The two faces of Lenin



Lenin, perhaps the most complete name representative of the conditions of the turbulent historical sea that Mayakovsky spoke to us when referring to the last century

This month marks a century since the death of one of the main builders of the 20th century. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known as Lenin, is perhaps the most complete name representative of the conditions of the turbulent historical sea that Mayakovsky spoke to us when referring to the last century.[I] The Volga rebel was born on April 10, 1870, on a typical afternoon in that region of Tsarist Russia, which at that time of year has pleasant temperatures of around 5° Celsius, something that denotes the beginning of spring. Lenin passed away in January 1924, in the freezing cold of Moscow, but since then his thoughts and actions have marked history.

100 years later and the revolutionary epic that marked the 70th century and established for XNUMX years an economic and social model that matched capitalism and defeated the fascist offensive in the Second World War in the form of the former Soviet Union, but with the resuming Russian protagonism in world geopolitics and opening new and growing fronts of international crises, the Russian revolutionary returns with full force to the context of the uncertain outlook that is asserting itself.

This brief article takes up Lenin not for his historical aspects and his past importance, even if that was already worth it. Our interest in Lenin is due to the importance that his ideas and his trajectory impact the present time and the ways in which historical relationships can teach us, based on the knowledge of theorists and past daily construction, methods of overcoming present limits and a possible contribution to the uncertainties of the present moment.

Our man in particular had a double face, he was a splendid theoretician of the analysis of capitalism and the humanist philosophy of historical materialism and of overcoming this mode of production, as well as being an author of the practical construction of overcoming this system of oppression, something that reminds Marx’s famous eleventh “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845)[ii] in which he pointed out that “philosophers did nothing more than interpret the world differently; However, it is about changing it.”

In this way, two guides will guide us in this brief return to Lenin: (i) what theoretical aspects and how his literature still contributes today to interpret and construct an anti-capitalist proposal; (ii) which contradictions sparked by this revolutionary's militant action must be noted, and how his perception and obstinacy in building an alternative society to capitalism still poses questions to be absolved and discussed. We are not interested in a perception of overestimation of the author and revolutionary, but neither is the noisy and detracting way in which a group of biographers and interpreters have treated Lenin's legacy.[iii]

Lenin was the author of a dense work, significant in many aspects, but in this brief analytical review we will focus on two central aspects: the economic analysis of capitalism in the making and the analysis of the capitalist State.

The interpretation of the economic development of capitalism, not only around its classic The development of capitalism in Russia,[iv] work that, among other fundamental aspects, brings us for the first time the key debate between the indigenous expansion of capitalism, whether in the formation of large industry, and the establishment of a transplanted industrial formation, however already conditioned on a monopolized basis and with a strong presence of financial component. In this same work, the debate on the expansion of capitalism in the countryside and how this influences the conditions for the maintenance or disappearance of peasant forms must also be highlighted, as well as the debate on the formation of internal markets.

Lenin's analysis of The development of capitalism in Russia establishes some important theses in the debate about the so-called “peasant form”, its maintenance and transformation. Especially in the section “The disintegration of the peasantry”, the author observes that the development of capitalism is established by constituting “new types of rural population”, two new types being: “the rural bourgeoisie or the rich peasantry” and “the rural proletariat”, and “an intermediate link” still remains, which “is the middle peasantry”. Lenin's treatment of this rapidly transforming reality in the Russian rural world still has enormous methodological value today.

It is worth remembering, as Gruppi (1979, p. 1) tells us,[v] that “Lenin’s first writing is of an economic-statistical nature”, it is a first painting that critically portrays the Russian rural community (obstichina), a central aspect for subsequent theses that will reflect on the disintegration of the peasantry and the “base on which the internal market is formed in capitalist production”, a scope of analysis that is still useful today for dealing with forms of social transition and pre-capitalist economy and its consequences on the land structure, something so central in the Brazilian reality.

Two other works of an economic nature that point out very useful elements for the interpretation of contemporaneity in this second decade of the 21st century are very useful reading for the Brazilian left, they are two pamphlets, small texts, but with careful theoretical precision and enormous interpretative capacity: About taxation e Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.

The first work dates back to June 1913 and was intended as a publicist[vi] in dialoguing with American socialist workers and showing how taxes (tributes) should be treated under capitalism. When dealing with the form of State financing, the polemicist observes that in the USA in that year (1913) “workers paid [indirect taxes] proportionally 20 times more than capitalists”, and the tax base linked to indirect taxes produces a form “profoundly disordered” social situation in all capitalist countries.

Lenin observes that tax progressivity, taxing wealth and income in a truly progressive way, would enable two important effects and which, as he observes, would not be contrary to the bourgeois order: “it would alleviate living conditions for nine tenths of the population; and secondly, it would be a gigantic boost for the development of productive forces and (…) the internal market”. An excellent lesson when dealing with the Brazilian case, whose tax structure is the most regressive on the planet and income distribution the most unequal.

Two interesting aspects in that text. First, Lenin observes a phenomenon that is not typical of our current capitalist world, but is at its root: social inequality; on the other, State financing appears in its nakedness: a form of appropriation of popular income and its control by capitalists, always defining the logic of the capitalist State, something that we will discuss later.

Another significant economic text is Imperialism higher stage of capitalism, April 1917. This work systematizes analyzes developed since the end of the XNUMXth century by Marxists and relevant academics. Like Lukács[vii] will express in the first commented biography on Lenin, the superiority of this author will be that he makes the “concrete articulation of the economic theory of imperialism with all the political issues of the present, transforming the economy of the new phase into the guiding thread for all concrete actions in the conjuncture that was configured.” In this sense, we have in this work an exercise similar to that which Marx developed when dealing with the French situation of the mid-19th century in the overwhelming The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, by establishing an exercise of intertwined economic and political analysis.[viii]

The economic nature of imperialism is treated by Lenin[ix] since the recognition that capitalist production took place at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century, taking the form of monopolies and oligopolistic companies, resulting from the general laws of concentration and centralization of capital pointed out by Marx. This process permeates accumulation, which denotes a basic social relationship of bourgeoisie control over the means of production and appropriation of the wealth generated by workers. However, the process goes further, leading to “the complete socialization of production in its most varied aspects”, but the net appropriation of the wealth generated continued to be private.

Lenin observed that capitalism in its contemporary (imperialist) phase leads to the almost complete socialization of production in the most varied aspects, but the “appropriation of gains continues to be private”. This characteristic of capitalism only expanded in the 1990th century and now in the XNUMXst, including in the aspect of control of vast national territories by companies that belong to a handful of large associated capitalists. For example, the former Companhia Vale do Rio do Doce, a Brazilian state-owned company until the XNUMXs that today belongs to national and international private funds. It is worth noting that share dispersion is just a way of hiding the concentration of profits from the exploration and sale of iron by a few groups, the so-called “owners of “Golden shares”, such as Mitsui and Co; Blackrock Inc. and Capital World Investors, a small handful of international and national super rich.

An analysis of relationships between 43.000 transnational companies concluded that a small number of them – mainly banks – have disproportionately high power over the global economy. The conclusion is from three researchers in the field of complex systems at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland. Previous studies have identified that a few companies control large portions of the economy, but these studies included a limited number of companies and did not take into account indirect ownership controls, and therefore cannot be used to say how the network of economic control it could affect the world economy – making it more or less unstable, for example.

The study can speak about this with the authority of someone who analyzed a database with 37 million companies and investors. The analysis identified 43.060 large transnational companies and traced the share control connections between them, building a model of economic power on a global scale. The final model revealed a central core of 1.318 large companies with ties to two or more other companies – on average, each of them has 20 connections to other companies. More than that, although this central nucleus of economic power concentrates only 20% of global sales revenue, the 1.318 companies together hold the majority of shares in the world's main companies – the so-called blue chip in stock markets.

In other words, they have control over the real economy that accounts for 60% of all sales made worldwide. And that's not all. When scientists untangled this web of cross-ownership, they identified a “super-entity” of 147 closely interrelated companies that controls 40% of the total wealth of that first central core of 1.318 companies. “In fact, less than 1% of companies control 40% of the entire network,” says Glattfelder (scientist who coordinated the study). And most of them are banks.[X]

From the process of concentration and centralization of capital, a financial oligarchy emerges that controls small capitals, subordinating them to large capitals. This oligarchy results in a change in the roles of banks, which no longer act as simple banking intermediaries and begin to finance and control large companies, intertwining the interests of banking capital with industrial capital, fundamentally through the purchase of shares in large companies. This fusion between banking and industrial capital constitutes the main process of changing the phase from competitive to monopolistic capitalism and gives rise to financial capital. This, in turn, increasingly subjects industry and other sectors of the economy and State power, becoming hegemonic in the process of capital accumulation.

Lenin's phrase in the book Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, could be said today: “the development of capitalism has reached such a point that, although the production of goods continues to reign and is the basis of the entire economy, it is already undermined and the main profits end up in the hands of geniuses of financial machinations”, which today are speculation funds controlled by a handful of financiers and megaspeculators.

The change from the competitive phase of capitalism (characterized by the export of goods) to the monopoly phase (characterized by the export of capital) has as its ultimate objective the increase of monopoly profits, via loans or direct foreign investment in peripheral nations, where capitalism it is established on different structural bases, subordinated to the regulation of imperialist power relations. This dynamic of capital imposes the search for new spaces that allow the expansion of the radius of action of this capital, making its expansion reach greater fullness.

Therefore, this situation denotes a difficulty in realizing capital, imposing a difficulty on the logic of expanded reproduction (reproduction seen as underutilized in its realization potential) combined with the expansion of this scenario caused by the organic restructuring of competitive capitalism towards monopoly in a finite space. . This leads to the search for new spaces that allow the expansion of the radius of action of this capital, making its expansion reach maximum plenitude.

The export of capital itself becomes more relevant to understanding imperialism in its entirety than the question of conquering markets, due to the processes of circulation and redistribution of productive capital and money capital that establish imperialism as a modus operandi for for capital to expand. Lenin states that this process is characterized by five points, namely: (a) the export of capital; (b) centralized production and distribution in large companies; (c) the fusion of “banking capital” with “industrial capital” in the form of “financial capital”; (d) the “geopolitical dispute between capitalist powers”; and, (e) wars as a recurring phenomenon of this dispute. Productive capital increases because of the symbiosis between financial capital and industrial capital in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lenin states that such concentration of production is connected with a monopolistic phase that will be the highest phase of capitalism, which will be called Imperialism.

The increase in the contradiction between the sphere of production (with growth in supply due to economies of scale) and the sphere of circulation (problem of realization due to insufficient demand) makes production even more concentrated while making it difficult for smaller capitals to maintain it due to to compete with low production cost products from larger capitals, possibly culminating in the bankruptcy of smaller capitals and acquisition by larger capitals, in a process of centralization of capital.

Therefore, the process of monopolization and the bases that allow its implementation are more important than the monopolies and cartels themselves, as they reveal which circumstances led to their formation and on which bases they supported the processes of concentration of production and capital. This movement of unequal development implied the construction of “zones of influence” in the global environment, where imperialism and the export of capital are built as its counterface.

Lenin stressed with a rare visionary ability that capitalism would lead to the formation of “usurious states, whose bourgeoisie lives increasingly at the expense of exporting capital and cutting coupons” (profitability of securities invested on the stock exchange or public debt securities). However, he correctly observes that this will not necessarily lead to lower growth rates of capitalism, but “this growth is not only increasingly unequal, but inequality is also manifested in the decomposition of the countries richest in capital”, at the time England, today the USA.

The second key element in Lenin's contributions refers to the analysis of the State as a general form of political power that assumes the organizational and institutional capacity of the interests of capital as a class. This notion of the State as class power is the starting point for its generic understanding, insofar as several other social forms of reproduction throughout history were also based on the expropriation of the socially produced surplus in favor of a specific social class and had in state form a political power of class domination. Thus, the analysis of the capitalist State requires the necessary interaction with the logic of accumulation of that system.

Groups [xi] interpreting Lenin argues that The capital shows the structure that supports the capitalist State, with the elements necessary to support (financing) the form that the State takes and, mainly, the economic functions it performs in this mode of production, contained in the logic of capitalist reproduction. To do this, it must be related to what constitutes the basic element of its identity, that is, its function of social control linked to the maintenance and regularity of the wage relationship or exploitation of the workforce and its auxiliary functions to the capitalist reproduction system. .

One must start from the understanding that capitalism is a cumulative form of wealth that is based on the permanent conversion of money capital into productive capital, taking as a presupposition the majority of labor power as a commodity and the continuous and regular exchange of living labor by dead labor, an economic form that materializes in a contractual relationship: the salary relationship.

In capitalism, the capital relationship is that of appropriation of the surplus based on contractual relationships between the capitalist (buyer of the labor power commodity) and the worker (seller of the labor power commodity). Between them an exchange of equivalents takes place in the process of circulation of goods: labor power, a commodity that is the sole property of the worker, is purchased by the capitalist, who offers in exchange the monetary form salary, the price of the commodity labor force. work. This apparent equality in the form of legal treatment makes the wage relationship a central condition of both the economic reproduction of the system and its political configuration.

Lenin[xii] notes that the reorganization of society, according to the logic of capitalist accumulation, makes all citizens formally equal before the law, based on the concept of universalization of property. This allows, according to this author, the legitimacy of the State's action as protector of property rights; thus, “the law protects everyone equally, it protects the property of those who have it from attacks on property by the mass that, having no property at all, having nothing but their arms, transforms itself into a proletarian mass”.

The condition for this alleged equality is the formal universalization of property and the generalization of labor power as a commodity, a central historical-logical aspect for capitalism. The specificity of capitalism is that this is the first historical form with the generalization of contractual labor relations, and from a logical point of view this relational form is decisive in the production of social surplus (surplus value). The State thus fulfills the central function of controlling and legitimizing the capitalist order, mainly by covering up exploitative relations and positively justifying private ownership of the means of production, in the form of apparent universality and equality of property rights.

As a central agent for maintaining capitalist relations of production, the State partially conceals the latent conflict existing in the capital-labor relationship and, at the same time, legitimizes the relationship of exploitation, through the imposition of the positive rules of bourgeois property rights. Otherwise, the essence of the State is to hide exploitation and, mainly, to support the legality and legitimacy of this relationship. The State's coercive action comes from this assumption, and its greater or lesser repressive capacity will be directly proportional to the necessary conditions to impose and maintain private ownership of the means of production and, fundamentally, ensure the regularity of production flows and cumulative appropriation of wealth. social produced.

The ability to be an “organic intellectual” of the revolution, which is expressed both in theoretical production and in daily militancy against the system, made this author someone not only to be read and criticized along the lines of history, but, above all, constitutes an excellent An example of the need to continually visit classic authors, not in order to seek answers to the uncertainties of our future, but to construct new and necessary interpretations of history, a central aid for thinking about the political economy of today.

As introductory readings, the works mentioned above require complementation of the aspects of political organization of which the author was a painstaking builder, especially Two tactics of social democracy in the democratic revolution,[xiii] expressing the understanding and limits of the debate between socialist revolutionary action and democratic action. The understanding of political action in a reality as specific as Russia cannot and cannot be replicated, but it provides the historical knowledge necessary for radical disputes.

It is also worth referring to the text What to do?[xiv] in which the author best expresses the perspective that one cannot “mechanically separate the political from the organizational aspect”. The need to organize social instruments (parties, movements) that make it possible to act in the perspective of radical change in society, breaking the bonds of capitalism, establishes a fundamental point here: rupture requires not only movements of severe crises in the system, but a profound organization of society, the class struggle conditions the emergence of political instruments and, at the same time, requires the collective intellectual intelligence of workers in the formation of organizations that revolutionaryly impose the birth of a new society.

Daniel Bensaid[xv] magnificently summarizes the historical significance of Lenin and his necessary revisitation, someone who made politics and elaborated his own temporality, a temporality of “a broken time”. May the condition of another time guide the revolutionaries of the present and the future, to rebuild humanity, and in this regard, reading Lenin remains very necessary!

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Critique of the political economy of public debt and the capitalist credit system: a Marxist approach (CRV).


[I] “I made the newspaper sheets creak”, check it out at:

[ii] Karl Marx. Ad Feuerbach. In: MARX, Karl and ENGELS, Friedrich. the german ideology. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2007.

[iii] Some recent biographies are a good example of this attempt to disfigure Lenin's personality and contributions, such as, for example, the (so-called definitive) biography of Robert Service. Lenin: a definitive biography. Rio de Janeiro: Difel, 2007.

[iv] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The development of capitalism in Russia. São Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1982.

[v] Luciano Gruppi. Lenin's thought. Rio de Janeiro. Graal Publishing, 1979.

[vi] In more than a few articles, Lenin presents himself as a “publicist”, that is, someone who proclaims “journalistically” or with the capacity to understand workers in general the socialist and revolutionary analysis of the situation. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Notes from a publicist. Lisbon: Edições Progresso. 1986.

[vii]  Gyorgy Lukacs. Lenin, [1924], 2012. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2012. p. 61.

[viii] Karl Marx. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Sao Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

[ix] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Lisbon: Edições Progresso. 1986.

[X] Check out: Stefania Vitali, James B. Glattfelder, Stefano Battiston. The network of global corporate control. Magazine: arXiv, Sep 2011. Available at

[xi] Luciano Gruppi. Lenin's thought. Rio de Janeiro: Grall, 1979.

[xii] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The State and the Revolution. Lisbon: Edições Progresso. 1986.

[xiii] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Two tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. Lisbon: Edições Progresso. 1986

[xiv] Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Imperialism, What to do? So Paulo: Hucitec, 1982.

[xv] Daniel Bensaid. Lenin, or the politics of the broken time. In: Michael Lowy and Daniel Bensaid. Marxism, Modernity and Utopia. São Paulo: Xamã, 2000.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles