What Is To BE DONE? study guide


Note:   Few of Lenin’s works are more controversial than What Is To Be Done.”  WITBD supposedly demonstrates Lenin’s contempt for workers and their ability to achieve class consciousness as well as the seeds of a later Stalinism. Like many of Lenin’s writings, WITBD was intended to address urgent political tasks in Russia under conditions of extreme repression. How do revolutionaries build organizations that are both effective and democratic in their functioning?

Hopefully, the reader will get a more nuanced and rounded view of Lenin’s thinking.


What Is To BE DONE? study guide (class one)


Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?”, Chs. I, II, and III


Lenin, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”

The myth of Lenin’s elitism, Paul D’Amato

Scotching the myths about Lenin’s `What is to be done’  Lars T. Lih:

1. Lenin states that “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary  movement.”  Why is this? Why are correct theory and program
important to a workers’ party? What happens to workers’ political organizations  that carry on without them?

2     Why doesn’t the revolutionary theory of scientific socialism emerge directly out  of the workers’ daily experiences in the workplace and the community?

3   What is “trade-union consciousness”? Lenin states that trade-union  consciousness alone “means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the  bourgeoisie.” Why is this?

4  Is trade-union activity sufficient to advance the class interests of the workers?

5 Why is an understanding of all the struggles and social conflicts that are going on  in society essential to the training of workers in revolutionary activity?

6  Lenin insists that political questions – above all the question of political power  – cannot be subordinate to issues of a trade-union character or be of equal  importance, but rather that they are the most important questions facing the working  class. Why is this?

7  How do Lenin’s thoughts on theory, on socialist and trade-union consciousness.  and on the primacy of politics relate to the need for a revolutionary vanguard  party?

8  What groups or parties today have views like those held by the  Economists?

WHAT Is To BE DONE? (class two)


Lenin, “What Is To Be Done?”,  Ch. III, Section E, Ch. IV,
Sections A-D, and Ch. V, Sections B and C


Lenin, “Where to Begin?”

Communist International, The Organizational Structure of the Communist Parties,  the Methods and Content of Their Work

A new kind of anti-capitalism? Shaun Harkin


1   Lenin’s opponents accused him of downplaying “workers’ demands” by putting such stress on democratic demands and the struggles of other social groups (e.g., students, peasants). Why did Lenin believe the party must champion and seek to  lead the struggle for democratic demands? Why did he believe the party should champion the needs of all the oppressed? Did this mean he downplayed demands in the interests of the workers?

2  Lenin said that the ideal of the party should “not be the trade-union secretary, but the tribune of the people.”  What did this mean? What were the implications of this for party work in the trade unions?

3  Lenin said that without the combination of “socialist convictions with professional skill”  in agitation and organization, the proletariat cannot be
victorious in its struggle to overthrow capitalism. Why is this?

4  Lenin said that “no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable organization of leaders maintaining continuity,” that, “the broader the popular mass drawn spontaneously into the struggle, which forms the basis of the movement and participates in it, the more urgent [is] the need for such an organization” and that “such an organization must consist chiefly of people professionally engaged in revolutionary activity”.  Why is this?

5  How is the concept of an organization of professional revolutionaries related to what Lenin says in the beginning of What Is To Be Done? about trade-union consciousness and socialist consciousness? How is it related to his concept that the struggle for Marxist theory and program is as important as practical class- struggle activity for a revolutionary socialist party?

6    Why should a revolutionary party be democratic? Why is an organization made up chiefly of professional revolutionaries more likely to be able to be democratic than an organization consisting largely of members who only engage in revolutionary activity when there is a mass revolutionary movement?

7 Why should a revolutionary party have a centralized decision-making structure? Some radicals have suggested that “local organizing” or a “coalition” (i.e., a federation) of different movements can substitute for a centralized party of revolutionary action. Why is such an organizational form inadequate to the task  of leading a proletarian revolution?  What is horizontalism? Why is this type of organizing problematic?

8    Lenin saw a national newspaper as the collective propagandist, collective agitator, and collective organizer of the party. How does it fulfill these functions? What role does the internet (social media, web sites) play in revolutionary propaganda?  What are the negative as well as positive implications?

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