From the VG Bookshelf: The State and Revolution (Pt. 3)

From the VG Bookshelf: The State and Revolution (Pt. 3)

From the VG Bookshelf: The State and Revolution (Pt. 3)

In the previous post, I noted how Lenin opened  The State and Revolution with a condemnation of those “socialists” who didn’t follow his own particular brand of socialism. In good lawyer fashion, he accused the Mensheviks and others of watering down the doctrines of Marx and Engels. In the second chapter of  The State and Revolution he continues that attack. This time, he wraps his arguments in historical “facts”, along with more sleight of hand as he presents his own interpretation of those “facts” as well as socialism’s foundation texts.

As always, everything revolves around the oppressed working class and Lenin’s basic tenet that capitalism, imperialism and all the other isms can only be replaced by a true socialist state through violent revolution. However, in order to prove his approach is the one Marx and Engels supported, he had to find a way to debunk Marx’s statement in Poverty of Philosophy about the process leading to the disappearance of the state:

The working class in the course of its development will replace the old bourgeois society with an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism; there will no longer be political power properly so-called since political power is the official expression of the antagonism of classes in bourgeois society.” (TSAR, pg 22)

This statement seems to imply a withering away of the state. More than that, a withering away without revolution or violence. Oops. Lenin certainly couldn’t let that go unchallenged. So he turned to the Communist Manifesto, written not long after Poverty of Philosophy:

We have seen above that the first step in the workers’ revolution is the transformation (literally ‘elevation’) of the proletariat into the ruling class, the conquest of democracy. The proletariat uses its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all the instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e. of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” (TSAR, pg 22-23)

Leaving aside the fact Poverty of Philosophy was never meant to be the political treatise the Communist Manifesto was, let’s be honest. The two passages aren’t at odds. The latter simply expands on the former. Lenin, however, being a master at manipulating facts and emotions to fit his needs and wants, used the “difference” to do more than point out the differences between his Bolsheviks and the other so-called socialists in 1917 Russia. He used it to paint those others as enemies of the working class, no better than their bourgeois “masters”. Unfortunately for Russia, he did his job all too well.

According to Lenin, the above quote establishes “the most remarkable and most important ideas of Marxism on the question of the state, namely the idea of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.” (TSAR, pg 23) How ironic is it, looking back on Russia over the last 100 years, to see how his “dictatorship of the proletariat” never grew beyond that – a dictatorship. Russia once more became as interested in colonial expansion as the England and United States Lenin envisioned and condemned. Oh, Russia used different tactics, but no one can deny the way it moved into Eastern Europe after World War II. That expansion was not motivated by some desire to help those countries it figuratively dragged behind the Iron Curtain. Far from it. That expansion was for land, people, resources and money. Such a wonderful example of the “proletariat dictatorship” and there is no evidence that dictatorship is withering away to a true people’s state.

One of the key passages in this chapter, in my opinion, is this:

The notion that the proletariat needs a state is repeated by all opportunists, social-chauvinists and Kautskyites, who affirm this to be Marx’s doctrine while ‘forgetting’ to add, firstly, that the proletariat (according to Marx) needs a state on the wane, i.e. a state so organized that it immediately begins to wither. And, secondly, the ‘state’ needed by the laboring people is to be ‘the proletariat organized as the ruling class’. (TSAR, pg 23)

“Needs a state on the wane.” That’s true for any revolution to have a chance of succeeding. If the state is strong (healthy), most citizens aren’t going to want to overthrow it. Why would they? A healthy state has a healthy economy, a strong infrastructure and hasn’t (under most circumstances) turned to oppressive tactics that foment discontent.

Russia in the early years of the Twentieth Century was anything but healthy or “strong” and the decline begun before Nicholas II became the tsar continued and was worsened due to a number of factors, including World War I. After the Romanovs were overthrown and the provisional government formed, Lenin took advantage of the fact the “change” the revolutionaries fought for not only didn’t come but that it looked like many of those professing to be socialists simply slipped into the role of oppressors.

The state is a special organization of force; it is an organization of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally, only the exploiting class, i.e. the bourgeoisie. The labouring people need a state only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat is in a position to direct this suppression, to carry it out; for the proletariat is the only class that is consistently revolutionary, the only class that can unite all the laboring and exploited people in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, in its complete overthrow.” (TSAR, pg 23)

So the state is the oppressing force and necessary for the proletariat to rule. Except it’s not just rule. The proletariat is to “suppress” the bourgeoisie. Yet, even as it suppresses one class, the proletariat is supposedly the only class able to unite all the other classes.

I don’t know about you but I’m a suspicious sort of person. If I see a group of people proclaiming to be the liberators, the heroes of freedom and equality, suppressing anyone, I have a problem. What is to prevent the “dictatorship of the proletariat” from deciding I need to be suppressed? It is now the “state”, remember.

Lenin doesn’t answer that question, at least not yet. Instead, he returns to his attack on the social democrats, the Mensheviks and others. In today’s terms, he’d call them squishy socialists who only want to adopt the feel-good aspects of the philosophy. They didn’t preach revolution. They saw the state withering away into a true socialist society as a natural progression, something akin to an evolutionary process. Oh, sometimes you had to rise up and push the oppressors out of office, but you didn’t make the streets run red with blood. This, according to Lenin, was “petty-bourgeois socialism.”

Does that make what happened after the Bolsheviks took control “superior-bourgeois socialism”?

Here is where things start sounding familiar, almost reminiscent of the 2016 election cycle and some of the rhetoric that came from not only the Sanders camp but HRC’s as well:

The proletariat needs state power, the centralized organization of force, the organization of violence both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population – the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, the semi-proletarians – in the work of ‘establishing’ a socialist economy.” (TSAR pg 25)

Again, Lenin reinforces the idea of not only the need of revolution but of a proletariat rule, not of the people but of an oppressor. Oh, he pretties it up to mask what he’s saying but that’s the gist of it all. The bourgeoisie must be oppressed and so must everyone else until they have been sufficiently indoctrinated that they no longer fight. The oppression, he promises, will lead to a “socialist economy”.


With regard to the state, Lenin is of a singular mind, or so he’d have his followers believe/ “all previous revolutions perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed.” (TSAR, pg 25) Given this has been the belief of many revolutionaries throughout history. However, history does have 20-20 vision and we can look back and see how often the “crushing” of a state either left it vulnerable to invasion from outside enemies or how the crushing led to even worse conditions from within.

Irony, thy name is Lenin when we come to this:

The centralized state power characteristic of bourgeois society arose in the epoch of the fall of absolutism. Two institutions are most typical of this state machine: the bureaucracy and the standing army.” (TSAR, pg 27)

Anyone who has done even the most minimal study of any socialist or communist government knows there is a centralized power. That power is absolute and failure to follow Party doctrine can lead to not just punishment but death. Bureaucracy is rife and the standing army there to quickly quash the first sign of rebellion. We’ve seen that in China, in the Soviet Union/Russia, in the actions of the USSR in putting down rebellions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But we are supposed to sit back and wait for the dictatorship of the proletariat to mature enough that it can finally wither away. The only problem with that it won’t. In the time it would take, the proletariat dictatorship will have become the oppressors of the future.

I think you get the picture. For the proletariat to fulfill its place in history, it must lead the revolution. Even though the state will be unnecessary in the socialist existence, the proletariat needs it to not only oppress but destroy the ruling class. It needs it to maintain control and prevent uprisings until a socialist economy can be established. Once that happens the dictatorship of the proletariat will no longer be necessary and the ‘state” will finally begin to wither away. Until then, everyone must trust and follow the proletariat because only it is able to lead and unite.

Now, can you imagine what would happen if a Wall Street lawyer was to get up and say this today? Most of us would laugh him off the stage. However, we didn’t laugh Bernie off the stage. A number of young voters fell into step with him, praising his “unique message”. Why? Because he took the tact of the Mensheviks and others Lenin condemned. He didn’t come out and preach that they need to make the streets run red. Even so, he – and Hillary in her own way – promoted this proletariat dictatorship where wealth would be redistributed, the “state” would care for you and we’d all be happy little socialist ants.

To limit Marxism to the doctrine of the class struggle means to chop up Marxism, distort and reduce it to something acceptable to the bourgeoisie. Only those persons are Marxists who extend the recognition of class struggle as far as the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is what constitutes the most profound difference between the Marxist and the ordinary petty (as well as grand) bourgeois. This is the touchstone on which a real understanding and recognition of Marxism is to be tested.” (TSAR, pp 31-32)

Read the first sentence and remember it. Remember it the next time you listen to Bernie or any of his ilk talking issues in Washington. Remember it when you listen to DNC talking heads or the media. The modern socialists, even if they don’t believe in the extreme version of the philosophy Lenin did, have learned a lesson from him. It’s not the one he meant to teach but, in some ways, it is more dangerous. They have learned how to drape their policies in a way they are “acceptable” to most people. That is what makes them so dangerous.

Think about it. How many people do you know who support universal healthcare in some form or fashion? It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction in some people because they believe no one should suffer because they can’t afford to see a doctor or go to the hospital. We’ve been taught, in our churches, at our dinner tables and in our schools to be charitable. Those leaning into the socialism spectrum play on that when they talk about universal healthcare or free college education, etc. What they never discuss is how those will be paid for because, once the veil is ripped away, there is a cost.

We have to start asking if these policies that sound so good are worth the price.

[T]he essence of Marx’s doctrine of the state has been assimilated only by those who have grasped that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general and not only for a proletariat which has overthrown its bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period dividing capitalism from ‘society without classes’, from communism. The forms of bourgeois states are extraordinarily varied, but their essence is the same: all these states somehow or other in the final analysis simply have to be a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism, of course, cannot help but produce a vast abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (TSAR, pg 32)

Something else to consider as you read Lenin, he wants to do away with capitalism. He wants to not only overthrow but destroy the bourgeois. He advocates for the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. What he hasn’t told us yet is how long it will take to reach the nirvana of the true socialist state. Nor does he tell us how a socialist economy will work. If you take the carrot of not only success but potential fame and fortune (and all the other reasons people work hard), what will be a worker’s incentive to do more than the minimum required of him?

In its own way, Atlas Shrugged is as slanted and impossible as is Lenin’s socialist/communist haven. However, Rand was right about one thing. There comes a point when those who value themselves and their work will no longer be happy turning their work over to a “state” or those the state appoints without compensation or recognition. As much as humans want to be generous and merciful, we are human. We have faults and pride and greed are just two of them. For the state to wither away slowly as we evolve into a people who will willingly follow the adage “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, how many more revolutions will have occurred and how many more “dictatorships of the proletariat” will have morphed into the new state?


You can find the first entry to the series here, the second entry here and the third entry here.

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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  • GWB says:

    The proletariat uses its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie
    IOW, they’re gonna steal it.

    That expansion was for land, people, resources and money.
    Well, it internationalized the struggle, too. And it had the benefit of creating a multi-million person speed bump for, say, any new Napoleon that arose.

    If you take the carrot of not only success but potential fame and fortune (and all the other reasons people work hard), what will be a worker’s incentive to do more than the minimum required of him?
    The good of the people, comrade! Do you doubt?

  • I’ve been reading your series carefully, but have a hard time following. Maybe I’m just misreading. But I now think I see part of the problem. Socialism is not the end state and not Nirvana in Marxist theory. Communism is, and it differs from socialism. Socialism is the necessary intermediate stage that replaces Capitalism.

    Marx’s economic theories are bunk; his theory of surplus value is false, and his distinction between commodity production and production for use is nonsense. The laws of economics – division of labor organized by market forces – can’t be escaped, they can only be ignored, but they are still there. Marx never explained how, having seized power and abolished markets, the proletariat would organize the economy. Lenin and other Soviet writers devoted much (unsuccessful) attention to trying to solve this. In the end, though, what they *really* believe is that they should be in charge. The communist end-state is fantasy, used to delude others (and sometimes self).

    What I get from modern socialists like Comrade Bernie is just that. “Capitalism is bad, and we are sure that if we are in control we will organize things properly.” Yes, entirely vague in details, but as another comrade recently put it when unable to answer how she’d pay for her schemes, “we’re smart, we’ll figure it out.”

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