Lenin understood the distinction between revolts and revolutions. He knew that the peasantry can be pushed to revolt — the Russian peasantry was the most backward, abused, and brutalized in Europe — but would falter once their passions were spent. As a Russian with more than a little Mongol in him, he was familiar with Pugachev’s Rebellion, and understood why it failed: Pugachev was a throwback who, like all pre-modern rebel leaders, preached an idealized past (he went so far as to pretend to be the assassinated Tsar Peter III, another common feature of pre-modern rebellions).* Better to be a free peasant under Pugachev than a serf under Catherine, I suppose, but being a free Cossack is better than both, and that clearly wasn’t in the cards. Pugachev wasn’t offering a viable alternative — his was a real rebellion, as I’m defining the term.
Lenin understood that a real revolution requires a viable alternative. More importantly, a revolution requires a group that understands the alternative, that can preach it to the masses, and is willing to do what it takes to make it happen. This was his great insight, and why “-Leninism” got appended to “Marxism” wherever Commies gained actual power. That “Vanguard of the Proletariat” stuff isn’t (just) self-serving hooey to justify the nomenklatura’s cushy lifestyle while the people are starving. It’s a dead-bang description of actual revolutionary practice. You’ve got to have one in order to succeed.
Our paradigm case is the English Civil War, and I trust that the “vanguard” there is obvious: The hot gospellers who saw Charles I’s religious meddling as the work of the actual Antichrist. “Puritanism” — here lumping in lots of diverse groups who hated each other for convenience’s sake — is a bizarre creed, unlike anything seen before. We can’t really realize how strange it seemed back then, because in a very real sense we’re all Puritans now — we share their core belief, which is that the external world must be made to conform to all the undulations of our own pwecious widdle selves. This is very obviously a species of nihilism, since if the world can’t be made to reflect our souls, it must be destroyed, taking our souls with it. Nobody hates the world more efficiently than the man who hates himself, and the Puritans are still the all-time champions of self-hate. Scratch a hot gospeller, find a suicide vest.
But they were educated, those Puritans, and they had a prose style (incomprehensible as it seems to modern eyes), and the printing presses to publicize it. When your society has a critical mass of people who see themselves inevitably trending downwards, “something radically different” will always beat “more of the same,” provided “something radically different” has some kind of divine sanction behind it. Back in the 1630s you needed Scriptural citations. By 1917 the Gospel of Karl Marx was enough…
…and given the ongoing, rapidly-accelerating enstupidation of the human race, I can’t even imagine how little it’s going to take to kick off our century’s Great Calamity. The comments are open; speculate away.