I’ve been listening to the rhetoric and propaganda emanating from the Bernie Sanders campaign and the media bootlickers who cover him, and found myself increasingly disturbed by the tenor. It sounded remarkably familiar to the rhetoric from socialism’s tragic past. I took a dive into Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary tract, State and Revolution, to see how much common ground there is between these two self-aggrandizing, power hungry sociopaths. To my dismay, I discovered more than a few parallels between Sanders’ pugilistic bluster and Lenin’s.
Tragic similarities notwithstanding, I have to give Lenin credit where credit is due. He doesn’t mince words. State and Revolution is completely blunt about the totalitarian ambitions of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. You can learn a lot about totalitarianism by reading the words of totalitarians. He is remarkably forthright about his communist ambitions and the role of the state in this book. It’s also infinitely more readable than pretentious wanks like Das Kapital. In this regard, State and Revolution is a useful document by which to compare Sanders’ rhetoric and agenda. Sanders is an elected official seeking the highest office in the land, has a reputation as a truth speaking contrarian and certainly demonstrates an ability to be blunt in his own right. The book reveals where Sanders’ rhetoric and ambition are similar to Lenin as well as his tendency to indulge in deceptive platitudes in order to shade and distort the nature of state power and the cold truth about his agenda.
State and Revolution has truth value as a statement of intention, but it is also batshit crazy with delusion and sophistry. Lenin expounds upon his insane notions about the withering away of the state and the era of classless emancipation that will somehow magically materialize from the proletarian “smashing of the state”. These lunatic ravings mirror the gauzy weasel words and unattainable promises Sanders deploys in his own rhetorical grifts.
Since Marx’ predictions of widespread socialist revolution never came to fruition in the revolutions of 1848 or the failed Paris Commune of 1871, Lenin published this tract in order to bridge the divide between Marx’ unfulfilled predictions and the Bolshevik revolution he’d been actively cultivating. Subsequently, State and Revolution has become the cornerstone of what has become known as Leninist Marxism.
According to classical Marxist theory and its Hegelian view of historical inevitability, the forces of production would reach a sufficient level of maturity that when the revolutionary proletariat would take their rightful place at the helm of society, the era of classless emancipation would naturally unfold. However, in 1917, Russia was hardly a developed industrial economy ripe for a proletarian revolution. Not a problem, according to Lenin. What the proletariat need is a revolutionary vanguard to lead a violent revolution and hasten things along a bit.
In State and Revolution, Lenin opens with what he argues is the correct role of the state and that his thesis is, in fact, grounded in Marxist canon.
Lenin and by extension, Engels and Marx, are completely correct about the nature of state power. The state is an agency of violence.
Hit it, Vlad:
The state is a special organization of force: it is an organization of violence for the suppression of some class. What class must the proletariat suppress? Naturally, only the exploiting class, i.e., the bourgeoisie. The working people need the state only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat can direct this suppression, can carry it out. For the proletariat is the only class that is consistently revolutionary, the only class that can unite all the working and exploited people in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, in completely removing it.
The problem, of course, is his conflation of state power with capitalist economics. To Lenin and Marx and many progressives, they are one and the same. Marxist doctrine posits that capitalism is inherently expropriative, but the apparatus of the state must be controlled in order to “expropriate the expropriators”. The proletarian revolution will only come about by using the suppressive, violent force of the state against the bourgeoisie. The era of emancipation that follows is a given and a historical inevitability.
Lenin simultaneously reveals the sheer elitist contempt he holds for the oppressed class he professes to represent as well as supremacist delusions he has and ascribes solely to the proletariat class. After all, they are the only class that is consistently revolutionary. The proletariat are incapable of emancipating themselves, so they require a revolutionary vanguard to lead the revolution for them.
The cultish devotion and absolutist mentality of Sanders voters and their apparently unshakable faith in his promises of bread and circuses and retribution against the bourgeois 1% is no different from Lenin.
Compare the messianic self-righteousness and megalomania of their allegedly prole-positive sentiments. Lenin contends the following:
Only he is a Marxist who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Sanders’ proclamation of the purity of his progressivism:
Lenin argues that the “withering away of the state” will ensue after the proletariat have taken control of and “smashed” the machinery of the state. This is the exact type of rhetoric that’s deployed by socialist agitators, media sycophants and Sanders himself.
This course of events compels the revolution “to concentrate all its forces of destruction” against the state power, and to set itself the aim, not of improving the state machine, but of smashing and destroying it.
Compare these sentiments to those expressed by Slate toady, Jim Newell, in describing the aims of Sanders’ “political revolution”:
The Vermont senator doesn’t want to bring Republicans and Democrats together. He means to tear it all down.
Lenin was similarly dismissive of “opportunists” who tried to negotiate with the liberal bourgeoisie of the democratic state. Sanders attitude towards the billionaire class is equally hostile and describes them as being “on the warpath” in the Newell piece.
Opportunism does not extend recognition of the class struggle to the cardinal point, to the period of transition from capitalism to communism, of the overthrow and the complete abolition of the bourgeoisie. In reality, this period inevitably is a period of an unprecedently violent class struggle in unprecedentedly acute forms, and, consequently, during this period the state must inevitably be a state that is democratic in a new way (for the proletariat and the propertyless in general) and dictatorial in a new way (against the bourgeoisie).
Newell elaborates further on Sanders’ goals:
He campaigns on a promise to turn the whole thing upside down, to create a grassroots “political revolution” that will give him the mandate to bring working- and middle-class people together to overwhelm the “billionaire class” into submission.
Lenin’s ambitions sound pretty similar:
It is still necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and crush their resistance. This was particularly necessary for the Commune; and one of the reasons for its defeat was that it did not do this with sufficient determination. The organ of suppression, however, is here the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, serfdom, and wage slavery. And since the majority of people itself suppresses its oppressors, a ‘special force’ for suppression is no longer necessary! In this sense, the state begins to wither away. Instead of the special institutions of a privileged minority (privileged officialdom the chiefs of the standing army), the majority itself can directly fulfil all these functions, and the more the functions of state power are performed by the people as a whole, the less need there is for the existence of this power.
Sanders routinely inveighs against the corrupt political system which favors the billionaire class over the poor and middle-class. Lenin engaged in an identical form of demagoguery.
But from this capitalist democracy that is inevitably narrow and stealthily pushes aside the poor, and is therefore hypocritical and false through and throughforward development does not proceed simply, directly and smoothly, towards “greater and greater democracy”, as the liberal professors and petty bourgeois opportunists would have us believe. No, forward development, i.e., development towards communism, proceeds through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and cannot do otherwise, for the resistance of the capitalist exploiters cannot be broken by anyone else or in any other way. And the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., the organization of the vanguard of the oppress.
One of the more striking resemblances between the rhetoric of Sanders and Lenin is their mutual obsession with forcibly imposing a theoretically equalized bureaucratic order modeled after the postal service.
Lenin proposes the following:
To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service so that the technicians, foremen and accountants, as well as all officials, shall receive salaries no higher than “a workman’s wage”, all under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat that is our immediate aim. This is what will bring about the abolition of parliamentarism and the preservation of representative institutions. This is what will rid the laboring classes of the bourgeoisie’s prostitution of these institutions.
Contrast these proposals with those proffered by Comrade Sanders:
We need to stop payday lenders from ripping off millions of Americans. Post offices exist in almost every community in our country. One important way to provide decent banking opportunities for low income communities is to allow the U.S. postal Service to engage in basic banking services, and that’s what I will fight for.
How do they differ? I’m not convinced they do.
Sanders makes a very big deal out of the inclusion of the word “democratic” when he speaks of “democratic socialism”, but Lenin is much more forthright about the nature of democracy.
No, democracy is not identical with the subordination of the minority to the majority. Democracy is a state which recognizes the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e., an organization for the systematic use of force by one class against another, by one section of the population against another.
Sanders has been garnering enthusiasm for his calls for “political revolution”, but this excerpt of Engels referenced by Lenin sheds a brighter light on what that means.
Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon, all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries.
Fundamentally, Bernie Sanders is promoting an agenda which has few differences from Lenin. The rhetoric is softer and the platitudes are attuned to American sensibilities, but the agenda is forcible confiscation, redistribution, unlimited monetary expansion, arbitrary equalization and bureaucratization of economic life.
Karl Marx was recently cited as the most assigned “economist” in colleges. After decades of leftist policy including central banking, regulation, price and wage controls, progressive taxation, public education and the entire welfare state apparatus, the ascendancy of Bernie Sanders’ campaign is a sad consequence of the indoctrination of statist economic orthodoxy and the phony pretense of Marxism’s Fight the Power pugilism. Marxist doctrine offers several convenient advantages for the power hungry politician. Not only does it provide a ready made analytical lens with which to diagnose society’s ills and lay blame at the feet of an omnipresent capitalist boogeyman, it’s an agenda of greed, vengeance and spite painted over with a fig leaf of moral righteousness.
Ironically, when you strip away the delusions of the “withering away of the state”, Lenin had some keen observations about the democratic republic.
To decide once every few years which members of the ruling class is to repress and crush the people through parliament. This is the real essence of bourgeois parliamentarism, not only in parliamentary constitutional monarchies, but also in the most democratic republics.
Based on the policy initiatives being championed by Sanders, we can predict what will come to pass if he were to be elected and his policies enacted. Somehow, socialism manages to escape all criticism and its current champions are always able to promote the idea that It’s Going to Be Different When We Do It.
Sadly, Sanders is also driven by the same repressive desire to centralize, command and dictate from on high that drove Lenin, but Lenin was far more blunt about his ultimate goals of “Equality.”
The whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labor and pay.
If only Sanders could be that honest.