Why is capitalism a necessary condition for the possibility of a communist revolution? Why was the Russian revolution therefore not a communist revolution?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marx constructed the idea that historical and economic stages of development are vital to the progression towards communism.  Marx believed that there were specific realities within capitalism that would facilitate revolution.  One such reality was the collision between thesis and antithesis in such a manner whereby change would be understood as the only possible option.  Marx argues that capitalism featured the collision between the thesis of extreme wealth for the few and its antithesis, which was poverty for the many.  The stage of capitalism was vital for this collision to take place.  As a result, capitalism would give way to violent change.

Additionally, Marx makes the argument that the conditions in capitalism will inevitably lead to its own demise.  In this imminent critique, Marx makes the argument that capitalism is a "runaway train" that is doomed in its own destruction.  One aspect of this is Marx's idea of commodity fetishism.  This analysis suggests that objects and "things" hold so much value in capitalism that individuals worship these over individuals, thereby creating the conditions for change.  Along these lines, Marx's argument regarding alienation is a necessary condition that would make a revolution possible.  Marx asserts that the alienated condition of labor, where individuals are not connected to their work, but simply towards an end product.  The alienation that the workers feel in their jobs and lives under capitalism are the conditions that Marx feels are essential ingredients towards initiating change.

In Marx's understanding, the conditions of class realities intrinsic to capitalism establish the basis for change within it.  Marx asserts that this becomes the reason why capitalism is a necessary stage for revolutionary change:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.  Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

While Lenin did believe that he could make Russia into a Marxist vision, I think that Marx would argue that the Russian Revolution was not aligned with his vision of stage- based Communism.  Marx stresses the historical development that underscores consciousness.  Lenin's Russia lacked this historical development in not having a stage of capitalism.  While Lenin did argue that imperialism, the vanguard of the proletariat, and other initiatives would take the place of the capitalist stage. However, given Marx's understanding of the strict need to follow historical dialectics, the lack of the capitalist stage in Russia would not meet his characterization of a Communist revolution.

moustacio | Student

According to Karl Marx, capitalism is a necessary condition for the occurrence of a communist revolution since it is a system that is highly exploitative and unjust in nature. A capitalist state was seen by Marx as a tool that was used to legitimise the benefits a minority, known as the bourgeois, gained at the expense of the majority. Since under the system of capitalism, the private ownership of the means of production is not only allowed but also protected by the state, resources are thus monopolised by a minority, which forces the majority of population to have to work for this small group of individuals to earn a living. In doing so, the capitalists, by paying the workers less than their labour’s worth, seek not only to exploit them, but also actively condemn them to a life of poverty. Since state institutions  are established only to cater to the needs of the capitalists and to ensure the continued oppression of the workers, they were regarded by Marx as both oppressive and dehumanising. Workers were in effect forced to work to survive, becoming only mere “appendages of machines”, deriving little joy from their duties and losing their creativity and freedom. Marx believed that it was only under such a system of exploitation, that the workers would be sufficiently angered enough by their own poor living conditions to rise up against the bourgeoisie, and incite a revolution to eventually achieve the goal of a communist utopia. Since the capitalists would seek to retain their wealth and political power, the workers could only choose to resist against them through violence or force. A violent, revolutionary struggle, whereby all workers were to become organised and militant in nature, was thus to be expected. The exploitation experienced by the workers under the capitalist system provided the necessary fuel to incite workers to carry out such antagonistic actions.

The Russian Revolution would not have exactly fitted in with the ideas propagated by Marx. At the time of the revolution, Russia was still an economically impoverished nation that was not only technologically backward, but also largely agrarian in nature. The class structure present then in Russian society was rudimentary - there was little chance for the emergence of a proletariat, an industrial working class, that could effectively challenge the bourgeois since the country itself was not even industrialised to such a high degree. The exploitative conditions under capitalism required to incite the workers into violence would thus have not had a chance to fully emerge yet. Hence, the establishment of a communist state in Russia, whilst the nation was strangled in such economic circumstances, could not be seen as a true communist revolution in Marxist terms, as they had skipped a stage essential for the development of communism.