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Leninism is a political theory and practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat, led by a revolutionary vanguard party. Developed by and named after Russian revolutionary and politician Vladimir Lenin, Leninism comprises political and socialist economic theories, developed from Marxism, and Lenin's interpretations of Marxist theory within the agrarian Russian Empire of the early 20th century. Leninism reversed Marxâs order of economics over politics, allowing for a political revolution led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries rather than a spontaneous uprising of the working class as predicted by Karl Marx.[1] After the October Revolution of 1917, Leninism was the ideological basis of Soviet socialism, specifically its Russian realisation in the Soviet Union.

As a political-science term Leninism entered common usage in 1922, only after infirmity ended Leninâs participation in governing the USSR. Two years later, in July 1924, at the fifth congress of the Communist International (Comintern), Grigory Zinoviev popularized Leninism as a Marxist ideological term denoting ârevolutionaryâ.

After the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established in 1922, its governing philosophy, Leninism, became the predominant branch of Marxism. In Russia, the theoretical descendants of Leninism are Stalinism and Trotskyism; at his death in 1924, Leninâs revolutionary comrades, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky, were the leaders of the strongest ideological factions that emerged to assume command of the Communist Party in the USSR.

Ideologically, the Stalinists and the Trotskyists (like their namesakes), deny the philosophic and political legitimacy of the other, because each claims to be the true Leninist theory.



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Revolutionary political scientist: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, 1920.

The Communist Manifesto (1848) established that a communist revolution would occur only under specific conditions â including the pre-condition of an economically-exhausted industrialized nation. Because Imperial Russia did not possess most of the requisite pre-revolutionary conditions (i.e. nationalism, irredentism, class warfare), Lenin adapted Marxâs urban revolution to Russiaâs agricultural conditions, sparking the ârevolutionary nationalism of the poorâ.[2]

The pamphlet What is to be Done? (1902), proposed that the (urban) proletariat can successfully achieve revolutionary consciousness only under the leadership of a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries â who can achieve aims only with internal democratic centralism in the party; tactical and ideological policy decisions are agreed via democracy, and every member must support and promote the agreed party policy.

To wit, capitalism can be overthrown only with revolution â because attempts to reform capitalism from within (Fabianism) and from without (democratic socialism) will fail because of its inherent contradictions. The purpose of a Leninist revolutionary vanguard party is the forceful deposition of the incumbent government; assume power (as agent of the proletariat) and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat government. Moreover, as the government, the vanguard party must educate the proletariat â to dispel the societal false consciousness of religion and nationalism that are culturally instilled by the bourgeoisie in facilitating exploitation. The dictatorship of the proletariat is governed with a de-centralized direct democracy practised via soviets (councils) where the workers exercise political power (cf. soviet democracy); the fifth chapter of State & Revolution, describes it:

â. . . the dictatorship of the proletariat â i.e. the organisation of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of crushing the oppressors. . . . An immense expansion of democracy, which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the rich: . . . and suppression by force, i.e. exclusion from democracy, for the exploiters and oppressors of the people â this is the change which democracy undergoes during the transition from capitalism to communism.â [3]

The Bolshevik government was hostile to nationalism, especially to Russian nationalism, the âGreat Russian chauvinismâ, as an obstacle to establishing the proletarian dictatorship.[4] The revolutionary elements of Leninism â the disciplined vanguard party, a dictatorial state, and class war â are the influences of the anarchist Sergey Nechayev and the nineteenth century Narodnik (âPeopleâ) movement (of whom Alexandr Ulyanov, Leninâs elder brother, was a member), thus âthe morals of the Bolshevik party owed as much to Nechayev as they did to Marxâ;[5] hence his social class qualifications of the kulaks and the bourgeoisie as âparasitesâ, âinsectsâ, âleechesâ, âbloodsuckersâ,[6] â ideologic considerations present in Leninism, but not in Marxism.

Composed for revolutionary praxis, Leninism is neither rigorously proper philosophy nor discrete political theory; it required the Hungarian intellectual György Luk¡cs (1885â1971) to logically develop Leninâs ideas, notably in the anthology History and Class Consciousness (1923) which established a more philosophically rigorous basis for Leninism, than did Lenin, himself â thus illustrating Leninâs prescient 1915 revolutionary dictum: âOne cannot be a revolutionary SocialâDemocrat without participating, according to oneâs powers, in developing this theory [Marxism], and adapting it to changed conditions.â [7]

In 1924 , Luk¡cs published the monograph Lenin: A Study in the Unity of His Thought (1924), and in 1925, a critical review of The ABC of Communism (1920), Nikolai Bukharinâs popular communist catechism explaining historical materialism to the semi-literate peoples of the (old) Tsarist Empire. The critique discusses reification (Ger. Verdinglichung, Versachlichung âobjectificationâ), the philosophic concept wherein the commodified nature of a capitalist society, renders social relations into things; action and condition which then preclude the proletariatâs developing the social and intellectual perceptions required for the spontaneous emergence of class consciousness. In the event, in such a political context arises the need for the revolutionary leadership of the Leninist vanguard party â the subjective aspect of the re-invigorated Marxist dialectics.


In Leninâs developing Marxism for Russian application, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) explains a development which Marx predicted: capitalismâs becoming a global system wherein advanced capitalist industrial nations export financial capital to colonial countries to exploit their resources and labour. This superexploitation of poorer countries allows the capitalist countries to maintain some homeland workers politically content with a slightly-higher standard of living, and so ensure peaceful labour-capital relations, (cf. labor aristocracy, globalization). Hence, a proletarian revolution could not occur in the developed capitalist countries while the imperialist global system was intact; thus an under-developed country would feature the first proletarian revolution, and Imperial Russia was the weakest country in the capitalist global system.[8] In the early twentieth century, Russiaâs economy was primarily agrarian, effected with peasant and animal labour; under-developed when compared to industrialized Western Europe and North America.

Workers of the world, unite!: in 1915, he wrote, âUneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence the victory of socialism is possible, first in several, or even in one capitalist country taken separately. The victorious proletariat of that country, having expropriated the capitalists and organised its own socialist production, would stand up against the rest of the world, the capitalist world.â [9]

On 14 May 1918, after the Bolshevik Revolution, in a speech to a joint meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Moscow Soviet, Lenin declared: âI know that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever, and even call themselves âSocialistsâ, who assert that power should not have been seized until the revolution had broken out in all countries. They do not suspect, that by speaking in this way, they are deserting the revolution, and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the toiling classes bring about a revolution on an international scale means that everybody should stand stock-still in expectation. That is nonsense.â [10]


At Leninâs death, Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky fought for the leadership of the Communist Party, the USSR, and Communist world politics. In 1924, Stalin proposed the thesis of Socialism in One Country â that the USSR should domestically build socialism, while supporting revolutionary governments worldwide. Trotsky countered that socialism in one country was impossible, and that the USSR should have supported revolution in developed countries. Stalin and cohort labelled that counter-argument as Trotskyism, to connote that Socialism in One Country was the theoretic continuation of Leninism. Later, Stalinist proponents called it Marxism-Leninism, and opponents called it Stalinism; in the event, Stalinâs theory was adopted and became state policy, and Leon Trotsky was expelled from the USSR.

In the People's Republic of China, the Communist Party of China is organised as a Leninist revolutionary vanguard party, based upon Maoism (Mao Zedong Thought), the Chinese Communist development of Marxism-Leninism, and the theoretical basis of many third world revolutionary movements.

Contemporary Leninists see globalization as the continuation of imperialism, wherein developed-country capitalists exploit the working class of under-developed and developed countries with low wages, long workdays, and intensive working conditions.

See also


  1. ^ http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitextlo/ess_leninscritique.html
  2. ^ Faces of Janus p. 133.
  3. ^ Hill, Christopher Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1971) Penguin Books:Londonp. 86.
  4. ^ Harding, Neil (ed.) The State in Socialist Society, second edition (1984) St. Antony's College: Oxford, p. 189.
  5. ^ Figes, O. A People's Tragedy (1997) Pimlico, p. 133
  6. ^ Solzhenitsyn, A. The Gulag Archipelago (1974) Collins p.24.
  7. ^ Hill, Christopher Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1971) Penguin Books:London p. 35.
  8. ^ Tomasic, D. "The Impact of Russian Culture on Soviet Communism" (1953), The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 4 December, pp. 808-9.
  9. ^ Lenin, V. I. âUnited States of Europe Sloganâ, Collected Works, Vol. 18, p. 232.
  10. ^ Lenin, V. I. Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 9.

Further reading

External links

Works by Vladimir Lenin:

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