Lenin v. Marx on the State
Lenin’s The State and Revolution
Many people assume that Marx believed the working class would only be able to come to power by smashing the State in a violent uprising. They do not realise that this was Lenin’s view and one which tried to pass off as Marx’s in his dishonest pamphlet The State and Revolution. 
Marx’s theory of the State is quite clear. When the early communist communities under which mankind originally lived broke up into class societies, a new social institution to protect the interests of the dominant class was needed. This institution was the State, which is essentially an armed centre of social control. The class that controls the Slate is thereby able to control also society, in the end by force of arms; it is the ruling class. In the course of history the State has been controlled by various classes — Ancient slaveowners, feudal barons and. now, modern capitalists. Today’s subject class, the workers, can only achieve its freedom by itself winning control of the State and using it to abolish class society by establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. With the end of classes the need for a State, as the special social organ of coercion, also disappears. The classless society of Socialism has no State, but simply a democratic administrative centre for settling social affairs.
Throughout his political life Marx insisted that the working class must capture the State before trying to establish Socialism and that Socialism would be a society without a State.
In the early days Marx expected that the workers would only be able to win power in a violent insurrection. In the 1840’s this was not an unreasonable proposition. Universal suffrage existed hardly anywhere and the insurrection — barricades, street-fighting, the seizure of public buildings — was a method used even by capitalist politicians. Marx later realised that universal suffrage was an alternative method the workers might be able to use in their struggle to win State power. In 1872 in a speech at the Hague, where the congress of the First International was being held, Marx commented that he thought the workers might be able to achieve power peacefully in America, Britain and perhaps Holland  —countries where they made up a majority of the voters. In 1880 a French Workers’ Party was founded. Its manifesto had been drafted in Marx’s study and spoke of turning universal suffrage from a fraud into “an agent of emancipation’’ . Engels in his Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France  (an account of French politics from 1848 to 1850) explains how he and Marx came to regard the insurrection behind barricades as an obsolete weapon for the working class and goes on to show how universal suffrage could be much more effective.
Marx, then, left open the question of how the working class would win State power and did not rule out the possibility of their winning control of the State by peaceful means.
As to what the working class should do with the State once they had won control of it, Marx always insisted that they should immediately establish a democratic republic. After the Paris Commune of 1871 he declared that the workers would have to make other, more radical changes in the structure of the State before they could use it to establish Socialism.
The Paris Commune was an ultra-democratic regime set up by patriotic elements after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. After the French Revolution Napoleon had built up a vast bureaucratic and administratively centralised State machine in France. This had remained intact throughout the 19th century despite the insurrections of 1830 and 1848. Only one regime — the Paris Commune — had tried to replace it. This attempt greatly impressed Marx and led him to argue that the workers, once they had won State power, should immediately go on to break up this kind of bureaucratic State apparatus that had grown up too in many other European countries.
In his private letters and notes Marx sometimes referred to the period during which the workers would be using State power to establish Socialism as “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. This has often been misunderstood to mean that he advocated dictatorship in the sense this word is generally understood today. In fact, in Marx’s day, the word meant little more than “government” and, as we saw.,Marx advocated that while under the control of the working class (or “proletariat”) the State should be made democratic. 
Marx views can be summarised:
- The working class must first, either peacefully or violently, win control of the State.
- Then they must make it completely democratic, and,
- Use it to dispossess the capitalists and establish the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
- This done, there would no longer be any need for the State, which consequently would cease to exist in Socialism.
Marx’s views were distorted in two opposing ways. First, by some Social Democrats who made him stand for a gradual, peaceful transition to Socialism by means of social reform measures passed by parliament. Secondly, by Lenin.
When Lenin returned to Russia in April 1917 after the overthrow of the Tsar he began to advocate that his party, the Bolsheviks, should aim to seize power in the near future. He knew that they could only do this in a violent uprising. Forced into hiding in August and September he wrote this pamphlet The State and Revolution in which he distorted Marx’s views so as to justify in Marxist terms the Bolsheviks’ planned insurrection.
. . . all the revolutions which have occurred up to now perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed, (p. 45, our emphasis).
Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery’, and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it (p. 59).
It is simply a question of showing that the victorious proletariat must first refashion the old bureaucratic, administratively centralised state power before it can use it for its own purposes (Letter to Bernstein, 1 Jan. 1884 our emphasis). 
From the very outset the Commune was compelled to recognise that the working class, once come to power, could not go on managing with the old state machine; that . . . this working class must . . . do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself . . . (p. 123, our emphasis).
. . . the state is nothing but a machine for the suppression of one class by another . . . and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the victorious proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at once as much as possible . . . (p. 127. our emphasis).
Marx meant that the working class must smash, break, shatter . . . the whole state machine (p. 169).
From 1852 to 1891, for forty years, Marx and Engels taught the proletariat that it must smash the state machine (p. 170).
The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property. But in doing this, it . . . abolishes . . . the state as state.