October 13, 2017

The Leninist Theory of World Socialist Revolution


 of socialist revolution arose out of the multilateral experience of the international working class and it expresses scientifically the general laws of the contemporary world revolutionary process.

Capitalism as a world system propelled itself throughout the world and drew more and more countries into its economic, political and cultural orbit. Close interdependence began to develop between countries at the very early stages of capitalism. Even in the era of bourgeois revolutions, therefore, the actions by revolutionary classes expressed both national needs and those of the economic and political development of the entire intertwined system of countries. As a rule, these actions acquired an international character and met an immediate response abroad. As Marx wrote, "The revolutions of 1648 and 1789 were not English and French revolutions; they were revolutions of a European pattern. ... These revolutions expressed still more the needs of the world of that day than of the sectors of the world in which they occurred, of England and France." [223•1 

Bearing in mind the close ties between capitalist states, Marx and Engels felt that the socialist revolution, too, 224 wherever it would take place, would inevitably be part of a worldwide process. Revolution, Marx observed, will have "to leave its national soil forthwith and conquer the European terrain, on which alone the social revolution of the 19th century can be accomplished". [224•1 Marx and Engels never thought that socialist revolution would have to commence simultaneously in all the advanced capitalist states. They believed that world socialist revolution would involve a more or less lengthy historical period and that different countries would become involved at different times. 

Their conclusion was that socialist revolution could not be successful without preliminary victory in a majority of advanced capitalist states, at least in Britain, France and Germany. In a letter to Paul Lafargue in June 1893, Engels wrote: "But it is not the French, nor the Germans, nor the British who, by themselves, will win the glory of having smashed capitalism; if France—PERHAPS—gives the signal, it will be in Germany, the country most profoundly influenced by socialism and where the theory has the most deeply penetrated the masses—where the fight will be settled, and even then neither France nor Germany will ensure final victory so long as England remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Proletarian emancipation can be only an international deed." [224•2 

Lenin’s thinking on world revolution took place in the imperialist era, when capitalism had already entered a new stage and many of its laws had been modified. The law, discovered by Lenin, of uneven capitalist economic and political development and the study of its specific operation in the imperialist era had great importance for understanding the mechanism of how the world socialist revolution arose and developed. The sharp intensification of contradictions between the imperialist powers and the uneven maturation of prerequisites for revolution in different parts of the capitalist system, due to this law, enabled him to conclude that socialist revolution could initially be successful in individual states. 

This conclusion became the starting point for evaluating the prospects for a growth in the world socialist revolution 225 ")) in the new era. This revolution included several rounds of relatively independent socialist revolutions that involved only a section of the countries or even a single country, while the capitalist regime was maintained elsewhere, Nonetheless, revolution in each country arose and developed in close connection with the development of the entire capitalist system as a whole, in close association with the balance of power and struggle in the world. Any national socialist revolution was inevitably directed against world imperialism as a whole. 

The Great October Socialist Revolution became the first link in the international social revolution of the working class. The Russian Revolution arose as a natural result of the contradictions in the whole world imperialist system at the beginning of the 20th century. It gave, in turn, a mighty impetus to world history and opened up an era of transition of human society from capitalism to socialism. 

The revolutionary labour movement in Russia had developed on its own soil, yet under the direct influence of the proletarian struggle in the West. The Russian working class had begun its revolutionary journey by drawing on the experience accumulated by the international working class. It subsequently became one of the most militant vanguards of the international proletariat. Lenin wrote: "The great honour of beginning the revolution has fallen to the Russian proletariat. But the Russian proletariat must not forget that its movement and revolution are only part of a world revolutionary proletarian movement." [225•1

Lenin formed his views in an acute struggle with socialreformism, nationalism and the social-chauvinism of the ideological leaders of the Second International. They had rejected proletarian internationalism which stood for the revolutionary initiative of those sections of the international proletariat to whom opportunities were opening up for a direct assault on capitalism and the international support of those vanguard forces from all other sections. 

The Leninist theory developed abo in contention with the revisionist concepts of “Left”-wing radicalism which treated the connection between international and national interests 226 in a mechanical fashion. Trotsky and his followers essentially precluded any relative autonomy of national revolutions and rejected any possibility of socialist revolution succeeding in a single state. They reduced the whole sense of revolutionary actions in a single country to fermenting from without revolutions in other countries. 

Lenin countered the “Left”-wing adventurist views with his dialectical concept of the transition from a national to a world revolution. [226•1 Underlining the international character of proletarian social revolution, Lenin at the same time saw that the prerequisites for it arising in each separate country matured on the basis of internal conditions. The policy of artificially “inseminating” revolution from without ignores these historically formed conditions, and makes the position of the internal revolutionary forces more difficult, because it allows reactionaries to portray revolution as a product of foreign interference and, on that ground, to fan nationalism. Lenin considered revolution in Europe possible in the overall European revolutionary situation that developed as a result of the imperialist war and the Russian Revolution in October 1917. Nonetheless, he thought it ridiculous to count on it arising in the various countries within a certain period. In his analysis of the condition of the revolutionary movement in advanced capitalist states, he revealed the serious obstacles in the way of socialist revolution there. He noted that these states had "a bourgeoisie that is fully organised and can rely on all the achievements of modern civilisation and engineering". [226•2 The workers’ revolution in Western Europe will develop much more slowly because there "the capitalists are far stronger, it is far more difficult to rise in revolt". [226•3 It turned out that the possibilities for a successful revolution created there by the deep-going revolutionary crisis were not realised due to a number of weaknesses in the labour movement. At the decisive moment, the opportunist leaders of the Second International betrayed the socialist cause, divided the working class and thereby helped the bourgeoisie to cope with the crisis. 

The difficulties of revolution in the West were that the revolutionary wing of the labour movement had not constituted itself into strong proletarian parties at the time of a revolutionary situation, and most of the working class had not, by their own experience, arrived at an understanding of the need to seize power, and either followed the reformists or took an indecisive vacillating stance. Attempts by advanced sections of the proletariat, therefore, to channel the developing revolutionary situation into socialist revolution did not obtain mass support and were suppressed by the bourgeoisie. 

In his sober analysis of the experience of the first three post-revolutionary years, Lenin gave the following evaluation of the situation: hopes for a further expansion and intensification of world revolution "have not materialised in the sense that there has been no rapid or simple solution of the problem . . . they were fulfilled in so far as we achieved the main thing—the possibility has been maintained of the existence of proletarian rule and the Soviet Republic even in the event of the world socialist revolution being delayed". [227•1 Despite the great complexity of world revolutionary development, the international character of the October Socialist Revolution was confirmed in practice. It was apparent in the widespread support which the revolution received from the proletariat of other countries and in the influence which it had on the world revolutionary movement. 

The international working class in the European capitalist states did not overthrow the world bourgeoisie, but international backing for the Russian Revolution came in another form: "In fact, they went halfway in their support, for they weakened the hand raised against us, yet in doing so they were helping us". [227•2 When the international working class saw the October Revolution as the beginning of the great social emancipation of the working people, it came to its defence. Its demonstrations under the slogan "Hands Off Soviet Russia!" prevented the imperialists from stifling the young socialist republic. 

Socialist Revolution in Russia evoked an upsurge in the 228 revolutionary movement all over the world; it made the first breach in the defences of world imperialism and sundered the strong chain of imperialist ties. The October Revolution shook the whole capitalist system to its foundations and inspired a gigantic revolutionary wave that swept around the world. No revolution in the past had evoked such a powerful international response as the Russian Socialist Revolution. In the broad historical perspective, however, its historical significance went far beyond the bounds of this direct reaction. A new historical era began in 1917 which heralded, in Lenin’s words, "the abolition of capitalism and its vestiges, and the establishment of the fundamentals of the communist order". [228•1 The stability and vitality of the capitalist system were completely undermined. It had now entered an age of profound general crisis that embraced the economy, the policy and the ideology. "All over the world,” Lenin wrote, "the bourgeois system is experiencing a tremendous revolutionary crisis." [228•2

The Russian Revolution demonstrated the historical veracity of Bolshevism and dealt a crushing blow to reformism. It showed in practice that the development of Marxism, revolutionary traditions of proletarian struggle and the principles of proletarian internationalism were indissolubly connected with Leninism and the activity of the Communists. The impact of opportunism on the labour movement fell off sharply. The German revolutionary leader, Rosa Luxemburg, made the point that the Bolsheviks personified the entire revolutionary honour and capacity for action, which had been buried by social democracy in the West; their October uprising saved both the cause of the Russian Revolution and the honour of international socialism. 

The Russian Revolution raised the labour movement to a higher level. Under its influence, most capitalist countries soon saw the birth of communist parties. Conditions matured for creating a Third, Communist, International as an international proletarian organisation which was to play an outstanding role in the history of the labour movement and in forming its revolutionary vanguard. 

A no less important consequence of the October Revolution was the crisis that had begun in the imperialist colonial system. The Russian Revolution had awakened the East and greatly encouraged national awareness among the peoples of the colonies and semi-colonies. As it steadily grew, the liberation movement undermined the whole colonial system and prepared its complete disintegration. 

The October Socialist Revolution enriched the world revolutionary movement by the first successful experience of the working class taking power, of revolutionary socialist change. It had, in Lenin’s words, international significance both in the sense of its effect on all countries and in the sense of the historical inevitability of a repetition, on an international scale, of what had taken place in Russia. [229•1

In his evaluation of the Socialist Revolution in Russia from an internationalist standpoint, Lenin regarded it as part of the world revolutionary process. At the same time, inasmuch as the victory had occurred in Russia alone, he was naturally concerned about the subsequent fate of the Russian Revolution in the circumstances of hostile capitalist encirclement. 

The peculiarity of the initial stage of the world socialist revolution was that, politically, Russia was ahead of the advanced capitalist states, while it was behind them in the material conditions for the introduction of socialism. If the socialist revolution had occurred in advanced European states, Russia would have been able, with their help, to introduce socialism comparatively quickly, in Lenin’s opinion. He wrote: "Since large-scale industry exists on a world scale, there can be no doubt that a direct transition to socialism is possible." [229•2

This possibility did not occur due to the mounting difficulties in the way of European revolution; it was increasingly put off. It soon became evident that the Soviet Republic would have to advance alone to socialism for a considerable time. That meant that the way had become more arduous. As Lenin put it, "this slower, more complicated, more 230 zigzag development of the socialist revolution in Western Europe has burdened us with incredible difficulties". [230•1

Lenin and the Communist Party now had to face the task of determining the place of the first proletarian state in the world revolution and working out its strategic policy in conditions of a relative stabilisation of capitalist relations in other countries. 

The interests of further development of the world revolutionary process did not permit any passive expectation of direct action by the proletariat abroad. The advance of a country that had broken free from the capitalist system itself became one of the decisive levers in the world revolution. The only revolutionary strategy for the victorious Russian working class was that of building socialism within the capitalist encirclement. 

The proponents of petty-bourgeois revolutionarism—the “Left”-wing Communists and Trotskyists—attempted to foist upon the Party an adventurist policy of provoking revolution by war against the world bourgeoisie. They proposed concentrating all the forces of the Soviet state on bringing socialist revolution to other European states; in their opinion, there lay the only salvation. They regarded the programme of socialist construction in Russia as an expression of national exclusiveness and a brake on world revolution. Lenin and the Party rebuffed this adventurist line and, in essence, capitulation strategy, as something that would put at risk the first real place d’armes of world revolution which had been wrenched from capitalism at great cost. 

Lenin showed that building socialism initially in one country was the paramount international task of the Russian proletariat and a very important aspect of the further development of socialist revolution. By successfully building socialism, the Russian working class would bolster up the main base of the world revolutionary movement and speed up revolution in other countries. 

The close connection between socialist construction in the USSR and the international revolutionary movement was vividly demonstrated in the international solidarity of workers in capitalist states with the Soviet Republic. Therefore, 231 Lenin noted, despite the military and economic superiority of imperialism over the young socialist system, from the point of view of the balance "of the real forces of all classes in all countries—we are the strongest of all". [231•1 Socialism had only just been established in one country, but it could rely not only on internal forces but on the power of proletarian internationalism: "We possess a world-wide basis, immeasurably wider than was the case in any previous revolution.” [231•2

As a world process expressing the mature need for transition of all mankind to socialism, the socialist revolution must, sooner or later, go beyond the framework of a single country. The working class of one country, relying on an alliance with non-proletarian workers and support from the international proletariat, can certainly build a complete socialist society. But it cannot alone achieve superiority over imperialism on a world-wide scale. To do that, socialist revolution must enter the world arena and there create a new balance of power in favour of socialism. Lenin wrote, " complete and final victory on a world scale cannot be achieved in Russia alone; it can be achieved only when the proletariat is victorious in at least all the advanced countries, or, at all events, in some of the largest of the advanced countries". [231•3

The complete and final victory of socialism in the USSR, the triumph of socialist revolution in a whole group of countries and the formation of the world socialist system testified to the correctness of the Leninist forecast about the paths of transition from revolution, that was victorious in one country, to revolution on an international scale. Today, the social revolution of the proletariat has spread along a broad front and broken the chain of imperialism in a number of places, smashing the foundations of world capitalism and clearing the way for all humanity to advance to socialism. 

The world-wide overthrow of the capitalist order and the establishment of a new socio-economic formation is a complex, protracted and many-sided process. Experience has 232 borne out the Leninist notion that social revolution in the 20th century is unusually complex and contradictory; it has a great variety of forms in its development and in its deepgoing internal unity. Socialist revolution is making headway through an amazing mosaic of social, economic, political, cultural and ideological relationships. The far from complete range of differences inherent in the world capitalist system include modern industry equipped with the most up-to-date techniques alongside primitive modes of farming, advanced forms of state-monopoly capitalism alongside primitive communal orders, the sophisticated class structure of classical capitalism alongside tribal relationships which have not yet been affected or are hardly affected by class differentiation, bourgeois democracy alongside feudal despotic regimes and the power of tribal chieftains. Besides the crying contrast between the developed imperialist powers and the economically weak and backward regions of the world, every capitalist state has its own historical and national peculiarities, its traditions, customs and cultural mores. Imperialism in every country, in Lenin’s words, has its own characteristics. Even the trusts and the banks in their concrete form are not the same in different countries. This difference of national conditions makes its imprint also on the proletarian revolutionary movement which has its own specific traits and traditions in each country. 

Amidst this great diversity, one cannot count on the world socialist revolution everywhere following the same pattern. "World revolution,” Lenin explained, "is not so smooth as to proceed in the same way everywhere, in all countries. If it were, we should have been victorious long ago. Every country has to go through definite political stages." [232•1 Lenin foresaw that this revolution, "judging by its beginning, will continue for many years and will demand much effort". [232•2 He laughed to scorn the doctrinaire ideas of a “pure” proletarian revolution in which only two classes would be ranged against one another: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In real life, every revolution has a profoundly differentiated social situation. 

233 According to Leninist theory, the transition of human society from capitalism to socialism embraces an entire historical era during which individual states or groups of states, by virtue of the maturation of internal conditions, will break free from the capitalist system and form a world socialist system as the prototype of the future single commonwealth of nations. During this transitional era, the advancing communist socio-economic formation exists side by side with moribund capitalism. Between them there is naturally bound to be a rivalry in the course of which socialism increasingly demonstrates its superiority over capitalism. The world socialist revolution, therefore, develops not simply through the class struggle of the proletariat and the revolutionary forces of capitalist states, but through the consolidation of the economic and political power of the main stronghold of revolution—the socialist system. 

Numerous revolutionary forces of the democratic and national liberation movement, who do not directly pursue socialist goals, take part in the world revolutionary process. As they shake the foundations of world capitalism, they thereby also converge in a common stream of anti-imperialist struggle and the single world revolutionary process. 

The proletarian class struggle in capitalist states and the building of socialism in countries that have torn themselves free from capitalism are closely intertwined with the democratic movements and the national liberation revolutions. The current Programme of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union states: "Socialist revolutions, anti-imperialist national-liberation revolutions, people’s democratic revolutions, broad peasant movements, popular struggles to overthrow fascist and other despotic regimes, and general democratic movements, against national oppression—all these merge in a single world-wide revolutionary process undermining and destroying capitalism." [233•1

The working class is not alone in making social revolution in this century; it is being made by semi-proletarian, peasant, petty-bourgeois and other sections of the population. This adds certain difficulties and contradictions to world revolution. As Lenin put it, the petty bourgeoisie becomes 234 drawn into the revolutionary movement "with all its prejudices”, [234•1 ^ bringing into it vacillation, instability, impatience and nationalism. 

The contradictions and the lack of consistency in the political behaviour of semi-proletarian petty-bourgeois and other intermediary social sections in the social revolution serve as the source of collisions, temporary delays and even retreats. Whether it is possible to overcome the contradictions and straighten out the zigzags very much depends on the proletarian leadership of the mass movements. 

One of the contradictions of world revolution is that over vast areas of the former colonies it develops in a social milieu that is inadequate for socialist goals. The working class is small in these areas and the petty bourgeoisie or peasantry make up the mass forces of the liberation movement. They are often liable to political vacillations from one extreme to another and petty-bourgeois revolutionising. They are particularly prone to outbursts of nationalism that can seriously damage the cause of international solidarity of the revolutionary forces. A moderating proletarian policy and ideological work by the advanced revolutionary vanguard among the masses are necessary to neutralise these tendencies. The trouble is that the influence and positions of the working class are comparatively weak; it is therefore particularly difficult to work out and pursue a proletarian political and ideological policy in the activity of communist parties. Lenin clearly saw this contradictoriness and its consequent difficulties. Hence his careful consideration of the policy that proletarian parties should pursue in the colonies and semicolonies. He called upon them "to translate the true communist doctrine, which was intended for the Communists of the more advanced countries into the language of every people”, [234•2 in order to group "the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name". [234•3 He also pondered upon how to "adjust ... the Communist Party (its membership, special tasks) to the level of the peasant countries of the colonial East". [234•4

It takes a stubborn campaign to overcome petty-bourgeois revolutionism and nationalism. In some instances, the pettybourgeois influence also penetrates the proletarian party and makes its leaders take erroneous positions. This trend exists in a few countries today: the anti-Marxist policy of the current leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is the most obvious manifestation of this trend that hampers a consolidation of genuinely proletarian forces. 

Contradictions in revolutionary development are apparent also in countries which have thrown off colonial domination and are searching for effective ways of social progress. These contradictions also ultimately are due to the lack of a developed economic and social structure. The scope and urgency of change needed in these countries come up against the overall economic and cultural backwardness, the immaturity of those classes, especially the proletariat, which are capable of being a reliable support for radical and, at the same time, stable policy for revolutionary change. All this makes it more difficult to use the favourable prospects that open before these countries and engenders the possibility of temporary setbacks and even reactionary coups. 

The composition of the social forces taking part in the revolutionary movement is also widening in the advanced capitalist countries. It is being augmented by people from the petty bourgeoisie of town and country, various groups of intellectuals and employees. This has immense political significance for the revolutionary movement from the standpoint of its prospects and it creates additional opportunities for forming a broad anti-imperialist coalition around the working class. Here too, however, there is a danger of enrolling raw recruits who are sometimes the social source for strengthening various reformist and revisionist influences within the workers’ and communist movement. 

Back in the days when the social revolution of the proletariat was making its first steps and it seemed to many that its victorious entry on to the world scene was near, Lenin wrote with some vision: "Historical action is not the pavement of Nevsky Prospekt, said the great Russian revolutionary Chernyshevsky. A revolutionary would not ’agree’ to a proletarian revolution only ’on the condition’ that it proceeds easily and smoothly, that there is, from the outset, 236 combined action on the part of the proletarians of different countries, that there are guarantees against defeats, that the road of the revolution is broad, free and straight, that it will not be necessary during the march to victory to sustain the heaviest casualties, to ’bide one’s time in a besieged fortress’, or to make one’s way along extremely narrow, impassable, winding and dangerous mountain tracks. Such a person is no revolutionary, he has not freed himself from the pedantry of the bourgeois intellectuals." [236•1

This vision of the complex development of a world socialist revolution is readily apparent today. The world revolutionary process is a vital embodiment of the dialectics of struggle in which every step forward is fraught with the danger of unexpected turns and the risk of a blow from the class enemy. Only a never-abating struggle by the revolutionary forces against imperialism and reaction can balk or restrict such threats. 

The experience of the world revolutionary movement shows that different trends, engendered by the participation of heterogeneous forces in the struggle, clash in the social revolution of our time. The overall progressive movement of the social revolution does not preclude any deviation from the general line, especially in areas where the social and economic prerequisites of socialism are least mature and where the revolutionary forces of a socialist persuasion are faced by the immensely difficult problem of finding transitional forms of development that would ensure progress in the fight against economic and cultural backwardness. 

Lenin wrote about the difficulties and contradictory nature of the world socialist revolution, the multiplicity of conditions for its development at various levels, the sharp turns on its path: one must be on the look-out "in these zigzags, these sharp turns in history, in order to retain the general perspective, to be able to see the scarlet thread that joins up the entire development of capitalism and the entire road to socialism". [236•2 The socialist prospects for the world revolutionary process are determined to a decisive degree by the 237 struggle and the gains of the international working class, the class that stands at the centre of contemporary development. 

* * *
First printing 1975 © Translation into English. Progress Publishers 1975 Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


[223•1] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (in three volumes), Vol. 1, Moscow, 1969, pp. 139–40. 

[224•1] Marx, Engels, Works, Vol. VII, p. 32 (in Russian). 

[224•2] F. Engels, P. and L. Lafargue, Correspondence, Vol. III, Moscow, p. 271. 

[225•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 24, p. 227. 

[226•1] See V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 36, p. 8. 

[226•2] Ibid., Vol. 27, p. 400. 

[226•3] Ibid., Vol. 31, p. 328. 

[227•1] Ibid., Vol. 31, p. 44. 

[227•2] Ibid., p. 414. 

[228•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 392. 

[228•2] Ibid., p. 227. 

[229•1] Ibid., p. 21. 

[229•2] Ibid., Vol. 33, p. 160. 

[230•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 30, p. 208. 

[231•1] Ibid., Vol. 33, p. 151. 

[231•2] Ibid., Vol. 30, p. 449. 

[231•3] Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 58: 

[232•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 28, p. 123. 

[232•2] Ibid., Vol. 30, p. 160. 

[233•1] The Road to Communism, Moscow, 1961, p. 484. 

[234•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 22, p. 355. 

[234•2] Ibid., Vol. 30, p. 162. 

[234•3] Ibid., Vol. 31, p. 150. 

[234•4] Ibid., Vol. 42, p, 202. 

[236•1] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 28. p. 67. 

[236•2] Ibid., Vol. 27, p. 130.