Lenin and Luther – Worlds Apart?
Brendan George, Publisher and Global Head of Philosophy at Palgrave Macmillan, reflects on the differences - and surprising similarities – of two revolutionary figures
In October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his theses to a Wittenberg church door. In October 1917 Vladimir Lenin declared that ‘we shall now proceed to build the Socialist order’. But is a mere coincidence regarding dates the only thing that links these two world-shaking events?
One might initially think so. Lenin was after all an avowed atheist; Luther a Christian theologian. Lenin supported strikes and working class militias; Luther condemned the Great Peasants’ Revolt and lent his support to the nobles. The revolution Lenin worked for was primarily concerned with state power. The reformation Luther worked for was primarily concerned with the fate of individuals.
But there are also some surprising links: Luther was a professor of theology but Lenin also wrote a serious work of abstract philosophy. As well as theorists, both were men of action spending time under arrest, as outlaws, in hiding, and at times travelling incognito. Lenin is also famous for publishing a set of theses – the April Theses which, following the Tsar’s abdication, set the Bolsheviks on the road towards the October Revolution. Both men subsequently worked hard to try to contain and constrain the changes they had helped bring about – they both realised that revolutions can go too far.
But still what of the more fundamental differences outlined above? Well perhaps even here things aren’t quite so clear-cut. For although Luther condemned the Great Peasants’ Revolt, it is also thought by many that his teachings helped inspire it – Thesis 86 for instance. And although Marxists are concerned with state power, Marx also contended that Communism would usher in a society of ‘free individuality’.
So we are left with two world-historical figures. Whatever we initially think of them we are compelled to continue to study them and Palgrave Macmillan is proud to publish two books that will help us do just that. Find out more about Martin Luther's Legacy and The Palgrave Handbook of Leninist Political Philosophy.