Whatever the ambiguities, silences and tensions in Lenin’s vision of the (withering) proletarian state to come in State and Revolution (see previous posts below) the core argument of the text is hard to miss – the old state must be destroyed and replaced with a new one manifesting the dictatorship of the proletariat. [...]
Most Marxists today seem to agree that whatever the later compromises, retreats and forms of degeneration, this is precisely what happened in the early phase of the Russian revolution under the leadership of Lenin’s Bolsheviks. In this sense then Marxists today tend to take Lenin at his word in State and Revolution, regarding the text as a more or less accurate guide to the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary practice. That is, it is often taken as an established fact, a truism indeed repeated time and time again, that the old Russian state was ‘smashed’ and replaced with a new one based fundamentally on soviet power. [...]
[T]he central claim here – that the old state was ‘smashed’ in 1917 and a new one based (however fleetingly) on soviet institutions set up in its place – is a myth. [...]
Indeed, as T. H. Rigby demonstrates in his (highly recommended) study of the formation of the ‘Soviet’ system of government in Russia, Lenin’s Government: Sovnarkom 1917-1922, Lenin’s later comments here provide a much more accurate guide to the reality of the system put in place after the revolution than his comments in State and Revolution or the Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. As Rigby comments, there was a ‘high level of continuity in the central administrative machine of the Russian state’, before and after the revolution – so much so, that ‘the structural changes’ put into effect by the Bolsheviks ‘were scarcely greater than those sometimes accompanying changes of government in Western parliamentary systems’. [...]
Indeed the major strategic dichotomy that has been drawn by ‘Leninists’ ever since between, on the one hand, ‘reformists’, ‘left reformists’ and so on who seek to utilise existing state institutions, and, on the other hand, ‘revolutionaries’ who seek to ‘smash’ and replace that state machinery on the basis of what Lenin’s Bolsheviks are purported to have attempted (or briefly achieved), pivots on a misunderstanding/ misrepresentation of the historical reality. As we have seen the bureaucratic apparatus of the old regime in Russia was not smashed at all – in fact Lenin’s party sought, precisely, to ‘lay hold of’ this ‘ready-made state machinery’ and to ‘wield it for its own purposes’.