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Reflections on Lenin’s Dialectics

Lenin (Petrov-Vodkin)

Lenin (Petrov-Vodkin). Public Domain, Link.

Pyotr Kondrashov is a leading research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy and Law, Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin made an enormous contribution to the development of virtually all the elements of Marxism. But of particular importance, in our opinion, is his development of materialistic dialectics, carried out in all directions: from methodology, dialectic logic, and dialectics of the objective material world to the dialectics of the revolutionary process and of building a socialist society.

Dialectics can be understood, in Lenin’s terms, in at least three scientific senses, namely, how:

  1. the property of living and nonliving nature, mind, and society of developing through contradictions and removing them (“objective dialectics,” as Lenin understood this after Frederick Engels);
  2. the doctrine of this property of being and the manifestation of this in a particular sphere as well as a system of categories and laws by which the objective dialectics of the world are grasped and reflected in thinking (“subjective dialectics“);
  3. the method by which the objective and subjective world is investigated.

In this article, we will analyze only some aspects of the Leninist dialectics of social processes and phenomena—leaving aside his ontological dialectics of matter and consciousness and the dialectics of natural science—set forth in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909).

Initial Positions of Lenin’s Social Dialectics

As the starting points from which Lenin’s dialectics and dialectical method are further developed, we will take two of his well-known propositions concerning the core of dialectics, the spirit of Marxism and partisanship, and the class character of social science.

The Core of Dialectics

“In brief,” writes Lenin, “dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence [core] of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development.”1 Although here, in the definition of “core,” we are talking about dialectics as a teaching, it is clear that Lenin’s “teaching” is always inextricably linked with the corresponding method and with the corresponding practice. In this position, Lenin speaks of what constitutes the inner core of the dialectical scientific method of research. This is the detection in a social phenomenon (material or ideal; being or consciousness) of really (ontologically) existing internal and external contradictions and their syntheses.

When applied to the study of social processes, for Lenin this “core” fundamentally means the requirement of explication: first, of concrete contradictions in the development of economic structure; second, of class contradictions, expressed objectively in class struggle and upholding class interests, and subjectively in the form of class consciousness.

A reasonable question arises here: why do we need to detect these contradictions/opposites and their unity/syntheses in social phenomena (processes, states, mechanisms, structures, relationships, forms of consciousness, norms, and institutions)? What is the purpose of implementing this principle?

This “pragmatic” question is answered by the second starting point formulated by Lenin in a letter to Inessa Armand, in which he writes: “The whole spirit of Marxism, its whole system, demands that each proposition should be considered (α) only historically, (β) only in connection with others, (γ) only in connection with the concrete experience of history.”2 Taken together, these two initial principles, in fact, say that, first, through the explication of contradictions, it is necessary to identify the internal dynamics, or processuality, of social being and consciousness, that is, to discover their historicity; and second, to identify those trends, the shoots of the future, which are gradually ripening in the present.

This is fully consistent with the way Karl Marx utilized these principles in Capital. In one of the reviews of the first volume, the reviewer, Russian economist N. Sieber, wrote (in accordance with Marx) that

Of still greater moment…is the law of [the historical] variation [of phenomena], of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he [Marx] investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life.… The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx’s book has.3

Georg Lukács emphasizes the same point when he writes that, for Lenin, “dialectics is the theory of history.”4

The Class (Partisan) Character of Social Science

Synthesizing these two initial principles (the doctrine of the contradictions and the historicity of social being), we come to yet another fundamental principle of Marxist dialectics—the principle of partisanship, understood in the broad sense of taking into account social engagement and involvement, and the attention of a scientist who studies various social phenomena.

In this “subjectivist” moment lies the specificity of social science as distinct from the mathematical and natural sciences. In one place, Lenin remarks: “If geometric axioms hurt the interests of people, then they would probably be refuted.”5 Social science, and even more so the study of a specific person in a specific situation, always, consciously or unconsciously, expresses the interests of specific social groups or classes in which a social scientist is included or with which the person sympathizes as a specific, concrete living individual.

In Lenin’s case, this principle was radically concrete and historical, and was connected not simply with the obvious statement of fact that social research was partisan (even, for example, supposedly “objective” social statistics), but with the analysis of specific class interests and the corresponding class struggle—first of all, of course, in Russia.

Thus, “there can be no ‘impartial’ social science in a society built on class struggle. One way or another, all state-owned and liberal science defends wage slavery, and Marxism has declared relentless war on that slavery. To expect an impartial science in a society of wage slavery is the same…naivety as to expect the impartiality of manufacturers in the question of whether to increase the wages of workers by reducing the profit of capital.”6

Elements of Lenin’s Dialectic of Social Processes

In the structure of the Leninist dialectical method, one can distinguish the following necessary “moments” without which dialectics (as a method) do not exist, but which individually can exist outside dialectics, being independent methods or moments of some other research method. This list, of course, is not comprehensive, but only includes those which, in our opinion, are the most important and of constitutive significance.

The Principle of Historicity

Since, according to both Marx and Lenin, materialistic dialectics in its very depths is a science of history, then the principle of historicity should be the first in our analysis. According to this principle any phenomenon is investigated as developing, that is, as something:

  1. having a past, and growing out of a synthesis of external and internal contradictions of this past;
  2. existing and actual (present);
  3. already, due to the action of its own contradictions, transcending its limits and giving rise to the possibility of some future state (future).7

Lenin also notes that it is necessary to “look at each question from the point of view of how a known phenomenon in history arose, what main stages this phenomenon passed through in its development, and from the point of view of this development to look at what this thing has become now.”8

Since we have set out to explicate the basic elements of Lenin’s social dialectic, we can formulate the following definition of social historicity (as opposed to natural historicity) in the light of the above ideas.

Social historicity is a single, integral temporal coherent development process, during which each new generation of people:

  1. finds a certain primary moment for itself in the social natural-objective world created by previous generations;
  2. integrates that world into its material and ideal structures through its practical and theoretical development;
  3. under the influence of internal and external contradictions, changes the present world through socially transformative activity (praxis);
  4. creates a new world that both preserves “traces” of previous states of being (the past) and gives rise to previously non-existing relationships, structures, objects, properties, forms of activity, ideas, needs, and situations (the future); and
  5. then passes this new world on to the next generation.

Since Marxist social dialectics (in contrast, for example, to the idealist dialectics of G. W. F. Hegel) is concerned principally not with abstract thought, but with concrete socio-historical phenomena, the “basic principle of dialectics” becomes the principle of concrete historicism, which was developed in detail and applied by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. According to this principle, social phenomena must be investigated not from the point of view of certain “general” laws, “as such,” but in their historical specificity as concrete, existing empirically in the here and now. Only then can we move on from the concrete and rise to the level of the abstract, for example, to the category of social formation. Moreover, this research, going from the concrete to the abstract, is always carried out in dialectical unity with the opposite method—the method of ascending from the abstract to the concrete. In the framework of genuine dialectics, the abstract and the concrete cannot be thought and applied in isolation from each other.

The method of concrete historical analysis is a method of orienting a researcher’s thought in relation to the specific development of the subject of research (a social phenomenon). Through this progression, a phenomenon can be grasped in its historicity and its relation to the entire social organism. In the works of Marx and especially Lenin (as applied to specific Russian conditions), the principle of concrete historical analysis meant the movement of research from the treatment of everyday life (Singular), through understanding of structures in a specific economic, social, political, and/or cultural situation in a particular country (Specific, Particular), and, finally, to include this analysis in the context of the prevailing mode of production and social formation (Universal, General).

To illustrate the application of this particular historical dialectic of singular, specific, and universal, we give the following example: Let’s say I drink Dilmah tea. This is a phenomenon, a phenomenal sphere of being, a surface of being, on the other side of which is another, deeper reality that allows this everyday phenomenon to be; behind my tea-drinking there is “hidden” international trade, through which tea grown in Sri Lanka or India is packaged in the United Kingdom, from there is exported to Russia, and ends up in the very store where I usually purchase it. As we can see, international trade is foundational to the total development of commodity production, which is determined by the capitalist mode of production. Were it not for these historically formed existential conditions and practices, there could be no talk of the phenomenon of everyday tea-drinking. Thus, the historicity of my tea-drinking (phenomenon) becomes apparent only when I identify and fix the historicity of the very possibility of this phenomenon—the various forms of human activity (essence) upon which this phenomenon depends.

At the same time, this chain of historical references can be viewed as almost infinite in their concrete permutations: the historicity of the process of tea-drinking, of tea itself as a plant, of the market through which it came to me, of capitalism that spawned this international market, of the money I spend on buying tea, of the teacups and the porcelain from which they are made, of spoons, teapots, sugar, gas stoves, and even of water supply, delivering water for tea to my apartment, and then for washing the cup and spoon.

But my personal tea drinking also goes through a number of historical (“ontogenetic”) stages that cannot be ignored in the study of this concrete phenomenon. For example, at one time my mother and grandmother made tea for me, then I learned to do it on my own (and this also turns out to have its own history, as a certain period of training); after I marry, my wife and I will teach our children and grandchildren.

Therefore, here, as among other things, the dialectic of essence and phenomenon is revealed. This is conveyed through the historicity of the phenomenon itself and the way its immersion in the concrete context of the totality is grasped. Moreover, only by reconstructing this immanent relationship between the concrete (my tea party), the special (drinking tea the context of Russian reality), and the universal (inclusion of tea-drinking in the system of the world capitalist market) do we reach an understanding of this concrete phenomenon, that is, “in grasping the specific logic of the specific subject.”9

The Principle of Totality

The next necessary element of materialistic dialectics is connected with the need to consider concrete social phenomena as intrinsically interrelated, on the one hand, with all other social processes, institutions, and so on, and, on the other, in their relationship with nature. In this sense, any social phenomenon turns out to be both structural and functional; it is a constitutive and genetic (that is, generated by and generating other phenomena) element of a coherent whole—a totality. Therefore, all social phenomena should be studied as interacting within the totality. Here there are two interrelated principles:

The principle of total interconnection (interaction), wherein any social phenomenon is considered

  1. as a result of interaction;
  2. as a system consisting of interacting elements;
  3. as one of the sides of interaction with other phenomena;
  4. and as a dynamic cause of other interactions and phenomena.

The principle of totality (wholeness), or the principle of materialistic dialectics, is one according to which every social phenomenon is considered as an integral part of the organic whole—the social system, the society.

Wholeness, totality (Totalität, Gesamtheit, Integrität) is, on the one hand, an internal assemblage, a structural and functional organic unity of all elements of a system (object, process, personality, state), in which each part retains its specificity and from the totality receives new, additional qualities, irreducible to the simple sum of the qualities of the elements. On the other hand, it also comprises the external inclusiveness, completeness, and causal-teleological interconnectedness of all elements of the system, the internal unity of the human, social world.

It is in this sense that Lukács puts forward his methodological ideas about the fundamental significance of the category of totality for cognition. Marx, he writes, developed a “wholly new science [the science of history],” based on “the point of view of totality.”10

The category of totality, however, determines not only the object of knowledge but also the subject. Bourgeois thought judges social phenomena consciously or unconsciously, naively or subtly, consistently from the standpoint of the individual. No path leads from the individual to the totality; there is at best a road leading to aspects of particular areas, mere fragments for the most part, “facts” bare of any context, or to abstract, special laws. The totality of an object can only be posited if the positing subject is itself a totality; and if the subject wishes to understand itself, it must conceive of the object as a totality. In modern society only the classes can represent this total point of view.11

Lukács goes on to state that “Concrete analysis means then: the relation to society as a whole. For only when this relation is established does the consciousness of their existence that men have at any given time emerge in all its essential characteristics.”12

Herbert Marcuse quite rightly connects the principle of totality in Marxist dialectics with the principle of historical specificity when he writes that “the dialectical method has thus of its very nature become a historical method.” The fact is that phenomena, facts, and things are embedded in broader structures and systems, constituting definite parts of a whole, which in turn is part of a broader concrete historical context. “Every fact,” he affirms, “whatever can be subjected to a dialectical analysis.… But all such analyses would lead into the structure of the socio-historical process and show it to be constitutive in the facts under analysis. The dialectic takes facts as elements of a definite historical totality from which they cannot be isolated.”13

Lenin, in a January 1921 article titled “Once Again on Trade Unions,” critically develops the thought of Nikolai Bukharin about the “harm of one-sidedness”—which Bukharin illustrated by the example of a glass being both a glass cylinder and a tool for drinking—therefore writing:

A tumbler is assuredly both a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel. But there are more than these two properties, qualities or facets to it; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of “mediacies” and inter-relationships with the rest of the world. A tumbler is a heavy object which can be used as a missile; it can serve as a paper weight, a receptacle for a captive butterfly, or a valuable object with an artistic engraving or design, and this has nothing at all to do with whether or not it can be used for drinking, is made of glass, is cylindrical or not quite, and so on and so forth.

Moreover, if I needed a tumbler just now for drinking, it would not in the least matter how cylindrical it was, and whether it was actually made of glass; what would matter though would be whether it had any holes in the bottom, or anything that would cut my lips when I drank, etc. But if I did not need a tumbler for drinking but for a purpose that could be served by any glass cylinder, a tumbler with a cracked bottom or without one at all would do just as well, etc.

Dialectical logic demands that we should go further. Firstly, if we are to have a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and “mediacies.” That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity. Secondly, dialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in “self-movement” (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world. Thirdly, a full “definition” of an object must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a practical indicator of its connection with human wants. Fourthly, dialectical logic holds that “truth is always concrete, never abstract.”14

Marcuse, commenting on this argument of Lenin, writes:

In his reference to the example of a glass of water, Lenin states that “the whole of human practice must enter the ‘definition’ of the object”; the independent objectivity of the glass of water is thus dissolved. Every fact can be subjected to dialectical analysis only in so far as every fact is influenced by the antagonisms of the social process.15

The Principle of Reflection/Representation

The next necessary principle, which follows from the very concept of the interaction between social phenomena within a totality, is to consider a social phenomenon as an open (reflective) system, that is, as something reacting in a certain way to the influence of another phenomenon, and, through appropriate changes in certain properties or states, representing (reproducing) the features of the affecting phenomenon in its morphological or internal structures.

Among other things, in the Marxist (including Leninist) dialectic of social being, this principle has a special, specific meaning: consciousness reflects, represents being. The ontological position of “consciousness reflects being” means that, ultimately, we mostly think—think about—what surrounds us, in what conditions we live, what we do, with whom we enter into relationships, what things we use, and so on. In other words, the subject of our consciousness, one way or another, always turns out to be our own existence, our own being. This is precisely what Marx and Engels say when they write: “Consciousness [das Bewusstsein] can never be anything else than conscious being [das bewusste Sein], and the being of men is their actual life-process.”16

This is the ontological aspect of the dialectical principle of reflection in the sphere of social being. The methodological aspect of this principle can be represented in the form of three interrelated “rules”:

Rule 1. In the study of a particular social phenomenon, it is always necessary to identify the general mechanism for determining the content of consciousness described above by the conditions of existence.

Rule 2. When implementing the above rule, one must adhere to the materialistic line. As Lenin writes:

Thinking is determined by being. This means that one thing is the actual relationship of people that actually exists in material reality, another thing is the consciousness of them. This consciousness is not primary, but conditioned, determined by the really existing system of society and all the material conditions in which people live. We must be able to study precisely the actual social relations as they actually exist, without confusing them with what people think of them, with people’s ideas.17

Therefore, it is necessary to clearly distinguish methodologically between two ontological modes of the actual life process: really existing relationships and what people think about them.

Rule 3. Finally, within the framework of the mechanisms of representation, it is necessary to take into account the dialectics of essence and phenomenon, that is, apply the principle of materialist dialectics, in the framework of which the same object is considered both a phenomenon and an essence: behind every phenomenon of social life there is an essence, namely this or that form of socio-historical practice or specific human activity, the implementation of which turns out to be this particular social phenomenon. After all, “social life is essentially practical.”18

The Mechanism of Anticipating Consciousness

Since we are talking about dialectics, the very fixation of the process of representation and reflection of social being in the content and structures of social consciousness necessarily implies the opposite process of the influence of social consciousness on the content and structures of social being. These two processes should always be considered in the unity of which Lenin spoke, defining the “core/essence of dialectics.” Unfortunately, many vulgarizers of Marxism and Leninism dogmatically and one-sidedly (that is, metaphysically) focused only on the principle of reflection, on that ontological and epistemological concept of consciousness, presented by Lenin in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and which boiled down, in such a crude account of his thought, to a passive mechanism, “photographing” or mirroring.

However, if we take the Philosophical Notebooks, and especially his concrete historical and sociological works, we will see in them that Lenin, on the contrary, puts in the first place the dialectically necessary opposite process—the active creation of the world by consciousness while taking into account the role of representative (passive) reflection itself. Lenin writes directly: “Man’s consciousness not only reflects the objective world, but creates it.”19 Human consciousness is always a reflexive-intentional, reflecting-anticipating, passive-active mental act; the internal content of the moment of activity of which is not reduced to an abstract “reverse influence of consciousness on being.”

On the one hand, it is enough to turn to everyday life to be convinced of this: yes, of course, the content of our consciousness is determined, “filled” with how, with whom, where, and among what things and in what relations we live in this world. But, on the other hand, we, comprehending this existence and reflecting on how we live, say, might find this existence unsatisfactory. Then, in accordance with our ideas (“ideals”) about the best form of being, we may change or transform our current everyday life (for example, we change our relationship with colleagues, get a cat, get married, or do repairs).

Here we are talking about what Peter Anokhin called the leading, anticipating consciousness (as opposed to the consciousness of a lagging, “relict”), and that which is called imagination, fantasy, and that, being related to scientific research, is called forecasting. Today, people often make fun of the concept of scientific socialism, which was introduced by Engels. But this concept of scientific socialism—which only means that the vision of the future (not a prediction of such) is not based on our fantasies about the desired better social structure, but on the scientific analysis of those trends that are contained in the contradictory present and that indicate possible alternatives to the development of society—is precisely what is being grasped in Lenin’s sociological and political writings and practice.

Defining Lenin’s Social Dialectics

From Lenin’s point of view, there is only a concrete historical, social world (totality) that has an immanent logic of development and that can only be understood by examining its concreteness in its contradictions and its dynamics. Therefore, objective social dialectics is the immanent dynamics of society itself, its development from internal contradictions that arise not in a logical but in a historical way.

As a scientific method, materialistic social dialectics is a way of studying material (being) and ideal (consciousness) social phenomena, through which:

  1. the real (ontologically) existing internal and external contradictions are identified in phenomena through empirical research, the synthesis of which leads to the change and development of the object both in quantitative (evolution) and qualitative terms (revolution);
  2. the analysis of the struggle of these contradictions and opposites (primarily class) reveals the historical dynamics of the social phenomena themselves, that is, their occurrence, existence, functioning, and death (transition to another state);
  3. one is able to see in the transition from existence to death, those germs, moments and trends that destroy the current state from the inside and lead to the emergence of a new one (for example, the germs of capitalism in the “body” of European feudalism in the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries; or the modern form of non-capitalist, non-commodity relations in the structure of global capitalism that will lead to socialism);
  4. we are thus enabled to make realistic scientifically based forecasts (as opposed to “foresight” and “insight“) regarding alternatives to deploy in both the very near and the most distant future;
  5. via scientific analysis and scientifically based forecasting, it is possible to carry out a corresponding social practice: both destructive (in relation to capitalism) and creative.

This is what Erik O. Wright called in Marxism (understood as an emancipative science) a socially critical emancipative function. The basic tasks of this emancipative science are: “(1) elaborating a systematic diagnosis and critique of the world as it exists; (2) envisioning viable alternatives; and (3) developing a theory of transformation. The first of these tells us why we want to leave the world in which we live; the second tells us where we want to go; and the third tells us how to get from here to there.”20

Prospects for Dialectical Marxist-Leninist Philosophy

Since Marxism (in all its forms) is a social theory and philosophy of a certain epoch, that is, a social and spiritual phenomenon, then in relation to it (as an object of a Marxist concrete historical research), all of the above principles are applicable. Therefore, we will try to apply some of these principles of materialistic dialectics for a historical analysis of Marxism and Leninism itself.

Marx’s socio-historical dialectic was, in fact, negative, destructive, and limited in terms of its concrete historical content. When referring to that historical content, we are not talking about formal methodological procedures of dialectical logic, but about historical material that is studied through dialectical tools. The point is that Marx’s substantive analysis ends with a theoretical justification of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Lenin is already working with completely different material—not only theoretically, but also practically. Bukharin explicates this distinction as follows:

  1. If we, he argues, understand through Marxism the system of methods for studying social phenomena, “that instrument, that methodology that is embedded in Marxism, then it goes without saying that Leninism is not something that modifies or revises the methodology of Marxist doctrine. On the contrary, in this sense, Leninism is a complete return to the Marxism that was formulated by Marx and Engels themselves.”21
  2. However, if by Marxism we mean certain ideas regarding concrete historical social phenomena, then in this case “it is completely clear that Leninist Marxism is a much wider field than the Marxism of Marx. I see why. Because to the sum of ideas then existing [in Marx], a new sum of concrete propositions [in Lenin] was added, as the result of the analysis of completely new phenomena, of a completely new historical band. In this conditional sense, Leninism is the conclusion that goes beyond the limits of Marxism.”22
  3. Moreover, what Lenin’s Marxism has given us is a “synthesis of the theory and practice of the struggling and victorious working class.… This is a synthesis of the destructive and creative work of the working class, and the latter circumstance seems to me the most important.”23

Extrapolating this logic of considering the historical prospects of Marxism, from its destructive criticism of capitalism (Marx), through the practical destruction of capitalism and the creation of a socialist society (Lenin), to the actual Communist future, we should make the following forecast. Since Leninism in its substantial (rather than methodological) aspect is already “going beyond the limits of classical Marxism,” the new, coming epoch of Communism will require an even more radical step that will take it beyond the limits of Leninism. Why? Because:

  1. Materialistic dialectics is not a set of ready-made recipes for all cases of life, nor a system of frozen categories, but the movement of the researcher’s thought after the specific subject of this research itself.
  2. Therefore, if the object of study itself changes (for example, for Lenin it is the emergence of a new form of capitalism, imperialism as a stage that was unknown to Marx), as well as if a new context arises in which this object functions and with which it is comprehensively interconnected, then the method of its research is transformed. This transformation of the method is due to the fact that the researcher, following the specific object of his study, must necessarily take into account all these changes, new characteristics and properties, new conditions and contexts, associated with a historically changing object.

Therefore, Bukharin is wrong when he writes that Leninism in methodological terms is “a complete return to the Marxism of Marx.” No, Leninism, as a theoretical and practical application of materialistic dialectics in concrete historical conditions, is also a development of this dialectical method. If we talk about a certain return to Marx, then Lenin returned to him only in the sense of distancing himself from his party comrades-in-arms, who knew dialectics very superficially and applied it primitively.

By virtue of all this, it seems that in the future communist society, for the philosophical understanding of being, a completely new form of Marxist philosophy will be required in its substantive aspects, while retaining its fundamental methodological foundations. This is in contrast to modern forms of Marxism, Leninism, neo-Marxism, Maoism, post-Marxism, and so on, since:

  1. both the Marxism of Marx and the Marxism of Lenin are dialectics of social development through the struggle of antagonisms, and thus it is assumed that in a future communist society, social contradictions in their irreconcilable forms will be overcome, although they will remain in non-antagonistic forms, since the future society will be classless;
  2. classical Marxism and Leninism are aimed at analyzing only class-antagonistic systems—it is impossible to study classless society using methods designed to study class-based social organisms and structures;
  3. in the future society, the driving forces of social development will be such intangible factors as science, education, creativity, information technology, personal factors, and so on, whereas classical Marxism is focused on the analysis of societies in which the leading role is played by physical factors (nature, the muscular strength of animals and people, technology, materials);
  4. in this future, the gradually dying state will perform only administrative functions, and Marxism is aimed at analyzing and criticizing the state as a repressive machine for the suppression of one class by another;
  5. former and present forms of Marxism had and still have to deal with prehistory (the “realm of necessity“), while the future society will be a real human and real humanistic history (the “realm of freedom“). The categories of inhumanity, alienation, self-alienation, fetishism, ideological appearance, illusory class consciousness, class struggle, and so on, which play a central role in classical Marxism, will no longer have any meaning.

For this reason, Marcuse wrote, quite correctly: “To be sure, the struggle with the ‘realm of necessity’ will continue with man’s passage to the stage of his ‘actual history,’ and the negativity and the contradiction will not disappear. Nevertheless, when society has become the free subject of this struggle, the latter will be waged in entirely different forms. For this reason, it is not permissible to impose the dialectical structure of pre-history upon the future history of mankind.”24

Therefore, the Marxism of Marx, of Lenin, of Mao, of Ho Chi Minh, and of Fidel Castro are historical, transient forms of social revolutionary theory and practice, since they owe their appearance to concrete historical conditions. When the conditions that gave birth to them disappear, these theories and practices themselves will no longer be directly relevant to the new conditions of social existence.

Does this mean that Marxism will disappear altogether? This is implicit in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, who writes, that the above statement by Marx (that “the mode of production of material life determines the social, political and spiritual processes of life in general”) will remain

factual evidence which we cannot go beyond so long as the transformations of social relations and technical progress have not freed man from the yoke of scarcity.… As soon as there will exist for everyone a margin of real freedom beyond the production of life, Marxism will have lived out its span; a philosophy of freedom will take its place. But we have no means, no intellectual instrument, no concrete experience which allows us to conceive of this freedom or of this philosophy.25

It seems that in this case Sartre is wrong in assuming that Marxism will exhaust itself under the conditions of Communism. However, Bukharin and Marcuse are right in emphasizing the historical limitations of classical Marxism and Leninism, as conceptual frameworks that are, in both content (Bukharin) and methodology (Marcuse), dependent on specific conditions and on the structures of prehistory. Nevertheless, this is not to deny their scientific-explanatory and practical potential for future history.

It seems to us that Marxism as a social science and methodology will continue in the future in at least two mandatory coexisting forms:

  1. in the form of a particular scientific philosophical-historical, economic, and historical theory and methodology for the study of previously existing class-antagonistic societies;
  2. in the form of a general scientific theory and methodology for the study of human society at all stages of development, including the pre-class era and the post-class “true history of mankind”: Communism.

However, all of these reflections concern the future prospects of the historical development of Marxism. As for the present, since modern conditions in many countries and even entire regions where pre-industrial societies still exist—as well as the inhuman conditions created by postcolonial capitalism—it is Leninism that is the most relevant form of revolutionary Marxist theory and practice. And it is precisely Leninism, with its corresponding national specifics, that will be an actual destructive and creative prospect for these societies in the near future.

In this respect, it is impossible to overestimate the significance of Lenin’s Marxism (rather than “Marxism-Leninism”). This significance is connected not only with the Leninist development and enrichment of the theory and methodology of Marxism’s social dialectics, but with the practical and political return to the Marxist science of human initiative, anticipative consciousness (as opposed to “reflecting,” “photographing,” or passive consciousness); a real, living active subject; a person (represented by the proletariat) as the creator of history.

It is on this basis that all of Lenin’s activity is built as he struggled against “all forms of dogmatism, which lead to historical fatalism, to ‘economism’ and ‘spontaneity,'” and against any interpretation of Marxism that, “under the pretext of objectivity, mixes ‘scientific’ history with that history in which the future is written in advance and the person is absent.” In response, Lenin countered all these interpretations with a “truly Marxist understanding of the historical perspective,” returning the revolutionary spirit to Marxism.26


Summing up our research, we can say that Lenin’s understanding of dialectics is oriented (among other things) to a whole and concrete vision of the historical situation, and it is this ensemble that determines Lenin’s enduring relevance. The most important thing in Lenin’s dialectic is to see a constantly changing and developing totality—the universal connection of phenomena, the dialectic of essence and phenomenon, the inclusion of a specific, concrete object/process in the whole, and the historicity of this whole.

Any scientist, organizer, factory director, workshop head, foreperson, educator, and politician should learn from Lenin this organic, plastic consideration of any phenomenon through the prism of its inclusion in an integral structure. The simplest example of this consideration, as we have seen, is Lenin’s analysis of a glass of water, an analysis that is often ridiculed today, without understanding its inner depth. Therefore, based on Lenin’s version of Marxist dialectics, we can create not only scientific methods and concepts, but also develop management practices at various levels.

However, the most important thing in Lenin’s social and practical dialectics is not only the “point of view of totality” or concrete historical analysis of the situation, but, above all, the return of the revolutionary subject to social and historical practice. In fact, in contrast to the leaders of the Second International, who considered the coming socialist revolution to be a purely objective social process, Lenin, in his socio-political dialectics, returned to Marxism the subject and the subjective dimension of social existence.

Consequently, it is most significant that, in abandoning the “automatism” and fatalism of the leaders of the Second International, Lenin gave the labor movement what today is not quite rightly called utopia or utopian consciousness: an image of a just human future society that does not come about “by itself” by virtue of the abstract “historical necessity,” but one that must be created by the people themselves, for they are the creators of their own history.


  1. V. I. Lenin, “Philosophical Notebooks,” Collected Works, vol. 38 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976), 222.
  2. V. I. Lenin, “Letter to Inessa Armand 30, November 1916,” Collected Works, vol. 35 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), 250.
  3. Karl Marx, Collected Works, vol. 35 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1996), 18–19.
  4. Georg Lukács, Lenin: Research Essay on the Relationship of His Ideas [in Russian] (Moscow: International Relations, 1990), 144.
  5. V. I. Lenin, “Marxism and Revisionism,” Collected Works, vol. 15 [in Russian] (Moscow: Politizdat, 1973), 31.
  6. V. I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” Collected Works, vol. 19 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 23.
  7. Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” in Collected Works, vol. 3 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1975), 3–129.
  8. V. I. Lenin, “About the State: Lecture at the Sverdlovsk University on July 11, 1919,” Collected Works, vol. 39 [in Russian] (Moscow: Politizdat, 1970), 67.
  9. Marx, Collected Works, vol. 3, 91.
  10. Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972), 27.
  11. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 28.
  12. Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, 50.
  13. Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1955), 314.
  14. V. I. Lenin, “Once Again on the Trade Unions,” Collected Works, vol. 32 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 93–94.
  15. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, 314–315.
  16. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The German Ideology,” Collected Works, vol. 5 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976), 36.
  17. V. Adoratsky, “Marxist Dialectics in the Works of Lenin,” Selected Works [in Russian] (Moscow: Politizdat, 1961), 444.
  18. Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach,” Collected Works, vol. 5, 8.
  19. Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 38, 211. Emphasis added.
  20. Erik O. Wright, Class, State and Ideology (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2008), 2.
  21. Nikolai Bukharin, “Lenin as a Marxist,” Selected Works [in Russian] (Moscow: Politizdat, 1988), 61.
  22. Bukharin, “Lenin as a Marxist,” 61.
  23. Bukharin, “Lenin as a Marxist,” 62.
  24. Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, 315–16. Emphasis added.
  25. Jean-Paul Sartre, “Marxism and Existentialism,” Search for a Method (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963), 34.
  26. Roger Garaudy, Marxism of the 20th Century [in Russian] (Moscow: Prometheus, 1994), 6. Emphasis added.
2023, Volume 74, Number 08 (January 2023)
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