Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 04 February 2024

Lenin’s Critics

Relevance: GS Paper I

The article critically examines the evolution of Marxist theory and its practical application, focusing on key figures like Engels and Lenin. It highlights the disparities between ideals and actual revolutionary outcomes, especially under Leninism and its aftermath.

Marxist Interpretations: Karl Marx (1818-83) and Friedrich Engels (1820-95) viewed the 1789 French Revolution as the downfall of feudalism and the rise of a bourgeois society, which they believed would eventually give way to socialism.

  • Friedrich Engel’s unsureness:
    • Engels' comment, "History has proved us and those who thought like us wrong", raised doubts about whether armed rebellion was a suitable mechanism for realising socialism due to the huge standing armies maintained by modern nation-states.
    • It even paved the way for the revisionist debate within the SPD(Socialist Democratic Party), the largest and oldest socialist party in Europe.
      • It stressed reforms while reiterating its commitment to revolutionary socialism.
  • Eduard Bernstein’s Evolutionary Socialism (1899):
    • Eduard Bernstein (1850-1932) was the first to recognise and articulate the discrepancies between Marxist theory and the actual social, economic, and political realities within late 19th-century capitalism.
    • He conceded that Marx was a genius but stressed the need to assess the development and elaboration of Marxism critically.
    • Evolutionary Socialism highlighted the improved living conditions of the working class, leading them to adopt economism and parliamentarianism over revolution due to voting rights.

Vladimir Lenin’s response:

  • What is to be done?
    • Vladimir Lenin (1850 – 1924) felt it was important to prove Marx’s prophecy right, fusing Marx's majoritarianism with Nikolai Chernyshevsky's (1828-89) elite revolutionism in “What is to be done?”
    • Lenin proposed a highly disciplined and organised Vanguard Party of professional revolutionaries based on the principles of secrecy, centralisation, specialisation, and exclusivity to make the revolution on behalf of the working class.
      • Later Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, meaning majority and minority, respectively, in Russian.
    • Both groups were committed to revolution, but the Mensheviks supported an open and majoritarian socialist revolution and wanted to prepare for it while Lenin was in a hurry.
  • State and Revolution (1916):
    • In the aftermath of the 1905 spontaneous revolution, Lenin shifted his emphasis from the vanguard party to the dictatorship of the proletariat, which Marx mentioned in passing.
    • He claimed the 1917 Kerensky February revolution was a bourgeois democratic one and his own Bolshevik October revolution was a socialist one, justifying that he was following Marx’s theory of the two-stage revolution.

Criticism of Leninism:

  • Georgii Plekhanov: He warned against Lenin's minority revolution and accused Bolshevism of displaying Jacobin tendencies, which were at variance with the Marxist conception of class struggle.
  • Julius Martov: He feared the institutionalisation of dictatorship or 'commissarocracy' because of Russia's general backwardness and unreadiness for a socialist revolution.
    • He pointed out that Lenin made the unconscious majority passive objects of social experimentation and dubbed the October Revolution a coup d’etat.
  • Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg: Lenin’s suspension of the Constituent Assembly in 1918 provoked both to virulently denounce Leninism for disregarding democratic norms and procedures.
    • Both feared the intensification of militarisation and bureaucratisation.
  • Peter Kropotkin: He feared the deadening of spontaneous creativity and local initiative because of party dictatorship.
  • Eduard Bernstein: He dubbed the revolution as a counter-revolution and regarded Bolshevism as a ‘brutalised’ version of Marxism as it relied on terror and violence.
  • Leninism was an authoritarian offshoot of Marxism. It amounted to an absence of democracy and lacked sufficient institutional checks against abuse of power.
  • Lenin could never comprehend that any dictatorship, whether of the proletariat or the bourgeois, could ever be the vehicle of what Marx projected ‘from the realm of necessity to realm of freedom’.
  • The new dawn that Lenin’s revolution promised was structurally defective from its inception as it had no detailed account of administering a modern state.

Stalinism and the Failure of Leninism:

  • The brutal repression of the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921 attenuated centralising and repressive elements within the regime.
  • Lenin attempted half-heartedly to liberalise the Soviet system with his new economic policy (NEP) in 1921, but the failure to liberalise politically eventually led to the rise of Stalinism.
    • The Stalinism was a malignant form of Leninism.
  • Lenin’s insurrectionist politics, conspiratorial tactics and strategy set aside the entire thrust of Marx’s concept of a majoritarian and democratic revolutionary transformation.
  • The Leninist revolution, in reality, was a minority revolution. The establishment of a repressive and authoritarian state and the subjugation of civil society logically followed this failure.
    • Under communism, any deviating thought was dubbed as counter-revolutionary and had dire consequences culminating in the show trials of 1938 that killed Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky.


For the collapse of communism, the originators themselves have to be blamed, as they never produced a blueprint for actualising true democracy and full freedom. A well-developed Marxist theory of the state based on equity, just reward, rule of law and freedom as an alternative to liberal democratic theory eluded all important Marxists, including Lenin.


Beyond Editorial:

What is Marxism?

  • Marxism is a social, economic and political philosophy that analyses the impact of the ruling class on the laborers, leading to uneven distribution of wealth and privileges in the society.
    • It stimulates the workers to protest the injustice.
    • The theory was formulated by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels in their work, ‘The Communist Manifesto’.
  • According to Marx, History demonstrates the existence of class struggle centuries earlier. He explains the struggle through five stages -
    • Primitive Communism, the age of Hunter-gatherers where every human was treated equally hence, there was an absence of class.
    • The Age of Slavery where there was class distinction between the aristocrats and the slaves.
    • Feudalism where the struggle was between Landlords, owners and the people who rented or used their lands for agriculture.
    • Capitalism, where the labour community (Proletariat) worked their lives off only for the ruling class (Bourgeoisie) to profit from them. This is the stage where Mark and Engels compile ‘Communist manifesto’ from their plight as workers for the British Factory owners.
    • Socialism is the phase that Marx believed the proletariats would revolt for their justice and eventually form a communist society, free of class distinctions and equal wealth.

What are Marxism examples?

  • The work scenario where the labourers earn very little money whereas the owner of the same organization takes the profit without investing much of his manual efforts.

Why is Marxism important in modern world?

  • Marxism theory encourages one to question the ideologies of a Capitalistic society and understand the link between what we deserve and what we receive as rewards for our labour.


Prelims PYQ

Q. One common agreement between Gandhism and Marxism is (UPSC 2020)

(a) the final goal of a stateless society

(b) class struggle

(c) abolition of private property

(d) economic determinism


Q. Karl Marx explained the process of class struggle with the help of which one of the following theories? (UPSC 2011)

(a) Empirical liberalism

(b) Existentialism

(c) Darwin's theory of evolution

(d) Dialectical materialism

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