The State and Revolution

V. I. Lenin (1917)

In capitalist society, under the conditions most favorable to its development, we have more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always bound by the narrow framework of capitalist exploitation and consequently always remains, in reality, a democracy for the minority, only for the possessing classes, only for the rich. Freedom in capitalist society always remains just about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners. The modern wage slaves, owing to the conditions of capitalist exploitation, are so much crushed by want and poverty that "democracy is nothing to them," "politics is nothing to them"; that, in the ordinary peaceful course of events, the majority of the population is debarred from participating in social and political life.

The correctness of this statement is perhaps most clearly proved by Germany, just because in this state constitutional legality lasted and remained stable for a remarkably long time - for nearly half a century (1871-1914) - and because Social-Democracy in Germany during that time was able to achieve far more than in other countries in "utilizing legality" and was able to organize into a political party a larger proportion of the working class than anywhere else in the world.

What, then, is this largest proportion of politically conscious and active wage slaves that has so far been observed in capitalist society? One million members of the Social-Democratic Party - out of fifteen million wage workers! Three million organized in trade unions - out of fifteen million!

Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich - that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the mechanism of capitalist democracy, everywhere, both in the "petty" - so-called petty - details of the suffrage (residential qualification, exclusion of women, etc.) and in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for "beggars"!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc. - on all sides we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor, seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has himself never known want and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine-tenths, if not ninety-nine-hundredths, of the bourgeois publicists and politicians are of this class), but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics and from an active share in democracy.

Marx splendidly grasped this essence of capitalist democracy when, in analyzing the experience of the Commune, he said that the oppressed were allowed, once every few years, to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class should be in parliament to represent and repress them!

But from this capitalist democracy-inevitably narrow, subtly rejecting the poor, and therefore hypocritical and false to the core - progress does not march onward, simply, smoothly, and directly, to "greater and greater democracy," as the liberal professors and petty-bourgeois opportunists would have us believe. No, progress marches onward, i.e., toward Communism, through the dictatorship of the proletariat; it cannot do otherwise, for there is no one else and no other way to break the resistance of the capitalist exploiters.

But the dictatorship of the proletariat - i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppressed as the ruling class for the purpose of crushing the oppressors - cannot produce merely an expansion of democracy. Together with an immense expansion of democracy which for the first time becomes democracy for the poor, democracy for the people, and not democracy for the rich folk, the dictatorship of the proletariat produces a series of restrictions of liberty in the case of the oppressors, the exploiters, the capitalists. We must crush them in order to free humanity from wage slavery; their resistance must be broken by force; it is clear that where there is suppression there is also violence, there is no liberty, no democracy.

Engels expressed this splendidly in his letter to Bebel when he said, as the reader will remember, that "as long as the proletariat still needs the state, it needs it, not in the interests of freedom, but for the purpose of crushing its antagonists; and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom, then the state, as such, ceases to exist."

Democracy for the vast majority of the people, and suppression by force, i.e., exclusion from democracy, of the exploiters and oppressors of the people - this is the modification of democracy during the transition from capitalism to Communism.

Only in Communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists has been completely broken, when the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., there is no difference between the members of society in their relation to the social means of production), only then "the state ceases to exist," and " it becomes possible to speak of freedom ." Only then a really full democracy, a democracy without any exceptions, will be possible and will be realized. And only then will democracy itself begin to wither away due to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to the observance of the elementary rules of social life that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all school books; they will become accustomed to observing them
without force, without compulsion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for compulsion which is called the state.

The expression "the state withers away " is very well chosen, for it indicates both the gradual and the elemental nature of the process. Only habit can, and undoubtedly will, have such an effect; for we see around us millions of times how readily people get accustomed to observe the necessary rules of life in common, if there is no exploitation, if there is nothing that causes indignation, that calls forth protest and revolt and has to be suppressed .

Thus, in capitalist society, we have a democracy that is curtailed, poor, false; a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to Communism, will, for the first time, produce democracy for the people, for the majority, side by side with the necessary suppression of the minority - the exploiters. Communism alone is capable of giving a really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the more quickly will it become unnecessary and wither away of itself.

In other words, under capitalism we have a state in the proper sense of the word, that is, special machinery for the suppression of one class by another, and of the majority by the minority at that. Naturally, for the successful discharge of such a task as the systematic suppression by the exploiting minority of the exploited majority, the greatest ferocity and savagery of suppression are required, seas of blood are required, through which mankind is marching in slavery, serfdom, and wage labor.

Again, during the transition from capitalism to Communism, suppression is still necessary; but it is the suppression of the minority of exploiters by the majority of exploited. A special apparatus, special machinery for suppression, the "state," is still necessary, but this is now a transitional state, no longer a state in the usual sense, for the suppression of the minority of exploiters, by the majority of the wage slaves of yesterday , is a matter comparatively so easy, simple, and natural that it will cost far less bloodshed than the suppression of the risings of slaves, serfs, or wage laborers and will cost mankind far less. This is compatible with the diffusion of democracy among such an overwhelming majority of the population that the need for special machinery of suppression will begin to disappear. The exploiters are, naturally, unable to suppress the people without a most complex machinery for performing this task; but the people can suppress the exploiters even with very simple "machinery," almost without any "machinery," without any special apparatus, by the simple organization of the armed masses (such as the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, we may remark, anticipating a little).

Finally, only Communism renders the state absolutely unnecessary, for there is no one to be suppressed - "no one" in the sense of a class , in the sense of a systematic struggle with a definite section of the population. We are not Utopians, and we do not in the least deny the possibility and inevitability of excesses on the part of individual persons , nor the need to suppress such excesses. But, in the first place, no special machinery, no special apparatus of repression is needed for this; this will be done by the armed people itself, as simply and as readily as any crowd of civilized people, even in modern society, parts a pair of combatants or does not allow a woman to be outraged. And, secondly, we know that the fundamental social cause of excesses which consist in violating the rules of social life is the exploitation of the masses, their want, and their poverty. With the removal of this chief cause, excesses will inevitably begin to " wither away ." We do not know how quickly and in what succession, but we know that they will wither away. With their withering away, the state will also wither away .

Without going into Utopias, Marx defined more fully what can now be defined regarding this future, namely, the difference between the lower and higher phases (degrees, stages) of Communist society.

Home | Film/Media | Tour | Themes | Chronology | Readings/Links | Site Map | Chinese
Frontline | ITVS | Center for Asian American Media | PBS

© Long Bow Group, Inc . All Rights Reserved.