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  • Lenin's Critical Engagement with Liberal Democracy:From Opportunism to Self-Determination and Dictatorship

This article analyzes how Lenin developed core tenets concerning revolutionary political action from his critical engagement with liberal democracy. He notes that two modes of action—one, in favor of national self-determination, and the other, for mass, proletarian dictatorship—potentially arise from, yet surpass, the opportunist form of politics that liberal institutions promote. Rather than neglect elements of liberal democratic society, including competitive elections, capitalism, and pluralism, Lenin highlights their shortcomings and revolutionary potential. As the Right gains power in Europe and the United States, Lenin's critique reveals the possibility for a politics that challenges state power and capitalism.

Liberal Democracy is in Crisis, Again

From Donald Trump's electoral victory, to the rise of ethno-nationalist parties throughout Europe, the advance of the Political Right is leading many activists, scholars, and commentators to notice a general crisis of liberal institutions, economics, and norms. For instance, Francis Fukuyama, who two decades ago heralded the "End of History" hypothesis after the Soviet Union fell, fears that rising economic inequality and institutional gridlock is causing many to lose faith in liberalism.1 In commenting on trends in China, Russia, Europe, and Latin America, Larry Diamond notices an increase in "contempt for elites, for institutions, and for the liberal values of pluralism and inclusion."2 Some blame certain politicians for attempting to dismantle institutions,3 as others hope that advocating for secular government, private property, and a public sphere will persuade people to reject Rightwing Populists.4 Other voices question if liberal institutions were ever participatory or equitable.5 In this camp, liberal values and politics are believed to have stymied structural change,6 and during the Great Depression, to have enabled fascist tendencies.7 Political moderates, as well as critics from the Right and Left, are expressing sincere reservations on the future, value, and durability of liberal democracy. [End Page 44]

Such a range of perspectives concerning liberalism is not new. Throughout the twentieth century, liberalism's core elements, namely, the recognition of group difference, or pluralism, the rule of law, as well as the embrace of free market economics and competitive elections, have been subject to many critiques. For example, in the midst of Weimar Germany's breakdown, Schmitt admonished the liberals of his time for neglecting the centrality of the state in politics.8 His insights were later appropriated in critical studies of sovereignty9 and radical democracy10 when Europe's Right built popular support in the 1980s and 1990s. In a more supportive manner with respect to liberalism, Habermas11 sought to provide standards for evaluating and improving democratic participation. Additionally, Hardt and Negri, in their analysis of financial capitalism, globalization, and decentralized, leaderless forms of contention, identify what they believe to be a new moment of resistance that challenges liberal economics and institutions.12

It is within such critical studies of liberal democracy, I argue, that Lenin's work on revolutionary political action deserves inclusion. As I illustrate, Lenin's critical engagement with liberal democratic society foregrounds three concepts—opportunism, nationalism, and dictatorship. Each concept, for Lenin, entails different modes of political action that liberalism renders possible. At the center is opportunism, which speaks to subsequent debates on pluralism. Instead of conceiving of expressing differences as an ultimate political objective, Lenin documents how group-based demands and grievances are unstable and even potentially conservative when the state accommodates them to avoid structural problems. As a result, he advocates two forms of political action—national self-determination and the dictatorship of the proletariat—that challenge state power and capitalism simultaneously.

Militants, followers, and scholars have subjected Lenin's writings and actions to praise, adulation, as well as ridicule and scorn. Year after year Lenin is tossed into the proverbial "dustbin of history," then cleaned up by a Rightwing commentator to remind us—in a decontextualized fashion—of his irrelevance. Obversely, Žižek's edited volumes, as well as the work of others such as Nimtz, Lih, Negri, and Losurdo, remind us of Lenin's contributions to studies of revolutionary politics. Commentary upon the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution displayed the same range of reactions. The argument in this article recognizes the ongoing, collective reinterpretation of Lenin's work, while also building from it. My analysis differs by showing the centrality of liberalism throughout Lenin's thought on revolution, especially in his promotion of national self-determination and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Revisiting Lenin's thought is of critical importance, as others also note deep problems in liberal society yet mobilize millions in Far-Right political projects. [End Page 45]

Liberalism According to Lenin

Unlike national self-determination, the state, or imperialism, Lenin never composed a single treatise on liberalism. Despite this, we know that Lenin's model for a political party came not from Russia, but from Germany, specifically in the form the Social Democratic Party (SPD) that embraced competitive elections.13 As Lih notes, particularly before World War I, the SPD and one of its leaders, Karl Kautsky, provided Lenin with a model that foregrounded the central place of workers in "a heroic scenario of class leadership."14 Lenin's attention to liberal institutions is also apparent in the advice he offered revolutionaries, lambasting those that eschewed elections for displaying "childishness uncharacteristic of a revolutionary class."15 Furthermore, a quick look at the historical chronology of Lenin's political life reveals that from 1905 to 1917, Russia was experiencing a series of experiments in parliamentary governance, in what were known as the four Dumas. A significant period of Lenin's political life took place when liberal democracy was being introduced in Russia.

From Lenin's many engagements with opponents and allies, it is possible to reconstruct his understanding of liberal institutions and values. Nimtz' work, both his book on Lenin's political career until 1905,16 and also his study that focuses on developments from 1905 to 1917,17 documents the revolutionary's consistent commitment to participate in competitive elections. Nimtz connects Lenin's thoughts on electoral politics with Marx and Engels, noting the former's commitment to promoting elections as a counterpoint to Czarist absolutism and as a way to gauge popular opinion. As Lenin writes on the brink of the first Russian Revolution of 1905 that would see to the introduction of the First Duma, "Liberalism, of whatever kind, merits support by the Social-Democrats only to the extent that it actually opposes the autocracy."18 The allusion to the Social-Democrats is to the Russian Social Democratic Party,19 which routinely pushed the Russian monarchy for competitive elections, and when they took place between 1905 and 1917, ran candidates in them.

Central to Lenin's engagement in electoral politics after the Russian Revolution of 1905 included analyzing the actions and class composition of the different parties that participated in the Dumas. As he notes, "We must distinguish between the programmes of the bourgeois parties, between the banquet and parliamentary speeches of the liberal careerists and their actual participation in the real struggle of the people. Bourgeois politicians, one and all, in all parliamentary countries, have always paid lip-service to democracy while betraying it."20 Here, his critique homes in on liberals (read: politicians in opposition to monarchies in Russia and throughout Europe) who would espouse support for universal suffrage, but not fully commit to promoting [End Page 46] elections and full adult participation. In detailing the different perspectives of Russia's political parties, Lenin noted

For the bourgeois parties, particularly those that have found a "permanent" place for themselves the elections are primarily an occasion for an intensified publicity drive, but for working-class democrats, for Marxists, the main task in the election campaign is to explain to the people the nature of the various political parties, what views are advocated and who advocates them, what are the real and vital interests behind each party, which classes of society shelter behind each party label (1912—italics are his).21

Lenin, instead of dismissing liberal democratic institutions, actively worked within them to advocate for universal suffrage, while also engaging in dialogue, debate, and discussion with opponents and allies.

Lenin subjected Russia's political parties to class analysis to evaluate who they represented and how they did so. In "Liberalism and Democracy," written shortly before the elections to the Third Duma in 1912, Lenin analyzed the liberal, economically elitist party, the Constitutional Democratic Party (or Cadets), and the Trudoviks, which sought to represent petty-bourgeois segments of society and the peasantry. In his comparison with the Social-Democrats, he notes that "the vacillations of the Trudoviks between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats are not fortuitous, but the result of very profound and fundamental conditions, those under which the peasantry has to live. The intermediary position of aloofness from the direct fight between the bourgeois and the proletarian nourishes illusions about a party that stands outside or above classes."22 From the standpoint of each party's respective membership, Lenin sought to position the Social-Democrats and assess its potential actions. He does not waiver as to the place of the Social Democrats—a party with no "illusions" to "stand above classes," but rather one that seeks a "direct fight between bourgeois and proletarian."

From analyzing Lenin's statements, it is clear that he not only understood, but also promoted, central elements of liberal democracy. His commitment to universal suffrage displays a belief in expanding political participation, while his analysis of different political parties affirms a sincere interest in competitive elections. That elections served as moments, as he notes, to "explain" to voters the positions of the parties, likewise, reveals his active engagement in dialogue, deliberation, and discussion with allies, as well as opponents. Instead of "passively contemplating" the activities of others, Callinicos notes how Lenin regularly connected intervening in political affairs to discerning their meaning, success, and failure.23 In this regard, Lenin viewed electoral [End Page 47] politics as a combative terrain for proving ones' position to opponents and allies. Such a view parallels studies on agonistic democracy.24 Yet, where proponents of agonistic democracy privilege conflict in the process of subject formation, Lenin also sees the need for an extensive critique of groups and role of the state in liberal, capitalist society.

Lenin on the Potential and Limitations of Pluralism

Lenin's understanding of groups and their place in society is central to opportunism. Lih, in describing the concept's negative connotations, notes that opportunism was a "catch-all term used in the international Social Democracy for deviations from orthodoxy in favor of reformism."25 Negri, similarly, describes opportunism as the belief that participating in elections is the end-all of political action, and in quoting Lenin from Leftwing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, as "petty-bourgeois attitudes of diffuseness, instability, and incapacity for sustained effort."26 Others define opportunism as "dogmatism," which Lenin opposes through promoting the "long-term interests of the proletariat in the concrete circumstances of political action."27 Often, if not always in studies of Lenin, the concept of opportunism carries a pejorative meaning.

What these studies miss is how Lenin conceives of opportunism with respect to spontaneity and economism, which centers his critique of pluralism. Spontaneity alludes to any coordinated action and/or particular demand raised by a social actor. The strike waves in Russia in the 1890s, and their demands for higher wages and improved conditions, were for Lenin "spontaneous elements."28 Spontaneous action, furthermore, "represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form… the awakening of consciousness to a certain extent."29 In further exploring these mobilizations, Lenin notes that while remaining spontaneous, they evolved over time as the participants adapted their tactics and demands. That consciousness is part of Lenin's concept of spontaneity, no matter how latent, hidden, or "embryonic," means that such actions are neither riots, nor random. Spontaneity contains consciousness, which entails a sense of group identity.

Spontaneous expressions of grievances do not unfold in a political, ideological, or institutional vacuum. As Lenin points out, "the only choice is either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course, for mankind has not created a "third ideology," and moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms, there can never be a nonclass or an above class ideology."30 What ideology is for Lenin, and how it operates, appears in this Manichean division. In making this divide, Lenin claims that everyone, always, lives within ideology and that even as people express their grievances, their demands are raised [End Page 48] against and within the background of bourgeois society. Lukács' takes from Lenin's analysis that liberal, bourgeois society is characterized by "the ideological separation of economics and politics, the creation of a bureaucratic state apparatus which gives large sections of the petty bourgeoisie a material and moral interest in the stability of the state, [and] a bourgeois party system, press, schools system, religion, etc."31 Lenin's conception of ideology, as elaborated by Lukács, draws our attention to the institutions, values, and actors that exist within liberal society, including but not limited to competitive elections, separate groups, and certain forms of economic activity.

The kind of politics actively promoted within liberal institutions is to recognize a spontaneous demand in its individuality, otherwise known as economism. Lenin explains economism as "the common striving of all workers to secure from the government measures for alleviating their distress to which their condition gives rise, but which does not abolish that condition."32 As spontaneity contains a certain level of consciousness, or group awareness of some social problem, economism is one manner to seek redress. This mode of action exists entirely within the confines of already-existing institutions, which for Lenin included the state, its bureaucracy, and multiple actors in society. Instead of criticizing such actors and their authority, economism defers to them.

Still, ideology in liberal society never completely determines the course of political activity because of the dialectical nature of economism. In criticizing some of his contemporaries, Lenin notes, "… the economists do not altogether repudiate "politics", but they are constantly straying from the Social-Democratic to the trade-unionist conception of politics."33 To not "repudiate politics" means that from spontaneity, two, not one form of political action is possible. While one form is economism, which submits to liberal institutions and norms, another requires a party that has two objectives - first, to represent its members, and second, to abolish the conditions of their subjection. The party "is to lead the struggle, not only for better terms for the sale of labour-power, but for the abolition of the social system that compels the propertyless to sell themselves to the rich," while simultaneously representing the working class, "not in its relation to a given group of employers alone, but in its relation to all classes of modern society and to the state as an organized political force."34 As Negri clarifies, "political struggle is not merely economic struggle: if political struggle is kept at the level of the factory, spontaneous organization cannot fathom the power to break the indefinite process of economic struggle and overcome itself."35 For a group "to overcome itself," according to Negri, political action must bond separate, previously unaligned groups together to abolish the causes of their grievances. [End Page 49]

If a party does not seek to abolish how different groups experience subjection, then economism becomes opportunism. Opportunism is a tendency that Lenin observes among socialists who believe that liberalism and socialism are not antithetical and that electoral work within the confines of the state is the primary, if not sole mode of political action.36 Economism is opportunism, with the additional quality that international networks lead groups to become economist in their political activities. That Lenin chose the term "opportunist" to describe this shift highlights the historical and international changes taking place at the time of his writing. Or rather, ideas that strengthened liberal democracy were spreading among socialists, creating options that were perceived as opportunities.37

The connection between opportunism and liberalism is further highlighted in Lenin's study of imperialism, where capitalist development, nationalism, and state institutions thwart revolutionary political action. Imperialism, for Lenin, is characterized by the increase of monopolies, their connections with banks and the governments of capitalist states, which leads to an export of capital abroad to acquire super-profits.38 Imperialism, additionally, generates different forms of political action. One such mode is social chauvinism, which Lenin sees in socialist parties and labor leaders that privilege their own nation over others in "defense of the fatherland."39 Lenin equates social chauvinism with opportunism, which finds its principal adherent in Karl Kautsky. Where he was once inspired by Kautsky and the German SPD, their support of the German participation in World War I drew Lenin's condemnation. Lenin calls Kautsky's support "opportunist" because the latter "detaches the politics of imperialism from its economics," ultimately advocating a "conciliation with imperialism, because a "fight" against the policy of the trusts and banks that does not affect the economic basis of the trusts and banks is mere bourgeois reformism and pacifism… [and an] evasion of existing contradictions, forgetting the most important of them, instead of revealing their full depth."40 In separating politics from economics, or rather, "advocating conciliation," Lenin faults Kautsky and the SPD for making agreements with German property owners and government elites that leave both capitalism and state power unquestioned. In this sense, social chauvinism as opportunism is fundamentally about depoliticization—instead of organizing to abolish deep, structural problems within liberal democratic society, opportunists promote accommodation.

The nationalism of social chauvinism also generates privileged groups, materially shoring up opportunist politics and policies. According to Lenin, imperialism generates "enormous super-profits (since they are obtained over and above the profits which capitalists squeeze out of the workers of their "own" country)" that enable political and economic elites to "bribe the labor leaders and the upper stratum [End Page 50] of the labor aristocracy."41 This is a politics of privilege, seen in offering higher wages, or providing access to public policies, to particular groups. The extension of specific rewards and policies divides society in "the interests of a tiny stratum of privileged workers and of the petty bourgeoisie who are defending their privileged position, their "right" to the crumbs of the profits that "their" national bourgeoisie obtain from robbing other nations."42 Such divisions, where nationalism offers the means through which privileged groups identify with economic and political elites, is opportunist given that state power is uncontested and groups remain blind to one another's grievances. The connection between imperialism and the state is crucial—the former provides the material means for the latter to address particular group grievances, thereby facilitating the development of economistic as opposed to a revolutionary politics that seeks to abolish structural conditions of subjection.

Lenin's analysis of spontaneity, economism, and opportunism notes the necessity, as well as the limitations of a politics that promotes group-based demand-making and recognition. Concerning limitations, he emphasizes that "working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse."43 In this notion—especially the reference to "all cases of tyranny"—Lenin highlights the need to acknowledge the existence of a variety of social problems, which may include gender violence, racial inequality, and/or environmental degradation. In fact, it would be profoundly "un-Leninist" to conceive of workers solely as union members or wage-earners, for this is precisely what he critiques in economism. Losurdo, also, draws our attention to this point in his study on class struggle. In documenting the nature and evolution of the concept, he foregrounds movements that organize to challenge relationships of exploitation through coordinating efforts oriented around economic redistribution and social recognition.44

This reading of Lenin places his thought in dialogue with theorists of pluralism. Some hold that the expression of group grievances is integral to liberal democracy,45 yet regularly hampered by racial, gender, and/or economic inequalities.46 Lenin does not oppose groups raising their demands, but rather sees the potential for two modes of political action to unfold. Althusser also acknowledges this, noting that instead of condemning spontaneity, Lenin "had deep respect for it."47 His respect, however, is conditional upon what actors do upon raising demands and organizing. Whereas economistic action locates a group as it exists within society, in its isolation from others and in its specific "case of tyranny," the political action of revolutionaries is to find the means to unify actors together across their differences. In acknowledging the complexity of group identity, scholars of intersectionality48 [End Page 51] similarly promote political action that embraces difference. What is omitted, however, is questioning how the material status of different groups potentially involves the state and/or capitalist development. A few attempts to clarify concepts within intersectionality and critical race theory call attention to an overall lack of attention given to the state.49 Lenin's contribution is to note the material basis of group identity, which involves state management and resources from international capital flows. To truly challenge privilege and inequality, therefore, requires questioning state power and imperialism.

Laclau's study of populism also proposes a way to understand how groups may unite—in what he calls the "logic of equivalence"—to resist a common enemy, or antagonist.50 Laclau, however, neither calls attention to the institutions of liberal society, nor to the state. His political subject, which may appear Leninist at first, is actually utopian and abstract because its opponent could exist in any society, anywhere. Furthermore, Laclau's subject, as Žižek reminds us, does not seek to abolish the conditions that cause oppression and marginalization. "The revolutionary subject," Žižek tells us in posing Lenin against Laclau, "no longer operates at the level of demanding something from those in power—she wants to destroy them."51 A politics of demand-making—instead of abolition—leaves the potential for relations of oppression to continue.

Lenin's conception of revolutionary political action as abolition—which will become clearer in the following sections on national self-determination and dictatorship—draws attention to the need for coordinated efforts against the state and capitalism. Moreover, pluralism is a means for revolutionary action, but not an end. Gaining group recognition and privilege, at one point in time, can be considered a success for a movement. Yet, as long as state power and capitalism go undisputed, pluralism places groups at the mercy of elite efforts to divide and demobilize resistance. If the state and capitalism go unopposed—which is central to opportunism—then the conditions for subjection remain.

National Self-Determination: Revolutionary Political Action, but an Incomplete Form

Lenin saw two modes of nationalism—the social chauvinist variety, which is opportunist in its embrace of liberal democratic institutions, and another, which he found in struggles for national self-determination. Lenin's appreciation of national self-determination evolved over time. On his early position, Renault notes how in The National Question in Our Programme, from 1903, Lenin offered support for such struggles only on the condition that national interests are subordinated to class objectives.52 Likewise, in 1914 when he wrote The Right of Nations to [End Page 52] Self-Determination, Lenin held that struggles for national self-determination occur "within definite historical limits," with one period that takes place following feudalism, and another, within "fully formed capitalist states."53 Lenin continues, explaining that the first phase occurred with mass movements "in connection with the struggle for political liberty and for the rights of the nation in particular," and the second, characterized by "antagonisms" between "internationally unified capital and the international working-class movement."54 Here, Lenin favors the "phase" of mass, nationalist struggles for promoting liberal institutions and ideology against religious forms of authority.

Lenin's view concerning national self-determination becomes more complex and dialectical, particularly after the outbreak of World War I and upon analyzing how European socialists became opportunists. At this time, Kevin Anderson notes that Lenin's support for struggles of national self-determination developed out of opposing "pure," simplistic conceptions of imperialism, nationalism, and revolution.55 Renault describes Lenin's position as evolving to believe that "socialist revolution and national liberation struggle are by no means "independent." This is why they must be thought together, in their close connection, according to a genuine dialectic of the national and the international."56 This "connection" is such that there is no need to conceive of movements for national self-determination and other forms of revolutionary political action as spatially or temporally divided, as if one must take place before another. Lenin arrives to the stance that nationalist liberation is not a historical, outdated form of resistance both within and outside of Europe.

Renault and Anderson, while correct in noting Lenin's evolution, still have to recognize how the latter's praise for national self-determination movements is conditional. The reason is how imperialism had changed the world, territorially and economically. Specifically, imperialism draws every region into the capitalist world market, but not in the same way. Lenin calls this "uneven development," where certain sectors of the economy and particular classes within a society benefit more so than others within and across countries.57 Additionally, with imperialism, "for the first time, the world is completely divided up, so that in the future only redivision is possible, i.e. territories can only pass from one "owner" to another, instead of passing from ownerless to owner."58 By placing owner in quotations, Lenin shows a certain ambiguity in his usage of the term—in addition to the meaning of ownership in an economic sense, he also means capitalist states, nationalist movements, even perhaps revolutionary parties. Any of these actors can seek to claim control over a certain territory.

As imperialism incorporates every stretch of the globe, national movements are either complicit with or rebel against capitalism. Shortly before World War I, Lenin writes "we cannot vouch for any [End Page 53] particular path of national development, for we are marching to our class goal along all possible paths…we cannot move towards that goal unless we combat all nationalism, and uphold the equality of the various nations."59 The conditional message in this passage, from 1914, does not differ significantly from a later, post-World War I account after the 1917 Revolution where Lenin urges "support for bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries" but only if within these countries, "future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks."60 Lenin expresses conditional support for national self-determination because these movements, in breaking away from colonial powers, disrupt the world capitalist economy in the colony and within the imperialist state itself. The former challenges corporate control over certain territories, while the latter directly interrupts the material base for group privilege in colonial home states. Anderson draws our attention to this point, commenting that for Lenin, "national liberation was the dialectical opposite of global imperialism, whereas the nationalism of the great powers of Europe, the United States, and Japan promoted and underpinned imperialism."61

Lenin is consistent on how national self-determination struggles may challenge capitalism, even with respect to Russia after taking power in 1917. His call to the Muslims of the former Czarist Empire amounts to such a position where he writes, "build your national life freely and unhindered," while "protected by the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies."62 Lenin also explains that to support efforts that will "build a national life," the new Soviet state will cancel treaties from the Czarist era that annexed Muslim lands. In describing Lenin's attitude at this period, Renault states that "Lenin did not want to reconstruct the empire so much as destroy it, to construct on its ruins a new international(ist) order, with all the risks such a refoundation implied and the errors this enterprise would necessarily engender."63 While true that Lenin sought to destroy empire—to the contrary of other Bolsheviks who promoted social chauvinism64—his embrace was conditional. To deconstruct the Russian Empire, Lenin proposed cancelling treaties and returning territory to subjugated people who had been dispossessed. Lenin did not believe that the capitalism could coexist with national liberation. For this reason, while colonized people have a right to nationhood—and also land claims—their revolutionary potential ends if capitalist relations take root after creating a new state. The Muslim peoples within the new Soviet state, therefore, are encouraged to join, form, and exercise their authority, yet through the soviets, and not within liberal democratic institutions.

Efforts to create new states, whether out of the former Russian Empire, within the territorial confines of Europe, or elsewhere, challenges the international capitalist system by disrupting the flow of profits [End Page 54] (or superprofits) from the colonies to the colonizers. Such disruptions, therefore, throw into question the material base of privilege that certain groups enjoy in advanced capitalist states. Losurdo also saw this potential, mentioning how imperialist states annexed territories to send "the propertyless in the capitalist metropolis" with the intent to "defuse conflict."65 What Losurdo misses is the additional point that political actors within struggles for self-determination must also commit to oppose capitalism. Lenin's position on nationalism, therefore, remains conditional while also evolving over time; the struggle for a people's self-determination is simultaneously—temporally and spatially—a revolutionary form of political action that may succumb to national chauvinism or break from it if movements continue their assault on capitalism.

Every nationalist movement must navigate capitalism. This is the fact of worldwide capitalist development, especially after imperialism has left no area unaffected. Even as Lenin supports struggles for national self-determination, such movements possibly embrace a social chauvinist view of the state. Lenin is quite aware of this, explicitly mentioning that "the tendency of every national movement is to form a national state."66 What makes the state that arises from struggles for national self-determination different from the state that is advocated by social chauvinists is that the former treat it as a tool for liberation, whereas the latter, as the ultimate form of human community. Chauvinists neither think, nor act in ways that oppose state power or capitalism, thereby making their political action opportunist in nature.

Lenin heralded some nationalist struggles that were led by liberal parties and elites, mainly for confronting and overturning feudal societies. In this sense, Lenin conceives of liberalism as a movement led by particular class actors, with specific interests, namely, the promotion of individualism, private property, and secular state authority. While in some contexts, such elements are emancipatory, in others, they are not. Moreover, Lenin, in his analysis opportunism, notes how liberal institutions can be complicit in allowing subjection to continue. Imperialism further draws our attention to these dynamics that enable certain groups to receive more than others, while populations far removed from advanced capitalist societies have their lands taken to generate super-profits. Struggles for national self-determination potentially oppose such opportunist politics and policies by placing movements against imperialist elites.

Beyond Liberalism: Revolutionary Dictatorship against Capitalism and the State

Lenin's work on nationalism, while criticizing chauvinism and promoting national self-determination, provides little by way of analyzing [End Page 55] the nature of state power. The state becomes the main target of his critique in discussing the dictatorship of the proletariat. For Lenin, in general, dictatorship is not a form of government, but instead a mode of governance that ultimately seeks to dismantle the state in its promotion of liberal democratic institutions and norms. To conceive of dictatorship as a form of rule that is based on a single person and/or that governs in an arbitrary manner—as many have done before and after Lenin's work on the subject - is a shallow caricature.

More so than national self-determination, the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat is integral to Lenin's thinking on revolutionary action. At times, Lenin uses the concept to critique opportunists who promote a gradual, non-violent path to socialism. In What is to be Done?, for instance, in dismissing the dictatorship of the proletariat as a goal, opportunists are "blunting social contradictions," only advocating "a "realistic" struggle for petty, gradual reforms."67 Elsewhere, Lenin writes that for "only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle for the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat."68 Opportunists disagree, trusting that parliamentary reforms and new, improved legislation would gradually evolve capitalism into socialism. This critique makes clear Lenin's Manichean view on liberalism and socialism, in which there is no compromise. Moreover, in presenting proletarian dictatorship as contrary to liberalism, while at the same time advocating for participation within liberal democracy, Lenin advocates a form of political action that seeks to move beyond liberal values, institutions, and economics.

Adequately reconstructing Lenin's conception of dictatorship requires first detailing his thought concerning the state. In drawing on Engels, mainly the notion that "the state is a product and a manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms," Lenin notes that the state, in general, is not neutral, but an instrument of class rule.69 This places Lenin at odds with others, such as Max Weber, who believes that "the monopoly of the use of legitimate violence" is at the center of state power.70 Recalling Lenin's understanding of ideology and the many liberal institutions and actors that sustain it, state agents of repression include the police, military, as well as the bureaucracy.71 The forces of repression are never at rest, and within liberal society, consistently favor the latter's economics, institutions, and values. "He does not claim," Balibar emphasizes in referring to Lenin's conception, "that the state operates only by violence, but that the State rests on a relation of forces between classes, and not on the public interest and the general will (italics are his))."72 Concepts such as "general will," or "public interest," for Lenin, are ideological constructions that occlude the hierarchies, values, and institutions that characterize liberal democracy. Legitimacy, for Lenin, is synonymous with ideology, while violence always works to favor certain classes over others. [End Page 56]

Lenin presents dictatorship as a way of using the state's repressive capacity for two, dialectically related forms of action: suspending the relationships that characterize liberal, capitalist society, while simultaneously building proletarian governance. Concerning the meaning of suspension, Lenin's thought is akin to what Schmitt documents as sovereign dictatorship. In Schmitt's historical study of the development of dictatorship, from Rome through the Weimer Republic, he notes two forms—sovereign and commissarial. The latter "suspends the constitution in order to protect it."73 Such a suspension, Schmitt notes, is temporary, usually found in the delegation of power from an elected body to an individual or group to address a specific emergency. Sovereign dictatorship shares with the commissarial form the notion of suspension. Yet, a sovereign dictatorship, "does not appeal to an existing constitution, but to one that is still to come."74 When the legal norms of a constitutional authority do not authorize such a form of suspension, the power must be derived from elsewhere, which Schmitt notes in the past have been religious claims.75

For Lenin, the power to suspend and create is found in class struggle. Lih draws attention to this point, noting how the struggle for sovereign power could never be divorced from discussions surrounding class.76 In criticizing the Constitutional Assembly that was to take place in 1917, Lenin denounces "constitutional illusions," which are "political errors when people believe in the existence of a normal, juridical, orderly and legalised—in short, "constitutional"—system, although it does not really exist."77 Lenin penned this statement when Russian capitalists and monarchists were pretending to reestablish political and economic power. To legitimize the continual suspension of establishing a Constitution, Lenin claimed that "the Constituent Assembly issue is subordinate to that of the course and outcome of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat."78 If a Constitutional Assembly would have been convoked at that time, then it would have been against proletarian interests, which according to Lenin would have been tantamount to enshrining national chauvinism, imperialism, and exploitation.

In connecting dictatorship to class struggle and revolutionary politics, Lenin displays an ambivalent position with respect to law. Draper mischaracterizes this point in what he calls the "no law" quality of Lenin's conception, which features "undivided power."79 Lenin does write that "a revolutionary dictatorship, [is] a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power."80 Still, Lenin's thought on law is nuanced, given that he does not argue in favor of abrogating the rule of law entirely, but changing its role in society. Consider Lenin's reflections on the 1871 Paris Commune. Lenin praised the commune in how it "substitutes for the venal and [End Page 57] rotten parliamentarism of bourgeois society institutions in which freedom of opinion and discussion does not degenerate into deception, for the parliamentarians themselves have to work, have to execute their own laws, have themselves to test the results achieved in reality, and to account directly to their constituents."81 It is not that law ceases to exist, replaced by arbitrary rule. Instead, as Lenin's notes in the Paris Commune, laws continue, but with officials making, debating, and executing them. In his critical engagement with legal institutions, which promotes changing the nature of political action with respect to how laws operate in liberal society, Lenin additionally seeks to discern who they benefit and who they subjugate.

This is also how we can begin to understand the connection Lenin makes between dictatorship and efforts to build proletarian governance. Proletarian rule is not confined to representing the interests of wage-earners in isolation from others, but instead entails alliances. Such coalitions, for Lenin, is where we find "the masses," which include "the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and semiproletarians" who "organize all the working and exploited people for the new economic system."82 What unifies separate groups together is their coordinated opposition to capitalism and state power. Proletarian rule is political action that rejects opportunism, with the latter seeking to separate grievances and meet them on the liberal democratic state's legal, political, and/or economic terrain. According to Lenin, "the bourgeois, and particularly the petty bourgeois, ideologists… "correct" Marx in such a way as to make it appear that the state is an organ for the reconciliation of classes."83 Reconciliation entails every effort, whether through pieces of legislation, social programs, or simply the rhetoric used by individual politicians, to stymie critical engagements that target liberal economics and institutions. To see the state as a site for reconciliation misses the point concerning how it is a historical product that primarily functions to facilitate class rule by isolating groups. To not work for dictatorship, and more specifically, the suspension of liberal democratic institutions, leads to opportunism and complicit acceptance of the conditions that subjugate different groups.

One specific way that proletarian governance challenges the liberal state is by collapsing the division between mental and manual labor. As Lenin explains, "from America to Switzerland, from France to Britain, Norway and so forth in these countries the real business of "state" is performed behind the scenes and is carried on by the departments, chancelleries, and General Staffs. Parliament is given up to talk for the special purpose of fooling the "common people."84 The division of labor within government converts elected representatives into proponents of positions, neither their creators nor their practitioners. Instead, non-elected officials and bureaucrats tend to do most of the everyday activities, while elected representatives are consumed [End Page 58] with debate, discussion, dialogue—what Lenin calls "talk." Such talk "fools," or deceives the people. Real governance is not conducted by elected representatives, despite popular belief to the contrary. In claiming that governance takes place "behind the scenes," manual labor is primarily conducted by bureaucrats within liberal democratic institutions. Lenin's advocacy for dictatorship means that the masses in their unity govern, and not some small group that is detached from the population and that acts in its name.

Furthermore, Lenin's conception of revolutionary political action reserves the use of the state's repressive capabilities to confront enemies. In this regard, Lenin writes that "the state is a special organization of force: it is an organization of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally, only the exploiting class, i.e., the bourgeoisie."85 Here, Lenin recognizes that a revolutionary actor cannot ignore or dismiss the state. To do so is tantamount to ceding its repressive capacity to another. To attempt to dismantle or smash the state, as Lenin also reminds us, is problematic, especially if a revolution's opponents continue to exist.

Retaining the state's capacity for repression is particularly indispensable for another feature that is central to proletarian governance, namely, socializing, or abolishing, private property. In fact, to "seize" control of the state is tantamount to nationalizing property, which is why Engels' notion of the "withering away of the state," as quoted by Lenin, connects "the proletariat seizing state power and turns the means of production into state property to begin with."86 Similarly, Lenin's interpretation of Marx's position as presented in The Critique of the Gotha Programme, emphasizes that "it is this communist society, which has just emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism and which is in every respect stamped with the birthmarks of the old society, that… the means of production are no longer the private property of individuals. The means of production belong to the whole of society."87 As the liberal, capitalist state preserves private property, the communist state exists to abolish it, and along with it, one of the conditions that engendered opportunism and the state itself.

Negri, despite his many other insightful comments on Lenin's thought, misses how opportunism and the state are intricately connected, and thus why revolutionary political action must confront both. According to Negri,

The greatest limitation [of Lenin's thought is] the almost-exclusive and extreme emphasis on the institutional aspects. This means attention to, on the one hand, the juridical property relation as a fundamental moment against which the rupture must be directed and to, on the other hand, the figure of the state as an abstract political-juridical institution present in the whole issue of transition.88 [End Page 59]

Lenin's analysis of state power is neither as "abstract" as Negri conceives, nor is the "juridical property relation" of no significance. The state's practical, everyday role is to promote certain relations of production, which necessarily involves the institution of private property. Protecting private property also conceals a clear political project that favors one class project against another—communism versus liberalism. To ignore, or hope to bypass the state, is impossible as long as private property exists.

Revolutionary political action, in seizing state power to turn its repressive capacity against the promotion and protection of private property, is not a one-time event, but instead, a process. For, as Lenin notes, the state remains in operation to suppress opponents of the revolution. "During this period," Lenin write with respect to socializing property, "the state must inevitably be a state that is democratic in a new way (for the proletariat and the propertyless in general) and dictatorial in a new way (against the bourgeoisie)."89 Marx also emphasized this point, how "the theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property."90 The revolutionary acts to abolish private property take place over time. This is why Lenin sees the role of the soviets as a necessary element in revolutionary change at one point of time in the Russian Revolution,91 yet, at another, warns against believing that they are the end-all-be-all of the revolution.92 Harding is somewhat correct to note that this leads to a kind of "institutional relativism" in Lenin's thought.93 This relativism, however, is not entirely arbitrary because mass dictatorial action is grounded upon practices that suspend liberal practices that isolate and divide groups in society.

Dictatorship uses state power to transition society away from liberal economics, politics, and ideology. The nature of this transition features both explicitly political acts, which entail clearly confronting opponents, as well as administrative, apolitical practices. Lenin, in referring to Engel's thought on seizing state power, notes two "questions" that need to be posed, namely, how to conceive of the "transformation of public functions from political into simple functions of administration," and also, the operation of what he calls "the political state… the process of the withering away of the state."94 Lenin takes the state in general as primarily an instrument of class rule, which means that the notion of a political state that promotes communism is identifiable in explicit, coordinated practices to suppress the protection and/or privileging of private property. Thus, while proletarian governance is political, it also features administration. Lenin distinguishes these two roles, with the latter in providing spaces where workers and peasants gain "experience in administration and control over production,"95 while the former, in addition to nationalization, functions through propaganda and rhetoric to instill habits that explicitly [End Page 60] conflict with "conservatism, indiscipline, petty-bourgeois egotism."96 Administration and political action are divorced from one another, but instead, support one another in the process of mass, proletarian governance.

In a similar fashion, Valiavicharska also recognizes that creating collective, cooperative ownership abolishes the liberal form of state, but not the state in general. She sees this in the promotion of a new "state-socialist subject," which blurs the state/society divide and works towards "abolishing private property and building new practices of collective, cooperative and communal ownership."97 Producing this new subject that abolishes the state/society divide, furthermore, entails creating new habits and culture. What is more, in supplementing Valiavicharska's understanding of Lenin's new subject, is how the concrete process of building proletarian governance to abolish the liberal state features political and administrative practices.

Lenin's promotion of the New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed individuals, mainly peasants and artisans to own and market their land and produce, illustrates as well how this twin mode of revolutionizing state power relates to proletarian governance. At the time, the new Soviet state was to control, direct, and channel private trade to increase its support amongst small proprietors.98 Overall, the political objective was not to support capitalism, but to keep capitalists from regaining power in society and the state.99 On the one hand, the state was to administer capitalism, which meant controlling and overseeing the presence of private property. On the other hand, the new Soviet state could engage in dictatorial, political methods to challenge actors who sought to return to liberal society and class rule. Administration allows for revolutionary dictatorship to continue and develop, with proletarian governance involving methods that check, and if needed, suppress tendencies that favor liberal institutions and private property. The NEP's embrace of private property showcased Lenin's promotion of administration to allow for proletarian governance to develop subsequently.

The danger with Lenin's support for the NEP, as well as for his understanding of dictatorship and proletarian governance, as noted by Balibar, is reducing the state to managing the development of the forces of production.100 Losurdo, in siding more with Lenin concerning production, notes that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat sought "not only increasing productivity in general, but concretely demonstrating the superiority of the public sector of the economy to the private sector."101 This comment on "superiority" draws our attention to different sectors in the economy, highlighting that class struggle continues after taking state power and involves politicizing economics. Losurdo, to clarify this point, notes how populism is a form of political action that completely neglects technical improvement and [End Page 61] the development of the forces of production. Additionally, populist parties and movements idealize poverty and consider class struggle in the abstract.102 The challenge noted by Balibar is the danger in omitting political conflict when considering economic action, or rather, to embrace a completely depoliticized, managerial notion of dictatorship—what Schmitt would term commissarial. Yet, to reject any form of administration, as Losurdo sees in populism, is just as harmful. The reason is that building revolutionary governance and promoting new forms of subjectivity require oversight, rule-making, and discipline.

The dictatorship of the proletariat is essential to Lenin's notion of revolutionary political action. It is not that Lenin endorses arbitrary rule, as some critics postulate. Rather, in dictatorship and proletarian governance, Lenin argues that actors must consider who the state benefits and who it suppresses. The state, which in liberal society not only privileges certain classes or groups over one another, also engages in imperialist projects and entrenches a division of labor. Revolutionary political action directly challenges the state, using its repressive capacity to suspend liberal institutions, values, and economics. Expropriation is amongst such concrete practices prescribed, as is the promotion of spaces for more collective forms of production and culture to proliferate. Ultimately, the goal is for the state to disappear, with new forms of subjectivity and governance taking its place. Liberal democratic society may be the starting point in engaging in revolutionary political action, but it cannot be the end.

Back, or Forward, to Lenin?

Lenin developed his thought at a time when many, in Russia and internationally, were seriously questioning liberal democratic norms, institutions, and practices. Economic crises, rising inequality, as well as the toxic mix of nationalism and militarism, led Lenin and many of his interlocutors to look for ways to transform society and not merely meet the grievances of individual groups. Fast-forward one hundred years later and we find ourselves in a similar context. The rise of the Political Right, whether with the election of Donald Trump, or the advance of various ethno-nationalist parties in Europe, reveals millions of people throwing their support behind political parties that dispute the efficacy and value of liberalism. Recalling Lenin, now, at this historical conjuncture, should lead us to reject such a politics rooted in nationalist fantasies, to another that seriously questions capitalism and the state. Or rather, there is a radical leftwing critique to nationalism, militarism, and capitalism. Lenin is a principal voice in this discussion, given that he too was primarily concerned with how to navigate the dynamics of liberal democracy in order to promote revolutionary political action. I have argued in this article that liberal democracy is intricately connected [End Page 62] to Lenin's work on revolutionary political action. Integral to Lenin's engagement with liberal democracy is his concept of opportunism. Opportunist politics, which embraces pluralism, private property, and competitive elections, leave capitalism and state power unassailed. Furthermore, such a form of political action neither searches out the means to abolish the reasons for a particular group's oppression, nor seeks to bond different actors together for social transformation. Nationalist struggles potentially threaten capitalism and count as revolutionary, but always potentially devolve into social chauvinism, and therefore, opportunism. Lenin's consideration of political action in mass, proletarian dictatorship connects groups and demands to overthrow both state power and capitalism. Praising and/or retaining group divisions as they exist within liberal society does not constitute ultimate political objectives. Instead, as spontaneous demands and identities, individual grievances and demands are the means for forms of collective, political action to develop that attempt to represent different groups together and use state power to abolish the conditions of each actor's respective marginalization.

Critical reflection on Lenin's writings came and went—mainly went–after the fall of the Soviet Union. His statues fell, and it seemed that his political thought had been discredited. Lenin has made somewhat of a comeback beginning in the 2000s, thanks to the work on Žižek, Nimtz, and Lih, and others. In building upon their insights, I add to this ongoing collective reinterpretation by focusing on how many of Lenin's most crucial political interventions—the nature of opportunism, national self-determination, and the dictatorship of the proletariat—critically engage liberal economics, politics, and ideology. The one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution took place, followed by a flurry of reflections—divided in terms of praise and condemnation—on Lenin's thought and actions. That so many radically different, opposing perspectives surround Lenin should not come as a surprise because during his life, most of his written work contained sharp critiques of those that waivered on the tactics of revolutionary political activity. His writings betray a certain speed, if not restlessness, in so far as conceptual analysis is intricately woven into concrete political interventions. As Lenin famously noted in the Postscript to State and Revolution, it is "more pleasant and useful to go through the "experience of the revolution" than to write about it." This comment calls attention to his never ceasing attention to connect political action to theoretical reflection. A similar call could inform current efforts and mobilizations, in their various spontaneous manifestations, to build revolutionary change in words and actions. [End Page 63]

Anthony Pahnke

Anthony Pahnke is an Assistant Professor in International Relations at San Francisco State University. His work has appeared in Social Movement Studies, Third World Quarterly and Latin American Politics and Society, as well as in other journals. He is the author of the book, Brazil's Long Revolution: Radical Achievements of the Landless Workers Movement, with the University of Arizona Press. Anthony's email address is


1. Fukuyama, Francis (2017) 'On Why Liberal Democracy is in Trouble,' NPR, April 4th. Accessed 1/15/2018.

2. Diamond, Larry (2017) 'Is There a Crisis of Liberal Democracy?' The American Interest, October 13th. Accessed 2/12/2018.

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5. Maher, Steven (2016) 'Against Liberal Nostalgia,' Jacobin, December 16th. Accessed 2/15/2018.

6. Hawes, William (2017) 'Revolution Not Reform: Moral Courage, Redefining Progress and the Myth of Social Democracy,' Counterpunch, October 11. Accessed 2/12/2018.

7. Soulvis, George (2016) 'Fascism and Democracy,' Jacobin. August 19th. Accessed 2/25/2018.

8. Schmitt, Carl 1932 (1996) The Concept of the Political: Expanded Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 69–79. For a more historically grounded account on how Schmitt viewed liberals and the state, see Chapters 3 and 4 from Schmitt, Carl 1921 (2014) Dictatorship, Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

9. Agamben, Giorgio (1998) Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

10. Mouffe, Chantal (2000) The Democratic Paradox. New York: Verso.

11. Habermas, Jürgen (1996) Between Facts and Norms. Cambridge: Polity.

12. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2001) Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

13. Harding, Neil (1996) Leninism. Durham: Duke University Press; Lih, Lars (2006) Lenin Rediscovered: What is to be Done? in Context. Leiden: Brill.

14. Lih, Lars (2012). Lenin. London: Reaktion Books: 45.

15. Lenin 1920 (1975) 'Leftwing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.). The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 617.

16. Nimtz, August (2016) Lenin's Electoral Strategy from Marx and Engels through the Revolution of 1905: The Ballot, the Streets—or Both. Berlin: Springer.

17. Nimtz, August (2014) Lenin's Electoral Strategy from 1907 to the October Revolution of 1917: The Ballot, the Streets—or Both. Berlin: Springer.

18. Lenin (1905) 'Working-Class and Bourgeois Democracy.'

19. The Social Democrats would change their name to the All-Russian Communist Party after seizing power in 1918. For more on the decision to use the label 'Social-Democrat,' see Nimtz, 2016.

20. Lenin (1908) 'Deception of the People by the Liberals.'

21. Lenin (1912) 'Liberalism and Democracy.'

22. Ibid.

23. Callinicos, Alex (2007) 'Leninism in the Twenty-first Century? Lenin, Weber, and the Politics of Responsibility.' In Budgen, Sebastian, and Slavoj Žižek. Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth. Durham: Duke University Press, Pgs 26–27.

24. Ernesto Laclau and Mouffe Chantal (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. New York: Verso.

25. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, 248.

26. Negri, Antonio (2014) Factory of Strategy: Thirty-three Lessons on Lenin. New York: Columbia University Press: 44, 317.

27. Mayer, Robert (1999) 'Lenin and the practice of dialectical thinking,' Science & Society 63 (1): 40–62.

28. Lenin 1902 (1975) 'What is to Be Done?' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.) The Lenin Anthology. New York: WWW Norton: 23–24.

29. Ibid, 24.

30. Ibid, 28–29.

31. Lukács, Gyorgy 1923 (1971) Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought. New York: Verso: 66.

32. Lenin, What is to be Done?, 31.

33. Ibid, 33.

34. Ibid, 35–36.

35. Negri, Factory of Strategy, 31.

36. Lenin, What is to be Done?, 13–14.

37. See Chapter 3 of Lih's Lenin for more on the influence of international socialism on the Bolsheviks and Lenin.

38. Lenin 1916 (1975) 'Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism,' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.). The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton.

39. Lenin 1915 (1975) 'Socialism and War,' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.). The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 140.

40. Lenin, Imperialism, 247.

41. Ibid, 209.

42. Lenin, Socialism and War, 193.

43. Lenin, What is to be Done?, 42.

44. Losurdo, Domenico (2016) Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan: 9, 18, and 73–75.

45. Dahl, Robert A (1956) A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Kymlicka, William (1995) Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Leicester: Clarendon Press.

46. Schnattschneider, E. E (1960) The Semi-Sovereign People. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston; Young, Iris. (1996) 'Communication and the Other: Beyond Deliberative Democracy,' In Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political; Mansbridge, Jane (1999) 'Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent 'Yes''. The Journal of Politics, 61(3): 628–657.

47. Althusser, Louis (1971) 'Lenin and Philosophy,' In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press: 52.

48. Crenshaw, Kimberle (1991) 'Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.' Stanford law review 43(6): 1241–1299.

49. Bracey, Glenn E (2015) 'Toward a Critical Race Theory of State.' Critical Sociology 41(3): 553–572.

50. Laclau, Ernesto (2005) On Populist Reason. New York: Verso.

51. Žižek, Slavoj (2007) 'A Leninst Gesture Today.' In Budgen, Sebastian, and Slavoj Žižek. Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth, Durham: Duke University Press: 84.

52. Renault, Michel (2018) 'Revolution Decentered: Two Studies on Lenin.' Viewpoint Magazine, February.

53. Lenin 1914 (1975) 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.). The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 157.

54. Ibid, 158.

55. Anderson, Kevin (1995) Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study. Champaign: University of Illinois Press: 126.

56. Renault, Revolution Decentered, 7.

57. Lenin, Imperialism, 271.

58. Ibid, 239.

59. Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 164.

60. Lenin 1920 (1975) 'Communism and the East: Theses on the National and Colonial Questions.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.). The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 624.

61. Anderson, Kevin (2007) 'The Rediscovery and Persistence of the Dialectic in Philosophy and in World Politics.' In Budgen, Sebastian, and Slavoj Žižek. Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth. Durham: Duke University Press: 131.

62. Lenin (1917) "Appeal to the Moslems of Russia and the East."

63. Renault, Revolution Decentered, 14.

64. Ibid, 12–14.

65. Losurdo, Class Struggle, 153–155.

66. Lenin, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, 154.

67. Lenin, What is to Be Done?, 18.

68. Lenin 1916 (1975) 'State and Revolution.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.). The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 334.

69. Lenin, State and Revolution, 314.

70. Weber, Max (1994) Weber: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

71. By including bureaucracy, Lenin expands the notion of repression to include the use of coercion and other practices that sustain capitalism. Poulantzas, decades later, will further theorize what this entails through incorporating Althusser's work. See Althusser, Louis (1971) On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. New York: Verso Books; Poulantzas, Nico (1978) State, Power, Socialism, London: New Left Books.

72. Etienne Balibar and Louis Althusser (1977) On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. London: New Left Books: 71.

73. Schmitt, Dictatorship, 118.

74. Schmitt, Dictatorship, 119.

75. The example that Schmitt uses is the rule of Oliver Cromwell in 17th century England.

76. Lih, Lenin, 136–137.

77. Lenin (1917b) 'Constitutional Illusions.' Available on

78. Ibid.

79. Draper, Hal (1987) Dictatorship of Proletariat. New York: New York University Press: 97.

80. Lenin, (1917) The Dual Power. Available at

81. Lenin, State and Revolution, 343.

82. Ibid, 328.

83. Ibid, 314–315.

84. Ibid, 343.

85. Ibid, 326.

86. Ibid, 320.

87. Ibid, 376.

88. Negri, Factory of Strategy, 269.

89. Lenin, State and Revolution, 334.

90. Marx, Karx 1848 (1978) 'The Communist Manifesto.' In Tucker R.C. (Ed.) Marx-Engels Reader, New York: WW Norton: 484.

91. Lenin 1914 (1975) 'Lecture on the 1905 Revolution.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.. The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton.

92. Lenin 1918 (1975) 'The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.) The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 573.

93. Harding, Leninism, 258.

94. Lenin, State and Revolution, 354.

95. Lenin 1919 (1975) 'Introducing the New Economic Policy.' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.) The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 431–432.

96. Ibid 447.

97. Valiavicharska, Zhivka (2010) 'Socialist Modes of Governance and the Withering Away of the State: Revisiting Lenin's State and Revolution.' Theory & Event 13(2).

98. Lenin 1919 (1975) 'A Great Beginning' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.) The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 477.

99. Lenin 1921 (1975) 'Communism and the New Economic Policy' In Tucker, R. C. (Ed.) The Lenin Anthology. New York: WW Norton: 510.

100. Balibar, On the Dictatorship, 54–55.

101. Losurdo, Class Struggle, 187. He also illustrates this point further, quoting Walter Benjamin's statement that "Now it is made clear to every Communist that the revolutionary work of this hour is not conflict, not civil war, but canal construction, electrification, and factory building. The revolutionary nature of true technology is emphasized ever more clearly." (2016, 188).

102. Ibid, 309.

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