Lenin was an outstanding revolutionary and the greatest Marxist theoretician of the 20th century. He passed away on 21 January, 1924, during the early stage of socialist revolution in Soviet Russia. He died as a result of an assassin’s bullet that had been lodged in his neck for six years.
Lenin was the principal architect of the Bolshevik Party, which led the struggle to establish the world’s first socialist state, the Soviet Union. The building of socialism in the Soviet Union showed the workers and peasants of all countries that it was possible to live in a society where there are no capitalists, landlords or any other exploiting classes.
Lenin defended the Marxist theory that the state is an organ of rule of one class over another. He exposed the opportunism of those who advocated the idea that the state can be an instrument for reconciling the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. He explained that a bourgeois democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism and the rule of the bourgeoisie. He defended the conclusion of Marx that the only way that the working class can liberate itself from exploitation is to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie and establish its own rule; and that it cannot make use of the bourgeois state for achieving this goal. It must replace the state of bourgeois dictatorship by a new state of proletarian dictatorship, a state that would protect the rights of all the working people and crush the resistance of the overthrown exploiting classes to the construction of socialism.
Marx and Engels had lived and worked during an epoch when the bourgeoisie was objectively a progressive force in society. Lenin lived and worked at a time when capitalism had developed into imperialism, a global system dominated by monopoly in all fields. He elaborated the thesis that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, a stage when the bourgeoisie has become a thoroughly reactionary and parasitic class. He concluded that in the epoch of imperialism, the proletarian revolution is not just a future prospect but a practical task to be taken up for solution.
Based on the analysis that this is the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution, Lenin drew the conclusion that the working class needs a new kind of Party to take up the problem of proletarian revolution for solution. It cannot be a parliamentary party like those that existed in most countries of Europe at that time. It must be a party of professional revolutionaries based on the organisational principle of democratic centralism. It must be a party that provides the proletariat with the consciousness and organisation required to capture power and become the ruling class.
The Bolshevik Party, with Lenin at its head, led the struggle to establish and consolidate 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. The Soviet state carried out the transition from capitalism to socialism, by converting the means of production from being the private property of capitalists and landlords into the social and collective property of the people.
The experience of the October Revolution of 1917, of the Soviet state and the construction of socialism, were summed up by the Bolshevik Party after the demise of Lenin in 1924. In the words of Comrade Stalin,
“Leninism is Marxism of the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat, in particular.”
After the death of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party headed by Stalin continued to use Leninism as the guide to the complete construction of socialism. By the mid-1930s, the collectivisation of agriculture was completed. Private property in the means of social production was eliminated. A new Constitution was adopted in 1936, paving the way for the further strengthening of proletarian democracy by enhancing the role of the masses of working people in the political process.
The degeneration and collapse of the Soviet Union happened precisely because of the violation of Leninism, starting with the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1956.
The CPSU, headed by Khrushchev, deviated from the principle of strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat and waging the class struggle against the internal and external enemies of socialism. It claimed that Soviet Union had become a “state of the whole people”, and CPSU was a “party of the whole people”. It claimed that socialism would conquer the world through peaceful competition with imperialism.
The CPSU also deviated from the Leninist principles of party organisation. It reduced democratic centralism to an empty phrase, while replacing it in practice with bureaucratic centralism. All decision-making power became concentrated in the hands of the Politburo of the party. The majority of party members were excluded from decision-making power.
The leaders of CPSU pretended to be further developing Marxism-Leninism, while in fact paving the way for a new bourgeois class to emerge and for capitalism to be restored in the Soviet Union. While they maintained the outward appearance of heading a socialist country, the laws of capitalism operated, leading to the reappearance of unemployment, poverty and all other ills of the capitalist system.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, bourgeois ideologues claimed that world capitalism had reached a new stage, a peaceful stage. The past three decades, however, have turned out to be a period of permanent wars, of armed occupation and of acute inter-imperialist rivalry. Life experience has confirmed the validity of Lenin’s conclusion that lasting peace can be achieved only through the overthrow of the imperialist system and the construction of socialism in one country after another.
The 100th anniversary of the death of Lenin comes at a time when capitalism stands nakedly exposed as an inhuman system. It comes at a time when the tide of revolution has turned from flow to ebb. It is a new period within the epoch of imperialism and proletarian revolution. What is new is that the revolution is in retreat on the world scale. Communists have to develop revolutionary theory and tactics suitable for this period.
We must be guided by Lenin’s teaching that Marxism is a science and not a dogma. It develops in close connection with the practice of revolutionary class struggle. Lenin developed Marxism in the course of dealing with the problems posed by the development of capitalism to the stage of imperialism. He did so by basing himself on the fundamental conclusions and principles of Marxism. In contrast, Khrushchev pretended to be developing Marxism-Leninism, while in fact he violated its fundamental conclusions and principles.
The present situation on the world scale calls on communists to develop the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution, by basing themselves on the fundamental conclusions and principles of Marxism-Leninism.
The ever-growing unemployment, economic hardship, political repression and unjust wars reinforce Lenin’s conclusion that the bourgeoisie is no longer fit to rule. The only way to end the misery and save humankind is by organising to replace bourgeoisie democracy by proletarian democracy, i.e., to bring decision making power into the hands of the working class and other toiling people, so as to carry out the transition from capitalism to socialism.