Revolution in Prospect

Revolution in Prospect. With his approach to the revolution completed, Lenin wrote a pamphlet which reveals his expectations when he took the final step. His State and Revolution was left unfinished because the revolution interrupted it. Even the subject suggested the changed direction of his thought, for Lenin had not given much attention to forms of government; now he felt impelled to sketch what he thought the impending change would be like.


In form the pamphlet was a review in chronological order of all the passages in Marx and Engels describing the socialist state, but it was designed to show dialectically that a form of workers state had indeed emerged from the revolutionary experience of the nineteenth century. From a bare mention in the Communist Manifesto and the fumbling efforts of 1850 it had crystallized in the Paris Commune of 1871, and the genius of Marx had detected the outline of the emerging state.

No doubt the unwritten second part would have described its completion in the soviets of 1905 and 1917. As history it was highly imaginative, and as Marxism, though accurate in what was included, it was highly selective, but for an audience habituated to dialectic it was also highly persuasive only one more step was needed to bring the proletarian state into being.

Unfortunately, after the event it might also be disillusioning. For Lenin’s expectations suggested a program which, when tried, almost wrecked the revolution, and created an image which bore no resemblance to what the soviet state became.

Lenin’s first effort was to rescue from the opportunists Engels famous expression in the Anti-Dihring about the withering away of the state. By a gross distortion of Marxism, he argued, this has been corrupted to mean that socialism can come by a peaceful evolution of the bourgeois state. What Marx proved was that the class struggle is inherent in any society in which the means of production are privately owned.

A proletarian revolution must first intervene to bring the control of production into the hands of the only class that can truly represent the whole society. Thereafter, with the gradual elimination of antagonistic classes, the state will indeed wither away, but it is a gross misrepresentation of Marxism to claim that the bourgeois state can ever be anything but an instrument of exploitation by which the middle class holds down and oppresses the workers.

The middle-class state must end, therefore, in a violent revolution which will expropriate the capitalist owners of the means of production, will transfer ownership to the workers, and thus will institute an intermediate stage capable of evolving into communism. But this, too, will be a state, and Engels argument showed that the expression, a free state, is a contradiction in terms.

No state can be free. The intermediate stage is indeed a higher form of democracy, beyond the democratic republic which is the highest form of bourgeois state, but still a state and therefore a dictatorship. It is the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenin’s argument is thus an acceptance of the conclusion that the proletarian revolution, like other revolutions, will transfer power from one social class to another, and the state which it will produce, like the state which it displaces, will be an instrument of repression. it will be the proletariat organized as a ruling class in the act of creating its own appropriate apparatus of violence to enforce its purposes against the non-proletarian and semi-proletarian elements remaining in society.

For the workers cannot accomplish their revolution merely by taking over the existing forms of the democratic republic; they must destroy these and replace them with their own form of government. This will require a long, persistent, life-and-death struggle which can be carried through only by inflexible determination and by ruthless use of force. The dictatorship of the proletariat must pursue two purposes it must hold down the exploiting class, whose resistance will increase tenfold after its overthrow, and so prevent a counter-revolution; and second, it must organize the new economic and social order.

The latter is the function especially of the party, which is the teacher, guide, and leader of all the exploited classes that have not yet become fully class conscious. State and Revolution thus suggested, though it did not explicitly state, that the dictatorship of the proletariat will be to all intents and purposes the dictatorship of the party.

It did, however, explicitly state the rigidity and the inclusiveness of proletarian government; it will exercise the strictest control, by society and by the state, of the quantity of labor and the quantity of consumption. And though the democracy of the new state is an organization for the systematic use of violence by one class against the other, it will still be a higher form of democracy beyond the venal and rotten parliamentarian of bourgeois society.

The special purpose of State and Revolution, therefore, was to show that earlier proletarian revolutions had indeed evolved a distinctive form of non-parliamentary democracy, and that Marx had outlined its theory. Lenin depended mainly on the account of the Paris Commune in Marx’s Civil War in France, and presumably he intended to amplify this by his own interpretation of the soviets.

The Commune was the first attempt of a proletarian revolution to break up the bourgeois state machinery and it revealed the political form which can and must take the place the broken machine. As Marx perceived, it was fuller democracy, which retained the indispensable principle of representation but without the false form of a parliament.

It was a government conducted by the people in arms, without the parasitic growths of bureaucracy, police, or standing army. The communes, Marx perceived, were working assemblies, not talking shops; their members both made the laws and executed them, all officials being elected and subject to recall.

Most important of all, it abolished all money privileges of officialdom and reduced the remuneration of all servants of the state to working-men’s wages. Its only failure was that, being a minority, it did not thoroughly crush the bourgeoisie. Extended to the whole people, Lenin said, it will provide the plan for a state that has already begun to wither away.

It will still be centralized, but the centralism will be voluntary. The majority can itself perform all the functions which the bourgeois state reserves for a few privileged bureaucrats. Its principle can be simple work from everyone and for everyone, and equal pay for all. It can be, up to a point, a kind of naive, primitive democracy, for capitalism has already brought business and the public services to such a degree of organization that accounting and control have been reduced to a few simple operations, like registering, filing, and checking, within the capacity of anyone who can read and write.

Experts and technicians can be hired, and they will work as willingly for the proletariat as they now work for the capitalists. Industrial administration of railways, big factories, large-scale commerce, and banking is as simple as the post office. Within twenty-four hours, if capitalists and bureaucrats were evicted, control could be taken over, and all citizens would become hired employees of one national syndicate.

This preposterous caricature of an industrial economy and its transformation from capitalism into socialism is from every point of view so extraordinary that it calls for comment.

First, as concerns Marx’s account of the Commune, it was a tour de force. Marx had in fact expected the Commune to fail and had advised against the venture; afterward he made the best case for it he could, but there was nothing to say except vague generalities such as have been mentioned.

Second, as concerns Lenin’s picture of a proletarian dictatorship, it was not new but old. It pieced together speculations by anarchists and syndicalists about the direct control of industry by workers, and though radicals of these sorts had taken something from Marx, party Marxists in the West had regarded their ideas as beneath consideration by a socialist who knew anything about the management of an industrial society or who even had a competent knowledge of Marx.

Third, this sort of utopian speculation has seemed so out of character for Lenin, who usually was pretty hard headed, that even its sincerity has been doubted. The simplest and most likely explanation seems to be that the prospect of revolution went to Lenin’s head; for a short time he believed that communism would come quickly and easily. Finally, it is obvious that what Lenin expected in September (if indeed he did expect it) had no relation whatever to the long-run development of communism. Indeed, one wonders whether communist ideologists have not sometimes wished that Lenin’s pamphlet could be forgotten.

The attempt after the revolution to let workers manage the factories nearly ruined the economy. Party members continued for a time to take workers pay, but as soon as there was a serious attempt to increase production, wage differentials comparable with those in capitalist countries had to be adopted as incentives. Lenin seems always to have regarded these as defections from communism, but as he said in 1920, social justice had to be subordinated to the interests of production.

State and Revolution, however, did add a permanent element to communist ideology. This was the theory, taken from Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program, that communist society will develop in two stages.

In the first, sometimes called socialism as distinguished from communism the ownership of the means of production by the whole people will have abolished exploitation. In this stage, also, a kind of equality will prevail, because-everyone will receive as much as his own labor has created.

But this is still, as Marx said, a bourgeois right, since it permits consumption only according to the work performed. Its principle is, From each according to his ability, to each according to his work. Social classes at this stage are disappearing and with them the need for repression, so that the state is in process of withering away.

The abolition of capitalism will be accompanied by a great expansion of production and this, Lenin expected, as socialists have usually expected, would bring with it a change in human nature, a person mot like the present man in the street, with habits such that an occasional unsocial individual will be restrained as easily and as spontaneously as civilized people part two fighters.

Finally, humanity will be prepared for true communism in which a classless society, with no need tor repression, can realize full justice and equality, a society capable of diving by the principle, For each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

Read More Related Topics:

The Philosophy of Communism
Russian Marxism
Lenin’s Theory of The Party
Lenin on Dialectical Materialism
The Bourgeois and the Proletarian Revolutions
Imperialist Capitalism
Approach to March Revolution
The Problem of Success in Bolshevik Revolution
The Vanguard of the Proletariat
Lenin Doctrine of Democratic Centralism
Socialism in One Country
Communism in China
The Temper of Communism

Leave a Comment