Leninism and Class: Recognizing the Class Issues


Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country”- Vladimir Lenin

To understand the rise of Marxism in Russia, especially after the Revolution of 1905, one needs to understand the life and ideology of Vladimir Lenin. He is widely known as one of the central leaders of the Revolution of 1917 and as the early leader of the Soviet Union. His ideology formed the basis of a form of Marxism known as Leninism. Lenin’s book What Is To Be Done? is an important part of understanding Lenin’s version of Marxism, especially his views on the organization of the working class. Two chapters in this book, “The Spontaneity of the Masses and the
Consciousness of the Social-Democrats” and “The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organization of the Revolutionaries”, provide important insights into Lenin’s views on the organization of the revolution. In these chapters, Lenin shows a great amount of elitism, condescension, and puts great emphasis on how misguided the working class is by focusing on “economism”.

In the section entitled “Organisation of Workers and Organisation of Revolutionaries” from “The Primitiveness of the Economists and the Organization of the Revolutionaries”, lays out several of his criticisms of the organization of workers and the relationship between trade unions and political parties. Lenin states that, “The workers’ organisations for the economic struggle should be trade union organisations” (What Is To Be Done?). Lenin throughout both articles is very particular about how economism (focus on tangible gains, which are in Lenin’s view “short term, such as the 8 hour work day) should only be focus of the trade unions. This argument brings up an important point we brought up in class and is a central issue with both of the readings: the importance of class in directing the revolution. Many of the people who were in the political parties during this time were of the intelligentsia class. The members of this group, while having shared political beliefs with those in the trade unions, did not have the same need for “economism” type reforms. These members of the intelligentsia criticized the emphasis on economic gains from a position where these changes would not work to benefit them. Lenin took a condescending tone towards those who were in need of these changes.

Considering this, it makes the quote above interesting to consider. Here Lenin is acting like the Communism he is proposing in these chapters is something that is immune to class differences. In truth, the opposite is true. Lenin’s unwillingness to form an alliance between the trade unions and political parties is disheartening and acts as if the interests of both can not be achieved together. This divide of the revolutionary left into two groups, in my opinion, foreshadows the authoritarian shift the Soviet Union would conduct after its founding.

Reading these articles, the main issue is the fact that Lenin is telling the working class that it is searching for the wrong things. Lenin shows his class bias in these writings by looking down on those who want revolution, but also realize that it might not happen immediately and that incremental progress might be necessary so as to improve ones living conditions. Improving ones living conditions will enable them to better be able to carry on the fight. Reading these is disheartening and give important insight about the future path the Soviet Union would take.

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Works Cited



Iron Work in the Urals

“Molding of an Artistic Casting” (1909-1915) from Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, LOC

Mountains can have many uses for a nation. They can serve as a form of border between two countries, as a sort of natural defensive wall against invaders, provide incredible beauty to a, and as an important source of resources. This last use is shown in the picture above, entitled “Molding of an artistic casting”. The picture, taking by Sergi Mikhailovich, shows three men working in an iron works in the Ural Mountains making molds for  tools. While the work these men are doing is important, the place where they work is just as interesting and noteworthy for its importance in Russia, then and now. The Ural Mountains are an important landmark in Russia for its geographic and economic importance to the country.

The Ural Mountains, also known as the Urals, are a mountain range that runs through Western Russia from the Arctic Coast to northern Kazakhstan. The range extends for almost 1600 miles and its highest point is on Mount Narodnaya at 6217 ft.  The Urals are also divided into several groups along the chain, the main ones being: Polar, Nether-Polar, Northern, Central and Southern. It is considered the dividing line between Western and Eastern Russia, thus it is also considered the dividing line between Europe and Asia. While the mountains have great geographic importance, it also maybe even greater economic importance for Russia, due to its vast mineral deposits.

Beginning in the 18th Century, the Urals began to play an essential role in the Russian economy, a role it has to this day. Iron and Copper works began to emerge early in the 18th Century during the reign of Peter I and their number would only continue to grow over the the two centuries. The Urals provided more than just iron though. It also provided important sources of oil and gas as well.

The picture of the three men working in the iron works shows the change in the Russian economy at the time. The economy was moving away from being mainly a rural, agrarian economy towards trying to become a more fully fledged, industrial economy. Additionally, the fact that these men were working in this factory at the time showed not only the economic, but also societal change taking place in Russia at the time. Only a generation or two before, these men would have most likely been serfs working for a lord. Instead, they were working in a factory. The importance of the Urals would only continue to grow after this picture was taken, as the resources that the mountains provided would be essential to helping build an industrial economy.

One important point we discussed in class that makes this picture especially interesting. It was noted in class that the Russian elites were hesitant to give the serfs political rights, as they had seen what such decisions had done in other places like Great Britain. Interestingly enough, a picture like this shows the fermenting of the revolution that would take place only a decade after it was taken. Looking at the men in this picture, one sees the place where they would begin to hear the calls to organize, to demand greater rights as workers and to dispel a system that continued to exploit them even after reforms. These men did not know it at the time, but it would be men like them who would be part of the revolution only a decade later. Looking back, it is clear why the Russian elites desire to not give these newly freed serfs political rights, as the revolution they so feared did eventually happen.

This photo allows one to consider the importance of a place in the great scheme of the modernization of Russia and the story of a place. In showing three men at working creating casts for tools, it shows the modernization of Russia, from a more agrarian economy towards attempting to become a more industrialized one. It captures a the importance of the Urals towards Russia and it’s movement into the 20th century. Finally, it captures the place and the people who would be essential in forging the Russian Revolution only a decade after the photo was taken: common workers.  The photo allows one to look at main different aspects of Russia’s attempts to become the nation we know today.

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