Understanding State and Revolution by Lenin – Chapter II

In the summary of Chapter I of State and Revolution, we read about how and why states are formed and how the state in capitalist society is the organ of oppression of the working class by the ruling class through military and paramilitary forces, and through taxation of the working class. We also read about how the antagonism between the working class and the ruling class is irreconcilable and hence, the working class must overthrow the state in an armed revolution and install a new form of government, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in order to win its class struggle and remove class distinctions during the transition period of capitalism to communism, which is when the state will finally wither away because it will no longer be required to enable the oppression of any class.

Let us proceed to the next chapter, which focuses on the European revolutions of 1848 to 1851, a series of liberal revolutions that began in France and aimed to replace the monarchical states with independent nations.


Chapter II: The experiences of 1848-1851

  1. One the Eve of Revolution
  2. Results of the Revolution
  3. The Formulation of the Question by Marx in 1852


  1. One the Eve of Revolution

“The first productions of mature Marxism – the Poverty of Philosophy and the Communist Manifesto – were created on the very eve of the Revolution of 1848,” writes Lenin. “In the course of its development – wrote Marx in the Poverty of Philosophy – the working class will replace the old bourgeois society by an association which excludes classes and their antagonism, and there will no longer be any real political power, for political power is precisely the official expression of the class antagonism within bourgeois society.”

How can the working class remove class distinctions after seizing power through a revolution? It can do so by taking charge of economic production and changing the economic relations in society. Lenin quotes Marx from the Communist Manifesto: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest by all degrees all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

This is a key Marxist concept that needs to be understood well. Many people, including prominent figures like Noam Chomsky, think socialism is the direct control of the means of production by workers without a state. This is socialism from an anarchist point of view, a bankrupt ideology that Chomsky subscribes to. Today, China, Cuba, and the DPRK are the very “state” in the hands of which “all instruments of production” are “centralized”. Hence, they are socialist states. They have used the new state power to rapidly increase their productive forces. Even the private sector in China, which makes up about 50% of its economy, is very tightly controlled by the Communist Party of China with 73% of private companies having official government representatives. The view that workers should directly and immediately control all the means of production, regardless of the material conditions in which a society exists, is a very ultra-Left view that is unrealistic and definitely not Marxist-Leninist.

The concept of the proletariat organized as the ruling class as being the new state is something that Social Democrats do not include in their ideology or literature. Hence they are reformists and not socialists because reformism that serves to protect the bourgeois state is not socialism. As Lenin puts it, “This definition of the state [the proletariat organized as the ruling class] … is a slap in the face of the common opportunist prejudices and philistine illusions about the ‘peaceful development of democracy.’”

“The state is a special organization of force; it is the organization of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally, the exploiting class only, i.e., the bourgeoisie… The exploiting classes need political rule in order to maintain exploitation, i.e., in the selfish interests of an insignificant minority, and against the vast majority of people. The exploited classes need political rule in order completely to abolish all exploitation, i.e., in the interests of the vast majority of the people, and against the insignificant minority consisting of the slave-owners of modern times – the landowners and capitalists.”

So before you start sympathizing with the ruling class being controlled by the working class post a revolution, think of capitalists like Jeff Bezos and Donald Trump. They deserve no sympathy – not even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who exploit Chinese working class members in sweatshops. The effects of such exploitation grow exponentially, with the hardships of each generation are passed onto the next. You may be removed from the diseases, illiteracy, crimes, and homelessness of the poor masses because you are part of a privileged minority but you are still exploited by the ultra-rich 1% of the world.

The fake socialists of today, like Bernie Sanders, are described well by Lenin. “The petty-bourgeois democrats, these sham Socialists who have substituted for the class struggle dreams of harmony between classes, imagined even the transition to Socialism in a dreamy fashion – not in the form of the overthrow of the rule of the exploiting class, but in the form of the peaceful submission of the minority to a majority conscious of its aims.” The idea that the rich will gradually part with their excess wealth and work towards a classless society on their own is downright foolish.

Hence we cannot depend on center-left parties of the world to remove class distinctions in society and to eventually render a state useless. “By educating a workers’ party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and of leading the whole people to Socialism.” This is the sort of political party we need to create and align ourselves with.


  1. Results of the Revolution

The first French Revolution, wrote Marx, developed centralization. “Napoleon perfected this state machinery… All revolutions brought this machine to greater perfection, instead of breaking it up. The parties which alternately contended for supremacy looked on the capture of this vast state edifice as the chief spoils of the victor.”

“This conclusion is the chief and fundamental thesis in the Marxist theory of the state,” writes Lenin. “Yet it is this fundamental thesis which has been not only completely forgotten by the dominant official Social-Democratic parties, but directly distorted by the foremost theoretician of the Second International, Karl Kautsky.”

What are the features of this state machinery that the proletariat must shatter? “Two institutions are especially characteristic of this state machinery: bureaucracy and the standing army… From its own bitter experience, the working class learns to recognize this connection; that is why it so easily acquires, so completely absorbs the doctrine revealing this inevitable connection, a doctrine which the petty-bourgeois democrats either ignorantly or light-heartedly deny.” Lenin calls such bureaucracy and the standing army of capitalist society “parasites” that “clog every pore of existence.”

“The development, perfecting, and strengthening of the bureaucratic and military apparatus have been going on through all the bourgeois revolutions of which Europe has seen so many since the fall of feudalism… It was not logical theorizing, but the actual course of events, the living experience of 1848-1851, that produced such a statement of the problem.”

The statement of the problem was “what was to replace this state machinery that was to be destroyed?” Marx answers this question based on the experiences of the 1871 revolution in France, the Paris Commune.


  1. The Formulation of the Question by Marx in 1852

Lenin writes how it is incorrect to say that “the main point in the teaching of Marx is the class struggle” because “the theory of the class struggle was not created by Marx, but by the bourgeoisie before Marx and is, generally speaking, acceptable to the bourgeoisie. One who recognizes only the class struggle is not yet a Marxist… A Marxist is one who extends the acceptance of class struggle to the acceptance of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

As we have read earlier, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the transition phase between capitalism and communism. On such a transition phase, Lenin uses dialectics to make his point. “The state during this period inevitably must be a state that is democratic in a new way (for the proletariat and the poor in general) and dictatorial in a new way (against the bourgeoisie).”

To understand how socialist states are more democratic than capitalist states, read this article.

Lenin concludes this chapter by saying that “the forms of bourgeois states are exceedingly variegated, but their essence is the same: in one way or another all these states are in the last analysis inevitably a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to Communism will certainly bring a great variety and abundance of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be only one: the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Those who subscribe to the ultra-Left view of socialism, do not consider present-day socialist states like China, Cuba, and the DPRK as socialist. Ultras are infamous for their dogmatism to Marxist-Leninist theory but genuine Marxist-Leninists know that ultras are actually ill-informed about socialist theories for as we just read, Lenin himself wrote that the dictatorship of the proletariat will take various political forms. There is no one form of socialism that every society must or can stick to but as long as the bourgeoisie of a society is controlled by the new state, it is a society in its transition phase.

The summary of Chapter III will be uploaded and linked here shortly. To get email updates on upcoming chapter summaries, please follow this blog!

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1 thought on “Understanding State and Revolution by Lenin – Chapter II

  1. Pingback: Understanding State and Revolution by Lenin – Chapter 1 | Socialism Simplified

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