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State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin

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Preface

Background Questions

  • Who was Lenin?
  • How was Marxist theory tested during the Russian Revolution?
  • How are classes defined and what are the main classes of this historical period?

Notes

  • Russia’s February 1917 revolution starts with International Women’s Day & becomes a general strike. The workers make the revolution, depose the monarchy but power ends up in the hands of the petty bourgeoisie.
  • Russia’s October 1917 Revolution is the world’s first socialist revolution where workers claim state power in their name. “All Power to the Soviets” is realized; “Land, Bread, Peace” is being implemented.
  • Monopoly capitalism & state monopoly capitalism: Laissez faire capitalism is followed by monopoly capitalism which is followed by state monopoly capitalism where the state becomes intertwined with monopoly capitalism to serve, preserve capitalism. This is what we have today, ie Obama making decision for the car corporations and bailing out banks.
  • World War I was an imperialist war to carve up Europe. The capitulation of social democrats to patriotism during WWI broke up the international socialist movement.
  • Lenin’s purpose in State & Revolution is to correct the distortions of Marxism used by the social democrats to justify their avoidance of revolution, that is, socialist revolution, in 1917 Russia.
  • Karl Kautsky; Second International: Austrian, leading Marxist, friends with Engels, degenerated at the start of WWI when he took a utopian position, not recognizing the imperialist nature of the war and failed to oppose the war. After the October revolution, he criticized the Bolsheviks, saying they pulled off a military coup, not a revolution.
  • Russian Revolution of 1905: first soviet in world history; workers and peasants presenting a petition to tzar are mown down; Trotsky arrested; the “dressed rehearsal for 1917”

Discussion Points from the Preface

  1. What was the impact of World War I on Europe’s working class?
  2. What was Lenin’s purpose in writing State & Revolution?
  3. What is the importance of the relationship of socialist revolution to the state?

Chapter 1: Class Society and the State

Section 1. The State as the Product of the Irreconcilability of Class Antagonisms

  • Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks were two socialist parties in Russia. Lenin’s party, the Bolsheviks, had been in the same organization as the Mensheviks, but the two wings split in 1903 over the question of the need for violent revolution to defeat capitalism (Bolsheviks) versus the possibility of reforming capitalism into a worker-friendly regime (Menshviks).
  • February 1917 Russian Revolution. Kicked off by women workers on International Women’s Day, this revolution ended feudalism in Russia and deposed the tzar. A provisional government composed of representatives from the liberal bourgeoisie, Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionaries was formed. The Bolsheviks also had representatives in the government.
  1. Lenin is writing a few months after the February 1917 revolution in Russia. Who does he say is distorting Marxism, in what way is Marx’s doctrine being distorted and what are they saying?
  2. Why does Lenin quote extensively from Marx and Engels, who were they, and what major works does Lenin site?
  3. Explain the role of the state in relation to irreconcilable class antagonism according to Marx, to the opportunists and to Kautsky.

Section 2. Special Bodies of Armed Men, Prisons etc

Lenin begins by comparing state society with ancient, pre-state society based on gens. The first distinction is that tribal society is organized based on family relations, while class society is organized based on territory.

  1. What is the second major distinction?
  2. What do revolutions attempt in relation to “special bodies of armed men”?
  3. Engels states that the public power of the state tends to grow stronger. What does Lenin say about how this statement applies to 1917? How does it apply today?

Section 3. The State as Instrument for the Exploitation of Oppressed Classes

  • Paris Commune 1871 (see notes from Chpt 3)
  • Bonapartism/First and Second Empires in France. The French Revolution of 1789 ended feudalism in France. However, there followed decades of unrest and various forms of government including two instances of a constitutional monarchy and two Napoleonic empires.
  • Kerensky government: Kerensky was the head of the Provisional Government in Russia following the February 1917 revolution. He was a patriot opposed to the revolution, not himself a revolutionary, he hung around revolutionists.
  1. Who controls the state (in general), and in the modern representative state?
  2. Why is a democratic republic the very best political shell for capitalism?
  3. Explain the last quotation by Engels in this section.

Section IV. The Withering Away of the State and Violent Revolution

  1. What does Engels mean when he says:
    • in assuming state power, the proletariat “puts and end to the state as the state”
    • the state is a “special repressive force.”
    • the “withering away” of the state
  2. What does Engels have to say to say about the social democratic slogan of a “people’s free state”?
  3. What does Engels say about violent revolution? How do his thoughts on this relate to his thoughts on the withering away of the state.

Chapter 2. The Experience of 1848-1851

Lenin is debating with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (whom he sometimes refers to as the opportunists) and the Marxist Kautsky. He is trying to demonstrate through the writings of Engels’ and Marx that, following the February 1917 Russian revolution, the logical Marxist stance was for socialists to call for the workers to seize power and establish a workers state.

After all, it was the workers, with the support of the peasants, who launched the February revolution. This revolution ended the feudal state, i.e., the monarchy headed by the Tsar. Within days of that victory, the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was formed and acted as the legitimate body representing the vast majority—the proletariat and peasantry. The bourgeoisie opposed the revolution, but they ended up with the power, and established a capitalist state.

How did this happen? The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, two leading socialist parties, insisted that the liberal bourgeoisie should rule. Why? For one thing, up to this time, workers had never taken state power in their name. For another, the prevalent Left view was that before socialism could rule, a bourgeois democracy must first be established. The bold Marxist thinkers, Lenin and Trotsky, we both in exile. Even the Bolshevik Party’s representatives on the scene, supported handing the power over to the bourgeoisie.

When Lenin returned in April he launched a fierce battle to convince his own party, the Bolsheviks, that the time was ripe for the first ever socialist revolution. State and Revolution is part of that effort.

Notes

  1. Throughout, Lenin clarifies what Marxism says about the nature of the state and of revolution. But he also points our how these teachings are distorted in order to discourage revolutionary attempts. In reading, first try to understand the Marxist concepts, and secondarily how they are being twisted.
  2. The word revolution. Revolution is popularly used to mean any significant, violent upheaval that results in some kind of change in rule. In State and Revolution, Lenin’s goal is to give the Marxist definition.When Lenin uses the word revolution in State and Revolution, most of the time he is laying out the basic precepts for any revolution that changes the class in power, whether that be a bourgeois revolution eliminating feudalism, or a workers’ revolution eliminating capitalism. To confuse things, occasionally he refers to socialist or workers revolution simply as “revolution.”Chapter 2 begins with a reference to the Revolution of 1848, shorthand for the French Revolution of 1848, which, to quote Trotsky, “That was not a great revolution, replacing one social regime with another, but a political reshuffle within the framework of the same social regime.” The French Revolution of 1789-99 was a great revolution, ending feudalism, deposing the monarchy (weep not for Marie Antoinette), and establishing bourgeois rule. Then followed constant upheaval, including several Napoleonic empires and two constitutional monarchies, but these were all different governments of the new capitalist state; the old feudal state was destroyed in that first revolution.

    The title of chapter 2 refers to numerous other revolutions that occurred throughout Europe 1848-1851. These revolutions were bourgeois democratic upheavals to wipe out vestiges of feudalism. Marx and Engels hoped they would prove to be the prelude to proletarian revolution, which is why they opened The Communist Manifesto with “A specter is haunting Europe…the specter of Communism.”

  3. The word democracy. Lenin uses the word “democracy” in two ways. Marxists frequently refer to the capitalist state as a bourgeois democracy because this state incorporates rights unheard of under feudalism, such as the right to vote, freedom of religion, constitutions, parliaments and some civil liberties. But Lenin also points out that a workers state will have the broadest form of democracy since the majority will actually govern.

Section I. On the Eve of Revolution

  1. What is the significance of Marx’s formulation, “the state, i.e., the proletariat organized as the ruling class”?
  2. Why is the proletariat the only class capable of accomplishing the overthrow of bourgeois rule?
  3. What does Marx mean by the term, “the dictatorship of the proletariat”?
  4. Why does the proletariat need state power?
  5. What is to be achieved by the education of a workers party?
  6. How are these teachings by Marx distorted?

Section II. Results of the Revolution

  1. Explain what Lenin means when he says that “all revolutions which have taken place up to the present have helped to perfect the state machinery, whereas it must be shattered, broken to pieces.”
  2. Answer Lenin’s questions.
  3. “The problem of the state is put concretely: how did the bourgeois state, the state machinery necessary for the rule of the bourgeoisie, come into being? What were its changes, what its evolution in the course of the bourgeois revolutions and in the face of the independent actions of the oppressed classes? What are the tasks of the proletariat relative to this state machinery?”

  4. What were the events in Russia after the February Revolution which verify for Lenin the Marxist understanding that: “Such a course of events compels the revolution ‘to concentrate all its forces of destruction’ against the state power, and to regard the problem as one, not of perfecting the machinery of the state, but of breaking up and annihilating it.”

Section III. The Formulation of the Question by Marx in 1852

  1. Why does limiting Marxism to the teaching of the class struggle curtail Marxism? What is missing?
  2. What was Kautsky’s principle disagreement with Lenin?
  3. What is the essence of the bourgeois state and of the state transitioning from capitalism to Communism?

Chapter 3: In what does the Heroism of the Communards Consist?

Notes

  • The Paris Commune. In 1871, the workers of Paris ruled their city for two months until they were militarily defeated by the forces of the French Republic. How they designed their self-rule is what Marx painstakingly studied and Lenin reports on in this chapter.Following the Paris Commune, the first instance of a “workers’ state”, Europe’s Communists and Anarchists split, fundamentally over the question of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat.”Of note is the role of women in the Commune. A Women’s Union was formed which stated that women’s liberation necessitated a struggle against capitalism. They demanded gender equality, work equality, secular education, divorce, the abolition of the designation ‘illegitimate’ and of prostitution, and they opened a communal restaurant.
  • Georgi Plekhanov is considered the first Russian Marxist. But Lenin calls him a renegade from Marxism because he believed that Russia would have to pass through a capitalist phase before becoming socialist.

Study Questions

Section I. In What Does the Heroism of the Communards Consist?

  1. What was Marx’s response to the Paris Commune initially, and after it formed?
  2. What was the principal lesson from the Commune that he thought so important he made a correction to the Communist Manifesto?
  3. Why did Marx think that England was an exception in 1871, but Lenin says that by 1917 it is clear this exception no longer applies?
  4. What did Marx mean by the term “a people’s revolution”?

Section II. What is to Replace the Shattered State Machinery?

  1. What did Marx mean when he said: “The direct antithesis of the Empire was the Commune”?
  2. How was the Commune’s approach to democracy a case of the “transformation of quantity into quality”? What does Lenin have to say about Bernstein’s charge of “primitive democracy”?
  3. What was the importance of the Commune’s measure that all public servants were to be paid workers’ wages? How is this measure and the measure stating that these officials are subject to recall a bridge from capitalism to socialism, according to Lenin?
  4. What does Lenin say about peasants under capitalism?

Section III. The Destruction of Parliamentarism

  1. How did Marx demonstrate dialectical thinking with the issue of parliamentarism? What is the way out of Parliamentarism according to Marx?
  2. How did the socialist ministers who took office after the Russian revolution of Feb 1917 apply the Commune-inspired approach to their positions?
  3. How does Marx’s position on officialdom demonstrate that he is not a utopian?
  4. Lenin uses the post office as an example of how easily a capitalist institution can be transformed to a worker controlled one. Explain.

Section IV. The Organization of National Unity

Notes

This section gives a glimpse at the multitude of opinions in the radical milieu of Marx’s time: anarchists, social democrats (opportunists), Marxists all put forth their ideas and critiqued each other. Lenin discusses various entities and their views on Marx’s comments on the Commune and nationalism, given in the quotation at the beginning of this section. He introduces a new “opportunist” in this section: Bernstein.

Eduard Bernstein was a German socialist who knew both Engels and Kautsky. He disagreed with Marx on the necessity to destroy capitalism, rather he thought socialism would be achieved in capitalism as workers gained more and more rights.

He also introduces two leading figures of anarchism: Proudhon and Bakunin.

Peirre-Joseph Proudhon was a French printer who was the first to call himself an anarchist. He and Marx influenced each other’s thinking, but Proudhon ended up rejecting Communism over numerous issues, one of which was that he believed in worker rule through associations rather than through state control. Proudhon called himself a federalist (see below).

Mikhail Bakunin was a Russian radical, an opponent of Marx on many fronts, who disagreed with the dictatorship of the proletariat. He is influential in anarchist circles to this day.

Federalism. Bakunin disagreed with the concept of a centralized state and advocated instead a free association of societal groupings at all levels.

  1. What was Marx’s position on the unity of the nation?
  2. Where do Marx and the anarchists (Proudhon and Bakunin) agree and disagree?
  3. How does Bernstein misrepresent Marx?

Section V. Destruction of the Parasite-State

  1. What is the political form for the economic liberation of labor that Marx discusses?
  2. Where did Marx get this idea?

Chapter 4: Supplementary Explanations by Engels

Section I: The Housing Question

  1. What are some of the socialist solutions to the housing question presented by Engels and Lenin?
  2. In a proletarian state would there be rent?
  3. How do Marxists and anarchists differ on the question of the “actual seizure of possessions”?

Section II: Polemic Against the Anarchists (written in 1873)

  • Proudhon was a contemporary of Marx and Engels, an influential anarchist writer and thinker still studied today.
  1. How do Marxists and anarchists differ on the question of the state?
  2. Why does Engels say that anarchists serve the interests of reaction?

Section III: Letter to Bebel

  • August Bebel was a German socialist who knew Engels. He wrote the great book “Women and Socialism.” As you can tell by the end of this section Engels characterizes him as a social democrat because he believed capitalism could be reformed.
  1. What is Engels’ objection to the anarchist formulation of “a people’s free state”?

Section IV: Criticism of the Draft of the Erfurt Program

  1. What mistake do bourgeois reformists tend to make on the issue of monopoly capitalism?
  2. What points does Engels make as to the republic, the national question and local self government?

Section V: The 1891 Preface to Marx’s Civil War in France

  1. What are the lessons of the Paris Commune summarized by Engels?

Section VI: Engels on the Overcoming of Democracy

  1. Explain: “The withering away of the state also means the withering away of democracy.”

Chapter 5: The Economic Base of the Withering Away of the State

Section I: Formulation of the Question by Marx

  1. How is it possible to discuss the future evolution of future communism?

Section II: Transition from Capitalism to Communism

  1. Describe democracy under capitalism. For whom does it exist, how is it restricted?
  2. Describe democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat.
  3. Describe democracy in Communism.

Section III: The First Phase of Communist Society

  1. Describe “equality” in this phase. Is it justice?

Section IV : The Higher Phase of Communist Society

  1. What is the economic basis for the complete withering away of the state?
  2. What is the scientific difference between socialism and communism?
  3. Under what conditions will the transition from the first phase of Communist Society to the Higher Phase be possible?

Lenin’s State and Revolution Historical Timeline

1848 European revolutions in France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Poland; most are crushed

Communist Manifesto published

1864 The 1st International formed by Marx and Engels

1870 Vladimir Lenin born in Russia

1871 Paris Commune

1883 Karl Marx dies in London; born in Germany 1818

1894 Engels’ On the Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is published

1895 Frederik Engels dies; born 1820

1905 First revolutionary attempt in Russia; failed but is a dress rehearsal for 1917

1914 World War I commences; ends 1918

Feb. 1917 IWD march turns into the Russian Revolution which deposes the tzar and puts power in the hands of a Provisional Government, an alliance of social democrat Mensheviks and petty bourgeois liberals

April 1917 Lenin’s “April Theses” where he berates the Bolsheviks for not pushing forward to a socialist revolution and agrees with Trotsky that the leadership of the revolution will be the workers with the support of the peasantry

Aug. 1917 State and Revolution written

Oct 1917 Bolsheviks lead the nation in the socialist revolution giving “all power to the Soviets” and voice to the demand “Land, Bread and Peace”

1924 Lenin dies

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