1 September 2009


[CU for Wednesday 2 September 2009]

In his great “Generic Course” called “The State and Revolution”, Lenin spends the first five of the six existing chapters tracing the development of the thought of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The first Chapter takes from Engels’ “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, and is quite general.

This is followed in the subsequent chapters by a rehearsal, or a revision, including quotations, of a number of landmark texts of Marx and Engels, in more detail.

In Chapter 2, Lenin sweeps through the period of bourgeois revolutions in mid-nineteenth-century Europe that started in 1848.

[The first picture represents Paris in February, 1848, and the second represents Berlin in March of that year]

Engels and Marx had good timing. Not only had Engels witnessed Manchester in the early 1840s in the full bloom of its triumph as the first great industrial city of the world. He had also, together with Marx, engaged in literary disputes with the Young Hegelians, as well as with the anarchists of the time, and corresponded with the Chartists [The third image is an 1848 photo of a Chartist rally in Kennington, London in 1848].

Then they found themselves on the crest of the extraordinary revolutionary wave of1848, and were well-positioned to record it and to learn its lessons, as they were with later episodes, notably the Paris Commune of 1871.

In the first line of Chapter 2 Lenin describes “The Poverty of Philosophy” (together with the

Communist Manifesto) as “the first mature works of Marxism.” This book was written as a polemic against one of several anarchists (Pierre-Joseph Proudhin) that Marx had to contend with. These anarchists tested and tempered Marx’s resolve, in hard debate.

Lenin moves on to the Communist Manifesto, where he immediately derives the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” from the equally direct words of the Marx and Engels in the Manifesto, namely: “the state, i.e. the proletariat organised as the ruling class”.

“The state is a special organization of force: it is an organization of violence for the suppression of some class.”

The proletariat will use the state to suppress the bourgeois class.

Lenin then turns on the reformists. In Chapter 3 Lenin calls the anarchists and the petty-bourgeois opportunists “twin brothers”.

Here in Chapter 2 he writes:

“The petty-bourgeois democrats, those sham socialists who replaced the class struggle by dreams of class harmony, even pictured the socialist transformation in a dreamy fashion — not as the overthrow of the rule of the exploiting class, but as the peaceful submission of the minority to the majority which has become aware of its aims. This petty-bourgeois utopia, which is inseparable from the idea of the state being above classes, led in practice to the betrayal of the interests of the working classes.”

The chapter proceeds to touch “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (but not Marx’s other notable work of the time, “The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850”). It returns to Marx on the dictatorship of the proletariat, this time in those very terms, in a letter written in 1852; and Lenin says: “Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Click on this link:

State and Revolution, Chapter 2, The Experience of 1848-1851, Lenin (4318 words)


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