanted. His advocacy for the mastery of party over all the affairs of state clearly curtails the power and rule of the Soviets. Dictatorship of party undoubtedly makes Marxism a mockery.
His criticism of his opponents’ view reveals that he was intolerant and very often used indecent phrases.
Marcel Liebman has said:
“One could go on indefinitely accumulating examples of the invectives indulged in by Lenin in his pursuit of what he himself called an “implacable campaign”.
Once he described Trotsky a Judas Trotsky. Though Lenin himself had sufficient sense of decency. Martov was also subjected to his thunderbolts. Lenin even went so far as to insinuate that Martov was in the service of Tsar”. Such insinuations are unworthy for Lenin.
5. Theory of State:
A very important contribution of Lenin lies in his interpretation and elaboration of the concept of state of which Marx had said very little. The best treatment is found in Engels’s The Origin of Family, Private Property and-State.
Lenin, borrowing the central idea from Marx and Engels, has expounded the Marxian doctrine in his The State and The State and Revolution. The latter was published in August 1917 and the former in 1919. The State and Revolution is regarded by many scholars as a very important writing of Lenin. What Engels did not say but wanted to say, Lenin has explained in The State and Revolution.
Following Marx and Engels Lenin says that in the primitive society there was no existence of state because there were no classes. When the society came to the divided into opposing classes as a result of the emergence of private property the necessities of state became inevitable. History shows that the state is a special apparatus for coercing people.
One class uses this apparatus to coerce another class. The state is by no means a power forced on society from without. It is the product of society at a certain stage of development. This society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself.
It is now clear that according to Lenin also Marx and Engels the state is a human product not bestowed upon man by any invisible power: A product of irreconcilability of class antagonism.
Marx, Engels and also Lenin have viewed history from the standpoint of materialist conception. They have said that the study of history reveals that in different periods of time different classes arose and their interests were diametrically opposite; and because of this the in interests could not be reconciled.
In the slave society there were slave-owners and slaves, in the feudal period there were landlords and serfs. Finally, in industrial society, there arose capitalists and working class or proletarians.
In all these epochs these classes stood against each other. One class wanted to dominate another. But ultimately it was found that the economically dominant class got an upper hand and established its mastery over the weaker class which was in numerical majority.
The powerful class with the help of police, army, bureaucracy and other coerce- enforcing machinery succeeded in controlling the weaker class. These forces are state forces and controlled and maintained by state. It may also be put in a different way.
The economically stronger class created machinery which could help it in exploitation. It is now obvious that if the interests of the opposing classes could be reconciled such an apparatus could not have arisen.
Let us sum up the matter in the words of Lenin:
The state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms. The state arises, where when and in so far as class antagonisms objectively cannot be reconciled. The existence of the state proves that the class antagonisms are irreconcilable.
The state is an organ for the reconciliation of classes. It has been maintained by Lenin that although the state represents the powerful class, it sometimes plays the role of arbitrator in cases of disputes and this state does to show its neutrality. But ultimately the state fails to settle the disputes simply because these cannot be reconciled.
When the settlement fails the real character of state is exposed, it takes the side of the dominant class state. The state is the rule of a definite class.
Immediately after October Revolution (November Revolution, New Style) Lenin castigated the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. They argued that the state could reconcile the classes. Lenin called this petty bourgeois theory. He also called it petty bourgeois and Philistine reconciliation theory.
He concluded that the state is an organ of class rule and product of class antagonisms. This specific role of the state helps its alienation from the rest of the society. It keeps itself above the society and rule from above. Hence the emancipation of the working class shall be preceded by destruction of ruling class and seizure of state power.
An Instrument for Exploitation:
The chief role of state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin is it is an instrument of exploitation. The dominant class controlling the sources of production uses the state for its own benefits. So if there were no classes there could not arise the necessity of state.
In the State Lenin makes the following observation:
The state is a machine for maintaining the rule of one class over another. How the state plays the role of exploitation? It has a vast army of bureaucracy which from time to time makes laws fulfilling the interests of the ruling class and again when these laws prove redundancy they are abolished or amended and in this way the process continues. In case of violation of state laws, army or police are pressed into service.
The state is a machine for the oppression of one class by another, a machine for holding the obedience to one class other subordinate classes. There are various forms of this machine. The slave owning state could be a monarchy, an aristocratic, republic or even a democratic republic.
In fact, the forms of government varied, but their essence was always the same. The slaves could not enjoy any rights. The condition of serfs in feudal state was better in comparison with slaves, but they were oppressed and exploited. The industrial workers in the same way were also oppressed and exploited.
In a democratic republic wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely, first, by means of the direct corruption of officials as in America and secondly by means of an alliance with government and Stock Exchange as in France and other capitalists countries. In all the capitalist countries, Lenin observes, banks and other financial institutions have developed exceptionally and these are controlling the financial world.
Moreover, these financial institutions are in the full control of the wealthiest section of the community. These capitalist countries are called democracies or republics, but these terms are misnomers.
People hardly enjoy any rights or privileges. The interests of Stock Exchange and financial institutions are fully protected by the various machinery of state. Political, economic and other interests of the working class and peasants received no importance at the hand of persons manning the state machinery.
Some petty-bourgeois democrats, socialist revolutionaries and Mensheviks liberally eulogies the so-called democratic methods of bourgeois state. These are universal suffrage and party system.
Lenin is of opinion that these petty-bourgeois democrats have dismally failed to understand the real character of the exploitative role of the capitalist state. These are subterfuges employed by the state.
Withering Away of State:
Engels, in his pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, says “interference in social relation becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous and then dies out of itself. The state is not abolished, it dies out.” This is, in nutshell, the famous doctrine of withering away of state.
This doctrine has been variously interpreted and the bourgeois theoreticians and sociologist have distorted the concept to suit their motives. Lenin in The State and Revolution has offered us a clear exposition of the theory.
Lenin’s clarification of withering away of state is:
First, Engels said in seizing state power the proletarial thereby abolishes “The state as state”. This phrase of Engels is the source of a lot of confusion.
Detractors of Marxism say that Engels advocated for an abolition of state and in that case he was at par with anarchists, because the anarchists also wanted to destroy the state.
Lenin’s clarification is that after the proletarian revolution, the bourgeois state will be abolished. But such a state will not immediately wither away. Why? When the proletarian seizes state power, for its own convenience and benefit it will keep certain elements of the bourgeois state.
Only the repressive aspects of bourgeois state will be abolished, not the whole structure of such a state. After the socialist revolution there will be no classes. The proletarian state will be a symbol of perfect democracy.
The phrase withering away means the remnants of the proletarian state will die or wither away. Lenin emphasizes that there is difference between the abolition of state as state and withering away of state. Bourgeois thinkers, because of their shallow knowledge, have failed to realize this difference.
Second, about the withering away of state Lenin says that the central idea of what Engels wanted to say had not been fully understood by the bourgeois thinkers. In speaking of the state as dying down of itself Engels refers clearly and definitely to the period after the state has taken possession of the means of production in the name of the whole society, that is, after the socialist revolution.
A socialist revolution will abolish state as state. But when there will be a perfect democracy there will be no need of any state apparatus. The remnants of the bourgeois state will then wither away. In other words, the withering away of state is in full consonance of perfect democracy.
Third, Lenin says that the proposition the state withers away is mainly directed against opportunists and anarchists, particularly the latter. This is due to the feet that the anarchists raised a slogan that state should be destroyed to ensure maximum freedom of people. Engels threw a challenge to it. So long there would be necessity of state it could not be destroyed.
In Manifesto Marx and Engels have said:
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands the proletariat organized as the ruling class.
Commenting upon this observation of Marx and Engels Lenin says that this is the most remarkable and important formulation of Marx about state. Here they have also given a brief definition of state proletariat organized as ruling class.
In order to suppress the counter-revolutionary forces and reactionary elements the proletariat will need a State.
Let us put it in the words of Lenin:
“The working people need the state only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat can direct this suppression, can carry it out.”
When the dictatorship of proletariat will be established there will no longer be any classes in society, that is, it will be a classless society. Lenin says that the chief role of the bourgeois state is to exploit the proletariat, and when the proletariat will seize power the role of the state as an instrument of exploitation will be redundant. By interpreting Marxian theory of state in his way Lenin was successful in removing all sorts of confusion and propaganda let loose by the bourgeois theoreticians.
Lenin’s attitude to liberalism and specifically to liberal philosophy of the bourgeoisie has been a controversial one. Critics say that he did not hold any definite view. He expressed different opinions at different times.
In 1903, when the Russian Social Democracy was split into two broad groups Mensheviks and Bolsheviks the issue of cooperating with the liberals or accepting their assistance in overthrowing autocratic rulers of Russia was first raised and debated.
It was thought at that time that if the social democrats refused to take any help of the liberal elements of the bourgeoisie, they will be ultimately isolated in their protracted struggle against Tsardom, and in order to avoid this it would be prudent to make an alliance with the liberals. Lenin shared this view.
The struggle against the reactionary and autocratic sections of Russia must be broad-based and, in order to isolate them from the majority, of the masses, the progressive section must be brought into confidence.
This opinion Lenin expressed as early as 1897. But subsequently he added “This support does not presuppose, nor does it call for, any compromise with non-socialist-democratic programmes and principles”. The naive implication is alliance might be sought but not at the cost of democratic principles of the Bolshevik party.
In What is to be Done? Lenin said that the bourgeois democrats are the natural and desirable allies of Social Democracy, but the essential condition of such an alliance must be the full opportunity for the socialists to reveal to the working class that its interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the bourgeoisie. From the above comments it is quite obvious that so far as the alliances with the progressive section of the bourgeoisie are concerned Lenin did not adhere to any orthodox stand.
The only point he harped upon was that principles and ideology of Social Democracy could not be jettisoned; they must be strictly followed at any cost. It further means that Lenin had always indulged in distrust about bourgeois liberalism.
Any alliance with it was absolutely for advancing class struggle and isolating the bourgeoisie. But the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 brought about a radical change in the political scene of Russia.
Russia’s defeat exposed her bankruptcy in all spheres, and the working class and peasants, utilizing the opportunity, intensified agitation throughout the country and under such circumstances. Lenin was not in favour of any alliance with the liberals.
On the contrary the Mensheviks decided to support the liberals and Zemostovs. Zemstovs were the local assemblies. Mensheviks believed that the liberals were part of the struggle against autocracy. Lenin discarded this contention and said that they were more counter-revolutionaries.
Lenin’s difference with the Mensheviks began to multiply after 1904 and assumed enormous shapes between 1905 and 1914. He differed from the Mensheviks on two issues organisation of party and alliance with the liberals.
His struggles against Menshevism was largely a fight against liberalism He could not accommodate himself with the Constitutional Democratic Party because in his view it was the symbol of reactionism and the bourgeoisie.
Again, the Mensheviks were in favour of participating in the Duma (Russian Parliament). Even they planned to forge an electoral alliance with the Constitutional Democrats. But Lenin rejected such a proposal outright.
He believed that within the four walls of Duma, the Social Democrats would hardly get any scope to fight the Tsar rulers. Moreover, with their limited membership and practically no power they would not be able to force the autocratic government to concede to their demands.
It is not easy to assess the steps taken by Lenin and the attitude he adopted. Whatever he said depended upon the prevailing situation. But Lenin always held the view that the liberals could not be wholly relied upon and in no case could they be allowed to capture the leadership of proletarian struggle. He by saying this made clear his position, although to his leaders it was not always clear.
In order to understand Lenin’s views on the Russian Parliament (Duma) it is necessary to know what Mensheviks and other leaders held about it.
One of the main planks of dissension between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks is the participation in the activities of the Duma, 1906 and years following it saw the intensifications of conflict between the two parties. Mensheviks and other leaders such as Plekhanov, Axelrod etc. held the view that the powers of the Duma were highly limited and in some cases fictitious.
But in spite of this the socialists under the banner of Menshevism could easily participate in the activities of Duma and whenever any opposition to Tsarism would arise the socialists must not hesitate to utilize it for mass struggle and to expose the misdeeds of the Tsar. A section of Menshevik Party desired to convert the floor of Duma for socialist movement.
In this way Mensheviks proceeded to reformism and parliamentarism which was strongly presented by Bolsheviks. The Menshevik leaders thought that in most of the European countries the socialist movement was graced by parliamentarism and naturally they cannot go against the tide.
This tendency of the Mensheviks was vehemently opposed by Lenin and he warned his comrades against the Menshevik trap. He advised them to go to the workers of factory and villagers and peasants of countryside and to propagate among them that without class struggle and revolution it was impossible to seize power.
He told them of the “Impossibility of achieving political freedom by parliamentary means as long as real power remains in the hands of Tsarist government and to show the people the utter uselessness of the Duma as a means of achieving the demands of the proletarian and the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie especially the peasantry”.
Though Lenin called the Mensheviks’ decision to join Duma as opportunism, he was faced with a dilemma. A section of the Bolshevik Party was in favour of participating in the Duma and it was not possible for him to disregard it.
Softening his rigid stand he said that the socialists must see that the participation in parliamentary activities was to further the socialist movement and the goals of the party.
In other words, the objective of participation in parliament would be “debunking of parliamentarism”. Socialists must remember that the Duma was the spawn of counter-revolution and that no real good could be expected from it.
The socialists or Social-Democratic members may join the Duma on the condition that they will carry out the task of criticism, propaganda agitation and organisation. They will use the general elections as broad and effective platform of propaganda.
It would never be the purpose of the socialist members of the Duma to sincerely participate in the legislative functions of the Duma.
Lenin stressed another point about the participation in the Duma. He said that the socialist members must be preserved from contamination of bourgeois parliamentary members. How could it be achieved? Lenin said that cooperation between socialist and bourgeois members must be forbidden.
The Social-Democrats must strictly adhere to the principles of revolution and militancy, any deviation of socialist ideology resulting from the participation in the Duma would be a suicidal policy.
Lenin also said that the Constitutional Democrats would adopt all possible steps to purchase or motivate the Social-Democrats.
It would be the duty of the Bolshevik Party to keep a close watch over that. Because the manoeuvring capacity of the Constitutional Democrats is superb and they would not hesitate to adopt any measure to disrupt the socialist programme. This proposal of Lenin emanated from the Menshevik move for a joint meeting between the Social-Democrats and Constitutional Democrats.
Lenin was also not in very much favour of electoral alliance with the Constitutional Democrats in all cases. He said that only under exceptional circumstances such electoral alliance might be forged. On this issue he differed from Mensheviks. He was of opinion that in order to fight the right wing and reactionary candidate’s alliance might be made. Lenin thus adopted a mid and moderate path so far as participation in parliament was concerned.