Lenin was committed to the works of Karl Marx and Friederick Engels. He believed in the manifesto they wrote in 1848 with its promise of a collective free enterprise by and for the masses without class exploitation. Lenin believed that his political party would bring this into being by prohibiting capitalism – free enterprise for the bourgeoisie. He called his prohibitions against the bourgeoisie and the landed wealthy (aristocrats) the dictatorship of the proletariat and wanted it enforced by the "vanguard" of the revolution: his political party. Lenin believed that after acquiring power his vanguard would soon be able to turn the revolution over to the masses. But Lenin never found the time right to do this. He continued to see the need for organization and his leadership. Lenin was swamped with practical considerations.
Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks saw as ideological enemies those in the labor movement who believed in negotiations, compromise and power through representation in parliaments. Lenin abolished Russia's Constituent Assembly with bayonets, claiming that it was bourgeois. He wanted the country's political assemblies to be the people's councils – in Russian, soviets.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks demonized the "bourgeoisie" and "petty bourgeoisie," in other words capitalists and people involved small businesses. But in 1921 during Russia's civil war Lenin had to ease up on his prohibitions against private enterprise. Capitalism, he said, must come to the revolution's aid so he could destroy it later. He allowed some private commerce and small-scale industries, and peasants were allowed to continue owning land. In Moscow new restaurants appeared, and on the streets of Moscow shiny cabs and private cars appeared, carrying men and women in mink coats to places that common people could not afford.
Lenin was incapacitated by a stroke in 1922 and died in 1924. Lenin's New Economic Policy lasted until 1928. That year the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist, Josef Stalin, dominated in the Soviet Union and he began to the Soviet Union's five-year plans. Then in the early 1930s Stalin and his supporters began to apply Lenin's collectivization to agriculture.
The need for organization and leadership by the Bolshevik vanguard was still seen as necessary, and the Bolsheviks were prohibiting a free expression of ideas, including ideas among fellow Bolsheviks. Bourgeois ideas could wreck the revolution, it was believed, and one of the problems was the question who exactly was bourgeois and where exactly could one draw a line between a bourgeois idea and non-bourgeois idea.
The prohibition of even small businesses was a drag on life under Marxist-Leninists, and it ruined people's lives in Soviet satellite nations. The Social Democrats in Scandinavia did better for workers. They were not so much for prohibitions except against unsafe and unrewarding working conditions, and they had more staying power than the Marxist-Leninists. I don't know whether China's Communist Party considers itself Marxist-Leninist, but it tolerates and uses free enterprise. Time has told the story: in the long run the Social Democrats have been more successful politically and they have done more for labor. Marxism-Lenin has failed to win the world's educated people, and governments haven't been able to disband. It turns out that Eduard Bernstein – who clashed with Engels, Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin – was the superior strategist. The world would have been better off if Lenin and his Bolsheviks had gone the way of revisionism and reform like Bernstein. Marxist-Leninists believed in action rather than armchair theorizing, but one didn't need to be a Marxist-Leninist to be a good organizer or to join worker or humanitarian causes.
There was in Marxism-Leninism too much of an Hegelian attitude toward social development. Marxist-Leninists saw the establishment, the ruling-class, on one side and the anti-establishment or working class as its antithesis. The way to deal with the establishment was to overthrow it rather than just reduce or regulate its powers. In other words, revolution was the solution rather than reform. Another word for this kind of thinking is Manichaeism.
After the Bolsheviks succeeded in taking power in the Soviet Union there were too many people in other societies who saw revolution as a way to end the system of things they disliked, and opted for an armed uprising where conditions were not right for its success, and they were outraged when those opposed to their style of revolution fought back – as though they expected establishment forces to just let themselves be bowled over. That the establishment resisted demonstrated to them its evil, reinforcing its Manichaeist view of the world.
Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.