On Lenin’s pamphlet called ‘The State and Revolution’

This is the Third in a series of essays being published by the Communist Ghadar Party of India during this 152nd year since the birth of Comrade Lenin. The first in this series was published on 3rd May and the second on 6th June, 2021.

The majority of states in the world are acting as agencies of billionaire capitalists. Those states which claim to be the world’s oldest democracy or the most populous democracy are trampling on democratic rights, human rights and on human life itself.

Among the working class and all other classes and strata who are victims of the anti-social offensive of imperialism and the monopoly capitalist corporations, one question gets repeatedly posed. Should the aim of our struggle be to replace the present party in charge of the government or should it be to change the class nature of the State and political power?

The answer to this question was thoroughly explained by Lenin in his famous pamphlet written in 1917, called The State and Revolution.

Until February 1917, Russia and the peoples of many neighbouring nations were under the rule of an oppressive monarchy. Sovereign power was vested in the emperor, who was called the Tsar. The Tsar headed a military bureaucratic state apparatus which defended the interests of the big landlords and big capitalists. The Tsarist state did not recognise any universal democratic rights. It resorted to brutal repression of workers, peasants, oppressed nations and nationalities within its territory.

The Tsarist state dragged Russia into the inter-imperialist First World War in 1914, on the side of Britain and France, against Germany and its allies. It was committed to fulfil the imperialist aims of the Russian bourgeoisie, resulting in tremendous suffering for the workers, peasants and their sons who served as soldiers in the Czarist army.

In February 1917, there was a mass uprising of workers, peasants, women and youth, which overthrew the Czar. What kind of State should replace the Czarist autocracy? This became the most critical and immediate question.

On one side was the provisional government led by the capitalist class, which wanted to prolong Russia’s involvement in the inter-imperialist war. On the other side stood the workers, peasants and soldiers, organised in their Soviets of Deputies, striving for peace, land and bread.

A sharp ideological struggle broke out within the communist and workers’ movement. There were parties and groups which argued that the people’s demands for peace, land and bread could be fulfilled by workers’ leaders participating in and influencing the Provisional Government. Lenin led the struggle to defeat this argument. He exposed it as being anti-Marxist and unscientific.

Lenin defended the conclusion which Marx and Engels had drawn from the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, which was the first attempt of the proletariat to capture political power. Marx and Engels had drawn the important theoretical conclusion that the proletariat cannot lay hold of the readymade bourgeois state machine and use it for achieving its aims. The proletariat has to get rid of the bourgeois state and establish a new state, an organ of rule by the proletariat and all other working and hitherto oppressed people.

Guided by this thesis of Marxism, Lenin argued that it was not enough to replace the Tsar and his clique by a new set of ministers, while relying on the same Tsarist bureaucracy, army, jails and law courts. The Bolshevik Party used the forum of the soviets to convince the masses of people that none of their burning problems will be solved by the provisional bourgeois government. To guarantee peace, land and bread, it is essential for the workers, peasants and soldiers, organised in soviets, to take political power in their hands. By October 1917, the majority of members of the soviets had rallied around the call: All Power to the Soviets! Led by the Bolshevik Party, they stormed the Winter Palace and captured political power.

Lenin recognised the necessity to explain what the workers, peasants and soldiers have to do to free themselves from the yoke of capitalism. The Marxist teachings on the question of the State were being distorted by various opportunists within the working-class movement in Europe and in Russia. It was imperative that all distortions and questions relating to capitalist and socialist states be urgently dealt with in a scientific manner. Lenin’s pamphlet addressed this burning need of the revolutionary movement.

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of scientific socialism, had pointed out that human society did not always have a State, consisting of special bodies of armed men, prisons, etc. Such an institution arose at a particular stage, when society had divided itself into economic classes with irreconcilable interests.

Before the division of society into classes with opposing interests, there was no need for special bodies of armed men and prisons. The entire people would be armed to defend their tribe or clan from external enemies. With the development of classes with antagonistic interests, this became impossible because arming the entire people would have led to violent clashes between the opposing classes.

Lenin referred to the following famous passage written by Engels, considered to be the most authentic Marxist definition of the State:

“In order that these antagonisms, classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in sterile struggle, a power, seemingly standing above society became necessary for the purpose of moderating the conflict, of keeping it within the bounds of ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society, but placing itself above it, and increasingly alienating itself more and more from it, is the State.”

[Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State]

Lenin criticised the way that this passage written by Engels was being misinterpreted by various opportunists within the communist movement. They interpreted “moderating the conflict” to mean the reconciliation of opposing class interests. From this wrong premise, they concluded that the State is an organ to reconcile class interests. The opportunists used this false thesis to justify their participation in the bourgeois provisional government.

Lenin pointed out that if the interests of the opposing classes could be reconciled, there would have been no need for the State. The State arose precisely because the interests of antagonistic classes, such as the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, cannot be reconciled. He explained that “moderating the conflict” means to deprive the oppressed classes of definite means and methods of struggle to overthrow their oppressors. Order, within quotation marks, means unchallenged dictatorship of the bourgeois class.

Lenin elaborated the essence of Engels’ thesis, that the State is an organ of class rule. It is an instrument of rule by one class over others. The economically dominant class becomes the politically dominant class by wielding this instrument.

Tracing the history of development of the State in Europe, Lenin explained that in slave society, the State defended the interests of the slave owners and deployed coercive power to prevent the slaves from revolting. In the stage of feudalism, the State defended the interests of the big landlords of aristocratic lineage. With the development of capitalism, the bourgeoisie gained control of the State and moulded it to suit its interests.

The bourgeoisie has further refined and perfected the organ of its rule. A political process in which rival parties compete to win elections, a judiciary that is supposed to be independent of the government, have been developed to hide the class character of the State. They serve to create the false impression that the State is above classes and class interests.

The bourgeois state cannot be used by the proletariat to achieve its aims. This conclusion poses the question: What kind of state does the proletariat need?

Lenin traced the development of the Marxist analysis of the State, based on the study of the experience of the Paris Commune. The Paris Commune was the first attempt by the proletariat to establish its rule. Although the workers of Paris could not hold on to power for more than a few weeks, Marx and Engels drew important theoretical conclusions from this revolutionary experience.

The first decree of the Paris Commune was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people. Other important measures included the abolition of all monetary privileges for state officials and the reduction of their remuneration to the level of “workmen’s wages.” The commune was a working body and not a talk shop like the bourgeois parliament. There was no separation of legislative and executive powers. Those who made laws and policies were responsible for their enforcement and implementation. There was no division between ruling and opposition camps. The entire elected body was responsible and accountable to those who elected them.

Boldly defending and firmly upholding the Marxist teachings on the State, the Bolshevik Party with Lenin at its head built and consolidated the Soviet state as an organ of rule of the proletariat in alliance with all other toiling people. The Tsarist army was disbanded and replaced by the Red Army. The privileged bureaucracy was replaced by administrators, accountants and technicians under the control of the soviets.

Even though it is more than 100 years old, Lenin’s pamphlet on The State and Revolution retains its relevance. It is part of essential study material for all those who are engaged in the struggle to put an end to the inhuman capitalist-imperialist system and open the path for human society to advance on the high road of civilisation.

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