Left-wing policies support social equality, redistribution of income from the poor to the rich, and the abolition of the class structure. When communist parties emerged from the most radical wing of social democracy, they were also considered leftists. The left has traditionally advocated the expansion of democracy and political freedom. At the same time, those who first came to power in Russia in 1917 were opponents of bourgeois democracy and the political freedoms of capitalist society. Among these people was Lenin, the creator of the dictatorship of the proletariat. His views and policies have greatly influenced the development of leftist views.
Lenin’s Politics and the Development of Leftist Ideas
The Proletarian Revolution
Lenin deeply mastered and developed the great theoretical legacy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. At the same time, he proved himself to be a talented organizer, a revolutionary, the creator of a new type of party, and the world’s first state of socialism. In October 1917, after the coup d’état and overthrow of the autocracy, power in the country passed entirely to the Soviets. Lenin’s understanding of Marxism as a guide to action transformed him into a great thinker and people’s leader. Having adopted the theory of K. Marx and F. Engels, Lenin creatively developed and refined it in relation to the conditions of the new historical era. Lenin’s struggle and activity represent the Leninist stage in the development of the revolutionary theory of the working class, rightly referred to as Marxism-Leninism. Moreover, Lenin’s strategy of vanguardism allowed him to attract the attention of broad sections of the working class to the leftist ideas he promoted.
Lenin stressed that the proletariat’s power in historical development is immeasurably greater than its share of the general population. However, for the working class to become the engine of revolutionary change, it must realize its class interests. The proletariat must realize fully and clearly that if the bourgeoisie persists, it will inevitably be subjected to its exploitation since the capitalist can make a profit only in the process of hiring labor. As long as private property prevails, the power of the bourgeoisie will remain. The revolutionary vanguard helped the less enlightened working people understand their interests and how the capitalist order was at odds with them. Vanguardism made the complex concepts of Marxism understandable to ordinary people, which rallied them and protected revolutionary ideology from attack.
Nationalization of Industry and Land Distribution
In the fall of 1917, a national crisis arose in the country. The economic tasks were defined at the VI Congress of the RSDLP and were not of socialist construction but of public-state intervention in production, distribution, finance, and labor regulation based on universal labor conscription. For the practical implementation of state control, the task of nationalization was put forward. Nevertheless, in the understanding of V. Lenin, nationalization should not be reduced to confiscation, to a change in forms of ownership. In his opinion, this process should not break the capitalist economic ties but, on the contrary, unite them on a national scale. Nationalization was to become a form of capital functioning under the comprehensive control of the workers, especially the working class, involved in state activities.
In the sphere of agrarian relations, the Bolsheviks adhered to the idea of confiscating landed estates and nationalizing them. The Decree on Land, adopted at the Second Congress of the Soviets the day after the end of the revolution, included radical measures to abolish private ownership of land. Nowadays, nationalization in one form or another is a mandatory component of leftist programs, both revolutionary and reformist. Lenin’s idea of an indispensable connection between agrarian transformations based on nationalization and radical democratic transformations within the state became the basis of his policy.
The socialist views of the founder of Soviet Russia spread throughout the world and still enjoy some popularity in the West. Lenin’s thought represented a rather bold updating of Marxist theory. One could say that in many ways, his goal was to oppose dogmatic tendencies in the Marxist movement. Vladimir Ilyich was convinced of the necessity of a socialist revolution in Russia, in which there were no developed capitalist relations, and the working class was an absolute minority of the population. Leninism as an independent current does not exist in its pure form in today’s world, but its modified version continues to exist and is widely discussed.
Certainly, few would argue that today’s world is very different from the one in which Lenin lived. The industrial working class has lost some of its importance and changed greatly. On the other hand, new forms of wage labor have emerged. Nevertheless, the basic contradiction of capitalism – between labor and capital – has not only not disappeared but is felt more and more acutely. This is why the ideas of nationalization and revolution, which were so urgent during the period when Lenin was in power, are gaining popularity. For many people on the Left, Lenin remains the figure who formed the key theses that became the basis of socialism. A look at his policies and writings can provide a deeper understanding of his influence on the emergence and spread of leftist thought. Perhaps it is because of Lenin that the notion that capitalism guarantees the growth of prosperity for all of society is now completely discredited.
Cohen, M. (2017) What Lenin’s critics got right. Web.
Krausz, T. (2021) Lenin’s socialism – from the perspective of the future: some considerations. Web.
Lane, D. (2021) ‘V.I. Lenin’s theory of socialist revolution’, Critical Sociology, 47(3), pp. 455–473.
Pahnke, A. (2021) ‘Regrounding critical theory: Lenin on imperialism, nationalism, and strategy’, International Studies Review, 23(1), pp. 181–203.
Pateman, J. (2019) ‘Lenin without dogmatism’, Studies in East European Thought, 71, pp. 99-117.