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Lenin was a Marxist. He believed that Marx had discovered laws of development which made it inevitable that a country must move from feudalism to capitalism from capitalism to socialism, with each stage introduced by a revolutionary explosion at the point of maximum development and maximum tension generated by the contradictions inherent in its very maturation. In the Marxist scenario, capitalism builds the economic foundations necessary for socialism, but it cruelly denies the benefits to the people because it can achieve that economic development only by exploiting the labor of the people. The bourgeois democratic revolution, which ushers in capitalism, begins with promises of freedom but then, inevitably, puts all power in the hands of a smaller and smaller ruling class. The people must, therefore, rise up, smash the capitalist regime, and take all political and economic power under socialism. With exploitation and oppression no longer necessary; the state will "wither away," and full freedom and abundance will come with the final stage which came to be called communism.
By the end of the nineteenth century; however, most Marxists had observed that progress in expanding democracy and providing a broader sharing in the benefits of capitalism by the masses (at least in the West) had made this revolutionary interpretation obsolete and largely irrelevant. The compromise between liberalism's demand for freedom and the socialist demand for using the state to correct the injustices of unrestrained capitalism had apparently created something Marx's laws had held impossible: the achievement of a more just society through democracy, through evolutionary change that obviated the trauma of violent revolution. In accepting this (and in his last years even Marx accepted the possibility), the Western Marxists had inadvertently proved those laws wrong and saved capitalism by correcting the very flaws which had previously doomed it.
This revisionism, or betrayal as he saw it, was exactly what Lenin attacked with all the vehemence he could muster. While Western Marxists (and most Russians as well) became democratic reformers, Lenin went in the opposite direction--and in so doing he deviated even farther from the original Marxism. Lenin and the democratic socialists were both interventionists when it came to intruding on the course of historical development, but Lenin was determined to intervene so as to put things back on the track predicted by Marx. Lenin's whole theory was an effort to analyze this problem and then do something about it. He was both theorist and activist; the unity of theory and practice was everything: "Theory without practice is dead, and practice without theory is blind."
Lenin developed essentially two theories, one for revolution in Russia and one for world revolution, which he then integrated into a single whole. His earliest work focused on the situation in Russia, where he found peculiarities which required a new application of Marxist principles. And here he was not dealing with an advanced Western country approaching socialist revolution but a "backward" country not yet even into the normal capitalist stage. He argued that, while Russia had experienced significant industrial development and was indeed overdue for the bourgeois democratic revolution, the Russian state and foreign capital had played such a large role in its development that the growth of a native bourgeoisie had been stunted. The abortive 1905 revolution proved to him that the weak Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying out the prerequisite democratic revolution to bring Russia into full capitalist development.
Already convinced that the working people could not develop class consciousness on their own and would never become a reliable force for revolutionary purposes, Lenin developed the "vanguard" party concept. A party of professional revolutionaries was essential to lead the people through any successful revolution and, in Russia's case, that party would have to begin by taking over the democratic revolution and then carry Russia through the stage of economic, political and social development normally provided by capitalism. Russia could not skip over this stage, because it was required to lay the foundations for socialism, but to achieve the difficult task ahead an absolute dictatorship would be necessary, especially since fundamental change would have to be forced upon the masses virtually the same way it occurred under capitalism. The perfect instrument for this, already available in the Western model of monopoly capitalism, Lenin argued, would be "state capitalism" in which the state takes the place of the monopolies. This is how the vanguard would push Russia through "uninterrupted revolution" until it was eventually ready for socialism.
Lenin's special theory for revolution in Russia, however, faced another major problem. Russia's example, he claimed, …