Leninism vs. State and Revolution (was Re: Socialist Utopia)
adaitsma at mail.trincoll.edu
Thu Jul 6 12:44:52 MDT 1995
>The point I am trying to make on Marxism and utopia is that the concepts of
>the very First Stage of socialism in Marx -- and later codified by Lenin --
>are simply unworkable. We all know that Lenin wrote one thing in State and
>Revolution but implemented something quite different in reality between
>1917-1921. I suggest that a partial explanation for this is that the
>vision, useful to mobilizing workers for the struggle for power, was
>unworkable once power was achieved.
I'm not claiming to be particularly well-read on this issue, but I did
recently finish a pretty interesting book that dealt with exactly this
question in some detail: Carollee Bengelsdorf, _The Problem of Democracy in
Cuba_ (Oxford, 1994).
Bengelsdorf traces the problem back to Marx's failure to develop a viable
and thorough theory of state, though he did make intriguing and not entirely
consistent comments about the dictatorship of the proletariat and about the
state withering away. Because Marx left a profound void, subsequent
theorists could fill it according to their own predilections and the needs
of the moment. _State and Revolution_, Bengelsdorf writes, is "a
recompilation and simplification of the ambiguous and sketchy Marxist vision
of the workers' state. It shares this tendency toward simplification with
most of Lenin's writing."
Her description of the text makes it practically utopian in its fundamental
features. On one hand (I'm paraphrasing her here) Lenin takes Marx's
emancipatory vision (best expressed in the famous "hunt in the morning, fish
in the afternoon" quote in the German Ideology) to a libertarian extreme.
On the other, he further simplifies basic concepts that Marx had already
expressed in only sketchy fashion. The result is an unrealistic, almost
naive, vision of the state that simply sidesteps any the question of how
political power should be mediated in a revolutionary society. For Lenin,
as Bengelsdorf describes him, the party automatically expresses the will of
the working class, and political contestation is simply not an issue. Cause
the working class has unitary, easily knowable needs and interests.
After the seizure of state power, of course, it turned out pretty quickly
that workers' interests weren't unitary, and some mechanisms were needed to
mediate between state and civil society. In the absence of a viable theory,
and in a moment of extreme need, the Bolsheviks simply turned to the Czarist
bureaucracy which, notwithstanding a few cosmetic changes at the upper
levels, remained basically intact and became the solid foundation for the
The problem, as Tim suggests, was theoretical.
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