||Lenin: The State and Revolution, 1917||Its relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century|
Lenin begins in the first chapter from the analysis of Engels, that the state was created at that moment of ancient history when class conflict became otherwise unmanageable. In order to maintain their power, the ruling classes assume a monopoly of violence: "This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds ... A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power. But how can it be otherwise?" In other words, from its very beginnings the state has been an institution of violence.
Throughout history, as Lenin says, the state has been "an instrument for the exploitation of the oppressed class." Usually the state is controlled by "the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. The ancient and feudal states were organs for the exploitation of the slaves and serfs; likewise, the modern representative state is an instrument of exploitation of wage-labor by capital."
The most efficient form of the capitalist state is by means of bourgeois [i.e. capitalist] democracy. "A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell ... it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it. We must also note that Engels is most explicit in calling universal suffrage as well an instrument of bourgeois rule." From this it is evident that a truly socialist revolution can not be accomplished simply by winning an election within the framework of bourgeois [capitalist] democracy.
To make a socialist revolution, the workers must seize control of the state. As Lenin explains in chapter two, "The overthrow of the bourgeoisie [i.e. capitalist class] can be achieved only by the proletariat [i.e. working class] becoming the ruling class, capable of crushing the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and of organizing all the working and exploited people for the new economic system. The proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force, an organization of violence, both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population - the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and semi-proletarians - in the work of organizing a socialist economy."
Education is key. "By educating the workers' party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and leading the whole people to socialism, of directing and organizing the new system, of being the teacher, the guide, the leader of all the working and exploited people in organizing their social life without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie."
Lenin holds up as a revolutionary model the actions of the Paris Commune as analyzed by Marx and Engels. In chapter three, Lenin agrees with Marx that the Commune proved "that the working class must break up, smash the "ready-made state machinery", and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it."
He quotes Marx on how the Paris Commune rejected the bourgeois model of parliamentary democracy. They established a new form of working class democracy and planned to extend it throughout France to develop a national unity behind the revolution. This, for Lenin, became a model for the soviets which were to provide a democratic base to the new state after the Russian Revolution.
Lenin fully agrees with Marx, whom he quotes in the beginning of chapter five, that immediately following the revolution, there is "a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat." And time and again, he quotes Marx that the entire proletariat must be armed in order to protect against the inevitable capitalist counter-revolution.
How long should the dictatorship of the proletariat continue? At that time, Lenin and others still hoped that the world was on the verge of a global revolution that would sweep away the capitalist world, after which the dictatorship of the proletariat would no longer be needed to defend the revolution against a capitalist counterattack. But already, writing in 1916 in The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution Lenin realized that "socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will for some time remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois. This is bound to create not only friction, but a direct attempt on the part of the bourgeoisie of other countries to crush the socialist state's victorious proletariat."
A century has passed, and socialist initiatives remain surrounded and under attack by imperialism. Lenin's concerns remain timely. We must find ways to defend the revolutions of the 21st Century - ways that effectively block the violence of the counter-revolution - without falling into the trap of creating new socialist cultures of war.