One of the things that James E. Connor’s Lenin On Politics And Revolution confirmed for me was that Lenin adapted Marxism to suit his own needs. And what were Lenin’s needs? The man needed to make Revolution— now, and in Russia.
Lenin was very much a Marxist. To hold otherwise would be silly. However, as I hope to show in the following series of posts, if ever practical Revolution and theoretical Marxism collided (and sometimes they did) Lenin was very much a Revolutionary first, and a Marxist second.
One thing that becomes apparent following Lenin’s trajectory into power and his fairly brief reign is that he considered Marxism negotiable to exigencies. For instance, Russia did not actually fit the Marxist description of a country ripe for a Proletarian Revolution—not even close. But Lenin came up with several arguments which, according to him, made Marxism fit Russia… and later, he would do all he could to make Russia fit Marxism.
Lenin had to justify – at least to himself and to other Marxists– why Russia’s revolution, if it had one, should be of the Marxist variety at all. Russia was hardly what an objective observer would call a modern Capitalist nation, and its Bourgeoisie class was stunted at best. Connor writes that the arguments Lenin devised to get around the tiny fact that Revolutionary Marxism did not apply to Russia transformed Marxism… “from an ideology designed for the most highly industrialized nations into one that provided both a rationale and a strategy for revolution and development in backward areas.”
To stretch Marxism enough so that it covered Russia (a big stretch), Lenin came-up with the following rationalizations…
1) As Connor tells us, “almost every Marxist had taken it as an article of faith that the Proletarian Revolution would erupt first in the most advanced countries, in those which had exhausted the possibilities for further progress within the confines of private property relationships.” This most certainly was not Russia. The trouble for Lenin was that, since Russia had never completed its Capitalist phase of development, it could not yet enter its Proletarian Revolutionary phase according to Marxist doctrine. Even Lenin accepted, writing in The State And Revolution in 1917, that the coming Communist society would obviously have… “its origin in Capitalism.” By this he was referring to two big ideas in Marxism: a) that the Capitalist stage is a necessary pre-condition for Communism, for it is under Capitalism that all the organizational, transportational, and communicational systems will be constructed that Communism will rely on to carry-out its agenda. And b) it will take the exploitation of Capitalism to provide the impetus to push people to rebel against the old ways. As Lenin put it, Capitalism gives birth to Communism.
To get around the minor problem that Russia was not a mature Capitalist country by any standard, Lenin introduced the concept of the weak or immature bourgeoisie. Russia’s bourgeoisie, claimed Lenin, had been held back by conditions particular to Russia from achieving full Capitalism. According to Lenin’s spinnin’, the bourgeoisie in Russia had been unable to complete its own revolution. Russia was a country, proclaimed Lenin, which had become mired partway-down the Capitalist road. Marxism had not really considered such a possibility. Thus, Lenin, himself, would need to show the way forward into the sun for Russia’s oppressed masses.
2) Connor says that Lenin also “sketched out a revolutionary role for the peasantry.” Before Lenin, it was assumed that the Proletariat would be the ones making the revolution. The peasants did not fit Marx’s plan, for they had never been “modernized.” It would take a class, such as the Proletariat, wise in the ways of modern technology and organization and war-making to successfully take-on the established upper class. Furthermore, peasants, who suffered under most directly from local tyrants, were often conservatives who supported the Emperor or high King, for he was the only force powerful enough, and with motivations coincident enough to their own, to stand up to the overwhelming local power set above them. [This is just the most obvious area of Leninism which Mao Zedong will draw from when he later adapts Communism to his own country of China].
3) Lenin suggested that the REAL energy for Revolution was not in the industrialized nations, but was swirling around in the less advanced countries. In the advanced states, the Bourgeoisie had succeeded to a remarkable extent in co-opting the Proletariat. Even Engels had been forced to admit that many Proletariats in England were becoming invested psychologically—as well as financially– in the Capitalist system. While twentieth century Capitalism was adapting in the modernized nations by beginning to extend some of its remarkable material gains to the workers, Lenin observed that the SERIOUS exploitation of the lower classes was occurring, not in the heavily industrialized states, but in the backward countries. Russia’s people, for instance, suffered greatly beneath the autocratic rule of Tsar Nicholas.
4) Lastly, in a truly transcendental and remarkable move (that only with hindsight appears obvious), Lenin took the idea of a Proletarian Revolution to a bigger stage… There were not just Bourgeois oppressors and Proletarian victims within certain states– there were entire nations which took on the role of either Bourgeoisie or Proletarian. On this larger stage, the Proletarian Revolution would occur –not just within a state—but as a global phenomenon. As Connor explains Lenin’s thinking on this… “An increasing number of exploited Proletarian nations would confront a handful of the richest and most powerful Imperialist states. The end result of this process would be analogous to that which Marx had predicted for individual Capitalist countries: a Proletarian Revolution, now of worldwide dimensions, would overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish the classless society.” This twist and amplification of Marxist doctrine would have immeasurable consequences for international politics for nearly the whole of the twentieth century.