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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The ideology of Soviet communism is that of the
party which seized power in the former Russian
Empire, a party with monolithic authority and influ-
ence which reaches beyond the borders of the Soviet
Union and imposes on several European countries. Its
history, or rather its prehistory, goes back to 1903,
when the Second Congress of the Russian Social
Democratic Workers Party adopted its doctrinal pro-

This program, or statement of principles was drawn
up by G. V. Plekhanov and was amended and presented
to the Congress by the editorial staff of the journal
Iskra (while Lenin was on its staff). It was very similar
to the French Workers Party program (written by J.
Guesde and P. Lafargue, and adopted at Roanne in
1882) and to the German Social Democratic Party
program (composed by K. Kautsky and adopted at
Erfurt in 1891, inspired by the ideas of Karl Marx and
Friedrich Engels). The Russian program of 1903 pro-
claimed its identity of purpose with the aim of social
democrats in all countries. It formulated the universal
ideas of Marxian socialism as it was understood up to
the World War of 1914-18.

According to these general ideas capitalist society
consists of a small privileged class, which owns the
means of production and exchange, and a huge majority
of proletarians or semiproletarians exploited by the
dominant minority. The inevitable evolution of this
society through technological advances, economic
crises, and imperialist wars only accentuates the
antagonistic interests and conflicts between the dimin
ishing minority and the growing majority, thus creating
conditions which bring about the replacement of capi-
talist production by the relations of socialist produc-
tion; in short, the achievement of a “social revolution.”
After replacing the private ownership of the means
of production by collectivist ownership, this revolution
would finally abolish the division of society into classes,
and would liberate all of oppressed mankind by putting
an end to the various forms of exploitation of labor,
manual or intellectual.

Besides the expression of these general principles,
the Russian program of 1903 departed nevertheless on
one point from the French and German programs:

The necessary condition of this social revolution is the
dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the seizure by the
proletariat of the political power which will enable it to
crush all resistance by the exploiters.

The source of this idea was the French socialist Louis
Auguste Blanqui, and its formula, if not the idea itself,
reappears very briefly in certain writings of Marx and
Engels; but they thought that the dictatorship of the
proletariat would be exercised democratically as a
transitional stage by the great majority of people
through universal suffrage. This dictatorship was, how-
ever, understood differently in Russia when the Social
Democratic Party there became divided and broke up
into two factions, Bolshevik and Menshivik, in conflict
with each other during the internal party struggles
preceding the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The rest of the 1903 program conformed to the
aspirations of all the socialist parties of the time, but
with certain features pertaining to the Tsarist autocracy.
It advocated the instauration of a democratic regime
with a single Parliament, elected by direct universal
suffrage and secret ballot available to all citizens; the
inviolability of person and home; freedom of con-
science, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of unions
and their right to strike; the equality of all before the
law without discrimination of sex, religion, race, or
nationality; the autonomous right of nations to govern
themselves; the replacement of a standing conscripted
army by a volunteer army of the people; the separation
of church and state; universal free education; the elim-
ination of indirect taxes; an eight hour workday and
a day of rest each week; and finally, a set of social
laws and measures to cover improved working condi-
tions for city workers and peasants, all of which was
to be brought about by a Constituent Assembly fully
elected by the people.

Such was the ideology of the Bolshevik Social Dem-
ocrats who seized power in 1917, eight months after
the first World War had caused the fall of Tsarism.
But between the former regime (March 1917) and the


Bolshevik coup (November 1917) a new sort of social
reality appeared, which the Party had not anticipated,
namely, the spontaneous creation of the “Soviets,” that
is, not well defined “councils” of delegates consisting
of laborers, peasants, soldiers. They assumed different
prerogatives, depending on the situations and circum-
stances, in the absence of representative legal and
established institutions. The two factions of social de-
mocracy, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, though claiming
the same program and proclaiming the necessity of a
sovereign “Constituent Assembly,” were bitterly op-
posed to each other on the granting of power to the
Soviets, in which the Bolsheviks finally won a substan-
tial majority.

After November 1917 the more radical social demo-
cratic ideology soon became the Soviets' specific ideol-
ogy, and because of its wish to maintain power, the
politically victorious party gradually relinquished the
essential features of its previous program. It idealized
the worst circumstances after making a virtue of ne-
cessity, and set up as lasting models the temporary
measures of expediency that were enforced contrary
to principles previously announced. It was to be the
new ideology decreed by the so-called dictatorship of
the proletariat, actually effected by the party which
monopolized the totality of power.

A rapid transformation was achieved in the course
of the civil war which broke loose after the military
coup had proclaimed “power to the Soviets.” All the
freedoms inscribed in the Party's program, the rights
of man and the rights of the people, universal suffrage,
democracy, and a parliament, and a fortiori, the end
of the army and the police, etc. became nothing more
than historical and literary memories. The Constituent
Assembly met on January 5, 1918 with the Bolsheviks
in a minority, and was dissolved the next morning by
force. The single party in power assumed the label
“Communist Party” in 1918 and decided on a new
program to be drawn up by Bukharin and Lenin; it
was adopted by the Eighth Congress of the Party in
1919. Approximately from that time on, the terms
“Communist” and “Soviet” became synonymous, and
the official ideology of the regime consists in justifying
by code and propaganda all the practices contrary to
the Party's theories but dictated by circumstances in
order to support and perpetuate the new power.

While Lenin was alive, the ideology of Soviet com-
munism flowed chiefly from his personal views with
various changes at times, from his new articles, his
speeches, and his books. However, an ever deepening
abyss occurs between theory and practice; ideas more
or less well argued remain academic, whereas actions
constitute reality whose expression becomes in effect
the actual Soviet ideology. Lenin's Marxism, already
adapted to specifically Russian conditions, takes on an
original character by underscoring certain disputable
or challenged ideas, or by accentuating in any case,
nonessential ones borrowed from Marx and Engels.

More particularly, between the two Russian revolu-
tions of 1917, Lenin developed and formulated theories
of the State considered simply as the instrument of
domination by the propertied classes. He maintained
that the advent of the proletariat to power, in reality,
the dictatorship of his party, which he identified as
the “conscious avant-garde” of the proletariat, would
determine by itself the withering away of the State,
that is to say, the progressive extinction of the bu-
reaucracy, of the police, and of the army, supplanted
by the benevolent, direct administration of the people.
All public offices being elective and all office holders
being subject to recall at any moment by their electors,
what would follow would be the disappearance of all
class superiority, of all privilege, of all parasitism, and
the realization of this masterpiece of Lenin's plan, as
the supplement to the Party's program, would finally
attain the realization of the anarchistic ideal.

However, during the course of a half century or
more, reality has continued to belie the fiction; the
Soviet State far from withering away has continued
to grow in power, attaining an omnipotence never
before known in history; the professional bureaucracy,
the secret police, and the army as a vocation compose
the strongest apparatus of coercion the world has ever
seen. Distinctly separate from the people, a stranger
to the nation, the single Party retains exclusively all
the political and economic privileges, controlling the
State as its private property while the utopia on its
books remains inseparable from the communist ideol-
ogy (cf. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Petrograd
[1918]; countless editions in all languages).

The government defines itself as being the “dictator-
ship of the proletariat,” contradicting the theory of
the withering away of the State until its extinction,
and Lenin did not fear declaring that the dictatorship
signifies “unlimited power depending on violence and
not on law.” He repeated time and again that “the
scientific acceptance of the dictatorship is nothing
more than a power which can provide no limits, that
no law nor absolute rule can restrain, and which is
based specifically on violence” (On the History of the
in Lenin's Works, 3rd ed., Moscow [1937],
Vol. 25).

Moreover Lenin was to recognize that his Party,
once it was in complete command of the State and
of the means of production, was in the hands of a real
“oligarchy,” namely, the Central Committee and its
Politburo, with the power to decide everything and
to subordinate the many organizations called “soviets”


(Lenin, Infantile Malady of Leftism in Communism,
St. Petersburg [1920], in numerous editions in all lan-
guages). The official ideology registers this remark of
Lenin's on “the oligarchy,” even while it persists in
asserting that the power of the Soviets belongs to the
city workers and to the peasants organized sponta-
neously in Soviets, but which have lost their original
character and are appointed by authority from above,
i.e., through the corresponding echelons of the Party.

Even after the Civil War (1917-21), while conflicts
resolved by sheer force were stamped in his memory,
Lenin specifically prescribed in the Penal Code
(1922) the use of terror, asserting its “justification or
legitimacy” in “the broadest possible” manner; the ap-
plication of capital punishment was left to the decision
of judges recruited at random (cf. Lenin's Complete
5th ed., Moscow [1964], 45, 190). Apologies for
the use of terror, paralleling its growing intensive
application, increased in proportion as the original
causes invoked to motivate such terror kept losing any
basis in reality, to the point of becoming nonexistent.

In this regard, Soviet ideology admitted that methods
of repression and oppression in the service of a despotic
“oligarchy” were turned over to the secret police;
growing in numbers soon beyond count, ubiquitous,
skilled in jailing, tormenting, judging, deporting, and
executing millions of defenseless victims in disregard
of all legal forms, of all guarantees of justice, this
unprecedented body of police became an actual State
within the State.

Nevertheless the old socialist program of the Party
had remained unchanged, held in common by the
Menshevik social democrats and the new Bolshevik
communists, but when a new program was adopted
in 1919, with its first part largely reproducing the 1903
program, the term “social democracy” was replaced
by “Communist Party.” There was added to the old
text a thesis dear to Lenin, namely imperialism as the
“supreme stage of capitalism,” corresponding to the
evolution of capitalism in “putrefaction” and opening
up, it seemed, “the era of the universal socialist revo-
lution.” This thesis, dating back to 1916, was obviously
shown to be false by tangible historical facts but it
remained an integral part of communist ideology, for
it subsists in the third program of the Party elaborated
during a period of about thirty years and ratified by
the twenty-second Communist Congress in 1961. While
Lenin was alive the theory inherited from the socialist
past remained unchanged, but thereafter it was aug-
mented by new ideas that were inspired by the impro-
vised practices of the bolshevism that came into power.

The Soviet ideology, as received from its creator,
rests first on the dogma of absolute materialism, which
presupposes that matter exists independently of human
consciousness or sensations, and implies that material
conditions determine all historical phenomena, social
and spiritual. Lenin and his intellectual disciples think,
as did J. J. Rousseau, that man was innocent in the
beginning, but lost his innocence through his contact
with a corrupt society, more precisely with the capi-
talist world. By abolishing private ownership of the
means of production and by forbidding the exploitation
of labor by a minority of property owners, the Soviet
regime was gradually to suppress class differences; it
would allow workers to blossom out in complete free-
dom while giving the best of themselves to society.
The idea then was to undertake the establishing of
socialism by stages, developing to its logical goal along
the lines stated by the principle: “From each according
to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” the
goal of communism.

However, Lenin, contrary to his explicit doctrine,
employed the terms “socialism” and “communism”
indifferently during the first years of his regime. If by
“ideology” we mean the cluster of principles and ideas
professed by a given group of people, then the Soviet
ideology appears to be more and more elusive in pro-
portion to the ways in which the march of events and
succession of historical facts impose on this group's
thinkers (especially on its leading thinker) variations
of language, terminology, and opinion which belie the
initial intentions and diminish the chances of rendering
a coherent translation. Lenin's successive trenchant
declarations intermingling strategy and tactics, marked
by a realism belatedly contradicting academic utopi-
anism, continue to be corrected, superseded, and re-
futed to such an extent that Soviet ideology is becom-
ing unrecognizable from one year to the next.

In his commentary on the new program of 1919,
Lenin expounded the view that “the program of a
Marixt party should be founded on facts established
with absolute certainty” (“Marxist,” “socialist,” and
“communist” were synonyms for Lenin). The specific-
ally Soviet ideology was thus the reflection of the
Leninist union of “practice” with the “theory” of the
former social-democratic party. By “absolute certainty”
he meant the “fact” that the decay of capitalism leads
to imperialism and that “the era of social revolution
on a worldwide scale” begins with the seizure of power
by the Bolshevik party in Russia, the prelude to the
institution of socialism in the whole world. But, Lenin
remarks, “as to stating what the achieved socialism will
look like, we simply do not know.” For he emphasizes
the fact that “we do not have enough material to
enable us to define socialism. The bricks to be used
in the building of socialism are not yet made.”

What Lenin believed he did know with scientific
certainty was that socialism meant “the suppression


of class distinctions”; now, “so long as there will con-
tinue to be urban workers and peasants, there will be
different classes, and consequently there will be no
integral socialism.” At the same time he judged that
“the dictatorship of the proletariat is the extension of
the proletarian class's struggle in new forms.” On an-
other occasion he would say that socialism is “book-
keeping.” But he would agree that “our attempt to
pass immediately to communism has rewarded us with
defeat....” He confessed that “we have thought it
possible... to pass directly to the construction of
socialism,” and he stated elsewhere that “we have been
vanquished in our attempt to bring about socialism by
assault.” Thus communism and socialism, at this stage
of his reflection, were interchangeable ideas. And at
the end of an ill considered policy, which tended to
ruin the stages of social evolution, he proposed
“abandoning the immediate construction of socialism
in order to fall back on state capitalism in many eco-
nomic matters.” Thus socialism, communism, and state
capitalism coexist intermingled with a problematic

In speaking of state capitalism as defining the “new
economic policy” (abbreviated as NEP), Lenin in 1921
put an end to the preceding economic policy which
he called “war communism.” But among the leading
ideologists of the Party an obscure debate and contro-
versy arose as to whether the NEP was to be considered
a form of state capitalism or state socialism, with no
conclusive result. For the soviet “intelligentsia,” after
Lenin's death in 1924, the terms socialism, war com-
munism, and state capitalism amounted to an uncertain
and very confused doctrine.

The disturbed period which followed brought no
clarification; on the contrary, when the leaders of the
Party became increasingly and actively hostile to tra-
ditional religions, taunting, repressing, and persecuting
them mercilessly, they soon saw to it that an atheis-
tic substitute for religion was systematically instituted,
namely, the cult of Lenin's personality; they are both
the officiating priests and beneficiaries of that materi-
alistic cult. After various crises, in the course of which
the major ideas imposed on the population were those
selected from the works of Lenin, complicated by
contradictions and uncertainties, a new order of ideas
was framed and steadily imposed under the banner of
“Leninism,” namely, the views of a new leader, Stalin.
The verbal similarities remain deceptive.

The term “Leninism” was not in use in Soviet Russia
under Lenin, who would not tolerate it, for he claimed
that his doctrine was simply “Marxism.” By “Marxism,”
of course, he meant his particular interpretation of it,
which was sharply disputed by socialists of other
tendencies. The two main factions of the Party, strug
gling with each other for the succession to Lenin,
elaborated Leninism in contradictory ways, each
claiming to be the true continuators of Lenin. This
system implies the myth of Lenin's infallibility and
developed into a sort of complex theology with its
dogma, mystique, and scholasticism; as a new ideology,
it was not only soviet but ecumenical, since it was
propagated in all countries by the Communist Interna-
tional (Comintern) and by many auxiliary public and
secret organizations with branches throughout the

Stalin first formulated the Leninist creed (after
Lenin's burial), then the first catechism, Principles of
(Moscow, 1926), and the articles of faith,
Questions on Leninism (Moscow, 1926). Subsequently,
having decreed that Leninism was “the Marxism of the
age of imperialism,” Stalin deemed it necessary to
establish a link with Karl Marx. The expression
“Marxism-Leninism” was adopted to stand for the body
of Stalin's judgments and aphorisms; it is known outside
the Soviet Union as “Stalinism.”

The ideology of Marxism-Leninism, that is to say,
Stalinism, reflects the mass of empirical measures de-
creed by Stalin in order to maintain and perpetuate
himself in power as long as possible. From the verbal
heritage of Marxism and Leninism the ideology retains
the outer husk of the words in defiance of the kernel;
it invokes the word which kills at the expense of the
spirit which gives life. The socialist phraseology per-
sisted while the exploitation of man by man increased
even to a greater degree than in any Western capitalist
country. The international revolutionary preaching
continued; in 1924 Stalin predicted worldwide revolu-
tion, whereas in 1925 he was compelled to recognize
the facts when he definitely admitted the “stabilization
of capitalism.” Lenin, who understood the necessity
of the NEP, had stressed that it should be enforced
“seriously and for a long time”; Stalin suppressed it
at short notice remarking that Lenin had not said
“forever.” The right of nationalities to self-determina-
tion, to settle their own affairs (disposer d'eux-mêmes),
including the right to break away from Russia, a right
about which Lenin had theorized for many years, was
definitely denied to ethnic groups who were subjected
to increasing national oppression, much worse than the
relentless political oppression and social and economic
exploitation from which all people under the com-
munist oligarchy suffer.

Stalin's “Marxist-Leninist” ideology assumed the
contrary of the thesis of Marx and Lenin in Stalin's
claim that socialism could be attained in one country,
more exactly, Russia. In vain did Lenin write in 1918
that socialism is inconceivable for only one country,
“even less backward than Russia.” On this point he


really did not vary, even though he had earlier, in 1915,
seen the victory of socialism possible in only one coun-
try, but in the sense in which one party, called socialist,
acceded to power; and even in 1923 when he believed
it possible to hope for a transformation of the commer-
cial economy by means of widespread “cooperation,”
freely agreed to, and which would take “a whole era
of cultural development of the masses.” Basically he
says unequivocally: “It is very doubtful whether the
next generation will be able to realize socialism in all
its spheres.” The following year he repeats: “We can-
not actually introduce a socialist regime here; God
wills that it should be installed by our children, perhaps
even by our grandchildren.” And finally, in his last
article in 1923: “We are not sufficiently civilized to
proceed directly to socialism, although we have the
political premises.” However, in 1932 Stalin decided
that the basis of socialism was established in his coun-
try, and in 1936 he would celebrate “the total victory
of the socialist system in all spheres of the national
economy.” The word, socialism, had changed its

Lenin had developed many times the theme which
Stalin disregarded while pretending to respect it: “So-
cialism is impossible without democracy”; but Stalin-
ism was the antithesis of democracy and of socialism,
even while it proclaimed to the whole world that the
Soviet Constitution was “the most democratic in the
world.” In fact Stalin's regime turned out to be more
“totalitarian” than fascism, a term which Mussolini
invented. But Soviet totalitarianism through its
chauvinism, militarism, and anti-Semitism shows its
kinship chiefly with German “national-socialism.” It
surpasses all previous and contemporary regimes of
terrorism by carrying out on the reverse side of its
ideology and with unbridled violence the forced “col-
lectivization” of the countryside, which involved a
hecatomb of cattle, and sacrifice of millions of human

Here again we have evidence of the flagrant
antinomy in the repeated prescriptions of Lenin favor-
ing the overwhelming majority of peasants, although
the prescriptions were camouflaged in a slogan which
became classical: “the alliance of the proletariat and
the peasants.” The height of the repudiation of socialist
ideology, or of genuine communism, was reached when
Stalin concluded a pact with Hitler in order to throw
the second World War out of gear; with a stroke of
the pen Stalin soon suppressed the Communist Inter-
national, the creation of Lenin who had assigned to
the Comintern a role of fundamental importance in
his dream of world revolution.

Whereas Stalinism made unrelenting use of the
same terminology to justify everything and the oppo
site of everything during climactic crises and turning
points of history, circumstances compelled the Soviet
Union to draw closer to the really democratic nations
when it needed temporary alliances to carry out its
great “patriotic war against the Berlin-Rome axis.”
Stalin then changed his language in order to praise
England and the United States, who contributed an
enormous amount of material aid and saved the Soviet
regime; ideology was adapted to the circumstances.
Once the danger was over, Stalin returned to his posi-
tion of systematic hostility to the Western democracies,
and modified the ideology again in order to bring it
into conformity with his politics, strategy, and tactics;
he kept on denouncing an undefined “imperialism,”
and in particular the United States. At the same time
he proclaimed a doctrine of “peaceful coexistence” to
cover subversive activities operating underground and
undermining the free world. He supported and stirred
up social disturbances everywhere and encouraged
local wars. He used the rostrum and lobbies of the
United Nations to sow dissension, poison relations, and
provoke discord. After his death the epigons persevered
in the same Marxist-Leninism dissociating themselves
to some extent from the homicidal practices which had
horrified public opinion all over the world. These fol-
lowers persist in preserving the heritage of an ideology
fabricated of fiction and myth. Such is the ideology
of Soviet communism, an ideology which does no more
than make one aware of the realities it conceals.


Everything concerning Lenin is in the collections of his
works of which there exist (in Russian) five editions, each
more complete than the last, though not quite complete
yet; they are augmented by copious annotations presenting
a great many variants and contradictions. Cf. Lenin, Works,
first edition in 20 vols. (Moscow, 1924-27); third edition
in 30 vols. (Moscow, 1927-35); Complete Works, fifth edition
in 55 vols. (Moscow, 1958-65). The second and third editions
are similar; the fourth is to be avoided.

Stalin's texts up to January 1934 are found in the collec-
tion called Works in 13 vols. (Moscow, 1946-51), the publi-
cation of which was held up after the death of the author.
A supplement of three volumes covering the years 1934-53,
edited by Robert H. McNeal, was published by the Hoover
Institution (Stanford, 1967).

All matters pertaining to the ideology and life in the
Soviet Union, except those that are state secrets, are treated
in the encyclopedias and dictionaries the successive editions
of which reveal the official versions and reflect the changes
between editions. Cf. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia in 65
vols. (Moscow, 1931-47); 2nd ed. in 51 vols. (Moscow,
1949-58); The Small Soviet Encyclopedia, 10 vols. (Moscow,
1930-31); 2nd ed., 11 vols. (Moscow, 1933-47); 3rd ed., 11
vols. (Moscow, 1958-61). Small Philosophical Dictionary


(Moscow, 1952); 4th ed., (Moscow, 1954). Political-Dictionary
(Moscow, 1940; 1958). Diplomatic Dictionary, 2 vols.
(Moscow, 1948-50); 3 vols. (Moscow, 1960-64).


[See also Historical and Dialectical Materialism; Marxism;
Marxist Revisionism; Social Democracy; Socialism; State;