What Did Lenin Mean by 'Communism'?

Seminar Paper, 2001

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0



I. Introduction

II. a. Revolution in theory
b. and practice

III. War Communism

IV. The New Economic Policy

V. Conclusion

VI. Bibliography

I. Introduction

The term “revolution” can be either defined as “an attempt […] to change the government of a country” or as a “great change in conditions, ways of working, beliefs, etc. that affects large numbers of people”.[1] In conducting the Russian revolution of 1917 and its aftermath, Lenin has fulfilled both conditions – for the first time in history, the capitalist system was challenged by a Communist state.

In this essay, I will firstly concentrate on Lenin’s theoretical approach to the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and its realization throughout the period of the “October Revolution” (section II). Thereupon, section III describes the use of Communism during the civil war and its consequences, whereas section IV considers the implication of the New Economic Policy on various parts of the Russian population.

II. a. Revolution in theory…

The philosopher and economist Karl Marx had developed a doctrine, according to which history is to be interpreted as a history of class struggles between the capitalist “bourgeoisie” and the “working class” which will be brought to an end by the socialist objective of “the inevitable triumph of the proletarian revolution”.[2] In the pamphlet “State and Revolution” (published in 1918), the convinced Marxist Vladimir Ilitch Ulyanov alias Lenin[3] (1870-1924) claimed that “the passage from capitalism to communism required an intermediate stage called the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’”.[4] Once this state would have “overcome the resistance of the exploiters”[5] and socialism would be achieved, the masses of ordinary people would gain political participation (“not only in voting and elections, but in day-to-day administration[6] ) - “the state of this period must inevitably be […] dictatorial in a new way (against the bourgeoisie)” and “democratic in a new way (for proletarians and the unpropertied in general)”.[7] Moreover, the latter one should profit of a high level of welfare, corresponding to the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”.[8] By emphasizing the social aspect rather than the personal profit, an “ultimate stage of humanity”[9] would be accomplished. As the “proletarians” were not supposed to reach this condition only by their own efforts, however, the “dedicated professionals”[10] of the Socialist party “had to explain and indoctrinate and guide”.[11] This precondition implied the contradictory circumstance that “the desirability of individual self-improvement was stressed” and at the same time “citizens [had] to subordinate their personal interests to those of the general good as defined by the party”[12] – which was, for instance, a “huge, centralized, communist production”,[13] and in order to create this new socialist system, the “total destruction of the existing state machinery”[14] would be necessary.

b. … and practice

According to Marxism, “revolution would come through the development of a class-conscious proletariat in the advanced industrial countries”.[15] By taking this doctrine literally, it seemed not to be applicable to Russia, where only 18 per cent of the population constituted the urban sector, 77 per cent still lived on agriculture and a “proletarian” consciousness comparable with the Western one had not yet emerged. Lenin, however, stated that “Marxism required perpetual adjustment to changing circumstances”, and the potential for revolution existed among the Russian population. The consequences of the First World War (food shortages,…) as well as internal problems (especially the autocracy of Tsar Nicolas II.) caused considerable discontents, and the ensuing strikes of workers culminated in the “February Revolution”[16] in 1917 conducted by the Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies. Although as results of this upheaval the Tsar was forced to abdication and a provisional government under the leadership of Alexander Kerenski was installed, the predicaments still remained, and Lenin took the opportunity of seizing power in the so-called “October Revolution” in the same year.[17] The success of the Bolshevik Party and of its leader Lenin in the revolution, however, can be considered as the outcome of ploys and insurgencies rather than the sequel to their predominance, which the party’s name might suggest.[18] Their insecure state was revealed among other things at the first “free” parliamentary elections in January 1918, when the Bolsheviks gained only 25 per cent of the votes. In the aftermath of this defeat, the Constituent Assembly was formally dispersed by Lenin and not ever reopened. Instead, the dissolution marks the establishment of the one-party state, as the Bolsheviks started to perform their supreme power. Moreover, the dispersion was followed by the proclamation of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic (RSFSR)[19], the constitution of which defined Russia as a ‘dictatorship of the urban and rural proletariat and the poorest’[20] (July 1918) and granted among other things the “freedom of speech, opinion and assembly for the workers”.[21] Further rights in favour of the ‘proletariat’ included the confirmation of the
8-hour-day (29th October 1917) and in a “code on workers’ control in factories and mines”[22] (14th November). Without the co-operation of the proletariat, this became a frustrating accomplishment however, and already in January 1918 Lenin declared: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”[23]


[1] Sally Wehmeier (ed.): Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English, (Oxford6 2000), p. 1096.

[2] James Joll: Europe since 1870. An international history, (London/New York/Victoria4, 1990), p. 51. See also Joll Europe p. 50-52

[3] He chose to introduce this pseudonym in 1901. See Joll Europe p. 71

[4] Robert Service: A history of twentieth-century Russia, (London/New York/Victoria, 1997), p. 63f. See also ibid. p. 70

[5] Quoted in Joll Europe p. 229

[6] Lenin Sochineniya xxi p. 452. Quoted in Edward Hallett Carr: The Bolshevik revolution. 1917-1923. Vol. 1, (Middlesex/Victoria5, 1973), p. 249.

[7] Lenin Sochineniya xxi p. 392f. Quoted in ibid. p. 247.

[8] Service History p. 64

[9] Ibid.

[10] Joll Europe p. 72

[11] Service History p. 143

[12] Ibid.

[13] Lenin Sochineniya xx p. 34f. Quoted in Carr Revolution p. 245. See also Service History p. 63

[14] Joll Europe p. 230; See also Carr Revolution p. 246

[15] Joll Europe p. 71

[16] “Until 1918 the Russians used a different calendar from the rest of Europe. […] The revolution is usually known as the February Revolution, although by Western reckoning it occurred in March, just as the Bolshevik revolution later in the year is known as the October Revolution, although the Western calendar would place it in November.” Joll Europe p. 222

[17] The provisional government was overthrown at its assembly in the night of 24th- 25th October 1917 by an insurrection of the Red Guards and the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, which seized the Winter Palace (head quarters of the provisional government) as well as other important strategic points for transport and communication such as railway stations and post and telegraph offices. Most members of the government were arrested. When the All-Russian Congress of Soviets assembled on 25th October, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries were taken by surprise by the Bolsheviks and rushed out of the assembly hall. Hence, the Bolsheviks could claim to be the party with majority owing to their numerically predominance and built their own government, called the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom). See Joll Europe p. 71, 220-223, 231; Service History p. 62-66, 154; Moshe Lewin: ‘Society, state, and Ideology during the First Five-Year Plan’, in Sheila Fitzpatrick (ed.) Cultural revolution in Russia. 1928-1931, (Bloomington, 1978), pp. 42f.

[18] “Bolsheviks” means the Russian expression for “Majoritarians”, “Menshevik” expresses “Minoritarians” (see Service History p. 19). The self-confident name corresponded by no means to the real situation of Lenin and his party: “In April, when he returned from Switzerland, Lenin was only the representative of a minority, who […] had been unable to convert the other minority socialists to his view of the necessity of […] making an immediate revolution” (Joll Europe p. 227). Neither was Lenin very popular or even well-known at home and abroad, nor was his leadership of the Bolshevik party and its remaining in power unquestioned or even secure. According to Service, “Lenin himself could hardly believe his good fortune” (Service History p. 64) and Joll has pointed out that historians have been disputing intensively about the potential reasons for his final success. Joll Europe p. 227f.; See also Service History p. 72f., 81, 123

[19] Lenin proclaimed its introduction at the Third Congress of Soviets in January 1918. See Service History p. 84

[20] Quoted in Service History p. 88. In a more formal expression, the state was determined as a “republic of soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies”. Ibid. p. 89

[21] Edward Hallett Carr: The Russian revolution. From Lenin to Stalin, (1917-1929), (London/Basingstoke, 1979), p. 39.

[22] Service History p. 68

[23] Quoted in Carr Lenin p. 25. As Carr has pointed out, Lenin’s subsequent support of the principle “‘one-man management’ in industry [represented] the direct antithesis of ‘workers’ control’.” Ibid. See also ibid. p. 34; Joll Europe p. 232; Service History p. 74f., 81, 88.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


What Did Lenin Mean by 'Communism'?
University of Sussex
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
465 KB
Lenin, Communism, Kommunismus, Revolution
Quote paper
Marion Luger (Author), 2001, What Did Lenin Mean by 'Communism'?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/135047


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: What Did Lenin Mean by 'Communism'?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free