Leninism is a political and economic theory which builds upon Marxism; it is a branch of Marxism (and it has been the dominant branch of Marxism in the world since the 1920's). Leninism was developed mainly by the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, and it was also put into practice by him after the Russian Revolution. Lenin's theories have been a source of controversy ever since their inception, having critics both on the Left (for example, social democrats, anarchists, and even other Marxists), from the center (for example, liberals), and on the Right (for example, conservatives, fascists, etc).
Lenin argued that the proletariat can only achieve revolutionary consciousness through the efforts of a communist party that assumes the role of "revolutionary vanguard". Lenin further believed that such a party could only achieve its aims through a form of disciplined organization known as democratic centralism. In addition, Leninism holds that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, and that capitalism can only be overthrown by revolutionary means (i.e. that any attempt to reform capitalism from within is doomed to fail). Lenin believed in the destruction of the capitalist state through a proletarian revolution, and in replacing that state with the dictatorship of the proletariat (a system of workers' democracy, in which workers would hold political power through councils known as soviets).
Lenin's theory of imperialism aimed to improve and correct Marx's work by explaining a phenomenon which Marx could not have predicted: the shift of capitalism towards becoming a global system (rather than the national system that Marx had described). At the core of this theory of imperialism lies the idea that advanced capitalist industrial nations are avoiding revolution by forcing their excess production into captive colonial markets and exploiting those colonies for their resources. This allowed the advanced capitalist industrial nations to keep their workers content, partly through the creation of a labor aristocracy. As a result, capitalism was able to be managed by the political expression of the labor aristocracy, the social democratic parties, to the point where the revolution would not occur in the most advanced nations (as Marx had predicted) but rather in the weakest imperialist state, that being Russia.
However, if the revolution can only happen in a poor underdeveloped country, this poses a serious problem: such an underdeveloped country would not be able to develop a socialist system (in Marxist theory, socialism is the stage of development that would come after capitalism and before communism), because capitalism hasn't run its full course yet in such a country, and because foreign powers will try to crush the revolution at any cost. To solve this problem, Leninism proposes two possible solutions:
- The revolution in the underdeveloped country sparks off a revolution in a developed capitalist country (for example, Lenin hoped the Russian Revolution would spark a revolution in Germany). The developed country establishes socialism and helps the underdeveloped country do the same.
- The revolution happens in a large number of underdeveloped countries at the same time or in quick succession; the underdeveloped countries then join together into a federal state capable of fighting off the great capitalist powers and establishing socialism. This was the original idea behind the foundation of the Soviet Union.
Either way, socialism cannot survive in one poor underdeveloped country alone. Thus, Leninism calls for world revolution in one form or another.
Present-day Leninists often see globalization as the modern form of imperialism.
Near the end of the 1920's, the Soviet Union began to move away from Lenin's policies and towards what is usually called "Stalinism", with many of Lenin's colleagues and followers (the "Old Bolsheviks") perishing in the Great Purge. In China, Leninist structure was the basis of organization for both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China; later, the Chinese Communists developed the theory of Maoism.
Today, the term "Leninism" (or, more often, "Marxism-Leninism") is used in self-description by three separate ideologies, all of which have historical roots in Leninism, but are otherwise very different from each other: Stalinism, Maoism, and Trotskyism. While Maoism can be regarded as a sub-category of Stalinism in many ways, Trotskyism and Stalinism are staunch enemies (Trotskyists have opposed what they saw as the undemocratic policies of the Soviet Union under Stalin's leadership, and the similar policies of all countries that followed the Stalinist model while Stalinists oppose what they see as the betrayal of Marxism by Trotskyists and often point to constant splitting of Trotskyist groups).
Works by Vladimir Lenin:
- An excerpt on Leninism and State Capitalism from the work of Noam Chomsky (http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/other/intellectuals-state.html)