Soviet Union Table of Contents
Lenin's ideas about the proletarian revolutionary party differed from the ideas of Marx. According to Marx, the working class, merely by following its own instincts, would gain rational insight into its plight as the downtrodden product of capitalism. Based on that insight, Marx held, the workers would bring about a revolution leading to their control over the means of production. Further, Marx predicted that the seizure by the proletariat of the means of production (land and factories) would lead to a tremendous increase in productive forces. Freedom from want, said Marx, would liberate men's minds. This liberation would usher in a cultural revolution and the formation of a new personality with unlimited creative possibilities.
As he surveyed the European milieu in the late 1890s, Lenin found several problems with the Marxism of his day. Contrary to what Marx had predicted, capitalism had strengthened itself over the last third of the nineteenth century. The working class in western Europe had not become impoverished; rather, its prosperity had risen. Hence, the workers and their unions, although continuing to press for better wages and working conditions, failed to develop the revolutionary class consciousness that Marx had expected. Lenin also argued that the division of labor in capitalist society prevented the emergence of proletarian class consciousness. Lenin wrote that because workers had to labor ten or twelve hours each workday in a factory, they had no time to learn the complexities of Marxist theory. Finally, in trying to effect revolution in autocratic Russia, Lenin also faced the problem of a regime that had outlawed almost all political activities. Although the autocracy could not enforce a ban on political ideas, until 1905-- when the tsar agreed to the formation of a national duma (see Glossary)--the tsarist police suppressed all groups seeking political change, including those with a democratic program.
Based on his observations, Lenin shifted the engine of proletarian revolution from the working class to a tightly knit party of intellectuals. Lenin wrote in What Is to Be Done (1902) that the "history of all countries bears out the fact that through their own powers alone, the working class can develop only a trade-union consciousness." That is, history had demonstrated that the working class could engage in local, spontaneous rebellions to improve its position within the capitalist system but that it lacked the understanding of its interests necessary to overthrow that system. Pessimistic about the proletariat's ability to acquire class consciousness, Lenin argued that the bearers of this consciousness were déclassé intellectuals who made it their vocation to conspire against the capitalist system and prepare for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin also held that because Marx's thought was set forth in a sophisticated body of philosophical, economic, and social analysis, a high level of intellectual training was required to comprehend it. Hence, for Lenin, those who would bring about the revolution must devote all their energies and resources to understanding the range of Marx's thought. They must be professional activists having no other duties that might interfere with their efforts to promote revolution.
Lenin's final alteration of Marx's thought arose in the course of his adaptation of Marxist ideology to the conditions of Russia's autocracy. Like other political organizations seeking change in Russia, Lenin's organization had to use conspiratorial methods and operate underground. Lenin argued for the necessity of confining membership in his organization to those who were professionally trained in the art of combating the secret police.
The ethos of Lenin's political thought was to subject first the party, then the working class, and finally the people to the politically conscious revolutionaries. Only actions informed by consciousness could promote revolution and the construction of socialism and communism in Russia.
The CPSU continues to regard itself as the institutionalization of Marxist-Leninist consciousness in the Soviet Union, and therein lies the justification for the controls it exercises over Soviet society. Article 6 of the 1977 Soviet Constitution refers to the party as the "leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the nucleus of its political system, of all state organizations and public organizations." The party, precisely because it is the bearer of Marxist-Leninist ideology, determines the general development of society, directs domestic and foreign policy, and "imparts a planned, systematic, and theoretically substantiated character" to the struggle of the Soviet people for the victory of communism.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents