Marxism is a political theory that was introduced to the world in 1848, through the publication of ‘The Communist Manifesto’. Marxism-Leninism, in contrast, is a strand of Marxism that was developed by Vladimir Lenin, who sought to adapt early twentieth century Russia to those until-then theoretical ideas of Marx and Engels. Discussed below will be a brief summary of what I feel are the most prominent differences between the two strands of thought.
Before I begin, it is important to note that unlike Marxism, Marxism-Leninism was created to adapt an entire country, meaning that Lenin was forced to look at economic matters in much more detail than Marx had ever needed to. Marx’s writings had largely been expecting these communist revolutions to be happening in much more developed and advanced capitalist countries – Something which Russia most definitely was not. By the time of 1917, where Lenin-Marxism first came into play, Russia was an economically stagnant country that was mainly inhabited by peasant farmers, most of whom were also illiterate. Thus, economic and industrial development were two key areas for Marxism-Leninism to focus on, whilst Marxism was created with the assumption that these revolutions would take place in those world powers that already contained well-developed industrial and financial infrastructure. Therefore, many of the differences between the two strands stem from this fact, and it is not surprising that many other communist regimes such as those in China and Laos have chosen to follow Marxism-Leninism instead.
The next major difference between these two strands of thought lies within when they believed the proletariat revolution would take place. Marxism firmly believed that the revolution was inevitable in capitalist countries due to the continuation of classist suppression. And so he believed that this continuation would thus incite the revolutionary wrath of the working class, who would then single-handedly enact the Proletariat Revolution. In contrast, Leninism did not believe this, and instead argued that the expansion of Imperialism ensured that the working class would never develop this revolutionary consciousness that Marx believed in. The expanding powers and wealthiness of more developed nations, Lenin argued, meant that governments could just provide their working classes with just enough capital and benefits to dampen any revolutionary feelings they may have. The set-up of the Duma – the ‘first genuine attempt towards parliamentary government in Russia’ – following the 1905 Revolution would be a key example of this. Therefore, whilst Marxism believed that a revolution was bound to take place due to a whole class awakening of the working class, Marxism-Leninism instead believed that the continuation of imperialism made it so that the working class benefitted from the system just enough to not develop this awakening, and the theory goes even further to argue that to reach this revolutionary stage, a political party would need to guide those people there.
The second major difference between these two strands of thought lie in each’s belief surrounding the develop of the class consciousness that is needed to get to the point of a revolution. Marxism, to begin with, firmly held the belief that the working class would spontaneously develop a class consciousness, despite the class being largely uneducated. Upon doing so, Marxism argued that the people would immediately push for a proletariat revolution, where they, the people, can take control. Marxism-Leninism, again, did not believe this, and instead firmly believed in the formation of a political party that represented the people. They would use this party to break the workers from their capitalist state of mind, and educate to help the workers develop a communist one instead.
Finally, in what is perhaps the biggest major difference, the two strands of thought differ on who they believe would be in control as the revolution took place. Marxism strongly advocated in the idea of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ which would happen when the post-revolutionary state seizes the means of production in the nation. They would push for the implementation of direct elections on behalf of the ruling proletarian state party, therefore instituting elected delegates into representative workers’ councils that nationalize the ownership of the means of production, ensuring collective ownership. Leninism, in contrast, strongly advocated for the ‘dictatorship of the Communist party’, whereby the leaders of said party act on what they think would be best for the working class.
In summary, Marxism pushed for a new state run by the people, whilst Marxism-Leninism pushed for a new state that would continuously run by a party that was ‘for the people’.