Consciousness or Spontaneity

In “What Is To Be Done?” Lenin critiqued the Economist view of spontaneity and argued for a conscious revolution. He criticized the Economist view of spontaneity due to its disorganization and inability to learn from the past. Lenin believed that one could not learn from previous unsuccessful revolutions in Russia if one does not use conscious thought. He believed that they way to create a successful society that one would want to live in is through a conscious proletariat revolution. He argued against “the spontaneous development of the working class-movement” because it “leads to the subordination to bourgeois ideology.” This reflected Karl Marx’s criticism that ideologies are designed to gain the interest of those that they hurt and create a false-consciousness.

Karl Marx believed that in order for the proletariats to rise up against the bourgeois they need to create a self-conscious movement which is what Lenin developed his idea of what is to be done in Russia. In the book Selected Writings of Karl Marx, he wrote about when the proletariat is at the brink of revolution they

“cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation…All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata being sprung into the air…Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society” (168-169)

The proletariat revolution needed the help of those in the class above the working class, because Lenin believed the“the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness” instead of a conscious life. The working-class with the help of the intelligentsia can develop consciousness. This is similar to Marx in the sense that he believed that the bourgeoisie would be their own-grave diggers. If the working-class developed consciousness the “revolutionary experience and organizational skill are things that can be acquired, provided the desire is there to acquire them, provided the shortcomings are recognized, which in revolutionary activity is more than half-way towards their removal.” The recognition of the short-comings stemmed from consciousness. Overall, Lenin believed consciousness was necessary for a successful proletariat revolution and criticized focusing solely on spontaneity.

Works Cited

Lenin, Vladimir. “Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?: The Spontaneity of the Masses and the Consciousness of the Social-Democrats.” N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2014.


Marx, Karl. Selected Writings. Comp. Lawrence Hugh Simon. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994. Print.

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