Vitaly Vygodsky

Lenin's Karl Marx

Written: Unknown
First Published: Unknown
Source: Great Soviet Encyclopedia
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Copyleft: Internet Archive( 20014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons License.

Karl Marx (a Brief Biographical Sketch With an Exposition of Marxism) 

An article written by V. I. Lenin in 1914 for the Granat Encyclopedia. Lenin worked on the article in Poronin (Galicia) in the spring and in Bern (Switzerland) in the fall. It was completed in November 1914. In a letter to the editors of Granat Publishing House dated Nov. 4 (17), 1914, Lenin wrote: “I have sent you today by registered post the article on Marx and Marxism for the dictionary. It is not for me to judge how far I have succeeded in solving the difficult problem of squeezing the exposition into a framework of about 75, 000 letters and spaces. I will observe that I had to compress the literature very intensively …, and I had to select the essence of various tendencies (of course, with the majority for Marx). It was difficult to make up my mind to renounce many quotations from Marx … Readers of the dictionary should have available all the most important statements by Marx, otherwise the purpose of the dictionary would not be achieved. That is how it seemed to me” (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 49, p. 31).

After a brief biographical sketch of the main stages of the life and work of K. Marx as a scholar and revolutionary, Lenin expounded Marx’ doctrine, which was a continuation and completion of classical German philosophy, classical English political economy, and French socialism (ibid., p. 50). In particular, he noted the remarkable consistency and integrity of Marx’ views, “whose totality constitutes modern materialism and modern scientific socialism, as the theory and program of the working-class movement in all the civilized countries of the world” (ibid., pp. 50–51). Thus, Lenin considered it necessary “to present a brief outline of his world-conception in general, prior to giving an exposition of the principal content of Marxism, namely, Marx’ economic doctrine” (ibid., p. 51).

Lenin demonstrates that Marx’ philosophical materialism not only is opposed to the various forms of idealism, but also differs fundamentally from pre-Marxist materialism, which was for the most part mechanistic, which did not consistently adhere to the ideas of development, and which did not comprehend the significance of the practical revolutionary activity of people. Marx and Engels perceived Hegelian dialectics as “the most comprehensive and profound doctrine of development, and the richest in content” (ibid., p. 53), and they consistently extended materialism to the sphere of social phenomena. This made it possible to search out the roots of social phenomena in the degree of development of material production and to investigate, with the precision of the natural sciences, the social conditions of life of various classes of society and the process of emergence, development, and decline of social and economic structures. Further on, Lenin gives an account of the most important features of the theory of classes and class struggle, and he reveals the place of this theory in the general system of Marx’ views.

Noting that “Marx’ economic doctrine is the most profound, comprehensive, and detailed confirmation and application of his theory” (ibid., p. 60), Lenin characterized in detail the analysis of the productive relations of bourgeois society which Marx laid out in Das Kapital and singled out the most important features of this doctrine: the analysis of the commodity and of money, and the theories of surplus value, accumulation of capital and crises of overproduction, social reproduction, and ground rent. Having examined the main features of Marx’ economic doctrine, Lenin concluded that “Marx deduces the inevitability of the transformation of capitalist into socialist society wholly and exclusively from the economic law of the development of contemporary society” (ibid., p. 73).

A separate section of Lenin’s article is devoted to Marx’ views on the theory of class struggle. Marx exposed as one of the many shortcomings of old-style materialism its inability to understand the conditions and significance of revolutionary activity. Throughout his life, along with working out scientific theory, Marx devoted great attention to questions of tactics in the class struggle of the proletariat. “Marx justly considered that, without this aspect, materialism is incomplete, one-sided, and lifeless” (ibid., p. 77). The consideration of the objectively inevitable dialectics of human history, the program and tactics of economic struggle and of the trade-union movement, the tactics of political struggle for the proletariat, the correlation of the legal and illegal forms of that struggle, the support of the revolutionary initiatives of the masses—these, according to Lenin, are the basic questions of proletarian tactics worked out by Marx.

Lenin’s article concludes with a special section that gives an extensive bibliography on Marx and Marxism. Describing Marx’ work, as well as the literature about him and about Marxism, Lenin noted the need to study the works of F. Engels in order to evaluate Marx’ views correctly. “It is impossible to understand Marxism,” he wrote, “and to propound it fully without taking into account all the works of Engels” (ibid., p. 93).