Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

desirable to carry such analyses as far as science in general is capable of doing. A limit is set by the frame of reference with which the student of action is working. That is, he is interested in phenomena with an aspect not reducible to action terms only in so far as they impinge on the schema of action in a relevant way--in the role of conditions or means. So long as their properties, which are important in this context, can be accurately determined these may be taken as data without further analysis. Above all, atoms, electrons or cells are not to be regarded as units for purposes of the theory of action. Unit analysis of any phenomenon beyond the point where it constitutes an integral means or condition of action leads over into terms of another theoretical scheme. For the purposes of the theory of action the smallest conceivable concrete unit is the unit act, and while it is in turn analyzable into the elements to which reference has been made--end, means, conditions and guiding norms--further analysis of the phenomena of which these are in turn aspects is relevant to the theory of action only in so far as the units arrived at can be referred to as constituting such elements of a unit act or a system of them.❖

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin ( 1870-1924) was the dominant force in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the founder of Bolshevik communism. After studying law in Saint Petersburg, he traveled throughout Russia and visited Western Europe, where he established contacts with Socialist leaders. In 1895, he began organizing working people in Saint Petersburg, for which he was arrested and exiled. In exile, he wrote The Development of Capitalism in Russia ( 1899). When the revolution began in 1917, Lenin guided action while in hiding until Aleksandr Kerensky was overthrown. Later, he led the provisional Soviet government. He suffered a stroke in 1921 and died in 1924. The selection from What Is to Be Done? though composed in 1901-1902, more accurately belongs to the period between the wars because of its influence on the Russian Revolution and the dilemmas of Soviet communism. Hence, the selection is dated 1917-1921, when Lenin was in power and able to practice his theory. Lenin sought to introduce the political action of the vanguard into the so-called economistic formula that limited political action to the economic needs of the working class. His social theory wed political and economic theory. Even though Stalinism was the actual and unintended consequence of his ideas, Lenin should be considered one of the first to focus social theory on the actor (as Parsons would later put it) in a structured society.


What Is to Be Done?

V. I. Lenin( 1917-1921)

Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism is combined with absorption in the narrowest forms of practical activity. The importance of theory for Russian Social-Democrats is still greater for three reasons, which are often forgotten:

____________________
Excerpt from What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement ( New York: International Publishers, 1943 [ 1929]), pp. 28, 75-78. Reprinted by permission.

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