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Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution’ Essay (Critical Writing)

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Introduction

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the outstanding events of the twentieth century. For the first time in the history of the world, it brought about a government of the workers — a workers’ state. The theoretical base for Soviet Revolution had been given by VS. Lenin, an outstanding leader of men, a revolutionary, an orator and a prolific writer. He had adapted many Marxian values and in fact the foundations of the U.S.S.R. were referred to as based on Marxism-Leninism.

The international perspective of the socialist cause was rudely removed by Joseph Stalin who came to power after Lenin had passed away in 1924. Many of the ideas of Stalin like “Socialism in one country” ran counter to Marxism and Leninism. Those who opposed the changes in Marxism-Leninism were hounded out as happened to the fate of Leon Trotsky and his followers. Stalin’s bureaucratic and authoritarian rule was presented as the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ envisaged by Marx and elaborated by Lenin and Trotsky. Be that as it may, in this brief essay we shall summarize the important concepts stressed by Lenin in his State and the Revolution.

Origin of the State

Modern states derive their influence from a number of ideas. There is, of course, a long-standing tradition of Greco-Roman political thinking from the days of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. However, during the Middle Ages, the whole of Europe had, by and large, monarchies and the rulers claimed the divine right to rule. The Church for its own survival had supported this notion and had

gained great political influence as well. The voyages of discovery, Renaissance and Reformation had brought about vast changes in the thinking of men. The British had evolved their constitution and by the beginning of the 18th century had placed the monarchy under the control of people and treated the aristocracy on equal terms. But that was because of the peculiarity in England where the first son of the Aristocrats alone inherited the title and properties while other sons were considered commoners. In the rest of the Europe class divisions were marked. The King, the nobility (both spiritual and temporal) and the common people formed the three divisions in the society.

The French Revolution was the turning point in the history of mankind because it proclaimed the message of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity. Experiments in conducting the government by drawing up constitutions came about. The theory of divine right to rule began to gradually give way to people’s consent. Karl Marx had perceived the then state as comprising essentially irreconcilable elements and after extensive research came to the conclusion that only a classless society would put to an end to the exploitation of the working class. The growth of industrialization and capitalist order had provoked many socialists to clamor for humane treatment of fellow beings, laborers and agriculturists.

Contents in ‘the Revolution”

The first chapter is the most important one in this work because it provides the groundwork for a new state and its framework. “For instance, when, in the revolution of 1917, the question of the significance and role of the state arose in all its magnitude as a practical question demanding immediate action, and, moreover, action on a mass scale, all the Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks descended at once to the petty-bourgeois theory that the “state” “reconciles” classes.” (Lenin, The State and the Revolution,, 1917).

This sets forth the fallacies in the earlier approaches of others and posits the irreconcilable nature of the classes. In fact the Marxian dictum of there would be permanent exploitation by one section over the other so long as the right to private property remains is reiterated. In the existing societies, therefore, the instruments state, government, military, administration and police would be there only to protect the interests of the propertied. A revolution has to come about to overthrow the existing order, in case of Russia, it happened to be the overthrow of the Tsars and then the liberals. The revolution waged by the labor class would take under its wings the work force in the peasantry as well.

The overthrow of the government would lead to the establishment of self motivated temporary dictatorship of the proletariat. Production would be concentrated in the hands of community and private property abolished. In fact eventually the state, which is usually a coercive authority will also ‘wither away’.

The second and third chapters deal with the experience of 1848-51 and 1852. The discussion of events and ideas that emanates from these chapters also provide clues as to how a new revolution should be guided in Russia. It must be remembered that Marx believed that only in advanced economy, could there be the revolution by the working-class which would have developed full consciousness to understand its historical task of leading a revolution. The experience of active participation in 1905 revolution had convinced Leon Trotsky to put forth his idea of ‘Permanent Revolution’ which would gather the peasantry also and lead in a struggle for forming a classless society. Lenin very lately accepted this position and the revolution was to be “the revolution of workers and peasants”.

The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters deal with many theoretical questions and counter questions. They show the depth of scholarship in the works of Marx and Engels and how, while they were neither the first nor last of the socialists, they began to occupy a pre-eminent position as the Russian Revolution took its inspiration for their works. The seventh chapter is incomplete as by that time for Lenin the time had come for October Revolution to put into practice the theories developed and head a successful revolution. However, the leadership of the workers had to contend with internal civil war and external aggressions as well for many years.

Conclusion

While a number of other works by socialists had molded the thinking of advanced sections of the working class, the writings of Lenin and Trotsky were more prominent in adapting Marxism to the exigencies of the Soviet Union. The new state was beset with many internal and external problems. Many of the socialist ideas of Marxism-Leninism were not implemented in the new state. But the inspiration provided by the scholarship, commitment to cause, revolutionary fervor and leadership of Lenin brought about a new state, though it did not continue in the manner he would have preferred.

References

  1. Lenin, V.I. The State and the Revolution, 1917.
  2. Sabine, G.H. A History of Political Theory, 1980 4th Edition, Thomas Learning.
  3. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Karl Marx , 2003.
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