Differences Between Marxism & Leninism

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Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilych Lenin were two of the key thinkers in the history of communist ideology. It was Marx who founded the system in the original “Communist Manifesto” with fellow German, Friedrich Engels. Lenin attempted to form his own interpretation of this ideology to lead the proletarian October Revolution in his home country of Russia in 1917.

1 Theory vs. Practicality

The ideology that Marx developed was chiefly theoretical in nature. Leninism was an attempt to translate Marxism into the real world; but in the transition from philosophy to reality, Lenin broke from Marx‘s strategy in a number of ways. He believed that these changes were necessary to make Marxism work in Russia.

2 Economic Views

Lenin was forced to look at economic matters in much more detail than Marx. Marx had envisioned communist revolutions taking place in more developed and advanced capitalist states, but Lenin’s communism was implemented in Russia, an economically stagnant country mainly inhabited by peasant farmers. Economic and industrial development became a key task in Leninism, while Marx had assumed that his revolutions would take place in countries that already had well-developed industrial and financial infrastructures.

3 Imperialism

Marxist theory held that proletarian revolution was inevitable in capitalist states, as ruling states would suppress moves toward socialism, thus incurring the revolutionary wrath of the working classes. Lenin argued that the expansion of imperialism meant that the working classes never developed this revolutionary consciousness -- the expanding powers and wealth of the industrialized nations meant they could provide their working classes with just enough capital and benefits to dampen any revolutionary feelings.

4 Party Politics

Marx believed that the working classes would spontaneously develop class consciousness and push for proletarian revolution. Lenin did not believe this, and he supported the formation of a political party to inform the working classes and direct their efforts against the capitalist system. Lenin believed that it would take an organized and professional political party to break the workers from the capitalist trade-union mindset into a truly revolutionary state of mind. It was for these reasons that he formed the Bolshevik Party, which seized power in Russia in 1917.

5 Dictatorship of the Proletariat

The development of Lenin’s ideas about a “vanguard” party leading the proletarian revolution developed into the notion of a centralized governing party, a communist party, which would rule on behalf of the working classes. Instead of Marx’s ideals of a “dictatorship of the proletariat,” Lenin’s Russia was led by a dictatorship of the Communist Party, whose leaders simply assumed they knew what was best for the working classes. After Lenin’s death, Josef Stalin carried this even further, developing a totalitarian dictatorship.

Philip Sim has been writing professionally since 2008. He has been published in "The Guardian," as well as regional newspapers in Aberdeen, Scotland. Sim is working toward a Master of Science in journalism from Robert Gordon University, and holds a Master of Arts in politics and international relations from the University of Dundee.