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V. I. Lenin

State and Revolution



The following is taken from V. I. Lenin's The State and Revolution.  This work was written in 1917 as he prepared for what would become the October Revolution.  In this excerpt, Lenin comments on Marx's and Engel's analysis on the Paris Commune of 1871.
Marx wrote to Kugelmann: "If you look at the last chapter of my Eighteenth Brumaire, you will find that I say that the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another but to smash it" (Marx's italics -- the original is "zerbrechen "), "and this is the preliminary condition for every real people's revolution on the continent. And this is what our heroic Party comrades in Paris are attempting." (Neue Zeit, Vol. XX, 1, 1901-02, p. 700.) (The letters of Marx to Kugelmann have appeared in Russian in no less than two editions, one of which I edited and supplied with a preface.)

The words, "to smash the bureaucratic-military machine," briefly express the principal lesson of Marxism regarding the tasks of the proletariat during a revolution in relation to state. And it is precisely this lesson that has been not only completely forgotten, but positively distorted by the prevailing, Kautskyite, "interpretation" of Marxism!

As for Marx's reference to The Eighteenth Brumaire, we have quoted the corresponding passage in full above.

It is interesting to note, in particular, two points in the above-quoted argument of Marx. First, he confines his conclusion to the continent. This was understandable in 1871, when England was still the model of a purely capitalist country, but without a militqary clique and, to a considerable degree, without a bureaucracy. Hence, Marx excluded England, where a revolution, even a people's revolution, then seemed possible, and indeed was possible, without the preliminary condition of destroying the ready-made state machinery."

Today, in 1917, in the epoch of the first great imperialist war, this qualification made by Marx is no longer valid. Both England and America, the biggest and the last representatives -- in the whole world -- of Anglo-Saxon "liberty," in the sense that they had no militarist cliques and bureaucracy, have today completely sunk into the all-European filthy, bloody morass of bureaucratic-military institutions which subordinate everything to themselves and trample everything underfoot. Today, in England and in America, too, "the preliminary condition for every real people's revolution" is the smashing, the destruction of the "ready-made state machinery" (perfected in those countries, between 1914 and 1917, up to the "European," general imperialist standard).

Secondly, particular attention should be paid to Marx's extremely profound remark that the destruction of the bureaucratic-military state machine is "the preliminary condition for every real people's revolution." This idea of a "people's" revolution seems strange coming from Marx, so that the Russian Plekhanovites and Mensheviks, those followers of Struve who wish to be regarded as Marxists, might possibly declare such an expression to be a "slip of the pen" on Marx's part. They have reduced Marxism to such a state of wretchedly liberal distortion that nothing exists for them beyond the antithesis between bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution -- and even this antithesis they interpret in an extremely lifeless way.

If we take the revolutions of the twentieth century as examples we shall, of course, have to admit that the Portuguese and the Turkish revolutions are both bourgeois revolutions. Neither of them, however, is a "people's" revolution, inasmuch as in neither does the mass of the people, its enormous majority, come out actively, independently, with its own economic and political demands to any noticeable degree. On the contrary, although the Russian bourgeois revolution of 1905-07 displayed no such "brilliant" successes as at times fell to the lot of the Portuguese and Turkish revolutions, it was undoubtedly a "real people's" revolution, since the mass of the people, its majority, the very lowest social strata, crushed by oppression and exploitation, rose independently and placed on the entire course of the revolution the impress of their own demands, of their attempts to build in their own way a new society in place of the old society that was being destroyed.

In Europe, in 1871, there was not a single country on the Continent in which the proletariat constituted the majority of the people. A "people's" revolution, one that actually swept the majority into its stream, could be such only if it embraced both the proletariat and the peasantry. These two classes then constituted the "people." These two classes are united by the fact that the "bureaucratic-military state machine" oppresses, crushes, exploits them. To smash this machine, to break it up -- this is truly in the interest of the "people," of the majority, of the workers and most of the peasants, this is "the preliminary condition" for a free alliance between the poorest peasants and the proletarians, whereas without such an alliance democracy is unstable and socialist transformation is impossible.

As is well known, the Paris Commune was indeed working its way toward such an alliance, although it did not reach its goal owing to a number of circumstances, internal and external.

Consequently, in speaking of a "real people's revolution," Marx, without in the least forgetting the peculiar character istics of the petty bourgeoisie (he spoke a great deal about them and often), took strict account of the actual balance of class forces in the majority of continental countries in Europe in 1871. On the other hand, he stated that the "smashing" of the state machine was required by the interests of both the workers and the peasants, that it unites them, that it places before them the common task of removing the "parasite" and replacing it by something new.

By what exactly?

This excerpt taken The present English translation of V. I. Lenin's The State and Revolution is a reprint of the text given in the Selected Works of V. I. Lenin, Eng. ed., Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, Vol. II, Part I.  The original e-text was prepared by  David J. Romagnolo, [email protected] (June 1997) for the V. I. Lenin Internet Library.  http://www.marx2mao.org/Lenin/Index.html.

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