After reading this article you will learn about the contribution of Lenin to the development of Marxism.
As to the contribution of Lenin to the development of Marxism there are two distinct groups of thought one believes that Lenin amended the basic principles of Marx and Engels and, in certain cases, abandoned some principles to suit his own thought-system.
Other groups hold an opposite view. It says that Lenin has interpreted Marxism and this is in full consonance with the central theme of Marxism.
It further states that Marx and Engels are not always clear. There are a number of lacunae in their thought and philosophy. Lenin has simply filled up those with his own ideas keeping in mind the basic philosophy of these two thinkers. This attempt cannot be treated as an amendment or abandonment of Marxism.
The orthodox followers of Marxism-Leninism belong to this group. Lenin himself said in his Our Programmes “We do not regard Marx’s theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life.”
This is more or less the prevailing idea about Lenin’s contribution to Marxism and in the following pages we shall make attempt to show how Lenin developed Marxism. The authors of The Fundamentals of the Marxist-Leninst Philosophy have said that Lenin developed Marxism in the new historical conditions which are mature development of capitalism, its conversion to imperialism, the fierce struggle among the imperialist powers and the intensification of class struggle.
These conditions demanded that it is the vital duty of the Marxists to analyze and interpret the ideas of Marx and Engels and to throw light on them.
The authors conclude:
“Unless this was done, the philosophy of Marxism would cease to be a living theory, a method of cognition and revolutionary action”.
Lenin was not a great scholar like Marx and Engels. Nor was he a great theoretician. His contribution lies in developing the central idea of Marxism.
The above-noted authors have said:
“Leninism is not an interpretation but a development of Marxism that without Leninism the theory of Marx and Engels cannot correspond to contemporary historical conditions, which naturally could not have been reflected in the works of the founders of Marxism.”
Now there is a controversy regarding interpretation and development. The orthodox Marxists adhere to the term development. We are of opinion that there is hardly any tangible difference between the two words.
Without interpretation a social theory cannot be developed in the background of new conditions. Hence interpretation and development of a social theory go hand in hand.
R. N. Carew Hunt:
“Marx never explained how his revolutionary objectives would be actualized and seems to have supposed that this was a matter, for which the revolution would itself, provide the solution. That Lenin, faced with practical problems of administration which had never entered into Marx’s orbit, should have found himself obliged to adapt the classic theory according by was natural enough and whether we regard this as a distortion it will depend upon how far we regard Marxism as providing the basis of a genuinely democratic society.”
R. N. Carew Hunt has pointed out the fields in which the contribution of Lenin to Marxism is quite prominent. He says that under the leadership of Lenin there were two revolutions in Russia one in 1905 and the other in 1917.
In these two revolutions Lenin applied the theory and tactics of Marx and Engels and modified some of their principles as situation demanded. The purpose of these revolutions was to destroy the existing social and economic order and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was Marx’s one of the fundamental principles. But the credit of Lenin lies in the fact that he applied the principles in the peculiar situation of Russia.
Many people in these days accuse Lenin of distorting Marxism. But Carew Hunt says that the same charge may be brought against his followers of western socialism. The fact is that Lenin fully understood the economic, social and administrative situation of Russia and adopted his tactics suitable for those conditions. He thus developed the principles of Marx and Engels.
Lenin’s another contribution in the development of Marxism is his idea about state and his classic work State and Revolution throws sufficient light on it.
Engels in his Origin of Family, Private Property and State has said in seizing power the proletariat will put an end to State as State and this state will ultimately wither away. But this observation of Engels raised plethora of objections and questions and many critics ridiculed the withering away of state.
But in the State and Revolution Lenin has elaborated in great detail what Engels wanted to mean. He has clarified the point that there is difference between bourgeois state and the proletarian state after revolution. He has also explained what Engels actually meant by withering away of state. The elaboration of Marxian state is not to be found in the vast literature of Marx and Engels.
There was a misconception (before Lenin) that the proletarian revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat would end the very existence of state. Lenin warned his followers and detractors that it was a wrong conception. Only the establishment of communism will end the state.
The proletarian state, according to Lenin, is the bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie. He also makes a distinction between anarchist theory of the destruction of state and Marxist theory of withering away of state. This is undoubtedly a remarkable improvement upon Marxian theory of state.
Lenin’s another contribution lies in his definition of class. It is a great irony that a very good part of Marxism occupies class and class struggle, but neither Marx nor Engels has defined class in clear terms.
A Great Beginning is one of Lenin’s famous works and here he defines class. This definition is in full conformity with the ideas of Marx and Engels. The students of Marxism treat this definition of Lenin as a standard Marxist definition of class. Lenin thus completes Marx’s concept of class.
Marx and Engels spoke of the dictatorship of proletariat. They were quite aware that an organized working class could achieve that goal. But they could not enter into the detailed activities of the working class in the realization of this objective.
While Marx and Engels were great scholars and philosophers Lenin was a great practical man and activist. He believed that the revolution could never be a reality without an organisation and, for that very fact; he channelized his efforts and energy for the organisation of a party. The party is the highest form of class association of the proletariat.
It is also the instrument of dictatorship of the proletariat and embodiment of the will of unity. Lenin had a strong belief that without an iron party it was impossible to carry out the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the role and organisation of the party Lenin came into conflict with several leaders of Russia.
Marx and Engels were chiefly concerned with the development and evils of capitalism, but Lenin studied it in a broader perspective. He makes an elaborate analysis of imperialism in his Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism; Lenin felt that any analysis of capitalism without an elaborate analysis of imperialism would remain incomplete.
The communists hold the view that Lenin’s idea about imperialism is a notable advance in Marxist economics. In fact, in Lenin’s time, capitalism advanced to such an extent that it assumed the character of imperialism and for that reason he focused his attention to imperialism.
If Lenin did not do that the real character of capitalism and its ultimate fate would never have been exposed. Marx and Engels spoke about the contradiction in capitalism, while Lenin extended those contradictions to imperialism.
This is not the distortion of Marxism but its development. The contradictions in capitalism forced capitalists to be involved in internecine war. Lenin borrowed the principle of dialectics from Marx (and he borrowed it from Hegel) and explained scientific materialism.
Following Marx and Engels, Lenin developed dialectical materialism not only as a world outlook, but also as a theory of knowledge, a method of thinking and of practical transformation of reality Lenin’s further elaboration of materialistic dialectics, and his study of the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge are of everlasting importance.
We know that both Marx and Engels were immensely influenced by the contemporary developments in natural science particularly the fundamental discoveries. These are regarded as great sources of Marxism.
It is said that Lenin, following Marx and Engels, closely studied the fundamental scientific discoveries and moulded and generalized the revolutionary philosophy in the background of those discoveries.
“Lenin developed the Marxist teaching on the character and motive forces of the bourgeois democratic revolution and its connection with the socialist revolution.”
The above analysis does not prove that Lenin’s contribution to Marxism’s development is undisputed. The learned interpreter of Marxism, Kolakowski, says that the innovation that Lenin introduced into Russian revolutionary movement suggested considerable doubt as to his fidelity to Marxist tradition.
This charge against Lenin is not exaggerated. He did not interpret or develop some of the basic principles of Marx and Engels but amended them. He replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat by the dictatorship of the communist party.