Arguably the biggest impact on the 20th century came from one man, Karl Marx. The ideas laid out in his work (Das Kapital, Communist Manifesto) has shaped regimes that have dominated much of the world’s population; regimes in huge countries like China and Russia have fallen to revolutionaries heralding the Marxist teachings as a kind of ideological banner. The Russian revolution in particular, being the first and most influential Communist revolution, demands attention. Lenin’s spin on Marxism is the key adaptation and most other communist leaders have followed in the footsteps of him. We will look at the way Marxism and Leninism differ through examining Soviet Russia. We will explore the way the Bolsheviks seized power and the policies of the regime once it gained power. Furthermore, we will consider in-depth consider the keynote policies of the era; War Communism and the New Economic Policy.
Marxism is can be summed up in three words; revolution, progress and class. Marx’s main idea is that economics drives class conflict, which in term determines history. Lenin differs from Marx in a few key areas; Marx wanted an intermittent “dictatorship of the proletariat”  to shepherd the people toward a stateless society, Lenin however decided the dictatorship of the proletariat would be perpetual. Similarly disregarding Marx strict instructions, Lenin discards the bourgeois revolution and instead provokes an uprising of the peasants when Marx believed in five stages of revolution in order to bring about his communist utopia.
The theory of Marxism states that Capitalism creates an inherently corrupt class system that thrives off the exploitation of the working class by the upper and middles classes. As Capitalism is both an economic and political system, this exploitation inevitably creates economic and political conflict and thusly Marx states that the natural evolution of human kind would then be to have a bourgeoisie revolution first, then to have a working class revolution to over throw their oppressors. Marx believed that the ultimate stage of this evolution was for humanity to reach a point over centuries of change to a society where there is no government, no sense of nation or class; Marx believed, in his society, we would all be simply, human.
The Bourgeoisie revolution is key in the implementation of Marxist theory; the exploitation by the “most revolutionary [class]” would consequently create a “revolutionary consciousness” among the proletariat. Revolution is an important part of Marxism; it can however come through both violent and democratic means. The inevitability of revolution is a crucial part of Marx’s theory; he puts the blame on capitalism. Although revolution is inevitable, Marx does argue it could be a long way off. The bourgeois dominance over the working classes is common place in modern society where the employers have all control and wealth; the bourgeois control of the state (as can be seen by the number of Etonians in David Cameron’s “inner circle”); and nationalism is encouraged to prevent workers uniting by pitting on nation of workers against another.
One of the key differences between the two theories is that Marx stated that we would eventually reach a system where there was no need for government and everybody was equal in terms of wealth and class status. He believed society would evolve to a point where everyone would be educated to do the best for society; where there was no such thing as worker as everyone would do all jobs. Lenin disagrees, the need for a strong government is essential to maintaining order and protection.
Another key distinction between Marxism and Leninism is that Marxist theory tells us that the natural evolution of man would mean that the bourgeoisie would rise up to overthrow the upper classes. Lenin contradicted this theory by ”skipping a few steps” and encouraging the peasants to revolt in 1917. Nowhere in Marx’s communist manifesto does it state that the peasants should or will have anything to do with the creation of a socialist society, but Lenin disregarded this in order to speed up his rise to power. Peasants were notoriously conservative in Russia; since peasants were a product of the feudal age they were only concerned with land rather than ownership of factories or the “means of production”. Peasants made up the majority of the population in Russia meaning Lenin needed their backing. It was Russian tradition of communal farming and land distribution according to family size in farming communities that made it appealing to communist revolutionaries. When Lenin gave speeches about the bourgeoisie and the factories they didn’t find it to desirable but in the end he won them over with his promise of “Peace, Land and Bread”.
Through the policies of War Communism and the New Economic Policy clear distinctions between Marxism and Leninism become apparent. The main difference is the strict control Lenin imposed over the workers. Where in Marxism the belief is in an egalitarian society; in Russia, Lenin introduced first a vanguard party which would represent the interests of the people through a dictatorship of the proletariat where professional revolutionaries would always have the best interests of the people at heart. Lenin introduced War communism following the outbreak of the Russian Civil War to ensure the supply of the weapons, ammunitions and food stuffs to the troops. This was enforced through strict disciple for all workers and military style control over the railways. Lenin formed a totalitarian state to defend the revolution around a policy that was strictly anti-imperialism; democratic centralism and party building principles which were expansions from Marxism.
Lenin’s serious deviation from Marxist ideas means that Russia cannot be seen as a serious application of Marxist ideas; indeed, it seemed the revolution happened too soon. The decision to bypass the bourgeois revolution (which meant there was a lack of a revolutionary consciousness among the proletariats) and the role of an absolutist state are major differences between two different ideologies.
Letter from Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer dated March 5, 1852 in Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, Collected Works Vol. 39 (International Publishers: New York, 1983) pp. 62–65.
 Marx. K & Engels, F. Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
 Georg Lukacs. History and Class Counsciousness, 1923.
 Published 14 March by Steven Swindon, last viewed 01/04/2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10699476/Michael-Gove-Number-of-Etonians-in-Camerons-cabinet-is-ridiculous.html
 Lenin, V. The State and Revolution, 1917.
 The promise that came from “Lenin’s Proclamation of 7 November 1917”, “Soldiers! For peace, for bread, for land, and for the power of the people”
 Ian Adams. Political ideology today. Manchester England, UK: Manchester University Press, 1993. p. 201.
 Nicolas Werth, Histoire de l’Union Soviétique de Lénine à Staline(History of the Soviet Union from Lenin to Stalin), 1995
 Marxism–Leninism. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company