In August and September 1917, Vladimir Lenin wrote “State and Revolution.” This essay will analyze and examine an extract from this book. First, the document shall be placed into historical context. Then, certain points and references in the text shall be examined. Finally, the essay shall comment on the document’s reliability as a source and its value to a modern European History student.
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At the time Lenin wrote this book, the European continent had been raging in World War One for three years and Russian people were heavily suffering from the weight of it. Russians wanted a release—from the war, poverty and hunger. Thus, in February 1917, mass strikes and protests occurred and they overthrew the Tsar government. In place, a provisional government was established. Lenin had been living in Switzerland, safe from likely persecution by the government. In July 1917, Lenin returned to Russia believing the time was finally right to revolt with the Bolsheviks. However, the July protests failed. The established leaders proclaimed that Lenin and the other leaders of the protests were simply paid by the Germans to cause civil unrest. Thus, Lenin fled to Finland, at which time he formed his philosophies on the state on paper.
The excerpt from “State and Revolution” that this essay shall examine focuses on the state in transition. Suppression is a key word in the document. Lenin states, that during the transition to a communist state, “suppression is still necessary.” By referring to the state in transition, Lenin recognizes that the February Revolution had caused forward motion towards his ideal society, but that the task had not yet been wholly accomplished. However, Lenin clarifies that suppression in this case would be the reverse of the usual connotation of the term; the exploited majority, the “wage-slaves” of yesterday now needed to suppress the exploiting minority. This would be an “easy, simple and natural” task, according to Lenin, and would cost less human life than when the circumstances had been reversed, that is, when the exploiting minority had suppressed the “rising of slaves, serfs or wage-labourers.” Certainly, Lenin is referring to the bloodshed caused when nobles tried to suppress or punish serfs, and even more specifically perhaps to World War I, from which the Russian people were suffering. In order to suppress the people, Nicholas II had relied on a heavy-handed army and secret police. Thus, Lenin is calling the people of the transitory state to rebel against the provisional government set in place. Whilst Lenin recognizes that the task shall not be bloodless, he does argue that it shall cost mankind less than reverting back to the old system of suppression by the exploiting minority.
Next, Lenin declares that “only Communism” shall make the need for a state “unnecessary.” With Communism, there remains no one to be suppressed. Without any classes competing against each other or trying to control a certain part of the population, the state shall not serve any purpose. A communist society would not be without flaws, Lenin notes, because inevitably there would be “excesses” of individual persons whom would need to be suppressed. However, the armed people shall be enough to manage this suppression, with no need for a “special machine” or “special apparatus”, that is, the state. Moreover, Lenin states, that the reason for those “excesses” will fade with communism because the main cause for “excesses” is the “exploitation of the majority, their want and their poverty.” Thus, the main cause of excesses shall not exist in the future state, causing the state to eventually “wither away.” Here, Lenin alludes to Engels’ notion of the state withering away. Lenin believes that with revolution, the process to an ideal, though not “utopian” society will be a slow, but sure transition.
Finally, Lenin makes references to Marx’s differentiated phases of communism, the lower and higher stages. Lenin’s envisioned future state would be the higher stage of communism. He is careful to note, though, that this highest degree of a communist society would not be “utopian.”
The question remains, however, whether or not the document is reliable as a source. Perhaps, the largest problem that might occur for a British student with this document is reading it translated from Russian into English. Precise ideas might be lost with the slight change of a word in various editions. Most importantly, the reader should remember that Lenin had an agenda behind these writings, that is, to lead Russia into revolution, and that the writing is not an objective, philosophical account of affairs.
Regardless of the reliability of the document, it still has value to the Modern European History student in that it gives insight into the mind and philosophy of a hugely influential twentieth-century leader. Some scholars, such as Alan Wood, argue that ultimately, the Russian people made the Revolution occur and that intellectual writings were only one facet of the contributing factors to it. However, writings such as Lenin’s “State and Revolution” are important to read, as they may have been the foundation for why Russian people revolted and give an indication of what they hoped to achieve. Clearly, this document contributes to that understanding, and thus is highly valuable.
Lenin, V.I. “State and Revolution” (1917) in The Essentials of Lenin (6) , vol. 2, pp. 202-203, cited in Anthony Wood, The Russian Revolution, 81-2.
Phillips, S. Lenin and the Russian Revolution. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 2000.
The State and Revolution, website online. Accessed on 4 May 2007 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/.
Wood, A. The Origins of the Russian Revolution, 1861-1917. London: Routledge, 1993.
 The State and Revolution, website online. Accessed on 4 May 2007 from http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/.
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