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Leninism, or Marxism-Leninism, is the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's variant of Marxism. Lenin argued that the proletariat can only achieve revolutionary consciousness through the efforts of a communist party that assumes the role of "revolutionary vanguard". Lenin further believed that such a party could only achieve its aims through a form of disciplined organization known as democratic centralism. Other beliefs of Lenin included the need to spread the communist revolution to other countries, a belief that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, and the exclusion of any compromise with the bourgeoisie.

Another chief difference between earlier Marxism and Lenin's views was that Lenin believed socialism could be established in a country which had not passed through the full development of industrial capitalism. Marx viewed the socialist revolution as arising out of the industrial proletariat. Yet Russia at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution was not primarily an industrial country; its common populace were primarily agricultural peasants, not industrial workers and there was little sign of revolution in the advanced industrial nations.

Lenin argued that Marx had failed to consider the effects of imperialism and that the advanced industrial nations were avoiding revolution by forcing their excess production into captive colonial markets and exploiting those colonies for their resources. This strengthened capitalism to the point that the revolution would not occur in the most advanced nations but rather in the weakest imperialist state, that being Russia. Many Marxist critics of Leninism, which included social democrats and Eurocommunists held that the Bolshevik program was contrary to Marx's theory of history.

The policies of Leninism were superseded in the Soviet Union by Stalinism. In China, Leninist ideology and structure were the basis of organization for both the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China and formed the starting point for Maoism. Marxism-Leninism is often used by Maoists and others as short hand for Maoist theory, this meaning derives from the common Maoist party name "Community Party of [nation] (Marxist-Leninist)".

Leninism was popular in the third world as it offered a development model and ideological framework for political policy. The popularity of Leninism in the third world concerned the United States during the Cold War. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Leninist policies became considerably less popular in the third world. Although abandoning much of his economic policy, the Communist Party of China is still organized along Leninist lines.

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