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.