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What is Marxism?

Lenin: The Historical Destiny Of The Teaching Of Karl Marx

Written March 14, 1913


The main thing in the teaching of Marx is the elucidation of the world-wide historical role of the proletariat as the builder of a socialist society. Has the progress of events in the world confirmed this teaching since it was expounded by Marx?

It was first put forward by Marx in 1844. Already the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, which appeared in 1848, gave a consistent systematic exposition of this teaching, which exposition still remains the best even now. World history, since that time, is clearly divisible into three main periods: (1) From the 1848 Revolution to the Paris Commune (1871); (2) From the Paris Commune to the Russian Revolution (1905); (3) Since the Russian Revolution.

Let us cast a glance on the fate of the teaching of Marx in each of these periods.



In the beginning of the first period Marx's teaching does not by any means dominate. It is only one of very many fractions or streams in socialism. The forms of socialism which dominate are those which, in the main, are akin to our Narodniks; the lack of understanding of the materialist basis of the historical movement, the inability to assign the role and significance of each class in capitalist society, the masking of the bourgeois essence of democratic reorganization by various, ostensibly socialist, phrases about "the people," "justice," "right," etc.

The 1848 Revolution struck a fatal blow at all these vociferous, multi-coloured, and noisy varieties of pre-Marxian socialism. In all countries the Revolution showed the various classes of society in action. The shooting of the workers by the republican bourgeoisie in the June Days in Paris, in 1848, finally established that the proletariat alone was of a socialist nature. The liberal bourgeoisie feared the independence of this class a hundred times more than any kind of reaction. Cowardly liberalism grovels before the latter. The peasantry is satisfied with the abolition of the remnants of feudalism and passes over to the side of order and only from time to time wavers between labour democracy and bourgeois liberalism. All doctrines of classless socialism and class-less politics turn out to be sheer nonsense.

The Commune of Paris (1871) completes this development of bourgeois reforms; it was only the heroism of the proletariat that brought about the consolidation of the republic, i.e., the form of state organisation in which the class relations appear in their most naked form.

In all other European countries a more confused and less finished development leads to the same formation of a bourgeois society. By the end of the first period (1848-71) a period of storm and revolution pre-Marxian socialism dies. Independent Proletarian parties are born: the First International (1864-72) and the German Social-Democracy.


The second period (1872-1904) is distinguished from the first by its "peaceful" character, by the absence of revolutions. The West has finished with bourgeois revolutions. The East has not yet grown ripe for them.

The West enters into a phase of "peaceful" preparation for the epoch of future transformations. Socialist parties, proletarian in essence, are formed everywhere, parties which learn to use bourgeois parliamentarianism, to establish their own daily press, their educational institutions, their trade unions and their co-operatives. The teaching of Marx gains a complete victory and expands in breadth. The process of selection and gathering of the forces of the proletariat and its preparation for the battles ahead proceed slowly but steadily.

The dialectics of history is such that the theoretical victory of Marxism forces its enemies to disguise themselves as Marxists. Liberalism, rotten to the core, tries to revive itself in the form of socialist opportunism. The period of preparation of the forces for great battles, is interpreted by them as the renunciation of these battles. Improvements in the position of the slaves enabling them to carry on a fight against wage-slavery is explained by them in the sense that the slaves are selling their liberty rights for a penny. In a cowardly manner they preach "social peace" (i.e., peace with slave-ownership), renunciation of the class struggle, etc. They have many adherents among socialist parliamentarians, the various officials in the labour movement, and the "sympathizing" intellectuals.


The opportunists hardly had time to finish their hymns of praise to "social peace" and the needlessness of storms under "democracy," when a new source of the greatest of world storm opened in Asia. The Russian Revolution was followed by the Turkish, the Persian and the Chinese. We are now living in the very epoch of these storms and their "repercussion" on Europe. Whatever fate may befall the great Chinese republic against which various "civilized" hyenas are now sharpening their teeth, no power in the world will re-establish serfdom in Asia, or wipe out the heroic democracy of the m of the people in Asiatic and semi-Asiatic countries.

Some people, inattentive to the conditions of preparation and development of mass struggle, were reduced to a state of despair and anarchism by the long postponements of the decisive fight against capitalism in Europe. We now see how short-sighted and pusillanimous is this anarchist despair.

The fact of Asia, with its eight hundred million people, being drawn into the struggle for the same European ideals must he a source of courage and not of despair.

The Asiatic revolutions have shown us the same lack of backbone and baseness of liberalism, the same exceptional importance of the independence of the democratic masses, and the same sharp line dividing the proletariat from the bourgeoisie. Anyone who, after the experience of Europe and Asia, speaks of class-less politics and class-less socialism, simply deserves to be put in a cage, to be exhibited side by side with some Australian kangaroo.

After Asia, Europe has also begun to stir, but in no Asiatic way. The "peaceful" period of 1872-1904 has gone completely, never to return. High cost of living and the pressure of the trusts is causing an unprecedented intensification of the economic struggle, which has roused even the British workers who are most of all corrupted by liberalism. Before our eyes, a political crisis is maturing even in the "die-hard," bourgeois-junker country, Germany. Owing to the feverish race for armaments, and the policy of imperialism, the "social peace" of modern Europe is more like a barrel of gunpowder. And the decay of all bourgeois parties together with the maturing of the proletariat is proceeding steadily apace.

Since the rise of Marxism, every one of the three great epochs in world history has provided it with fresh proof and has brought it new triumphs. But the coming historical epoch is holding in store for Marxism, as the teaching of the proletariat, a still greater triumph.

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Lenin: On The Theory Of Marxism

From article "Our Program," 1899 (emphasis in original)


International social-democracy is at the present time passing through a period of ideological vacillations. The doctrines of Marx and Engels were hitherto considered to be a firm foundation of the revolutionary theory, but now voices are heard on all sides that these doctrines are inadequate and obsolete. . . 

We stand entirely on the basis of the theory of Marx: it was the first to transform socialism from an utopia to a science, to fix the firm foundation of this science and to indicate the path along which it is necessary to proceed, while developing this science further and elaborating it in every detail.

It laid bare the essence of modern capitalist economy, explaining the manner in which the hire of the labourer, the purchase of labour-power, masks the enslavement of millions of propertyless people by a handful of capitalists, the owners of the land, factories, mines, etc.

It showed that the whole trend of development of modern capitalism is towards the ousting of small production by large, and the creating of conditions which make a socialist system of society possible and inevitable. It taught us to see under the veil of rooted customs, political intrigues, subtle laws and artful doctrines, the class struggle, the struggle between all species of propertied classes and the masses of non-possessors, the proletariat, which stands at the head of all the propertyless.

It made dear the real task of a revolutionary socialist party: it is neither drawing up plans for the reconstruction of society, nor preaching sermons to the capitalists and their hangers-on about improving the lot of the workers, nor making conspiracies, but the organization of the class struggle of the proletariat and the leadership of this struggle, the final aim of which is the winning of political power by the Proletariat and the organization of a socialist society.

And we now ask: has anything new been introduced into this theory by its loud-voiced "renovators," gathered around the German socialist Bernstein, who have now raised such a noise? No, nothing whatever: they have not advanced the science, the development of which was bequeathed to us by Marx and Engels, a single step forward; they have not taught the proletariat any new methods of struggle; they only crawl backwards, picking up snatches of backward theories and instead of the theory of the struggle, they preach to the proletariat the theory of compliance, compliance with the most vicious enemies of the proletariat, the governments and bourgeois parties, who are untiring in their search for new means of baiting socialists.

One of the founders and leaders of Russian Social-Democracy, Plekhanov, was quite right in mercilessly criticizing the latest "criticism" of Bernstein whose views have now been rejected also by the representatives of the German workers (at the Congress in Hanover [Oct. 1899]).

We know that a pile of accusations will be heaped upon us for these words. The cry will be raised that we want to convert the Socialist Party into an order of "true believers" who persecute the "heretics"' for deviations from "dogmas" and for any independent opinion, etc. We know all these fashionable and biting phrases.

Only there is not a single grain of truth or sense in them. There can be no strong socialist party in the absence of a revolutionary theory uniting all the socialists, from which they draw all their convictions and which they apply in their modes of struggle and methods of activity.

To defend such a theory, which you absolutely feel to be the truth, against unfounded attacks and attempts to deteriorate it, does not by any means imply that you are an enemy of all criticism. We do not by any means look upon the theory of Marx as something final and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it only laid the cornerstones of the science which socialists must advance in all directions, if they do not want to lag behind events.

We think that the independent elaboration of Marx's theory is especially necessary for Russian socialists since this theory provides only the general guiding principles which in detail must be applied in England in a manner different from that applied in France, in France in a manner different from that applied in Germany, and in Germany in a manner different from that applied in Russia. We will therefore gladly afford space in our paper for articles on theoretical questions and invite all comrades to a frank discussion of controversial points....

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