The State and Revolution

The Marxist Theory of the State & the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution By Vladimir Lenin

In the ongoing debate on State Capture, sparked here by Greg Mashaba’s article and a critique of the article by Themba Vryman Mashaba sent us Vladimir Lenin’s thesis “The State and Revolution”, to which he refers in the article.  Lenin describes the role of state in society and the need for a proletarian revolution.

The Observer summarises the book in this way: “The current state machinery in capitalist countries is a tool of the capitalist classes. Parliament is a “talking shop” which the gentry use as a stepping stone to subsequent careers in finance where they are rewarded for their assistance rendered to capital during their time in office. (On this point at any rate it is hard to argue with Lenin; the recent example of UK government ministers such as Blair, Osborne, Cameron and Brown enriching themselves by taking on lavishly paid “speaking engagements”, directorships and consultancies in the corporate world is a case in point). Socialism will not be brought in by winning a majority in parliament and implementing socialism through parliament”.  We’ve seen the same here in South Africa, where politicians use their political power to advance their personal and financial standing.

The ongoing debate is how to approach the state if we are to change and transform society. Can a capitalist state be reformed through elections? Does the state have power or is it run by powerful businessmen? Can workers use their power to usurp power from capitalists or can they work together with the state to influence the direction of the state? All these questions are as important today as they were  when Lenin wrote The State and Revolution in August and September 1917, that is between the two revolutions in Russia. (The February uprising which led to the abdication of the Tsar and the October coup led by the Bolsheviks against the provisional government). The book was to become a practical guide for the Russian working class after the seizure of power in November 1917.
UnCensored will publish excerpts of the book in a series of articles starting today.

In the preface to the first edition, Lenin writes:

The question of the state is now acquiring particular political importance in theory and in practical politics. The imperialist war has immensely accelerated and intensified the process of transformation of monopoly capitalism into state-monopoly capitalism. The monstrous oppression of the working people by the state, which is merging more and more with the all-powerful capitalist associations, is becoming increasingly monstrous. The advanced countries–we mean their hinterland–are becoming military convict prisons for the workers.

The unprecedented horrors and miseries of the protracted war are making the people’s position unbearable and increasing their anger. The world proletarian revolution is clearly maturing. The question of its relation to the state is acquiring practical importance.

The elements of opportunism that accumulated over the decades of comparatively peaceful development have given rise to the trend of social-chauvinism which dominated the official socialist parties throughout the world. This trend – socialism in words and chauvinism in deeds (Plekhanov, Potresov, Breshkovskaya, Rubanovich, and, in a slightly veiled form, Tsereteli, Chernov and Co. in Russia; Scheidemann. Legien, David and others in Germany; Renaudel, Guesde and Vandervelde in France and Belgium; Hyndman and the Fabians in England, etc., etc.) – is conspicuous for the base, servile adaptation of the “leaders of socialism” to the interests not only of “their” national bourgeoisie, but of “their” state, for the majority of the so-called Great Powers have long been exploiting and enslaving a whole number of small and weak nations. And the imperialist war is a war for the division and redivision of this kind of booty. The struggle to free the working people from the influence of the bourgeoisie in general, and of the imperialist bourgeoisie in particular, is impossible without a struggle against opportunist prejudices concerning the “state”.

First of all we examine the theory of Marx and Engels of the state, and dwell in particular detail on those aspects of this theory which are ignored or have been distorted by the opportunists. Then we deal specially with the one who is chiefly responsible for these distortions, Karl Kautsky, the best-known leader of the Second International (1889-1914), which has met with such miserable bankruptcy in the present war. Lastly, we sum up the main results of the experience of the Russian revolutions of 1905 and particularly of 1917. Apparently, the latter is now (early August 1917) completing the first stage of its development; but this revolution as a whole can only be understood as a link in a chain of socialist proletarian revolutions being caused by the imperialist war. The question of the relation of the socialist proletarian revolution to the state, therefore, is acquiring not only practical political importance, but also the significance of a most urgent problem of the day, the problem of explaining to the masses what they will have to do before long to free themselves from capitalist tyranny.

The Author
August 1917

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