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Leninism is the theory and practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat, led by a revolutionary vanguard party. Theoretically, Leninism comprises the political and socialist economic theories of Vladimir Lenin, developed from Marxism, and his interpretations of Marxist theory, to fit the agrarian Russian Empiremarker of that time, Leninism reversed Marx’s order of economics over politics, allowing for a political revolution led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. After the October Revolution, in 1917, Leninism was the ideological basis of Soviet socialism, specifically its Russianmarker realisation in the Soviet Unionmarker.

As a political-science term Leninism entered common usage in 1922, only after infirmity ended Lenin’s 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 “revolutionary”.

After the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicsmarker 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, Lenin’s revolutionary comrades, Josef 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.


The Communist Manifesto (1848) established that a communist revolution would occur only under specific conditions — including the pre-condition of an economically-exhausted industrialized nation. Because Imperial Russiamarker did not possess most of the requisite pre-revolutionary conditions (i.e. nationalism, irredentism, class warfare), Lenin adapted Marx’s urban revolution to Russia’s agricultural conditions, sparking the “revolutionary nationalism of the poor”.

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 — 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 — 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 — 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:

“. . . the dictatorship of the proletariat — 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 — this is the change which democracy undergoes during the transition from capitalism to communism.”

The Bolshevik government was hostile to nationalism, especially to Russian nationalism, the “Great Russian chauvinism”, as an obstacle to establishing the proletarian dictatorship. The revolutionary elements of Leninism — the disciplined vanguard party, a dictatorial state, and class war — are the influences of the anarchist Sergey Nechayev and the nineteenth century Narodnik (“People”) movement (of whom Alexandr Ulyanov, Lenin’s elder brother, was a member), thus “the morals of the Bolshevik party owed as much to Nechayev as they did to Marx”; hence his social class qualifications of the kulaks and the bourgeoisie as “parasites”, “insects”, “leeches”, “bloodsuckers”, and the GULAG penal labour camp system — 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 Lukács (1885–1971) to logically develop Lenin’s ideas, notably in the anthology History and Class Consciousness (1923) which established a more philosophically rigorous basis for Leninism, than did Lenin, himself — thus illustrating Lenin’s prescient 1915 revolutionary dictum: “One cannot be a revolutionary Social–Democrat without participating, according to one’s powers, in developing this theory [Marxism], and adapting it to changed conditions.”

In 1924, Lukács 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 Bukharin’s popular communist catechism explaining historical materialism to the semi-literate peoples of the (old) Tsarist Empire. The critique discusses reification (Ger. Verdinglichung, Versachlichungobjectification”), the philosophic concept wherein the commodified nature of a capitalist society, renders social relations into things; action and condition which then preclude the proletariat’s 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 — the subjective aspect of the re-invigorated Marxist dialectics.


In Lenin’s developing Marxism for Russian application, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) explains a development which Marx predicted: capitalism’s 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 Russiamarker was the weakest country in the capitalist global system. In the early twentieth century, Russia’s 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, “Uneven 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.”

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: ”I know that there are, of course, sages who think they are very clever, and even call themselves ‘Socialists’, 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.”


At Lenin’s 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 — that the USSR should domestically build socialism, while supporting revolutionary governments world-wide. 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, Stalin’s theory was adopted and became state policy, and Leon Trotsky was expelled from the USSR.

In the People's Republic of Chinamarker, 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


  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. Volgovonov, D, Lenin, A New Biography The Free Press, p. 243.
  8. Hill, Christopher Lenin and the Russian Revolution (1971) Penguin Books:London p. 35.
  9. Tomasic, D. "The Impact of Russian Culture on Soviet Communism" (1953, The Western Political Quarterly, vol. 6, no. 4 December, pp. 808-9.
  10. Lenin, V. I. ‘United States of Europe Slogan’, Collected Works, Vol. 18, p. 232.
  11. Lenin, V. I. Collected Works, Vol. 23, p. 9.

Further reading

  • Marcel Liebman. Leninism Under Lenin. The Merlin Press. 1980. ISBN 0-85036-261-X
  • Roy Medvedev. Leninism and Western Socialism. Verso Books. 1981. ISBN 0-86091-739-8
  • Neil Harding. Leninism. Duke University Press. 1996. ISBN 0-8223-1867-9
  • Joseph Stalin. Foundations of Leninism. University Press of the Pacific. 2001. ISBN 0-89875-212-4
  • CLR James. Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin. Pluto Press. 2005. ISBN 0-7453-2491-6
  • Edmund Wilson. To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History. Phoenix Press. 2004. ISBN 0-7538-1800-0
  • Non-Leninist Marxism: Writings on the Workers Councils (texts by Gorter, Pannekoek, Pankhurst and Ruhle), Red and Black Publishers, St Petersburg, Florida, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9791813-6-8
  • Paul Le Blanc. Lenin and the Revolutionary Party. Humanities Press International, Inc. 1990. ISBN 0-391-03604-1.
  • A. James Gregor. The Faces of Janus. Yale University Press. 2000. ISBN 0-300-10602-5.

External links

Works by Vladimir Lenin:

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