Why Didn't Lenin Believe in Democracy?

Vladimir Lenin, depicted here, believed that democracy privileged the propertied classes at the expense of the workers.
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On the one hand, the communist ideology of Vladimir Lenin seems naturally democratic: he believed that the people, specifically the workers or the proletariat, needed a voice. Yet on the other hand democracy was an anathema to Lenin, as it privileged those with money over those without. To Lenin, democracy became the system of government that benefited the bourgeois, or propertied middle classes, rather than the proletariat.

1 Marx and Engels

Lenin's ideology was based on the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who in 1848 authored “The Communist Manifesto,” a document that succinctly outlined the problems of democracy and capitalism. “Manifesto” argues that all history is that of class struggle, and that society was now witnessing a struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx would also later write “Das Kapital,” a longer and more theoretical work that expanded upon the principles laid out in “Manifesto.”

2 The Bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie were defined as the propertied middle class who owned the means of production, and as Marx, Engels and later Lenin would argue, they built their success on the backs of the workers through the systems of capitalism and democracy. This exploitation was the result of private property, which allowed the bourgeois to continue accumulating capital and thus getting wealthier and wealthier, as well as the wage economy that forced workers to compete with each other.

3 The Proletariat

These workers were referred to as the proletariat, and to Marx, Engels and Lenin, they needed to work together to overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize the means of production. In “Das Kapital,” Marx argued that this was the natural evolution of society, from capitalism dominated by the bourgeoisie to socialism and communism dominated by the proletariat. Democracy, to these thinkers, was an early stage of society, in which capitalism kept the proletariat unjustly subdued.

4 The Soviet Union

Lenin attempted to make Marx's ideas a reality in Russia. In 1917, in the middle of World War I, a series of revolutions in Russia led to Lenin's Bolshevik Party gaining control of Russia. Lenin, however, had little time to try to make communism a reality: in 1924 he died of a stroke, and Joseph Stalin emerged as leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin would, over the course of 30 years, corrupt Lenin's communist ideology and become a dictator.

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.