Joseph Stalin in his noted work Problems of Leninism has defined Leninism in the following words and this definition is still regarded as classic. “Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolution. Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general and the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular”.
Stalin has further observed that Marx and Engels pursued their activities in the pre-revolutionary period in which imperialism did not fully develop and, because of this, proletarian’s struggle against imperialism was not an immediate practical inevitability. But Lenin, on the other hand, was faced with the problem of developed imperialism and to fight against it he used Marxism as tactics. Hence Leninism is not different from Marxism but it is “the further development of Marxism”.
It is the application of Marxism the purpose of which is the emancipation of the proletariat. Stalin does not agree with the view that Leninism is the application of Marxism to the conditions peculiar to the situation in Russia. He says that such a definition is partially correct.
It is true that Leninism was applied to the peculiar conditions of Russia, but it is definitely not national, it is applicable to all countries ruled and dominated by imperialism. According to Stalin, Leninism was applied to the Russian conditions, but above all it is an international phenomenon rooted in the whole of international development.
He is not also in agreement with those who say that Leninism is the revival of the revolutionary elements of Marxism.
In the opinion of Stalin Leninism not only restored Marxism, but also took a step forward, developing Marxism further under the new conditions of capitalism and to the class struggle of the proletariat.
Leninism is exceptionally militant and exceptionally revolutionary in character. Marx and Engels laid down the basic principles of class struggle and proletarian revolution. Lenin applied those principles to the peculiar socio-economic practical situation of Russia. But Leninism is general in character; it is applicable to all situations of societies having the features of capitalism.
In his lifetime Lenin did not get the opportunity to apply his ideas based on Marxism to other areas of the world particularly to the areas of the Third World. It is the viewpoint of the disciples of Leninism that it is never a drawback or limitation of Leninism.
The character of capitalism that prevailed in the last few decades of the 19th century underwent radical changes in the first two decades of the 20th century and, in that changed situation of capitalism, Lenin applied the basic principles of Marx and Engels and here lies the credit of Lenin. To be more precise, Lenin made Marxism a realistic or practical ideology. Leninism is an instrument of proletarian revolution.
In the words of Liebman “There is hardly any insurrectionary movement today, from Latin America to Angola that does not lay claim to the heritage of Leninism.”
The point of emphasis is that Leninism can claim its role in every revolutionary movement of the world. Stalin is, therefore, right when he claims that Leninism is international.
Liebman has viewed Leninism still from another angle. He says “Leninism even in its mistakes and in spite of its failures, is one of the richest sources of inspiration in the fight for socialism, one of the most fruitful contributions to men’s struggle for their emancipation”. That is, Leninism is not a simply a weapon for the struggle of emancipation it is also a source for establishing socialism. In other words, Leninism shows the way how socialism could be established.
Leninism is both a theory and an instrument for class struggle. A theory is essential for the guidance of workers. Marx, Engels and Lenin all believed that the proletarians must have a sound knowledge about the development of capitalism, its nature and various aspects of contradiction and the nature and growth of imperialism. Above all, the nature and extent of exploitation.
They must have sound knowledge about revolution. For this reason Lenin throughout his life emphasized upon the spread of theoretical knowledge about Marxism among the proletarians. Lenin believed that when the attainment of theoretical knowledge is more or less adequate they make preparations for a class struggle.
Leninism has also practical aspects. It is an instrument of revolution. Proletarians will derive lessons from Leninism how to launch and conduct a revolution. Leninism also stresses that the revolutionaries will try to establish the compatibility between tactics and real situation.
The implication is that Leninism is not something rigid. But flexibility does not indicate opportunism. Leninism teaches that before any action every situation must be cautiously judged. Leninism is not adventurism. Before jumping upon any action Leninism advises to judge a situation in its proper perspective.
But there is difference of opinion about the exact nature and other aspects of Leninism. Kolakowski observes that the character of Leninism as a variant of Marxist doctrine has long been subject of dispute. Kolakowski wants to say that Leninism is a “variant of Marxist doctrine”.
It is not an explanation of the principles of Marx and Engels. It is to some extent a different theory. There is some truth in this characterization. It is said that Lenin did not scrupulously follow all the principles of Marx and Engels. He changed or amended them to suit the special socio-economic conditions of Russia.
This attempts of Lenin makes him subject of criticism. The critics say that Lenin cannot claim to be a faithful follower and interpreter of Marxism. One critic says that Lenin had been false to Marx’s doctrine on many essential points.
It is true that Lenin deviated from some of the basic principles of Marx and Engels. For example, he laid maximum importance to the national question whereas Marx and Engels did not do that. Marx and Engels were out and out internationalists.
Their clarion call was “Workers of the entire world unite”. Lenin wanted to build up party organisation and he gave maximum emphasis upon it. Marx and Engels did not think the issue in proper perspective.
Marx and Engels thought of effecting an alliance with the bourgeoisie in the phase of bourgeois revolution.
Critics say that Lenin was in favour of making alliance with workers and peasants. But the protagonists of Leninism rule out any deviation of Leninism from Marxism. They argue that Lenin scrupulously adhered to the basic doctrine of Marx and Engels. He simply interpreted it to suit the peculiar situations.