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The key points of 'The State & Revolution By Vladimir Lenin

Vladimir Lenin's seminal work 'The State & Revolution' is a cornerstone of Marxist theory, offering a penetrating analysis of the state's role in society and the revolutionary path to communism. Written in 1917, this treatise lays out Lenin's views on the necessity of a proletarian revolution and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat as a transitional phase towards a stateless and classless society. It critiques the contemporary social-democratic thought and explores the dynamics of class struggle, the nature of the state, and the tactics required for a successful revolution. Understanding the key points of this work provides valuable insights into the ideological underpinnings of the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent shaping of the Soviet Union.

Key Takeaways

  • Lenin's interpretation of Marxism emphasizes the need for a violent revolution and a temporary dictatorship of the proletariat to achieve a communist society.

  • The state is characterized as an instrument of class rule, designed to maintain the dominance of one class over another, and is inherently linked to class antagonisms.

  • The transition from capitalism to communism requires the dismantling of the bourgeois state apparatus and the establishment of a revolutionary vanguard to lead the proletariat.

  • Lenin criticizes opportunism and reformism within the socialist movement, arguing that they betray the working class and hinder the revolutionary process.

  • The ultimate vision of a communist society is one that is stateless and classless, with the state 'withering away' as it becomes obsolete in the absence of class divisions.

Historical Context and Theoretical Foundations

Lenin's Interpretation of Marxism

Vladimir Lenin's interpretation of Marxism was both a continuation and a revolutionary departure from the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Lenin emphasized the need for a vanguard party to lead the proletariat in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. This party would serve as the embodiment of the most advanced political consciousness.

The dictatorship of the proletariat was central to Lenin's vision, where the working class would seize state power and use it to dismantle the existing capitalist structures. Lenin argued that only through such a dictatorship could the path to a classless society be paved.

  • The vanguard party's role

  • Seizing state power

  • Dismantling capitalist structures

The Role of the State in Society

In 'The State & Revolution', Lenin posits that the state is fundamentally an instrument of class oppression, designed to enforce the interests of the ruling class. The state emerges as a mediator in the irreconcilable class struggle, but it never serves the interests of all societal layers equally. Instead, it is a tool for the dominant class to maintain its power and suppress dissent.

Lenin emphasizes that the state's functions are not neutral but are shaped by the economic base and the prevailing class relations. This perspective is critical in understanding why the state behaves in certain ways and for whose benefit:

  • The enforcement of property rights

  • The regulation of labor

  • The administration of justice

  • The provision of public goods and services

Lenin's analysis challenges the notion that the state can be a neutral arbiter and instead insists on its inherent bias. This understanding is crucial for any revolutionary movement that seeks to alter the balance of power in society.

Critique of the Existing Social-Democratic Thought

In "The State & Revolution," Lenin vehemently criticizes the social-democratic thought of his time, which he saw as having deviated from the revolutionary principles of Marxism. The crux of his critique was that social democrats had become reformist, seeking to work within the capitalist system rather than overthrow it.

Reformism, according to Lenin, betrayed the working class by implying that gradual change could lead to socialism. This, he argued, was a fallacy that ignored the inherent class antagonisms of capitalist society. Instead, he advocated for a revolutionary approach that would dismantle the capitalist state apparatus.

  • Social democrats viewed the state as a neutral entity that could serve all classes.

  • Lenin argued that the state is inherently a tool of class oppression.

  • He believed that only through a proletarian revolution could the state be used to advance the interests of the working class.

Lenin's analysis went beyond mere criticism; he sought to realign the socialist movement with what he considered the true spirit of Marxism, which necessitated a complete and uncompromising break from the existing capitalist structures.

The State as an Instrument of Class Rule

The State as a Product of Class Antagonism

In Lenin's view, the state emerges as a direct result of the irreconcilable class antagonisms that characterize society. It is not a neutral arbiter but a tool for the dominant class to enforce its interests and maintain social order.

  • The state serves the interests of the ruling class, often the bourgeoisie in capitalist societies.

  • It legitimizes the existing property relations that favor the wealthy.

  • The state's mechanisms, such as laws and enforcement agencies, are structured to protect these interests.

The state's function as an instrument of class rule is thus inherently linked to the economic base of society. The ruling class uses the state to consolidate its power and suppress any threats to its dominance.

Functions of the State in Class Society

In a class society, the state functions primarily as an instrument of oppression by the ruling class. Its mechanisms are designed to maintain the status quo and protect the interests of those in power. The state enforces property relations that are beneficial to the bourgeoisie, ensuring their economic dominance over the proletariat.

  • Upholding laws that favor capital accumulation

  • Suppressing workers' movements and strikes

  • Administering systems of taxation that reinforce social hierarchies

The state's involvement in everyday life is pervasive, from the regulation of labor to the administration of social services. However, these functions are often skewed to benefit the upper echelons of society, perpetuating inequality.

The Inevitability of State Power for the Proletariat

In Lenin's view, the state is an inevitable mechanism for the proletariat to achieve its revolutionary goals. The state serves as a tool for class oppression, but it is also a necessary instrument through which the working class can dismantle the existing bourgeois order. The transition to a socialist society necessitates the use of state power by the proletariat to suppress the resistance of the capitalist class.

State power is not seen as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. The ultimate objective is to create a classless society where the state would eventually 'wither away.' However, before reaching this stage, the proletariat must seize and utilize state power effectively.

The following points outline the critical role of state power in the proletarian struggle:

  • Seizure of state power is the first step towards the overthrow of capitalism.

  • State institutions must be repurposed to serve the interests of the working class.

  • The suppression of bourgeois resistance is essential to safeguard the revolution.

The Transition from Capitalism to Communism

The Dictatorship of the Proletariat

In 'The State & Revolution', Lenin posits that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary phase in the transition from capitalism to communism. This period is characterized by the working class holding state power, with the intention of suppressing the resistance of the former ruling class, the bourgeoisie.

The proletariat must use state power to dismantle the capitalist system and its institutions, paving the way for a classless society. This involves a radical transformation of society, including the reorganization of production and the distribution of resources.

  • Suppression of the bourgeoisie

  • Nationalization of industry

  • Redistribution of wealth

  • Democratic control of institutions

The Dismantling of the Bourgeois State Apparatus

In 'The State & Revolution', Lenin emphasizes the necessity for the proletariat to dismantle the bourgeois state apparatus. This process involves the complete overthrow of existing state institutions that serve the interests of the capitalist class. The proletariat must replace these with new structures that are democratic in nature and serve the working class.

  • Destruction of the old bureaucracy

  • Abolition of the standing army

  • Establishment of the armed people

Lenin argues that without this critical step, the working class cannot suppress the resistance of the capitalist class and move towards a socialist society. The dismantling is not merely a change of leadership but a profound transformation of the state's role and structure.

The Role of Revolutionary Vanguard in the Transition

In Lenin's view, the revolutionary vanguard plays a pivotal role in guiding the proletariat during the transition from capitalism to communism. This elite group, composed of the most politically advanced members of the working class, is tasked with raising the class consciousness of the masses and leading the revolutionary struggle.

The vanguard is not just a leader but also an educator, working to impart the necessary socialist ideology and tactics to the broader population. Without this leadership, Lenin argues, the proletariat cannot successfully overthrow the bourgeois state and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat.

  • Educate the masses

  • Lead the revolution

  • Establish the dictatorship of the proletariat

Criticism of Opportunism and Reformism

Lenin's Attack on Revisionism

In 'The State & Revolution,' Lenin vehemently criticizes the revisionist faction within the socialist movement, accusing them of betraying Marxist principles. Revisionism, he argues, dilutes the revolutionary essence of Marxism by advocating for gradual reforms rather than a radical overthrow of the capitalist system.

Revisionists were seen as proponents of a dangerous complacency, believing that capitalism could be adjusted to serve the interests of the working class without the need for a revolution. Lenin saw this belief as not only misguided but also as a threat to the integrity of the socialist cause.

  • Revisionists' belief in gradual reform

  • Misguided faith in capitalism's adjustability

  • Threat to socialist integrity

The Fallacy of Parliamentary Democracy

Vladimir Lenin was critical of the belief that parliamentary democracy could serve as a tool for achieving socialism. He argued that parliamentary systems are inherently flawed as they are designed to protect the interests of the ruling class, not the proletariat. Parliamentary democracy, in Lenin's view, is a facade that conceals the true nature of class domination.

In The State and Revolution, Lenin emphasizes that the working class cannot simply take over the existing state machinery and use it for its own purposes. Instead, he insists on the need for a complete dismantling of the bourgeois state apparatus.

  • The state serves the interests of the ruling class.

  • Parliamentary democracy creates an illusion of popular sovereignty.

  • True socialism requires the destruction of the current state structure.

The Betrayal of the Masses by Opportunist Leaders

In 'The State & Revolution', Lenin exposes the betrayal of the working class by opportunist leaders who, he argues, have succumbed to the comforts and pressures of the bourgeois state. These leaders, once champions of the proletariat, have turned their backs on revolutionary ideals in favor of incremental reforms that ultimately serve to reinforce the existing class structure.

The proletariat's struggle is thus not only against the bourgeoisie but also against those who claim to represent their interests. Opportunist leaders, by advocating for a gradual approach to change, delay the necessary revolutionary transformation and perpetuate the suffering of the masses.

  • The shift from revolutionary zeal to reformist complacency

  • The co-optation of leaders by the state

  • The dilution of socialist principles in the face of political pragmatism

The Vision of a Stateless and Classless Society

The Concept of 'Withering Away' of the State

In Lenin's vision of a future communist society, the state is not an eternal institution but a temporary one that arises from and reflects the class antagonisms in society. The state is expected to 'wither away' as these class distinctions dissolve. This process is not abrupt but gradual, following the establishment of a proletarian state.

Withering away of the state implies a significant transformation in governance. The functions and structures of the state as known in capitalist society will become obsolete as the community organizes itself around new, socialist principles. The transition involves:

  • The gradual diminution of state functions and power

  • The increasing participation of the masses in governance and administrative tasks

  • The replacement of coercive instruments of the state with mechanisms of communal self-regulation

The Commune as a Prototype of Socialist Governance

In Lenin's vision, the Paris Commune represented a glimpse into the potential structure of future socialist governance. The Commune was seen as a living example of a state apparatus that truly served the interests of the working class, rather than the bourgeoisie. The governance of the Commune was based on direct democracy and the immediate recall of officials, which Lenin believed was a precursor to the state's eventual 'withering away'.

The Commune's structure was characterized by several key features:

  • Decentralization of power to local bodies

  • Public officials being accountable and revocable at short notice

  • Absence of a standing army and police force replaced by the armed people

Lenin argued that the lessons learned from the Commune were essential for the revolutionary vanguard to consider in the transition towards communism. It was not just a historical event but a blueprint for the future, where the working class could wield power directly and dismantle the oppressive structures of the existing state.

The Ultimate Goal of Communism

The ultimate goal of communism, as envisioned by Lenin, is the establishment of a classless and stateless society where the exploitation of one person by another is abolished. The withering away of the state is central to achieving this aim, where governance is based on communal ownership and democratic control of the means of production.

  • Abolition of private property

  • Democratic control of production

  • Equal distribution of goods and services

The realization of this vision requires a radical transformation of society, which Lenin argues can only be achieved through revolutionary means, not gradual reform. The end state is a harmonious community where individuals contribute according to their ability and receive according to their needs.


In summary, 'The State & Revolution' by Vladimir Lenin is a seminal work that delves into the Marxist theory of the state and the conditions for its eventual dissolution into a communist society. Lenin articulates the necessity of a proletarian revolution to overthrow the bourgeois state apparatus, emphasizing the role of the working class in establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat to suppress the remnants of the old order. He critiques the existing social-democratic interpretations of Marxism and underscores the importance of a vanguard party to lead the masses. The book remains a cornerstone of Leninist thought, providing a theoretical framework for revolutionary action and a vision of a society free from class antagonism. Its key points continue to inspire and provoke debate among scholars, activists, and political theorists to this day.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the historical context of 'The State & Revolution' by Lenin?

The historical context of 'The State & Revolution' involves the socio-political climate of Russia leading up to the October Revolution of 1917. Lenin wrote the book while in exile, reflecting on the failures of existing social-democratic movements and theorizing about the role of the state in the transition to socialism.

How does Lenin interpret Marxism in 'The State & Revolution'?

Lenin interprets Marxism as a guide to revolutionary action, emphasizing the need for a proletarian revolution that would dismantle the bourgeois state. He argues that the state is a tool of class oppression and that only through its overthrow can a classless and stateless society be achieved.

What is Lenin's view on the state's role in society?

Lenin views the state as an instrument of class rule, existing to manage the affairs and conflicts between classes. He believes that the state serves the interests of the ruling class, and in a capitalist society, it is an apparatus for the bourgeoisie to suppress the proletariat.

What does Lenin mean by the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'?

The 'dictatorship of the proletariat' refers to a transitional state in which the working class has taken control of state power from the bourgeoisie. In this period, the proletariat uses the state to suppress the former ruling class and to implement socialist reforms, paving the way for a classless and stateless society.

How does 'The State & Revolution' criticize opportunism and reformism?

Lenin criticizes opportunism and reformism by attacking the ideas and practices of social-democrats who believed in achieving socialism through parliamentary means. He accuses them of betraying the working class by compromising with the bourgeoisie and diluting the revolutionary aims of Marxism.

What is the vision of a stateless and classless society in Lenin's work?

Lenin envisions a stateless and classless society as the ultimate goal of communism, where the oppressive structures of the state have 'withered away' and people govern themselves without the need for coercive institutions. He sees the Paris Commune as a historical example of such governance.

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