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"A Dictatorship on Small Scale"

The Revolutionary Masses

As to the structure and composition of the party, Lenin believed that in an autocratic state, where political parties were not allowed to operate legally and where tsarist police agents had much experience of fighting and infiltrating such organizations, the success could only be achieved by a party that was comprised of people professionally engaged in revolutionary activity and was led by a hierarchy of authoritative leaders. Lenin wrote:  

The Party Is the Revolution's Leader. (Soviet poster)


I assert, that no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable  organization of leaders that maintains continuity...; that such an organization must consist chiefly of people professionally engaged in revolutionary activity; that in an autocratic state the more we confine  the membership of such an organization to people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity and who have been professionally trained in the art of combating the political police, the more difficult will it be to wipe out such an organization...


This was a concept of a monolithic and militant underground party with a clearly defined organization, where   members must submit to strict party discipline. It would operate as a revolutionary headquarters with a military-style commitment to subordination, unity and secrecy.

Lenins views on the organization of the party are extremely important for the understanding of the Russian Revolution and of much of the Soviet development. According to Nicholas Berdiaev:  


The very organization of the party, which was centralized in the extreme, was a dictatorship on small scale. Every member of the party was subjected to this dictatorship of the centre. The Bolshevik party which Lenin built up in the course of many years was to provide the pattern of the future organization of the whole of Russia, and in actual fact Russia was organized on the pattern of the Bolshevik party organization.  The whole of Russia, the whole Russian people, was subjected not only to the dictatorship of the communist party but also to the dictatorship of the communist dictator... Lenin denied freedom within the party and this denial of freedom was transferred to the whole of Russia.


With his single-mindedness and determination Lenin set out to achieve his vision of a revolutionary organization that would be capable of becoming an active, history-making force. Its firm leadership of a proletarian revolution, its scientific knowledge of the laws of history, its exceptional commitment to unity and discipline would more than compensate for all those inadequacies of Russian capitalism that made more orthodox Marxists view the prospects of an early proletarian revolution in Russia with skepticism. Give us an organization of revolutionaries, and we shall overturn the whole of Russia! was the challenge with which Lenin concluded What Is to Be Done? By 1917 Lenin had this organization in the Bolshevik Party, and his prophesy, made fifteen years earlier, was finally fulfilled.

The important thing about Lenins additions to and development of the original Marxist doctrine in questions of both ideology and organization is that they appeared to work in Russia to the embarrassment of more orthodox Russian Marxists. They led to the creation of a revolutionary government of the working classes. Whether they succeeded in creating a genuinely socialist society is, however, an altogether different matter.

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The Birth of Bolshevism


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
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Alexander I
Nicholas I
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The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
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