This talk was presented July 31 on the Workers World Party webinar titled “Lenin and the working class.” Go to youtube.com/watch?v=bNLB1b3tFKY to view the entire webinar.
This is the first of several discussions leading up to the International Assembly Against Imperialism, which will be held in January 2024 on the 100th anniversary of the death of Vladimir I. Lenin.
Lenin was an anti-imperialist to the core, in every bone of his body. He explained that imperialism was, at that time, the highest stage of capitalism. He wanted to eliminate capitalism and imperialism altogether — not just give them a phony “human face.” Toward this end, Lenin was a revolutionary Marxist, one who not only embraced the theories of Marx, but who advanced the science of Marxism.
In 1848, in the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about capitalism, recognizing the role of the working class as its “gravediggers.” With words that are even truer today than they were 175 years ago, they wrote:
“Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells…The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property. …
“The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand, by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.
“The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.
“But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the people who are to wield those weapons – the modern working class – the proletarians.”
Lenin fought an ideological struggle to defend revolutionary Marxism at a time when some so-called “Marxists” were revising Marxism and suggesting that the workers revolution was no longer a valid concept. Lenin fought these “revisionists” in a furious fashion.
Lenin’s view of the working class is so important today, with so many workers in our global class struggling just to make ends meet, especially workers of color, here and in the Global South. And capitalism is threatening the world’s inhabitants with endless war and a climate catastrophe.
We again need to revive and elevate this fundamental principle of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism – that the working class is a revolutionary class. It is the revolutionary class whose historic mission is to bring forth the downfall of the capitalist system of exploitation — and by doing so usher in a whole new phase of human development.
Martha Grevatt is a long time member of Workers World Party’s Cleveland branch and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper. She has served on the executive board of United Auto Workers Local 869.