One of the most important works of political theory ever written. Opposing the Russian Economists, who were generally indifferent to questions of theory, Lenin argued that “only a party that is guided by the most advanced revolutionary theory” will be able to provide the working class with revolutionary leadership. He insists that the working class movement on its own cannot develop socialist consciousness and emphasizes the need for the party to bring that consciousness into the working class “from without.” Lenin writes, “Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‘third’s ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or above-class ideology). Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology…Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working class from this spontaneous, trade unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.”
What is to be Done?
One of the most important works of political theory ever written. Opposing the Russian Economists, who were generally indifferent to questions of theory, Lenin argued that “only a party that is guided by the most advanced revolutionary theory” will be able to provide the working class with revolutionary leadership.
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Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) was the founder and leader of the Bolshevik Party and a central figure within the Marxist movement from the end of the 19th century until his death in 1924. In October 1917 he, along with Leon Trotsky, led the Russian Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power and established the first workers’ state.
In 1902 Lenin published What is to be Done?, a major theoretical work which critiqued the trade unionist perspective that sought to limit the struggles of workers to economic questions. He insisted on the necessity of a political solution to capitalist exploitation and outlined a theory of the revolutionary party as the vanguard of the working class.
Lenin led the split with the Mensheviks in the Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903, maintaining that the forthcoming revolution in Russia could not be of a solely bourgeois-democratic character. Over the course of the next 14 years he fought a long struggle against Menshevism. This ultimately culminated in his issuing in April 1917 of a set of political theses that unequivocally called for a proletarian socialist revolution in Russia.
Lenin was an ardent defender of internationalism. In 1914, when the German Social Democratic Party, the leading section of the Second International, abandoned Marxism by supporting German imperialism in World War I, Lenin fought against this national chauvinist perspective. In defense of the outlook of world revolution, he advocated the founding of the Third International. His Imperialism, published in 1917, identified the origins of the bloodbath engulfing Europe at the time in the inner workings of capitalism.
Lenin made major contributions to the development of Marxist philosophy, leaving behind a voluminous body of writings. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was his defense of dialectical materialism and a withering critique of efforts by figures with ties to the Bolshevik Party to substitute idealist forms of thinking for materialist philosophy.
Lenin died in January 1924 after a series of strokes, which had left him incapacitated for many months prior. In his Last Testament, suppressed for many years by the rising Soviet bureaucracy, he called for the removal of Joseph Stalin from his post as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.