Opposition to Leninism and to the person of Lenin can be traced back to the split in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party into the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions at the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Bolshevik opposition to Lenin arose with the emergence of the Otzovists (or Recallists), who opposed participation in parliament. They included Alexander Bogdanov, Mikhail Pokrovsky, Anatoly Lunacharsky and Andrei Bubnov. Menshevik opposition to Leninism and Bolshevism was essentially based on what they saw as Lenin's authoritarian nature and methods for achieving a Marxist state. Such opposition was only heightened following the October Revolution, such as Julius Martov's denunciation of the restoration of the death penalty. Anti-Leninism in the context of Russian communism can also be seen in the context of those individuals that wanted Lenin removed as state leader during his reign of 1917-1924, which was both from moderates who saw policies such as war communism as too extreme and hardliners who saw policies such as the New Economic Policy as a capitulation to capitalism.
Eduard Bernstein and Rosa Luxemburg have criticised Lenin, asserting that his conception of revolution was elitist and essentially Blanquist. As part of a longer section on Blanquism in her "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (later published as "Leninism or Marxism?"), Luxemburg writes: "For Lenin, the difference between the Social Democracy and Blanquism is reduced to the observation that in place of a handful of conspirators we have a class-conscious proletariat. He forgets that this difference implies a complete revision of our ideas on organization and, therefore, an entirely different conception of centralism and the relations existing between the party and the struggle itself. Blanquism did not count on the direct action of the working class. It, therefore, did not need to organize the people for the revolution. The people were expected to play their part only at the moment of revolution. Preparation for the revolution concerned only the little group of revolutionists armed for the coup. Indeed, to assure the success of the revolutionary conspiracy, it was considered wiser to keep the mass at some distance from the conspirators".
"Left-Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder is a work by Lenin attacking assorted critics of the Bolsheviks who claimed positions to their left. Most of these critics were proponents of ideologies later described as left communism. Left communism is the range of communist viewpoints held by the communist left, which criticizes the political ideas of the Bolsheviks at certain periods, from a position that is asserted to be more authentically Marxist and proletarian than the views of Leninism held by the Communist International after its first and during its second congress. Another early analysis the Soviet Union as state capitalist came from various groups advocating left communism. One major tendency of the 1918 Russian communist left criticised the re-employment of authoritarian capitalist relations and methods of production. As Ossinsky in particular argued, "one-man management" (rather than the democratic factory committees workers had established and Lenin abolished) and the other impositions of capitalist discipline would stifle the active participation of workers in the organisation of production. Taylorism converted workers into the appendages of machines and piece work imposed individualist rather than collective rewards in production so instilling petty bourgeois values into workers. In sum these measures were seen as the re-transformation of proletarians within production from collective subject back into the atomised objects of capital. It was argued that the working class had to participate consciously in economic as well as political administration. This tendency within the 1918 left communists emphasized that the problem with capitalist production was that it treated workers as objects. Its transcendence lay in the workers' conscious creativity and participation, which is reminiscent of Marx's critique of alienation. These criticisms were revived on the left of the Russian Communist Party after the Tenth Congress in 1921, which introduced the New Economic Policy. Many members of the Workers' Opposition and the Decists (both later banned) and two new underground left communist groups, Gavril Myasnikov's Workers' Group and the Workers' Truth group, developed the idea that Russia was becoming a state capitalist society governed by a new bureaucratic class. The most developed version of this idea was in a 1931 booklet by Myasnikov.
Initial opposition to Lenin was from those loyal to the Tsar and the status quo of Russian society prior to 1917. This can best be seen in his expulsion to Switzerland.
Opposition to Leninism can also be seen in terms of those individuals and states that sought the removal of Lenin once in power. This was best illustrated during the Russian Civil War when foreign powers aided the White Army in their quest to unseat Lenin. During this time, there also came opposition from the Polish state, the Polish-Soviet War and in former Russian territories such as Finland, where the local Whites won the Finnish Civil War.
In the election to the Russian Constituent Assembly held two weeks after the Bolsheviks took power, the Socialist Revolutionary Party won the largest share of votes at 40% of the popular vote as opposed to the Bolsheviks' 25%. In January 1918, the Bolsheviks disbanded the Assembly and the majority of the Socialist Revolutionaries turned against Lenin. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed by the Bolshevik government, removing Russia from the First World War, the Left Socialist Revolutionaries also dropped out of the government. They launched an unsuccessful uprising against the government on 6 July. On 30 August, Social Revolutionary Fanny Kaplan wounded Lenin in an unsuccessful assassination attempt.
Opposition also existed in the confines of the Russian anarchist movement. Whilst this can be traced back to the initial split between anarchism and Marxism, it intensified when it became clear that Lenin had no intention of dismantling the state in the immediate future. Despite some anarchist events such as the funeral of Peter Kropotkin passing without objection, the anarchist anti-Leninist movement was largely suppressed.
This claim would become standard in anarchist works. For example, the prominent anarchist Emma Goldman in an article from 1935 titled "There Is No Communism in Russia" said of the Soviet Union: "Such a condition of affairs may be called state capitalism, but it would be fantastic to consider it in any sense Communistic [...] Soviet Russia, it must now be obvious, is an absolute despotism politically and the crassest form of state capitalism economically".
Whilst opposition to Lenin prior to 1924 was largely opposition to Lenin as an individual, post 1924 it has centered more on opposition to the doctrine of Leninism. Such opposition has come from Marxists who believe the ideals of communism were betrayed following the Russian Revolution and in contrast a form of state capitalism was established. Major supporters of this form of anti-Leninism include the Socialist Party of Great Britain as well as the World Socialist Movement.
Opposition to Leninism alongside another varieties of socialism and communism, is still practiced by those that oppose any form of Marxist teachings. There also remains strong opposition to Leninist teachings from anarchist movements, specifically the idea of a revolutionary vanguard.
When speaking about Marxism, Murray Bookchin said that "Marxism, in fact, becomes ideology. It is assimilated by the most advanced forms of state capitalist movement--notably Russia. By an incredible irony of history, Marxian "socialism" turns out to be in large part the very state capitalism that Marx failed to anticipate in the dialectic of capitalism. The proletariat, instead of developing into a revolutionary class within the womb of capitalism, turns out to be an organ within the body of bourgeois society [...] Lenin sensed this and described "socialism" as "nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people." This is an extraordinary statement if one thinks out its implications, and a mouthful of contradictions".
While speaking about Leninism, the authors of An Anarchist FAQ say: "Rather than present an effective and efficient means of achieving revolution, the Leninist model is elitist, hierarchical and highly inefficient in achieving a socialist society. At best, these parties play a harmful role in the class struggle by alienating activists and militants with their organisational principles and manipulative tactics within popular structures and groups. At worse [sic], these parties can seize power and create a new form of class society (a state capitalist one) in which the working class is oppressed by new bosses (namely, the party hierarchy and its appointees)".