Marx and Lenin: Contrasted

Marx and Lenin: Contrasted

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, a party whose “socialism” consists of such dialectical positions as “opposing every single government” and “every single war,” published an article by Richard Montague in its newspaper Socialist Standard contrasting the chasms between Marx and Lenin. The article itself is quite old, published in 2001, but it was brought to our attention recently in an attempt to “explode tankies.” We thought it would be a great idea to refute the horrid liberalism that drips throughout the article while also clarifying some of the common misconceptions about the differences between Marx and Lenin that are used either to paint Vladimir as the man who vulgarized Marxism for eternity or to turn Marx into a common liberal.

In any case, Montague starts this way:

“Lenin stood for state capitalism and argued that socialist democracy is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person. Was Lenin a Marxist?”

On the outset, we are met with the original and groundbreaking objection of state capitalism, foreshadowing the earth-shattering analysis that is to follow. “Lenin stood for state capitalism”, proclaimed Montague!

The claim isn’t, as many anti-Leninist “communists” make, that Lenin was in theory a communist but in practice only an achiever of “state capitalism.” No, the claim is that Lenin, the staunchest anti-revisionist of the early 1900s communist movement worldwide who fought against Bernstein’s revisionism and Kautsky’s opportunism, did not, even in principle, stand for communism. Was the person who was leading the fight to restore to Marxism its revolutionary potential, after it was being stripped away by social-democratic pacifism and the Second International’s chauvinism, a Marxist? These are the questions we shall deal with. Very well.

Next we find:

“Marx and his co-worker, Engels, consistently argued that socialism (or communism, they used the terms interchangeably) could only evolve out of the political and economic circumstances created by a fully developed capitalism.”

It is true that socialism grows out of the developments of capitalism, out of the contradictions between socialized production and private appropriation, out of the contradictions between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It is also true that Marx and Engels also spoke of socialism being achieved in the most advanced capitalist states of the world. But what is not Marxist is the claim that socialism can only grow out of “fully developed capitalism.”

The problem becomes clear as soon as we focus on what is meant by “fully developed.” What is the state of something that is “fully developed”? It means that the thing isn’t changing, it is static. That it has reached its full development and stopped any further changes. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of Marxist theory should have their eyebrows raised as soon as someone mentions that something has reached its “full development” or is not changing anymore.

The dialectical method, the basis of Marxist theory, the method that permeates Marx and Engels’ works, starts from this: “everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away,” as Engels explained in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by paraphrasing Heraclitus.


“This new German philosophy culminated in the Hegelian system. In this system — and herein is its great merit — for the first time the whole world, natural, historical, intellectual, is represented as a process — i.e., as in constant motion, change, transformation, development… “

The Hegelian dialectical method is the foundation on which Marxist dialectic was based on, with the important distinction being that Marxist dialectic is materialist. Hegelian dialectics’ one “internal and incurable contradiction” was its idealism. “With him its standing on its head,” wrote Marx about Hegelian dialectics’ idealism, “it must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.” Marxist theory had to synthesize Hegel’s dialectical method with the materialist conception of reality to arrive at the materialist dialectic method — or what we today call dialectical materialism. Marx wrote:

“My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of “the Idea,” he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of “the Idea.” With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought.”

With this basic understanding of Marxist theory out of the way, we can now focus on our fully developed capitalism. But with this understanding, it becomes clear that capitalism can never be “fully” developed in any meaningful sense of the word for it would imply that contradictions that move a system along have ceased to exist. And if the contradictions of capitalism cease to exist then it is capitalism no longer, but something else. Socialism, perhaps?

No, because socialism isn’t achieved by merely developing capitalism more and more. It requires a transformation of the character of the state, transforming the superstructure etc. To think that capitalism can be turned into socialism by fully developing it represents classic Bernsteinist reformist thinking, something Lenin spent a lot of time fighting. Nevertheless, we go to Montague’s next point.

“In other words, production would have to be expanded within capitalism to a point where the potential existed to allow for “each [to take] according to their needs”. In turn, this objective condition would have created the basis for a socialist-conscious majority willing to contribute their physical and mental skills voluntarily in the production and distribution of society’s needs.”

Therefore,according to Montague, socialism can only be achieved when production has achieved such a high level of development that we can “each take according to our needs.” And only after this condition has existed, can socialism come about. And how shall it come about? These “objective conditions” of super-abundance will mean the majority will contribute to production voluntarily (and the capitalists will simply watch in awe and take no actions to protect their property rights). Very well then! Aside from the wishful thinking that socialism can be ushered in simply because the majority is in favor of a socialist system, the cited quote itself is being used in the exact opposite way it was used by Marx [emphasis mine].

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

Marx is clear that only after communism has reached its “higher phase” and society has eliminated the residues of capitalism, then and only then can we inscribe on our banner the phrase Montague is so eager to inscribe at the earliest announcement of a revolution.

Next let’s look at Montague’s excellent understanding of Marx’s conception of the state:

“Marx saw the state as the “executive committee” of a ruling class. In a socialist society, he affirmed, the state, as the government of people, would give way to a simple, democratic “administration of things”.”

The “executive committee” is a famous quote of Marx. Though Montague is now more correct than he has been throughout this entire article, he left out one crucial word while taking the quote out of context, thereby changing the entire meaning. The quote appears in the Communist Manifesto, under the chapter discussing the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. After Marx gives a brief description of the historical context in which the bourgeoisie rose to power from the feudal system, he says [emphasis mine]:

“… the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

Note Marx doesn’t say that the “state is the executive committee of the ‘ruling class'” as Montague claims, precisely because the modern bourgeois state as it exists today or as it existed in Marx’s time with its executive and legislative branches did not exist in the same form in the feudal era or in the Ancient republics. The executive of the modern bourgeois state is a committee of the bourgeoisie, not that the state has always been or always will be made up of a committee of the ruling class.

The second part of the quote is likely referring to one of Engels’ quotes, not Marx’s, and unfortunately we have no way of knowing since we are given no citation. It is an interesting trend that Montague would use quotes which were used by Marx or Engels to show precisely the opposite of what he’s saying. The second part of Montague’s understanding of what Marx thought of the state comes from Anti-Dühring:

“The first act by virtue of which the state really constitutes itself the representative of the whole of society — the taking possession of the means of production in the name of society — this is, at the same time, its last independent act as a state. State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things … The state is not ‘abolished’. It withers away.

The text from which Montague took the quoted phrase is used by Engels to describe the complete opposite of Montague’s apparent anarchist deathwish: in a socialist society, the state exists but in a form different than the modern state. After the state takes possession of the means of production in the name of the whole of society (how authoritarian!), the state ceases to be the state as we have known it throughout history.

Throughout history, the state acted as the organ of a minority class that was politically and economically dominant and was used by the class to repress and subjugate the other classes. But the proletariat, being a class constituting a vast majority (almost the entirety of the population), turns the state from an organ of class repression by a minority class to an organ of class repression of the small but powerful bourgeoisie and counterrevolutionaries. Hence, the state as such ceases to be the state but continues to exist even in a socialist society. The process of the abolishment of the state and the realization of a stateless society is not sudden, but a gradual process after the bourgeois state has been smashed and replaced by a proletarian state. The bourgeois state is abolished. The proletarian state withers away.

In Montague’s argument, there is a hint of anarchist influence on the insistence that there will be no state in a socialist society. If the previous quote of Engels was not enough, Engels says the following right afterwards:

“This [analysis] gives the measure of the value of the phrase “a free people’s state”, both as to its justifiable use at times by agitators, and as to its ultimate scientific insufficiency; and also of the demands of the so-called anarchists for the abolition of the state out of hand.”

Montague then proceeds to summarize Marx’s views of socialism this way:

“… a universal classless, wageless and moneyless society wherein human beings would voluntarily contribute in accordance with their mental and/or physical abilities to the production and distribution of the needs of their society and in which everyone would have free and equal access to their needs.”

Again, the previously mentioned quote of Marx from the Critique of the Gotha Programme makes it clear that Marx had no fantasy of socialism instantly being stateless, classless, wageless. He was clear that only the higher phase of communist society would achieve the likes of things Montague is demanding be available within three hours of a simultaneous worldwide revolution.

With this, we finish Montague’s understanding of Marx’s views, if they can be called an understanding at all. The intention was to present the accurate views of Marx in order to compare them to Lenin’s vulgarization of Marxism later on. It is quite clear that between Lenin and Montague, one of them is guilty of vulgarizing and liberalizing Marxism and given what has been shown above, it’d be an understatement to say that it’s likely not Lenin. If anything could top this sheer nonsense, it’d be if Montague tried to interpret Lenin. Lo and behold, that is just what he does next.

To be continued…


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