The doctrines of V. I. Lenin (1870–1924), especially his core contributions—on the party, the state, imperialism, and revolution—to Marxist theory.
In What Is To Be Done? (1902) Lenin addressed the question of party organization. The book's specific intention was to criticize the ‘economists'’ stress upon legal struggles, which Lenin argued lost sight of Social Democracy's maximum programme which was to challenge for state power. He later admitted that in denigrating minimum demands he had ‘gone too far in the opposite direction’ and What Is To Be Done? was not republished after 1917. Lenin distinguished between trade union and socialist consciousness. Those who promoted the idea of spontaneous revolutionary activity by the proletariat were really abdicating political leadership. Left to itself the working class would inevitably adopt bourgeois ideology (although Lenin wrote, in 1905, that ‘the working class is instinctively, spontaneously social democratic’ (The Reorganization of the Party). What was needed was a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries. Its strategy and tactics should be rooted in the working class and its task was to lead the latter to a socialist consciousness. Lenin argued for the creation of parallel secret and mass organizations.
The 1903 Bolshevik–Menshevik split revealed opposing views on the nature of revolution and how far Lenin was moving away from what was regarded as Marxist orthodoxy. In The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899) Lenin had followed Plekhanov in arguing that Russia was already capitalist but, because the bourgeoisie was weak, it was left to the proletariat to assume the tasks of the democratic revolution. Socialism was a distant prospect. However, the 1905 revolution caused a radical shift in Lenin's thinking. In Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, he eschewed any alliance with the liberals who had sided with Tsarism against the revolutionary movement. The revolution would still have a bourgeois character but would be directed by ‘a revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants’. Traditionally Marxists had regarded the peasantry as a conservative even reactionary class. Lenin maintained an ambivalent attitude towards it throughout his life but he became convinced that the social weight of the peasants would determine the immediate outcome of the revolution. When the Provisional Government refused to implement land reform after February 1917, Lenin placed the Bolsheviks firmly behind the peasants' demand for land.
His 1905 writings had indicated that there might be some ‘growing over’ between the democratic and socialist revolutions. Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) presented the possibility of an immediate socialist revolution based upon Lenin's analysis of a fundamental change in the nature of capitalism—from competitive to monopoly. Banking cartels made enormous profits through exporting capital to backward countries; some of the repatriated profit was used to create a workers' aristocracy in Western Europe and so block the development of revolutionary consciousness. However, global capitalism and superexploitation provoked national self‐determination movements and the contradictions of uneven development in peripheral countries (like Russia) which Lenin termed ‘the weakest links’. Additionally, economic rivalry between the imperialist powers would result in war and international revolution.