First published in Rabochy No. 2, September 8 (August 26), 1917.
Published according to the Rabochy text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 265-268.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Mr. Tsereteli is one of the most garrulous of the “socialist” Ministers and petty-bourgeois leaders. You have to force yourself to read his countless speeches right through. These absolutely meaningless, absolutely non-committal, absolutely insignificant, truly “ministerial” speeches are so empty and banal. What makes these eloquent “utterances” (whose very emptiness was bound to make Tsereteli a favourite of the bourgeoisie) so intolerable is the infinite self-conceit of the speaker. It is sometimes hard to decide whether those sleek, smooth and honeyed phrases conceal unusual stupidity or cynical political trickery.
The more meaningless Tsereteli’s speeches, the more emphatically we must stress the perfectly incredible and extraordinary thing that happened to him at the plenary session of the Petrograd Soviet on August 18. It is incredible but a fact that Tsereteli accidentally uttered a couple of simple, clear, sensible and true sentences. He uttered two sentences which correctly express a profound and serious political truth, a truth of no fleeting importance, but one that sums up the whole present-day political situation, its essential, radical features and its fundamental characteristics.
According to the account published in Rech, Tsereteli (the reader, of course, will remember that Tsereteli was up in arms against the resolution demanding the abolition of the death penalty) said:
“None of your resolutions will help. What we need is real action and not paper resolutions....
There is no denying it. Sensible speeches are pleasant to hear.
Of course, this truth hits first and hardest of all at Tsereteli himself. For it was he, one of the most prominent leaders of the Soviet, who helped prostitute this institution, reduce its role to that of a wretched liberal assembly, which is bequeathing an archive of exemplarily impotent and pious wishes to the world. Tsereteli—who got the Soviet, emasculated by the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, to pass hundreds of “paper resolutions”—least of all had the right, when it came to adopting a resolution which struck a painful blow at himself, to cry out against “paper resolutions” He has put himself in -the particularly ridiculous position of a parliamentarian who has worked on more “parliamentary” resolutions than anyone else, has extolled their worth to the skies more than anyone else, and has fussed over them more than anyone else, yet, when a resolution is passed against him, cries “sour grapes!” at the top of his voice, saying that the resolution, after all, is only a paper one.
Nevertheless, the truth is the truth, even if uttered by a false man in a false tone.
The resolution is a paper one not for the reason given by ex-Minister Tsereteli, who holds that defence of the revolution (don’t laugh!) requires the death penalty. The resolution is a paper one because it repeats the stereotyped formula which has been learnt by heart and meaninglessly reiterated ever since March 1917—”The Soviet demands of the Provisional Government.” They are accustomed to “demand”, and they go on doing so by force of habit, not seeing that the situation has changed, that power has left them, and that a “demand” not backed by power is ridiculous.
Moreover, this stereotyped “demand” fosters among the people the illusion that the situation has not changed, that the Soviet is a power, that by announcing its “demand” the Soviet has done its business and can sleep the sleep of one who has done his duty as a “revolutionary (if you please) democrat”.
A reader may ask: “Do you mean to say that the Bolsheviks, who advocate political clearheadedness and taking account of the forces, and who are opposed to phrasemongering, should not have voted for the resolution?”
No. They should have voted for it, if only because one clause of the resolution (the third) contains the excellent and true idea (the fundamental, main and decisive idea) that the death penalty is a weapon against the masses (the situation would be different if it were a weapon against the landowners and capitalists). They should have voted for the resolution, even though the philistine Socialist-Revolutionaries fouled Martov’s text and instead of the reference to “imperialist aims which are alien to the interests of the people” inserted an absolutely false phrase intended to deceive the people and whitewash a predatory war, namely, “defence of the country and the revolution”.
They should have voted for the resolution, at the same time recording their disagreement with certain passages and declaring: “Workers, don’t think the Soviet is now in a position to demand anything of the Provisional Government. Don’t have any illusions. Understand that the Soviet is already unable to demand, and that the present government is under the complete sway of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. Think seriously about this bitter truth.” Nobody could have prevented the Soviet members from voting in favour after they had made such reservations in one form or another.
Then the resolution would have ceased to be a “paper” one.
And then we could have got round the treacherous question of Tsereteli who asked the Soviet members whether they wanted to “overthrow” the Provisional Government—in quite the same way, in exactly the same way, as Katkov asked the liberals under Alexander III whether they wanted to “overthrow” the autocracy. We would have answered the ex-Minister: “Dear citizen, you have just passed a criminal law against those who ‘attempt’, or who only intend, to overthrow’ the government (which was formed by agreement between the landowners and capitalists, on the one hand, and the petty-bourgeois traitors to democracy, on the other). We are well aware that all the bourgeoisie would have praised you even more heartily had you ‘brought’ several Bolsheviks under that pleasant (for you) law. But don’t be surprised if we don’t go out of our way to help you find pretexts to apply that ‘pleasant’ law.”
The whole political system of Russia was reflected in the incident of August 18 like the sun in a pool of water: the Bonapartist government, the death penalty, the criminal law, the coating of these “pleasant” (for the provocateurs) pills by just the kind of phrases that Louis Napoleon used to give out about equality, fraternity, liberty, the honour and prestige of the country, the traditions of the Great Revolution, the suppression of anarchy.
Petty-bourgeois ministers and ex-ministers, cloyingly sweet-tongued, protesting that they have souls, that they are damning their souls by introducing the death penalty and applying it to the people, and that they weep when they do so—an improved edition of the “schoolmaster” of the sixties who followed Pirogov’s advice and thrashed not simply, not in the ordinary old way, but while shedding tears of commiseration over the good citizen’s son who was undergoing a “legitimate” and “just” caning.
Peasants, deceived by their petty-bourgeois leaders, continuing to believe that the marriage of the bloc of Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks with the bourgeoisie can bring about the abolition of private ownership of land without compensation.
Workers—but we shall say nothing about what the workers think until the “humane” Tsereteli abolishes the new criminal law.