How Marx and Lenin Defeated Participatory Democracy

state and revolution

State and Revolution: the Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution

by V.I. Lenin (1927)

Book Review

Free download from State and Revolution

State and Revolution is principally a diatribe against anarchism. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution,  wrote this book in hiding in Helsingfors (Finland). He defines the state as “an organ of domination of one class by the other by means of a standing army, police, prisons and an entrenched bureaucracy.”

I was particularly intrigued to re-read State and Revolution in view of Carroll Quigley’s revelations, in Tragedy and Hope, about the role Wall Street interests played in funding the Bolshevik revolution.

Lenin notes three main differences between Marxists and anarchists as regards the state:

1. Anarchists demand abolition of the state within 24 hours. In contrast, Marxists “know” the state can’t be dissolved until class differences are eliminated. They believe the state (ie the dictatorship of the proletariat) will wither away once the capitalist elite is dissolved.
2. Following revolution, Marxists will substitute organized armed workers for the old state. Anarchists (according to Lenin) have no idea what will replace the state.*
3. Marxists want to make use of the modern (ie capitalist) state to prepare workers for revolution – anarchists reject this as a strategy.

State and Revolution reiterates many of the arguments Marx and his supporters used to expel Bakunin from the First International Working Men’s Association at the 1872 conference in the Hague. Although the anarchists made up most of the sections of the First International (they were extremely powerful in Spain, where they had the largest contingent of grassroots supporters), Marx and his supporters controlled the General Council (the leadership body) of the First International.

Bakunin, who was unable to attend the Hague conference, called a second rival congress in Saint Imier Switzerland. Bakunin’s international working men’s association was far larger and lasted longer than its much smaller Marxist rival. The latter was largely isolated in United States and collapsed in 1876

I take strong exception to a number of Lenin’s arguments for a strong central state following revolution. Dismissing the anarchist proposal for a federation of self-governing units as totally “Utopian,” he claims that “human nature can’t do without subordination, control and managers” and that a strong (armed) central government is essential to “suppress excesses on the part of idlers, gentlefolk and swindlers.”

In my view, Lenin makes a big mistake in blaming “human nature” for the social problems that clearly result from capitalist oppression and exploitation.

Nevertheless his observations about the fraudulent nature of representative democracy suggest little has changed over the last hundred years:

“In any parliamentary country, the actual work of the state is done behind the scenes and is carried out by the departments, the offices and the staffs. Parliament itself is given up to talk for the specific purpose of fooling the people.”


*Untrue. Bakunin, the founder of collective anarchism (aka participatory democracy), proposed replacing the state with federations of collective work places and communes.

18 thoughts on “How Marx and Lenin Defeated Participatory Democracy

  1. “In my view, Lenin makes a big mistake in blaming “human nature” for the social problems that clearly result from capitalist oppression and exploitation.”

    Same as it is today: global warming, etc is blamed on humanity, as opposed to the elite psychopaths. This is one of their many excuses/rationale for “depopulating” the planet of we the “not fit for life” folk.

    I watched a long documentary, a few years back, that made a pretty strong argument that the USSR was a Zionist endorsed and funded project. And when the USSR failed to meet the Zionists/capitalists’ expectations, the capitalists and Zionist banking cabal started funding Hitler and The Third Reich, in order to bring down the USSR. Of course, Hitler failed to get this done. So maybe this is why we are not goose stepping today? If, that is, this docu was legit?

    Unfortunately, a year or so ago, I had gone back to watch this documentary, and it had been taken down by Google. So maybe it was legit?

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  2. Likewise, I take strong exception to Lenin’s argument. When a few psychopathic sociopaths control the masses, there WILL always be oppression. With their goon squads, they quash rebellion and initiate curfews. What freedom is there in any of that? There is none. That is why when the people ‘rebel’ by protesting injustices, though peacefully, paid provocateurs are sent in to stir up trouble and to give the psychopathic sociopaths an excuse to swoop in and scoop everyone up and herd them into “For Profit Prisons.”

    Whatever anyone wants to call this setup we have now, it is not working for the majority of the people and it needs to be destroyed. We will never get anywhere as long as we are kept in line by goons, military weaponry and are at the whim of psychopathic sociopaths. We outnumber them and that is why the oppression of us has escalated. People are growing weary of leading dreary lives of drudgery. I most likely won’t see it, but one day, enough will be enough!

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    • Very astute comment, Shelby. I’m glad you mentioned the paid provocateurs and their important role in discrediting genuine opposition.

      I’m also impressed that the use of violent oppression is escalating, as people break through the indoctrination and mental conditioning that has kept them in check since World War II.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “I take strong exception to a number of Lenin’s arguments for a strong central state following revolution. Dismissing the anarchist proposal for a federation of self-governing units as totally “Utopian,” he claims that “human nature can’t do without subordination, control and managers” and that a strong (armed) central government is essential to “suppress excesses on the part of idlers, gentlefolk and swindlers.””

    What Lenin writes is,

    “We are not utopians, we do not ‘dream’ of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and ‘foremen and accountants’. ” See: Chapter III: Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871. Marx’s Analysis. Section 3: Abolition of Parliamentarianism

    URL: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch03.htm#s3

    That “human nature can’t do without subordination, control and managers” is quite different from “… we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and ‘foremen and accountants’,” and especially in the context of the foregoing paragraph.

    The first quote, which Lenin never wrote, suggests that Lenin had an ahistorical view of what people were, that he believed that people would forever, on account of their ingrained genetic constitutions, have to be “subordinated, controlled and managed;” but clearly, based upon what he actually wrote, he astutely recognized that people were conditioned by their social and cultural context, and that under Tsarist Russia, a highly bureaucratized and hierarchical society, the Russian population had been trained and educated — much as we are — to heel to a control and command structure, and therefore, if the revolution were to happen today, tomorrow morning you would still have people fully indoctrinated in and habituated to the same patterns of obedience as they had been the day before. Culture and conditioning is not undone in a single day and night. It takes time to undo and sublimate into new modes of living, and what he reproaches to the anarchists of his day is that they don’t seem to grasp this, that they wholeheartedly believe that freedom will be achieved in the moment that state power will conquered if only it is immediately dismantled. The problem, however, is that a population that is conditioned to obedience and hierarchy remains the day after the revolution highly vulnerable to counter-revolution precisely on account of its conditioning; it remains vulnerable to lapsing back into the social relations of its former imprisonment. And to Lenin’s mind, if one is to be realistic about achieving a truly revolutionary transformation, this danger must be taken into account and somehow or other guarded against.

    I find it hard to fault Lenin on this particular point. Indeed, I’m finding it hard to fault him on what I’m reading and have read so far.

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Norman. In my view, changes in the English language make it really difficult to interpret what someone meant 100 years ago. Unfortunately I’m just not able to get the same meaning out of the text as you are. Especially when you look at his vicious treatment of Russian anarchists after he came to power.

      I had the same problem when I belonged to a Marxist-Leninist organization when I was living in Seattle. I was just not able to read and interpret the writings of Marx and Lenin the way the leadership wanted me to.

      I had the same problem when I attended confirmation classes as a teenager – I wanted to read and interpret the Bible for myself and the ministers insisted I accept their interpretation.

      When it came to Marxist-Leninism, I (as a woman from a working class background) could never accept the necessity of a vanguard, just like I could never accept there was one correct way to interpret what Marx or Lenin wrote.

      .

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    • Wasn’t Lenin’s argument about human nature the same as Freud’s logic in predicting of why communism would fail as expressed in Civilization and its Discontents? Of course, the modern, politically correct, psycho-pharmacological (i.e., pill pushing) institution of psychiatry today all but dismiss Freud.

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        • Freud wrote many treatise in his time. Many are considered antiquated, however, he was a pioneer that led the science of psychology out of a medieval dungeon when patients were bound in a nutshell or worse. Civilization and its Discontents was his final work. It is as much philosophical as psychological, and it is remains a great read.

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  4. I am sorry, but when Lenin actually wrote in State and Revolution is quite different from the anonymous author’s claims. For one thing, State and Revolution contained diatribes against other Marxists, in particular Karl Kautsky, and many of these differences grew out of the collapse of the Second International and the widely differing attitudes toward World War I. Lenin had little to say about anarchists in this book.

    More importantly, Lenin forecast a short period of the use of force on the part of the working class to secure a socialist revolution by suppressing the old ruling class, followed by a gradual withering away of the state when organized groups of working people would form armed militias, thereby eliminating the need for an army or police, and would begin to manage enterprises and carry out government functions themselves, eliminating bureaucracy. Thus, the people would govern themselves. It was actually Lenin who re-animated Marx’s old concept of the “withering away of the state.”

    What did Lenin actually write in State and Revolution? Here is just one key quote:

    “[A]s soon as it is the majority of the people itself which suppresses its oppressors, a ‘special force’ for suppression is no longer necessary! In this sense the state begins to wither away. Instead of the special institutions of a privileged minority (privileged officialdom, the high command of the standing army), the majority itself can directly undertake [the duties of public safety and government], and the more the functions of state power are undertaken by the people as a whole, the less need is left for such a [formal, elite] power.”

    That the Soviet Union turned out to be a very different country that what Lenin had foreseen — something that he lamented in his final writings as his health gave way — is a very complicated, and tragic, story and it ahistorical to assign the degradation of the revolution under Stalin to Lenin. The irony is that anarchists who peddle the sorts of misinformation found in the above article are blocing with the capitalists they profess to hate, who demonize Lenin for the purpose of demonizing any alternative to capitalism.

    And, finally, what is it that Marx called “communism”? It is this: A “free association of producers” (producers here being individual people) in which members reach decisions through some form of collective decision-making. Freed of alienation, exploitation and the coercive effects of subordination to wage work and the power of capital, all people would be able to fully develop their human potential.

    So is this so different from what anarchists say they want?

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    • Thanks for your comment, Systemic. I am the author of the review and I suppose most of my answer to Norman applies here.

      To answer your question about what anarchists want, I definitely want very different things than the Marxist -Leninists I worked with in Seattle wanted.

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      • “I had the same problem when I belonged to a Marxist-Leninist organization when I was living in Seattle. I was just not able to read and interpret the writings of Marx and Lenin the way the leadership wanted me to.”

        The leadership of this group was poor and did not understand Marx and Lenin. This is a result of what I like to refer to as “orthodox communism,” the unfortunate and incorrect idea that the model of the Soviet Union actually constitutes what socialism is and that all countries and peoples should follow that model. That is what the Soviet Union, from Stalin to Brezhnev, tried to impose, which is why I call it “orthodox.”

        This statement from Georg Lukács in 1923, as the Stalin faction was already beginning to tighten its grip on the Bolsheviks, is one that I agree with: “Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method.”

        Marxism emphatically is not is a set of magic formulae, a shortcut to enlightenment or a blueprint for the future. It is a living philosophy that, with study, can provide us with tools to understand the world and thus come understandings on how we might change it for the better. The great Marxist historian Isaac Deutscher used these understandings to deconstruct what had happened to the Soviet Union, most powerfully in his three-volume biography of Trotsky. I try to do this, and so do many others. For me, this remains the most valuable philosophical heritage of humanity as we struggle with global crisis.

        Unfortunately, your experience is not unique, and all too many self-described Marxists still cling to an orthodoxy that is long past its expiration date — they have not learned from experience and thus serve to disorganize people. On the hand, I know many anarchists who believe if you shout “anarchy” and “f— the police” louder than anybody else, you are the true revolutionaries. There are Marxists who do not think mechanically as those you endured in Seattle and there are anarchists who know that changing the world requires much more than screaming the loudest. We can take from what works and what makes sense from more than one heritage.

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  5. Thanks for your clarification, Systemic. I find it extremely helpful. To clarify where I’m coming from – since moving to New Zealand, I have become party to a number of self-governing bodies that have virtually opted out of capitalism and operate parallel to state and corporate institutions. This includes a local savings pool (where members do car loans, mortgages and after Jan 1 insurance), a local cohousing project, a local unlearning home schooling network. All operate by consensus decision making and all are loosely confederated with similar self-governing groups across New Zealand.

    I’m aware of a similar process occurring in Greece, Italy and Spain – since the 2008 financial crash, gainful employment is no longer an option for 30-50% of European youth so they’re forced to try alternatives.

    In Europe they call this type of non-hierarchical organization collective anarchism. Here we don’t call it anything, though a few people have thrown around the term participatory democracy.

    Some of us are very sensitive of the need to keep the State from encroaching on us, and thus far we have been pretty successful using mass mobilization to get them to back off. Today, for example, a group of us met with a group of farmers to offer education, legal advice and support for dealing with oil and gas companies trying to encroach on their land (with the full support of the NZ government) to build fracking rigs. Our hope is to get this small group of farmers to hold house meetings to mobilize any farmers.

    Most of the organizers I work with in this way are women, and there’s no way they’re going to allow any central hierarchical structure to dictate to them how they should be organizing politically or otherwise. They believe in absolute self-determination in this regard.

    I also take your point about the importance of philosophical heritage.

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  6. If one were looking to boil down Lenin’s “The State and Revolution” to a formula more or less accurately summarizing his thesis, it would be this:

    “Up to now […]the antithesis between the Social-Democrats and the anarchists has been that the former wished to win the state power while the latter wished to destroy it. Pannekoek wants to do both.”

    source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch06.htm#s1

    Substituting Lenin’s name for Pannekoek’s in this quotation yields, to my mind, a formulation that is not very far off the mark.

    In essence, the Marxist position, according to Lenin, is this: the Bourgeois State is a highly organized and militarized apparatus of control and oppression. Only a ‘force’ equal in ‘organization’ and ‘discipline’ could possibly up to the task of standing a chance of subduing the Bourgeois apparatus of State control. The next question, after wresting ‘political power’ from the hands of the Bourgeoisie, becomes what to do with and about the vanquished Bourgeois institutions. The Kautskyists, who are the object of Lenin’s critiques, would retain the main bureaucratic features of the Bourgeois state, and Lenin would have the task immediately become “the dismantling of those structures of hierarchical control.” As for the anarchist, Lenin regards them as being an impediment to the revolution because they wish to forgo the ‘organization’ and ‘discipline’ that would be required, in the first instance, to overwhelm the institutions of Bourgeois’ hegemony.

    This, in a nutshell, is the point of “The State and Revolution.”

    To further support my contention, just one more quote (for I don’t want to belabor the issue):

    “The distinction between Marxists and the anarchists is this: (1) The former, while aiming at the complete abolition of the state, recognize that this aim can only be achieved after classes have been abolished by the socialist revolution, as the result of the establishment of socialism, which leads to the withering away of the state. The latter want to abolish he state completely overnight, not understanding the conditions under which the state can be abolished. (2) The former recognize that after the proletariat has won political power it must completely destroy the old state machine and replace it by a new one consisting of an organization of the armed workers, after the type of the Commune. The latter, while insisting on the destruction of the state machine, have a very vague idea of what the proletariat will put in its place and how it will use its revolutionary power. The anarchists even deny that the revolutionary proletariat should use the state power, they reject its revolutionary dictatorship. (3) The former demand that the proletariat be trained for revolution by utilizing the present state. The anarchists reject this.”

    source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch06.htm#s1

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