Lenin On The Proletarian Revolution



So why did Karl Marx pins his hopes for Revolution so squarely on the Proletariat class (exemplified by the city-dwelling factory worker)?  The reason is that the Proletariat are in the perfect historical position to bring this fight.  The classes high above them (the Capitalists and the Bourgeois) obviously do not wish to revolt against a system that’s working pretty well for them, all things considered.  And the class just above the Proletariat, the “Petty Bourgeois,” are, declares Lenin, “attracted to the side of the ‘Big’ Bourgeois and are largely subordinated to them” because, by serving the Big Bourgeois as artisans and tradesmen and the like, they are provided with a “comparatively comfortable, quiet, and respectable” life, and they can feel themselves superior to the majority of the population.

On the other side of the economic spectrum, below the Proletariat, are the peasants, people working small-time jobs in the countryside.  They are typically not highly educated and have never been thoroughly modernized.  They maintain largely the same life-style and worldview as their parents before them.  Although peasants, too, are exploited and oppressed, they are, according to Marxist doctrine, “incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation.”  Nevertheless, Lenin, adapting Marxist theory to Russian realities, added the corollary– novel at the time–  that peasants, though not leading the Revolution, could none-the-less contribute to the Revolution.

In the end, Marxism predicts it will be the Proletarian class which rises up against the Bourgeoisie and Capitalists because it is only the Proletariat who are “sufficiently numerous, class-conscious, and disciplined” to lead the Communists to power.

But there is an unasked question remaining… “If the Proletariat are leading the Revolution, who is leading the Proletariat?”  The answer, says Lenin, is the Intelligencia.

Writing in What Is To Be Done, Lenin states that socialist theory could have never come from the Proletarian class, itself.  The theory of socialism, writes Lenin, “grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals.  By their social status, the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia.”  Examining history, one finds that this sort of irony– that the leading classes produce their own greatest enemies of the State– occurs time and time again.  Many an anti-Western leader during the twentieth century for instance, was educated in the West.

“The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, that is the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc.”  This is all that the “spontaneous development of the working-class movement” leads to without leadership from their intellectual superiors.  That is why, Lenin states, it is our task, “to combat spontaneity, and to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving.”  The theorizing, propaganda, and organizational skills of the Intelligentsia are required to take union agitation to the next level… to Revolution.  How does the Intelligentsia go about exerting its influence?… “The principal thing, of course,” answers Lenin, “is propaganda and agitation among all strata of the people”

“The class struggle was already going on when socialist thought was introduced into it,” writes Lenin.  Without the injection of revolutionary ideas from the outside, from alienated Bourgeois-Intellectuals like Marx, the Proles would have never been able to develop an alternative system to Capitalism on their own.  Says Lenin… “there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves.”  What happened in reality was that the Bourgeois-Intellectuals originated modern socialism and then “communicated it to the more intellectually developed Proletarians.”

Additionally, for the Proletariat to fulfill their Revolutionary function properly, the Intelligentsia must take it upon themselves to educate them concerning the nature of the economic world around them… “The worker must have a clear picture in his mind of the economic nature and the social and political features of the landlord and the priest, the high state official and the peasant, the student and the vagabond; he must know their strong and weak points; he must grasp the meaning of all the catchwords and sophisms by which each class and each stratum camouflages its selfish strivings and its real inner workings; he must understand what interests are reflected by certain institutions and certain laws.”

Lenin seems to imagine a bewildered, bleary-eyed, partially blinded Proletarian class emerging like infants “into the light of day out of the womb of Capitalism.”  They will not be immediately ready for full Communism.  Thus, after the Revolution, what Lenin calls the “lower phase” of Communism will be implemented.  In this phase, workers will receive certificates proving that they have done their share of work.  These spendable certificates will carry the value of the amount of work the worker has done (minus, of course, the deduction for the “public fund”).  In this way, says Lenin, “every worker receives from society as much as he has given to it.” 

However, states Lenin, this apparent equality is actuality inequality.  This is because all “people are not alike; one is strong, another is weak; one is married, another is not; one has more children, another has less, and so on.”  Thus, it is actually unjust for everyone to receive compensation based only on work accomplished.  Neither the person’s needs nor his productive capability (or handicaps) are considered.

Some people with certain advantages in resources or aptitudes can make more money than others, and  others, though they receive equal compensation, will end-up receiving less benefits from their work because they have a larger family to support or have some other extenuating circumstance.  “The first phase of Communism, therefore, cannot yet provide justice and equality.  Difference, and unjust differences, in wealth will still persist.”

Lenin says this initial phase of Communism is not yet true Communism, but might be called correctly “Socialism.”  The means of production have been made the common property of the people, but there will still be disparity (in real terms) between people receiving the same nominal amount of compensation.  At this point, “the whole society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labor and pay.  But this ‘factory’ discipline, which the Proletariat  –after defeating the Capitalists, after overthrowing the exploiters– will extend to the whole of society, is by no means our ideal, or our ultimate goal.”
—   —   —   —   —

I would like to end today’s post, my second-to-last on Lenin, with one of my favorite Leninisms, free of charge (although I strongly suspect that, with the direction copyright law is heading, the writings of Lenin, as well as the music of Tchaikovsky, will once again come under copyright protection)…

“Great revolutionary teaching is imperceptibly falsified and adapted to prevailing philistinism.”

– Lenin, The State And Revolution





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