The centrality of hegemony

150 years after his birth, how to evaluate Lenin and his ideas? Lars T Lih emphasises his consistency

Lenin has been identified in many ways. His admirers might describe him as the father of the Soviet Union, the founder of the international communist movement or a great Marxist theorist. His detractors might weigh in with ‘fanatical sectarian’ and/or ‘supremely cynical elitist’ and/or ‘demagogue supreme’ - or perhaps simply founder of the Soviet Union. But let us work on a new and original plan: let us consider how Lenin himself consistently defined his own political identity, and then try to put that identity into historical context.

For most of his political career, Lenin self-identified as a leader of “revolutionary social democracy” in Russia. “Revolutionary social democracy” was the name given to the left wing of international social democracy during the era of the Second International in the decades before World War I. In 1917-18, Lenin rejected the label ‘social democrat’ in favour of ‘communist’, because he felt that the banner of social democracy had been dragged in the mud by the western European parties who supported the war effort of their respective governments. However, this name-change was not a rejection, but rather an anguished affirmation of his political identity. In Lenin’s mind, he was the one who remained true to the tenets of pre-war revolutionary social democracy, while the leaders of most other parties in the Second International were renegades who had betrayed the faith. As a consequence, his wartime writings aggressively insisted on his own unoriginality, claiming that his case was based firmly on the pre-war consensus of revolutionary social democracy.

In order to understand Lenin’s political identity, then, we should not be too hasty and focus just on what was individual to him alone. We should start in the early 1890s, when the young Vladimir Ulyanov was forming his political identity, and look with his eyes at the socialist movement in western Europe. Marx and Engels stood out from other socialist currents - not so much in their conception of the nature of socialist society as in their conception of the path to socialism. While other socialists saw socialism as something brought to the workers to relieve their suffering, Marx and Engels saw it as something created by the workers, acting as a class. The core of Marx’s legacy to revolutionary social democracy is the idea of the world-historical mission of the proletariat to achieve state power as a class and use this power to construct a socialist society.

A number of crucial implications flowed from this vision. First, the proletariat had to be made ready for its historical mission through enlightenment about the nature of the mission and through organisation, enabling it to act as a class. The practical, concrete forms used to bring enlightenment and organisation to the proletariat were worked out on the ground by generations of activists, particularly in Germany. The result was the immensely influential SPD model: that is, the array of techniques employed by the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands. The centrepiece of the SPD model was an enormous socialist press, with hundreds of newspapers that fostered a distinctive class identity for the workers. Other tools featured in the SPD model were face-to-face agitation, rallies, leaflets, election campaigns, party-affiliated trade unions, all sorts of voluntary cultural organisations, such as choral societies, and even a widespread use of taverns as a meeting place. The logic of the SPD model can be summed up as a permanent campaign to instil a sense of mission into the everyday life of the workers.


The SPD model depended crucially on the existence of some measure of political freedom in society as a whole - that is, freedom of press, of assembly, of organisation and the like. Thus another fundamental implication of the world-historical mission of the proletariat was that socialism had a vital stake in anti-absolutist ‘democratic’ revolutions - a commitment that distinguished Marxists from most other 19th century socialist currents. Another implication became more apparent as the century progressed. In the 1840s, when the Communist manifesto was written, the bourgeoisie was given the role of leader of the anti-absolutist forces, with the proletariat as junior partner. But the bourgeoisie grew less and less interested in thorough-going democratic reform, while the proletariat grew out of its previously primitive state and formed parties such as the SPD. As a result, the proletariat was given a new, if subsidiary, historical mission: to act as leader of the democratic revolution, standing at the head of the narod, das Volk, le peuple - that is, the lower ‘democratic’ classes in society as a whole. In the early 20th century, the Russian social democrats gave this leadership role the name of hegemony, but the basic logic was part and parcel of revolutionary social democracy.

The principal spokesman of revolutionary social democracy was Karl Kautsky - a fact which explains his extraordinary importance in Lenin’s outlook and writings. Of course, Lenin formed his own independent judgment on the various topics he read about in Kautsky’s writings (Marx, the SPD model, colonialism, and on and on), but he almost always agreed with Kautsky’s take. Kautsky was able to express the essential principles of revolutionary social democracy in a number of pithy formulations. The idea of historical mission is implicit in his definition of social democracy as “the merger of socialism and the worker movement”: that is, the necessary role of the militant workers in turning the ideals of socialism into reality. Lenin paid Kautsky an extravagant compliment when he remarked that Kautsky’s famous formula “reproduced the foundational ideas of the Communist manifesto”.

Kautsky also insisted (in a formulation immediately taken up by Russian social democrats) on the primordial importance of political freedom:

These freedoms [of association, of assembly, of the press] are light and air for the proletariat; he who lets them wither or withholds them - he who keeps the proletariat from the struggle to win these freedoms and to extend them - that person is one of the proletariat’s worst enemies.

Finally, the idea behind hegemony - proletarian leadership of the people at large - was also set forth by Kautsky in the early 1890s, when he claimed that social democracy must become “the representative not only of the industrial wage-labourers, but of all the labouring and exploited strata - and therefore the great majority of the population, what is commonly known as the Volk.”

All of these principles had immense relevance for Russia, as we shall see. And to fully grasp what Kautsky’s writings meant for Lenin, we need to know that Kautsky not only enunciated general principles, but he also played a direct role in working out their application to Russia. His contribution was particularly important in the case of hegemony - and, as all factions in Russia understood, his interventions generally favoured the Bolsheviks. All this explains Lenin’s titanic rage when he felt that Kautsky had betrayed his own principles after 1914: Lenin obsessively contrasted the “renegade Kautsky” to “Kautsky when he was a Marxist”.

Let us now return to the young Russian revolutionary working out his political identity in the early 1890s. By 1894, Lenin had thoroughly assimilated the cutting-edge logic of revolutionary social democracy and had sketched out its application to Russia in particular. His first major political writing ended with the following carefully constructed sentence (Lenin’s emphases):

When the advanced representatives of this class assimilate the ideas of scientific socialism, the idea of the historical role of the Russian worker - when these ideas receive a broad dissemination - when durable organisations are created among the workers that transform the present uncoordinated economic war of the workers into a purposive class struggle - then the Russian worker, elevated to the head of all democratic elements, will overthrow absolutism and lead the Russian proletariat (side by side with the proletariat of all countries) by the direct road of open political struggle to the victorious communist revolution.

All of the constitutive elements of revolutionary social democracy are here clearly expressed and put into a specifically Russian context: the role assigned by history to the Russian workers, the need for enlightenment and organisation, the imperative of overthrowing absolutism and the proletariat’s position at the head of all democratic elements. Remarkably, Lenin lived to see all of these elements put into practice - but not without some bitter disappointments and significant adjustments.

First decade

A useful simplification divides Lenin’s political career into three decades, each with its particular major focus. The focus of the decade 1894-1904 was the creation of a society-wide social democratic party in Russia. Some observers at the time (and still today) thought that Marxism - the analysis of capitalism and the vision of socialism based on advanced industry - was barely applicable to tsarist Russia, with its backward economy and rudimentary working class. At most, it seemed, Marxism promised a better society in the distant future. The logic of revolutionary social democracy, however, gave Russian Marxists a positive and uplifting role to play even in backward Russia. They could start enlightening and organising even a nascent working class, and indeed they had some early and encouraging success in leading strikes. Russian social democrats also had an immediate political goal: the overthrow of tsarist absolutism and the conquest of political freedom. They could even lay claim to a central role in Russian political life by asserting proletarian hegemony in the upcoming anti-tsarist revolution.

Revolutionary social democracy thus offered a way out from the dead end faced by the Russian revolutionary tradition in the 1880s. An informed British observer, writing in 1905, describes the 1880s as the Russian socialists themselves remembered it:

We thus arrive at the beginning of the 80s. Consider the situation - the People’s Will Party [Narodnaya Volya] lying on the ground broken and exhausted, reaction rampant, all that was but a short time ago hopeful, disheartened and embittered. Where shall we turn for light and guidance? To the people? It is mute. To the working class? There is none. To the educated classes? They are all full of pessimism in the consciousness of their weakness. What, then, next? Is all hope to be given up? Is there no salvation for Russia? At this moment of darkness and despair a new and strange voice resounds through the space - a voice full of harshness and sarcasm, yet vibrating with hope. That is the voice of Russian social democracy.

The immediate challenge to applying revolutionary social democracy to Russian conditions was the complete lack of political freedom. How could the SPD model of a permanent campaign be applied without legal newspapers, legal rallies or legal election campaigns - to sum up, without a legal social democratic party? The answer - as in Germany, one that was worked out on the ground by a long series of activists, but then given eloquent exposition in Lenin’s What is to be done? (1902) - was to create an underground party that combined, to the greatest extent possible, stable contacts with the mass worker base with protection from police harassment and arrest. The result can be called a konspiratsiia party, since the Russian word konspiratsiia does not mean ‘conspiracy’ (and indeed is usually translated as something like ‘secrecy’), but rather the set of rules that allowed the party to escape from the self-imposed isolation of a genuine conspiracy (zagovor in Russian). Indeed, konspiratsiia can be defined as ‘the fine art of not getting arrested’.

The role of ‘professional revolutionaries’ was to make this kind of underground party workable - Lenin put this term into general circulation, but it was adopted by the entire socialist underground, because it pointed to a familiar and necessary type. The common idea that Lenin invented a ‘new type of party’ that aimed at a conspiratorial caste of professional revolutionaries, recruited solely from the intelligentsia, is the opposite of the truth. In fact, the ideal of the konspiratsiia party and the role of the professional revolutionary were functional necessities for any underground political party (and before 1905 all Russian parties were underground) and as such they were fully accepted across the socialist spectrum.

The konspiratsiia party thus represented the SPD model as applied to the very uncongenial conditions of tsarist absolutism. Because of tsarist repression, the konspiratsiia party had to be an illegal, underground party. But, as far as possible, it would imitate the German SPD in particular. For example, Lenin made a political newspaper - Iskra - the centrepiece of his plan for a Russian party. Far from worrying about workers and their alleged reformist tendencies (the heart of the standard textbook interpretation of Lenin), his whole plan depended on his confidence that the workers would respond to the social democratic message even when the message was conveyed in a hard-to-get, hard-to-read underground newspaper. And in fact, Iskra did become a very influential newspaper.

The near-term political goal of this party was the revolutionary overthrow of absolutism in order to achieve the political freedom that was needed for what Lenin’s 1894 sentence called “open political struggle”. Lenin’s political programme can therefore be summarised as follows: let us build a party as much like the German SPD as possible under tsarist conditions, in order to overthrow tsarism and build a party even more like the German SPD.

Second decade

The second decade of Lenin’s career (1904-14) focused on hegemony: the socialist proletariat’s duty of providing political leadership to the peasants in Russia’s upcoming democratic revolution. Of course, ‘hegemony’ has a lot of other meanings today, most of them rather negative - but in the Bolshevik case, it is really a synonym for leadership. According to the hegemony tactic, the peasants would accept proletarian leadership, because they were rational enough to see how this leadership would help them attain their own aims.

The logic behind the hegemony tactic in Russia was as follows: National political leadership in the revolution can only be provided by urban-based parties. In practice, this leadership role falls either to the party of the anti-tsarist bourgeoisie (the Constitutional Democrats, or Kadets) or to the party of the socialist proletariat (Social Democracy). If the liberals successfully take over the leadership role, the revolution will fall far short of what it can and should achieve. Only social democratic leadership can ensure that the revolution would be carried “to the end” (do kontsa). The deeper Marxist logic of the hegemony tactic was the claim that the socialist proletariat was the most effective champion of partial aims, such as democratic revolution, precisely because it saw these partial aims as means to the ultimate goal of a classless society.

A full democratic revolution was within reach because there existed a solid “community of interest” between worker and peasant. By the same token, however, the necessity of the peasant ally meant that a strictly socialist revolution was off the agenda - unless an international socialist revolution reshuffled the cards. The socialist revolution could only be the work of a proletarian party carrying out its own full class interests without compromise (‘dictatorship of the proletariat’). This conclusion about the peasant ally was axiomatic for all Russian social democrats (including Trotsky).

To jump ahead a bit: the hegemony tactic of proletarian class leadership of the peasants, became the basis of Bolshevik victory in 1917 and during the civil war. The Red Army was hegemony in action: a peasant army, fighting to protect the revolution that gave them land and eliminated the gentry class, but taking orders from an urban-based worker socialist party. And this means - to jump ahead yet another decade - that Lenin’s attitude toward the peasantry was the opposite of Stalin’s forced mass collectivisation in the 30s. In fact, during the civil war, Lenin denounced in colourful terms any effort by local Bolsheviks to use force as a way of getting the peasants to join collective farms.

Third decade

In his last decade (1914-24), Lenin focused on socialist revolution in both western Europe and Russia as a practical task. We need to proceed carefully, as we trace the evolution of Lenin’s views on this topic, if only because a number of widespread misconceptions (discussed below) hinder an accurate view. We can begin with what we can call Lenin’s October theses: a short, semi-official party document entitled ‘Several theses’, issued in October 1915. After the February revolution, Lenin himself endorsed his theses by claiming that they did not have to be amended in any way to fit the new situation. In the October theses, Lenin put the upcoming Russian Revolution into the following narrative framework:

The task confronting the proletariat of Russia is to bring the bourgeois-democratic revolution to the end in order to kindle the socialist revolution in Europe. The latter task [socialist revolution] now stands very close to the former [democratic revolution], yet it remains a special and second task, for it is a question of the different classes who are collaborating with the proletariat of Russia. In the former task, it is the petty-bourgeois peasantry of Russia who are collaborators; in the latter, it is the proletariat of other countries.

The two class allies correspond to the two aspects of the Russian socialist working class: Russian peasants as fellow fighters for the democratic revolution, and European workers as fellow fighters for the socialist revolution.

The October theses also affirmed continuity with the hegemony tactic that defined pre-war Bolshevism:

Only a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry can form the social content of the impending revolution in Russia … The monarchy and the feudal-minded landowners cannot be overthrown unless the proletariat is supported by the peasantry.

Lenin’s slogan, ‘Revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’, summarises the hegemony tactic: strive to create a worker-peasant vlast (state power) that will carry the democratic revolution “to the end” on the basis of the shared interests of Russian workers and peasants.

When he looked forward to the Russian revolution that he confidently saw approaching, Lenin claimed that the proletariat and its party could play a “leadership role” if “the petty bourgeoisie [aka peasants] swing to the left at the decisive moment” (as actually happened in 1917). Throughout his wartime writings, Lenin also argued that his confidence about the impending socialist revolution in western Europe was based on the pre-war consensus of revolutionary social democracy.

The wartime environment added two relatively new elements to Lenin’s thinking. We can conveniently discuss this from the vantage point of 1917, especially State and revolution. The economic imperatives of wartime mobilisation led to extensive state regulation, which Lenin called “steps toward socialism”, even when they were undertaken by ‘bourgeois’ governments. In State and revolution, he stated his vision of the final destination of these steps toward socialism:

The vital and burning question of present-day politics [is] the expropriation of the capitalists, the conversion of all citizens into workers and other employees of one huge ‘syndicate’ - the whole state - and the complete subordination of the entire work of this syndicate to a genuinely democratic state, the state of the Soviets of Worker and Soldier Deputies.

In his day-to-day political message to Russian workers, soldiers and peasants in 1917, Lenin emphasised that he advocated only those steps toward socialism, only those policies of state regulation, that were generally acknowledged to be necessary by all parties. Lenin argued that such ‘steps’ were straightforward and even easy to put into practice; furthermore, they would be able to gather majority support from the Russian population as a whole. He proved to be wrong about the ease of effectively implementing such measures - for example, nationalisation of the banks - but he was justified in saying that there existed a widespread consensus about the need for very ambitious state regulation.

Political freedom

The other new element - or rather, the conspicuous absence of a familiar element - is the disappearance of political freedom as an imperative goal. The topic barely arises in State and revolution. Lenin lauded “soviet democracy” mainly because it encouraged mass participation in the work of government - certainly not because it extended political freedom. What we do find in these pages is a categorical denial of any value whatsoever in bourgeois democracy: “Freedom in capitalist society always [emphasis added] remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners.” What is the point, then, to fight to transform tsarism into democracy, or to extend democracy where it is established?

Coupled with such sentiments is a clear foreshadowing of repressive policies in the Russian civil war and later. Any attempt by “the gentry who wish to preserve their capitalist habits or by the workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism” to escape from social control will be accompanied by “swift and severe punishment, [for] the armed workers are practical men and not sentimental intellectuals, and they will scarcely allow anyone to trifle with them”.

After the February revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks ran on the platform, ‘All power to the soviets!’ Crucially, the goal of soviet power did not imply any break with the scenario outlined in the October theses of 1915 about democratic revolution in Russia. In the revealing article, ‘A basic question’, written in late April 1917, Lenin makes this point in his usual emphatic way:

In whose hands should ‘the political vlast’ be, even from the point of view of a vulgar bourgeois democrat? … In the hands of the majority of the population. Do the ‘Russian toiling masses’ … constitute the majority of the population in Russia? Undoubtedly they do - the overwhelming majority! How then, without betraying democracy - even democracy as understood by a Miliukov [leader of the liberal Kadet party] - can one be opposed to the ‘seizure of the political vlast’ by the ‘Russian toiling masses’?

Thus the post-February situation in Russia did not in any way constrain Lenin from reaffirming the vision set forth in the October theses of a ‘democratic’ (worker-peasant vlast) revolution in Russia sparking off and eventually merging with a Europe-wide ‘socialist’ (proletariat-only) revolution. The new theme of steps toward socialism did not change the basic contours of Lenin’s predictive narrative, as shown by this passage from ‘A basic question’:

After such measures, further steps towards socialism in Russia will become fully possible, and - given the aid to the workers here that will come from the more advanced and experienced workers of western Europe, … Russia’s genuine transition to socialism would be inevitable, and the success of such a transition would be assured.

We may thus paraphrase the outlook of Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks as follows: technically speaking, the 1917 revolution that created a worker-peasant vlast is not a ‘socialist revolution’, as we Marxists understand the term. But this fact is irrelevant, because events - international revolution abroad, steps toward socialism at home - will quickly put Russia on the track of a fully-fledged socialist revolution. We therefore do not have to revise our earlier conceptions about the nature of socialist revolution.

As late as the end of 1918, Lenin could still believe (as he put it) “things have turned out just as we said they would.” The German Revolution of November 1918 was viewed as the prologue to a Europe-wide socialist revolution. At home, Lenin thought he saw the beginning of a revolutionary wave in the villages based on the rural proletarians, thus moving the Russian Revolution past the stage of the “alliance with the whole peasantry” that was a defining feature of a democratic revolution. And steps toward socialism, as embodied in the economic policies of the Soviet state, while certainly uninspiring to date, had been started and would no doubt go further. This outlook finds expression in The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, written during Lenin’s convalescence from a gunshot wound in late 1918.

By 1919, this hopeful scenario had to be discarded, at least for the foreseeable future, and a new rationale had to be found to justify the socialist credentials of the Bolshevik revolution. First, one ally, the European proletariat, failed to carry out its own revolution (although the Bolsheviks credited this ally with preventing full-scale military intervention in Russia). Second, the Bolsheviks realised that they could not rely on effective support from the rural proletarians - in fact, the survival of the revolutionary state depended on cementing the alliance with the majority of the peasants. This realisation found expression in the 1919 campaign to affirm a partnership with ‘the middle peasantry’ - a discursive category hitherto little used. This major Bolshevik campaign has been completely forgotten by historians and replaced by a myth of a ‘Bolshevik war against the peasantry’.

Finally, the original logic behind steps toward socialism had been undermined. In 1917, Lenin argued in effect that steps toward socialism must be taken now, due to the economic crisis. But, more and more, the Bolsheviks were put on the defensive and forced to argue that steps toward socialism cannot be taken now, due to the economic crisis. As the Bolsheviks strove to overcome an unending series of crises, they were forced into compromise after compromise - and they were very aware of the fact. This development has also been obscured by a myth of the historians: namely, that during so-called ‘war communism’, the Bolsheviks were filled with ‘euphoria’ at the prospect of an immediate leap into full socialism.

The Bolsheviks were thus faced with a stark challenge to their ideological self-definition as a de facto socialist revolution: either remain true to the pre-war axiom of revolutionary social democracy and drop the claim to a socialist revolution; or drop the axiom by declaring the compatibility of socialist revolution with a worker-peasant alliance. This second claim amounted to retaining the logic of the hegemony tactic - proletarian leadership of the peasants - but ignoring its previous limitation to democratic revolution. Lenin more and more explicitly chose this second course and in his final articles of 1923 set out a scenario of leading the peasants all the way to socialism.


Once more, a crucial development has been obscured by a historical myth that we can label the rearming narrative, to use a term from Lev Trotsky, one of its originators. According to this narrative, the pre-1917 outlook of the Bolsheviks was completely inadequate to the challenges of the post-February situation, so that Lenin had to ‘rearm the party’. He did so in his April theses of 1917, which baptised the Russian Revolution in 1917 as ‘socialist’, thus providing the logical and political underpinning necessary for the October victory. Among a host of other inaccuracies, the ‘rearming’ narrative denies the continuity with the previous Bolshevik outlook (the link between the October 1915 and the April 1917 theses, so to speak); it falsely states that proclaiming the socialist nature of the revolution was a logical and practical prerequisite for the October victory (Trotsky’s own writings from 1917 amply document the fact that the socialist character of the Russian Revolution was not proclaimed); it overlooks the post-1919 adjustment that combined continued loyalty to hegemony with a grudging reimagining of ‘socialist revolution’.

The actual evolution of Lenin’s view of the path to socialism is much more accurately set out in a 1925 article by another top Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin. Bukharin puts the hegemony tactic at the centre of Lenin’s whole approach. He portrays Lenin as constantly asking: what is the peasant saying? And

this is no accident. On the contrary, this reveals a great revolutionary clear-headedness that is typical of the proletarian leader [vozhd]. [Lenin insists that the Bolsheviks must act] so that they will not to be severed from the peasant base, so that they will rely on gradual measures to pull the muzhik along behind the working class.

Bukharin then usefully outlines the various avatars of hegemony at different stages of the revolution:

Prior to the seizure of power, the working class must have the support of the peasantry in the struggle against the capitalists and landlords.

After the seizure of power, the proletariat must secure for itself the support of a considerable section of the peasantry in the civil war, right up to the moment when the proletarian dictatorship has been consolidated.

And after that? Can we really limit ourselves to regarding the peasantry only as cannon-fodder in the fight against the capitalists and the large landlords? No … It must be realised that the proletariat has no choice in this. It is compelled, as it builds socialism, to carry the peasantry with it. The proletariat must learn to do this, for, unless it does so, it will not be able to maintain its rule.

Bukharin then makes explicit that Bolshevik loyalty to hegemony required serious modification of the previous axioms of revolutionary social democracy. He disingenuously portrays Lenin as rising majestically above “the usual view of socialist revolution”, while failing to mention that Lenin himself was in his day a fierce and aggressive defender of “the usual view” and that his post-1919 adjustment was made grudgingly under the pressure of circumstances. Nevertheless, Bukharin well states the underlying issues:

What is the common, book-learned [knizhnyi] view of the socialist revolution? It might be formulated something like this: if the proletariat is relatively small in number, if it exists in a country with an overwhelming majority of peasants and, consequently, with an economy based on small-scale private ownership [melkoe khoziaistvo], then this proletariat, should it come to power, will never be able to cope with the enormity of the tasks, and this proletariat will inevitably perish - one way or another. This is the viewpoint that emerges from the common, book-learned, schoolboy explanation of the question of socialist revolution; we have to say that this explanation resides - alas! - in the minds of a very wide circle of the members of our own party …

Lenin did not see the peasantry as an inevitable foe intent on smashing all our skulls, but as a potential ally who will sometimes grumble and will now and then cause the working class some unpleasantness, but who must potentially be brought around to the proletarian cause, so that it is one of the component forces in our struggle for a proletarian economic regime.

Another central component of Lenin’s pre-war identity as a revolutionary social democrat was the struggle to bring political freedom to Russia. In power, Lenin founded a state that eliminated all political freedom, that is, any unfettered individual and group activity aimed at independent participation in political life. He not only carried out (in the words of State and revolution) “suppression by force - that is, exclusion from democracy - of the exploiters and oppressors of the people”, but in practice he did the same for all Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, intellectuals included.

In a thin claim for continuity it might be argued that Lenin fought for political freedom only in the case of bourgeois democracy, where the socialist workers were a marginalised minority. A more relevant link shows itself when we consider why Lenin had earlier put such a store on the struggle for political freedom: he wanted to put into practice the SPD model of a permanent campaign to spread the socialist message. In power, the Bolsheviks realised that they could mount even more effective state-run campaigns if they used their command over coercive resources to eliminate any competition. The result - which might be called ‘state monopoly campaignism’ - was a key feature of Soviet socialism to the very end.

Looking back, we see that the adjustments made by Lenin from his original political identity as a revolutionary social democrat were in aid of preserving his central and unwavering loyalty to hegemony - in the words of the 1894 sentence quoted earlier, the vision of “the Russian worker, elevated to the head of all democratic elements”. Thus a fitting summary of Lenin’s view of the path to socialism is found in the words of his widow, Nadezhda Krupskaya, speaking at his funeral in 1924:

His work [in the early 1890s] among the workers of Piter [St Petersburg], conversations with these workers, attentive listening to their speeches, gave Vladimir Ilyich an understanding of the grand idea of Marx: the idea that the working class is the advanced detachment of all the labourers and that all the labouring masses, all the oppressed, will follow it: this is its strength and the pledge of its victory. Only as vozhd [leader] of all the labourers will the working class achieve victory … And this thought, this idea illuminated all of his later activity, each and every step.