Strategy for Revolution in 21st Century
Lenin: What is to be done? 1902 Its Relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century


Marx and Engels:
Communist Manifesto

Civil War in France


Theory of History

Marx and Engels:
On Human Nature


Violence and the Origin of the State

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Marx, Engels, Lenin:
On Dialectics

What is to be done?


The State and Revolution

Lenin: War Communism

The Cultural Revolution

Left-Wing Communism

The American Revolutions

The French Revolutions

On Workers Control

On Religion

On the Arms Race

Militarization of Labor

Russian Revolution

The Women's Question

Role of Communist Party

On Violence

On the Army

On Women

Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution

Mao and Fidel:
Fall of the American Empire

Man and Socialism in Cuba

Hall and Winston:
Fighting Racism

National Liberation and Culture

Cabral: National Liberation and Culture

Nkrumah: Neo-Colonialism

Vladimir Lenin is considered the greatest of all revolutionary tacticians. He was more than anyone else responsible for the tactics of the "Great October Revolution" that gave birth to the Soviet Union. His most important book about tactics was What is to be done? - written in 1902. He considered that these tactics were confirmed by the success of the revolution when he wrote another book about tactics after the revolution.

After dealing with other preliminary issues, Lenin addresses three main questions: "the character and main content of our political agitation; our organisational tasks; and the plan for building, simultaneously and from various sides, a militant, all-Russia organisation."

Lenin stresses the importance of theory and a revolutionary party guided by that theory: "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement ... the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory." He goes on to quote Engels that the theoretical struggle is just as important as political and economic struggle.

And where does theory come from? It does not arise spontaneously from class struggle, but requires the work of intellectuals. To make the point, Lenin quotes Karl Kautsky: "Of course, socialism, as a doctrine, has its roots in modern economic relationships just as the class struggle of the proletariat has, and, like the latter, emerges from the struggle against the capitalist-created poverty and misery of the masses. But ... modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge ... The vehicle of science is not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intelligentsia: it was in the minds of individual members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done.

Political agitation should raise the consciousness of the workers (and other classes as well) from that of their own situation to an understanding of the "relationships of all classes and strata to the state and the government ... to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic signficance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat" [i.e. the working class].

He describes the task of the revolutionary party. It "unites into one inseparable whole the assault on the government in the name of the entire people, the revolutionary training of the proletariat, and the safeguarding of its political independence, the guidance of the economic struggle of the working class, and the utilisation of all its spontaneous conflicts with its exploiters which rouse and bring into our camp increasing numbers of the proletariat."

The organizational task of the revolutionaries "must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession ... all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories, must be effaced. Such an organisation must perforce not be very extensive and must be as secret as possible."

The key, says Lenin, is leadership: "without the 'dozen' tried and talented leaders (and talented men are not born by the hundreds), professionally trained, schooled by long experience, and working in perfect harmony, no class in modern society can wage a determined struggle."

Lenin recognizes that secrecy is contradictory to democratic participation. But he argues that, while it must be limited, secrecy is still necessary. "To concentrate all secret functions in the hands of as small a number of professional revolutionaries as possible does not mean that the latter will 'do all the thinking for all' and that the rank and file will not take an active part in the movement." Lenin argues that the effectiveness of the secret revolutionary leadership will actually increase participation by the masses through their reading the illegal press and taking part in demonstrations. Still, he acknowledges that he will be critized for his "anti-undemocratic" views.

And finally, Lenin calls for a shift of emphasis from local to national work, and he puts a priority on communication, in particular, an all-Russian political newspaper.

Lenin continued to argue for some degree of secrecy after the revolution. For example in March 1918 he wanted to keep secret from the people the humiliating peace treaty signed with Germany.

With the success of the Russian Revolution, Lenin's intensified his commitment to genuine democratic participation. Hence, in speaking to the First Congress of the Communist International on March 4, 1919, he said said that practical achievement of genuine democracy, which cannot be achieved until the capitalist bureaucratic and judicial machinery has been destroyed, "is possible only through Soviet, or proletarian, democracy ... by enlisting the mass organisations of the working people and unvailing participation in the administration of the state..."

But Lenin never confronted the contradiction between secrecy and democratic participation. How can the people participate fully in the revolution and in building the new society if they do not know all that is happening? And when they discover that information has been withheld from them, won't they become cynical and alienated?

In fact, Lenin's own arguments in favor of secrecy seem weak when examined in the light of history. Against the warnings of colleagues, including Nikolai Bukharin, Lenin continued for many years to entrust his secrets with the government spy, Roman Malinovsky. As a result, the Czarist government knew better than many of the revolutionaries what they were planning to do.

Secrecy remains a contradiction to socialist democracy to the present day. Until the end of its existence, the Soviet Union remained an extremely secretive society. This secrecy contributed to the alienation, economic inefficiency and eventual collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

It remains a task for the 21st Century to develop revolutionary parties that achieve the tasks set forth by Lenin, while adhering to the principles of a culture of peace, including transparency and the free flow of information. To accomplish this in the face of the violence of counter-revolutionary forces, including the use of agents provocateurs and the assassination and imprisonment of revolutionary leaders, requires a new revolutionary strategy.

To take part in a discussion about this page, go to the Forum on Writings of Vladimir Lenin on the Discussion Board:

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Revolutionary socialist culture of peace

Culture of War

Internal Culture of War

Culture of Peace

Education for nonviolence and democracy

Sustainable development for all

Human rights vs exploitation

Women's equality vs patriarchy

Democratic participation vs authoritarianism

Tolerance and solidarity vs enemy images

Transparency vs secrecy

Disarmament vs armament

Revolutionary leadership

Revolutionary organization

Proletarian Internationalism

National Liberation

Guerrilla Warfare


Agent Provocateurs

Communication systems

Psychology for revolutionaries

Capitalist culture of war

Socialist culture of war

Winning Conflict by Nonviolence

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