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.

This post earned a Red Star award from the editorial team

Works Cited



5 thoughts on “Leninism and Class: Recognizing the Class Issues

  1. I really like this post because it takes difficult readings from What Is To Be Done? and puts the readings not really into simplistic ways of relaying his ideas but into a more modern context and understanding. I understood the differences between the classes and the way they were treated; however, I never knew that Lenin wanted a zero-sum relationship between trade unions and the political parties as supported by his unwillingness. Lenin is a difficult character and you made it easier to grasp, thanks for the post!


  2. I agree with Abigail — you’ve done a fine job of making sense of Lenin’s concept of the vanguard party without overly simplifying his ideas and their implications. This is not an easy task! You are not the first person to locate the source of authoritarianism in Soviet politics with Lenin’s belief in the need for a party of professional revolutionaries. While his ideas may have emerged in the context of the repressiveness of the Imperial regime’s determination to thwart all political organization, they also incorporated powerful messages about the relationship between the revolution’s leadership and the rank and file, as well as the broader constituencies the Bolsheviks wanted to represent.
    (Also — take a few minutes to proofread this and update accordingly. Your ideas are too good to be undone by typos!)


  3. Really interesting post! Lenin ostensibly aims to bring about a classless society, but relies heavily on classism to bring about his autocracy of the proletariat – it makes you wonder if he thinks that this is a necessary evil that he has to swallow on the way to a classless state, or whether he had ulterior motives. The way that the state shapes up after the revolution makes this question even harder to answer. Great post!


  4. Awesome job in your posting. A very sound interpretation of a hard to grasp reading. Your connection with the course content as you outlined the impact of the intelligentsia class on the political parties as they shared opposing views from Lenin brought a new perspective and added clearity to the situation.


  5. Vladimir Lenin is certainly an interesting character in history. His ideological reasoning and positions can be confusing at times, but your post does a tremendous job at simplifying and explaining many of Leninism’s key tenants. I find very intriguing that Lenin views his variation of Marxism as indifferent towards class differences, as in practice it did not act like this at all.


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