From the VG Bookshelf: The State and Revolution (Part 2)
From the VG Bookshelf: The State and Revolution (Part 2)
December 12, 2018
It is difficult these days to look at our government, especially the incoming crop of new “Democrats”, and not worry about where our country is headed. To defend against the continued decline of our nation, we must not only understand what these “Democratic-Socialists” want but also the historical basis for their beliefs. These are not merely New Deal Democrats. These are men and women who believe the lies perpetrated by Vladimir Lenin. They want to turn our nation into the next cesspool of socialism–sorry, the next socialist utopia. The problem is, they haven’t learned from history that such a thing has never existed and, as long as humans are, well, human, it will never exist.
Reading Lenin, whether you’re doing it in the original Russian or in English, is like reading a mix of law school textbooks and philosophic arguments. You have to pay a great deal of attention to not only what he says but how he says it. Worse, reading it today, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking how reasonable what he wrote more than a century ago seems. After all, we’ve heard so much of recently, not only in the 2016 election but in the recent mid-term elections as well. That is what makes Lenin as dangerous today as he was in the early years of the 20th Century. It is also why it is so important that we study what he wrote and how he and his followers implemented his policies in the Soviet Union.
The first chapter of The State and Revolution is entitled “Class Society and the State”. Lenin spends the opening pages discussing how the “oppressing classes have constantly persecuted the great revolutionaries in their lifetime, reacted to their teaching with the most savage malice, the wildest hatred and the most shameless campaigns of lies and slander.” He goes on to write how the “bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the working-class movement at the moment co-operate in the elaboration of Marxism.” In other words, he accuses the middle class and the so-called opportunists of blunting the message of Marxism , “emasculating the essence of the revolutionary teaching. . . .” (TSAR, pg 7)
In other words, not only was the upper class the problem in Russia at the time of the revolution but, as far as Lenin was concerned, so was much – if not all – of the middle class. True, their “crimes” were the same. The upper class, the ruling class, wanted the status quo to remain. They had the power and did not want to give it up. The middle class, the opportunists of the time, stepped in as the Mensheviks and the Provisional Government took charge and perverted trueMarxism, diluting it to their own purposes while giving lip service to the original.
Even as Lenin sets his Bolsheviks up to be the “true” believers, it becomes clear he was not above perverting and using Marxist doctrine to his own benefit. In fact, if there was ever an opportunist during 1917-1918 Russian history, it was Vladimir Lenin. Even as he wrote “our task is above all to re-establish Marx’s authentic doctrine on the state,” he meant to establish his own interpretation of it. (TSAR, pg 7)
When it comes to the historical role and significance of the “the state”, Lenin writes:
The state is the product and the manifestation of the irreconcilability of class contradictions. The state arises where, when and to the extent that class contradictions objectively cannot be reconciled. And, conversely, the existence of the state demonstrates that the class contradictions are irreconcilable.”(TSAR, pg 8)
How many ways can he say basically the same thing in one sentence? If there weren’t irreconcilable class contradictions, there would be no state. At least according to the man whose great communist experiment led to one of the most oppressive “states” in human history.
Marx saw the state as “an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order’, legalizing and perpetuating this oppression by moderating the clashes among the classes.” (TSAR, pg 8) Now, let me ask you this: does the gist of this statement sound familiar? How often did you hear a variation of it being thrown out during the 2016 presidential race by first Bernie Sanders and then by Hilary Clinton? How about from Ocasio-Cortez and others in 2018?
Lenin spends several pages describing how the Mensheviks and others strayed from the true Marxist definition of the state and how the Bolsheviks, under his leadership would bring true freedom to Russia. “It is clear that the liberation of the oppressed class is impossible not only without a violent revolution but also without the destruction of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling class and which is the incarnation of this alienation.” (TSAR, pg 9)
If this doesn’t bring to mind images of Antifa and certain BLM “protestors” or images of the so-called “concerned students” who shut down how many presentations by people like Ann Coulter or Milo simply because they didn’t espouse the “right” ideas, it should. Just as it should remind us of those politicians, both currently in office and those who didn’t find themselves sitting in the Oval Office, who encouraged the less than peaceful “protests” over the last few years.
In discussing the creation of a standing army and police, Lenin turns to Engels. Basically, a standing army and police are the creation of the state. It is there to keep the oppressed under control. That expanded to include the state’s use of these standing army and police to expand the state’s territory. How different it would be if we had a “self-motivating armed organization of the population” (TSAR, pg 11) All those loving and giving and non-middle class oppressor would be so much less likely to use their weapons for anything but the “good” of the whole.
Pardon me while I laugh hysterically.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. Be honest, you knew it couldn’t – or wouldn’t. Next up is the state as “an instrument for the exploitation of the oppressed class.” If that doesn’t sound like it came straight out of the Bernie Sanders playbook, I don’t know what does.
Lenin, being an expert at pushing the right buttons in a time of turmoil, boiled all of Engel’s writings on this particular question to this: what is it that places them [state officials or bureaucrats] above society? According to Lenin, this “theoretical question was resolved in practice by the Paris Commune in 1871”. (TSAR, pg 13) A bit more about the Paris Commune shortly.
As the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check and as it arose at the same time in the midst of conflicts among these classes, it is a rule the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, with the assistance of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of suppressing and exploiting the oppressed class.” (TSAR, pg 13)
Does this mean the question is really “Which came first, the state or the rich, ruling class?” Or maybe it’s “What the hell is he talking about? Has he ever really paid attention to what people are really like?”
Here is the money quote, one we need to always keep in the back of our minds:
A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and therefore, once capital has got control of this excellent shell, it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of individuals, of institutions or of parties in the bourgeois democratic republic can shake this power.” (TSAR, pg 14)
Lenin goes on to note that Engels concluded universal suffrage was an instrument of bourgeois rule.
So where does the Paris Commune of 1871 come into all this?
The Paris Commune was the socialist – and radical – government that ruled Paris for a grand total of two months in the Spring of 1871. Napoleon III had been defeated the year before. The Second Empire ended and the Third Republic rose to power. France was at war with Prussia. In the upheaval that followed, the Paris Commune arose. For a brief look at the Commune, check out its Wikipedia page. Yes, it accomplished certain typical socialist goals. However, it is difficult to count anything it did as a success or an example of socialism in practice because of the short length of time the “state” once again took control. The very fact the Commune did not know any real time of peace, a time when they weren’t all fighting for a common goal, also casts doubt on how much of a real example of socialism in practice it could be.
I suggest that a more accurate representation of what socialism in action can be is to look at the genesis of the Soviet Union. No matter how enticing some of the tenets of socialism might be, unless and until you accept that humans are flawed and often selfish, that some are lazy while others are driven, you will not be able to see the flaws of socialism. The underlying basis for it to be successful is for humanity to reach a point where each person puts the good of the many above the good of the one, NO MATTER WHAT. It means knowing that no matter how hard you work, the benefits of your labor go to all according to their needs. But who is it that determines that need? It certainly isn’t the person putting forth the effort.
It is important to remember that Engels preached that the State would “wither away”. In other words, “when the state finally becomes truly the representative of society as a whole, it makes itself superfluous. . .The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production.” (TSAR, pg 16). This is the withering away. Of course, what Engels – and Lenin – doesn’t address is who directs and administers and 1) how they are chosen and 2) why they won’t fall into the same pit of oppression the current managers and administrators of the state have.
This withering away is, according to Lenin, the only “real legacy of socialist thought” in the socialist parties of 1917. He then goes into a perfect example of the game of twisting and reshaping what he said Engels wrote into what he says Engels meant. He changes the “withering away” to the state being “eradicated by the proletariat in the course of the revolution. It is the proletarian state or semi-state which withers away after the revolution.” (TSAR, pg 17) In other words, we now have to look at the evolution from an oppressor state in at least three stages: revolution, the establishment of the proletarian state and, finally, the withering away of that semi-state into the socialist existence.
To accomplish the former, the proletariat must have its own “special repressive force” that will be used for the suppression of the bourgeoisie. Wait, what? Isn’t that simply trading one oppressive government for another? Not at all, or at least not really, according to Lenin. It is necessary for the “eradication of the state as a state.” (TSAR, pg 17)
Riiiight. Tell me another one and I’ll tell you about some property I have for sale in Florida.
Engels refers quite clearly and definitely to the period after ‘the state’s expropriation of the means of production in the name of the whole of society’, i.e. after the socialist revolution. We all know that the political form of the ‘state’ at that time is the fullest democracy . . .democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear when the state disappears. Revolution alone can ‘eradicate’ the bourgeois state.” (TSAR, pg 19)
Every state, according to Lenin, is unfree and non-popular. Even so, he favored a democratic republic as the “best form of the state for the proletariat under capitalism, but we have no right to forget that wage slavery is the lot of the people even in the most democratic bourgeois republic.” (TSAR, pg 19)
Wage slavery. Hmmm, why am I reminded of calls for huge increases in the minimum wage without one politician in favor of it explaining to the population the economic realities such an increase would bring into play? Let’s increase pay to a “livable wage” as determined not by the circumstances and location of the particular worker – much less his or her abilities and education and time of the job – but by an arbitrarily determined number. Let’s not worry about the economic impact that will have on the employer or how said employer will pass along that hit to his customers who, in turn, will pass their hit on to others. Welcome to the People’s Republic or Commune where consequences don’t matter until we can no longer deny them.
Over and over again, Lenin returns to his refrain that the proletarian state cannot replace the bourgeois state except by way of violent revolution. The withering away of the proletarian state is the eradication of “the state” and is not something that will happen overnight.
Think about Lenin’s constant refrain of violent revolution and look at what has been happening in our country. Look at the rhetoric coming from certain politicians who encourage the “protestors” to violate the rule of law, to ignore the concept of private property. See the parallels with what is happening now with what happened in the early years of the Twentieth Century.
Then ask yourself this: if we have that violent revolution here, who has been putting themselves into position to take control. Are they the people you want to trust with not just your future but your children’s and their children’s?
Recognizing not only the rhetoric but the tactics is important in preventing history from repeating itself.
Featured image: Victory Girls Artwork: Darleen Click, book cover via Penguin.
(An earlier version of this post appeared at According to Hoyt, Jan. 25, 2018)
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