V. I.   Lenin

The Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry[2]

Published: Vperyod. No. 14, April 12 (March 30), 1905. Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 293-303.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The question of the participation of Social-Democracy in the provisional revolutionary government has been high-lighted less by the course of events than by the theoretical reasonings of Social-Democrats of a certain trend. We dealt in two articles (issues Nos. 13 and 14) with the arguments of Martynov, who was the first to bring up this question. It appears, however, that the interest in the question is so keen and the misconceptions to which the afore-mentioned arguments have given rise (see in particular Iskra, No. 93) are so great that it is necessary to go into this matter once more. However Social-Democrats may assess the probability of our having to give more than a theoretical answer to this question in the near future, the Party at any rate must be clear as to its immediate aims. Unless there is clarity in this matter there can no longer be any consistent propaganda and agitation free from vacillations and mental reservations.

Let us try to reconstruct the essence of the controversial question.If what we want is not only concessions from the autocracy but its actual overthrow, we must work to replace the tsarist government by a provisional revolutionary government, which would, on the one hand, convene a Constituent Assembly on the basis of really universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot, and, on the other, be in a position to ensure real and complete freedom during the elections. Thus, the question arises whether it is right for the Social-Democratic Labour Party to participate in such a provisional revolutionary government. This question was first raised by spokesmen of the opportunist wing of   our Party, specifically by Martynov, prior to the Ninth of January, when he, and with him Iskra, answered it in the negative. Martynov sought to carry the conceptions of the revolutionary Social-Democrats to an absurdity; he frightened them by saying that in the event of a successful out come to our work of organising the revolution, with our Party’s assumption of leadership of the popular armed uprising, we would have to participate in the provisional revolutionary government. This participation would mean inadmissible “seizure of power”, it would be “crass Jaurèsism”, which no class-conscious Social-Democratic Party could tolerate.

Let us dwell on the contentions of those who hold to such a point of view. By participating in the provisional government, we are told, Social-Democracy would have the power in its hands; but as the party of the proletariat, Social-Democracy cannot hold the power without attempting to put our maximum programme into effect, i.e., without attempting to bring about the socialist revolution. In such an undertaking it would, at the present time, inevitably come to grief, discredit itself, and play into the hands of the reactionaries. Hence, participation by Social-Democrats in a provisional revolutionary government is inadmissible.

This argument is based on a misconception; it confounds the democratic revolution with the socialist revolution, the struggle for the republic (including our entire minimum programme) with the struggle for socialism. If Social-Democracy sought to make the socialist revolution its immediate aim, it would assuredly discredit itself. It is precisely such vague and hazy ideas of our “Socialists—Revolutionaries” that Social-Democracy has always combated. For this reason Social-Democracy has constantly stressed the bourgeois nature of the impending revolution in Russia and insisted on a clear line of demarcation between the democratic minimum programme and the socialist maximum programme. Some Social-Democrats, who are inclined to yield to spontaneity, might forget all this in time of revolution, but not the Party as a whole. The adherents of this erroneous view make an idol of spontaneity in their belief that the march of events will compel the Social-Democratic Party in such a position to set about achieving the socialist revolution, despite itself. Were this so, our programme would be incorrect, it would   not be in keeping with the “march of events”, which is exactly what the spontaneity worshippers fear; they fear for the correctness of our programme. But this fear (a psychological explanation of which we attempted to give in our articles) is entirely baseless. Our programme is correct. And the march of events will assuredly confirm this more and more fully as time goes on. It is the march of events that will “impose” upon us the imperative necessity of waging a furious struggle for the republic and, in practice, guide our forces, the forces of the politically active proletariat, in this direction. It is the march of events that will, in the democratic revolution, inevitably impose upon us such a host of allies from among the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry, whose real needs will demand the implementation of our minimum programme, that any concern over too rapid a transition to the maximum programme is simply absurd.

On the other hand, however, these very allies from among the petty-bourgeois democrats create in the minds of Social-Democrats of a certain trend new misgivings, namely, fear of “crass Jaurèsism”. Participation in a government with the bourgeois democrats has been banned by a resolution of the Amsterdam Congress[3]; it is Jaurèsism, i.e., unconscious betrayal of the interests of the proletariat, the reduction of the proletariat to a hanger-on of the bourgeoisie, its corruption with the illusion of power, which in reality is completely unattainable in bourgeois society.

That reasoning is no less fallacious. It shows that those who resort to it have memorised good resolutions without understanding their meaning; they have learned a few anti-Jaurèsist catchwords by rote, but have not duly weighed them and thus misapply them; they have learned the letter but not the spirit of the recent lessons of international revolutionary Social-Democracy. To judge Jaurèsism from the point of view of dialectical materialism one must draw a clear line between subjective motives and objective historical conditions. Subjectively, Jaurès wanted to save the republic by entering into an alliance with the bourgeois democrats. The objective conditions of this “experiment” were that the republic in France had become an established fact and was in no grave danger; that the working class had every opportunity of developing an independent class   political organisation but did not take full advantage of this opportunity, partly because it was influenced by the parliamentary humbug of its leaders; that in actual practice, history was already objectively posing before the working class the tasks of the socialist revolution, from which the Millerands were luring the proletariat with promises of paltry social reforms.

Now to take Russia. Subjectively, revolutionary Social-Democrats like the Vperyod-ists or Parvus want to secure the republic by entering into an alliance with the revolutionary bourgeois democrats. The objective conditions differ from those in France as night differs from day. Objectively, the historical course of events has now posed before the Russian proletariat precisely the task of carrying through the democratic bourgeois revolution (the whole content of which, for brevity’s sake, we sum up in the word Republic); this task con fronts the people as a whole, viz., the entire mass of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry; without such a revolution the more or less extensive development of an independent class organisation for the socialist revolution is unthinkable.

Try to visualise concretely this complete difference in the objective conditions and then tell us: what is one to think of people who, carried away by the similitude of certain words, by the resemblance between certain letters, and by the sameness of subjective motives, forget this difference?

Because in France Jaurès paid homage to bourgeois social reform on the mistaken subjective plea of defending the re public, we Russian Social-Democrats are to abandon all serious struggle to win the republic! This exactly is what the profound wisdom of the new-Iskrists amounts to.

Indeed, is it not clear that as far as the proletariat is concerned the struggle for the republic is inconceivable without an alliance with the petty-bourgeois masses? Is it not clear that without the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry there is not a shadow of hope for the success of this struggle? One of the chief flaws in the argument under discussion is its deadness, its stereotyped character, its failure to make allowance for the revolutionary situation. Struggling for the republic while at the same time renouncing the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship is as though Oyama had decided to fight Kuropatkin at Mukden, but   disavowed beforehand any intention of taking the city. If we, the revolutionary people, viz., the proletariat and the peasantry, want to “fight together” against the autocracy, we must fight against it together to the last, finish it off together, and stand together in repelling the inevitable attempts to restore it! (It should be said again, to avoid possible misunderstanding, that by the republic we understand not only and not so much a form of government as the sum-total of democratic changes envisaged in our minimum programme.) One must have a schoolboy’s conception of history to imagine the thing without “leaps”, to see it as something in the shape of a straight line moving slowly and steadily upwards: first, it will be the turn of the liberal big bourgeoisie—minor concessions from the autocracy; then of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie—the democratic republic; and finally of the proletariat— the socialist revolution. That picture, by and large, is correct, correct d la longue, as the French say—spread over a century or so (in France, for instance, from 1789 to 1905); but one must be a virtuoso of philistinism to take this as a pattern for one’s plan of action in a revolutionary epoch. If the Russian autocracy, even at this stage, fails to find a way out by buying itself off with a meagre constitution, if it is not only shaken but actually overthrown, then, obviously, a tremendous exertion of revolutionary energy on the part of all progressive classes will be called for to defend this gain. This “defence”, however, is nothing else than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry! The more we gain now and the more vigorously we defend the gains, the less will the inevitable future reaction be able to reappropriate afterwards, the shorter will the intervals of reaction be, and the easier will the task be for the proletarian fighters who will come after us.

But here come those who, yardstick in hand, d la Ilovaisky,[1] would measure off in advance, before the struggle has begun, a modest little bit of our future conquests—people who, before the downfall of the autocracy, even before the events of the Ninth of January, took it into their heads to intimidate the working class of Russia with the bogy of   a terrible revolutionary-democratic dictatorship! And these knights of the yardstick lay claim to the name of revolutionary Social-Democrats....

Participation in the provisional government with the bourgeois revolutionary democrats, they weep, means sanctioning the bourgeois order; it means sanctioning the perpetuation of prisons and the police, of unemployment and poverty, of private property and prostitution. This is an argument worthy either of anarchists or of Narodniks. Social-Democrats do not hold back from struggle for political freedom on the grounds that it is bourgeois political freedom. Social-Democrats regard this “sanctioning” of the bourgeois order from the historical point of view. When Feuerbach was asked whether he sanctioned the materialism of Büchner, Vogt, and Moleschott, he said: Backwards I fully agree with the materialists; but not forwards. That is precisely how Social-Democrats sanction the bourgeois system. They have never been afraid of saying, and never will be, that they sanction the republican-democratic bourgeois order in preference to an autocratic serf-owning bourgeois order. But they “sanction” the bourgeois republic only because it is the last form of class rule, because it offers a most convenient arena for the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie; they sanction it, not for its prisons and police, its private property and prostitution, hut for the scope and freedom it allows to combat these charming institutions.

Far be it from us to contend that our participation in the revolutionary provisional government entails no dangers for Social-Democracy. There is not, nor can there be, any form of struggle, any political situation that does not involve dangers. If there is no revolutionary class instinct, if there is no integral world outlook on a scientific level, if (with due apologies to our friends of the new Iskra) there are no brains in the head, then it is dangerous even to take part in strikes—it may lead to Economism; to engage in parliamentary struggle—it may end in parliamentary cretinism[4]; to support the Zemstvo liberal democrats—it may lead to a “plan for a Zemstvo campaign”. It would then be dangerous even to read the extremely useful writings of Jaurès and Aulard on the French Revolution—it may lead to Martynov’s pamphlet on two dictatorships.

It goes without saying that if the Social-Democrats were to forget, even for a moment the class distinctiveness of the proletariat vis-à-vis the petty bourgeoisie, if they were to form an ill-timed and unprofitable alliance with one or another untrustworthy petty-bourgeois party of the intelligentsia, if the Social-Democrats were to lose sight, even for a moment, of their own independent aims and the need (in all political situations and exigencies, in all political crises and upheavals) for attaching paramount importance to developing the class-consciousness of the proletariat and its in dependent political organisation, then participation in the provisional revolutionary government would be extremely dangerous. But under such circumstances, any political step, we repeat, would be equally dangerous. The groundlessness of these possible apprehensions as applied to the present formulation of the immediate tasks of the revolutionary Social-Democrats is borne out by a few simple statements of fact. We shall not speak about ourselves or quote the numerous declarations, warnings, and counsels on this question given in Vperyod; we shall, instead, cite Parvus. He sub scribes to the opinion that the Social-Democrats should participate in the provisional revolutionary government, and he is emphatic on the conditions, which we must never forget, namely, to strike together, but to march separately, not to merge organisations, to watch our ally as we would our enemy, etc. We shall not dwell in detail on this aspect of the question, having dealt with it in our previous article.

No, the real political danger to Social-Democracy today does not lie where the new-Iskrists are looking for it. It is not the thought of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry that should fright en us, but rather the spirit of tail-ism and torpidity which has such a demoralising effect on the party of the proletariat and finds expression in all kinds of organisation-as-process, arming-as-process theories, and what not. To take, for in stance, Iskra’s latest attempt to set up a distinction between the provisional revolutionary government and the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Is this not an example of lifeless scholasticism? People who invent such distinctions are capable of stringing together fine words but are absolutely incapable of thinking.   Actually, these concepts stand to each other roughly in the relation of legal form to class content. To speak of the “provisional revolutionary government” is to stress the constitutional aspect of the case, the fact that the government originates, not from the law, but from the revolution, that it is a temporary government committed to the future Constituent Assembly. But whatever the form, whatever the origin, whatever the conditions, one thing at any rate is clear— that the provisional revolutionary government must have the support of definite classes. One has only to remember this simple truth to realise that the provisional revolutionary government can be nothing else but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Therefore, Iskra’s distinction only drags the Party back to fruitless disputes, away from the task of making a concrete analysis of the class interests in the Russian revolution.

Or, to take another Iskra argument. The slogan “Long Live the Revolutionary Provisional Government!” draws from that paper the didactic remark: “The combination of the words ’long live’ and ’government’ sullies the lips.” What is this, if not sheer bombast? They talk about over throwing the autocracy and yet fear to sully themselves by acclaiming the revolutionary government! Surprisingly, they are not afraid of sullying themselves by acclaiming a republic, for a republic necessarily implies a government, and—no Social-Democrat ever doubted it—a bourgeois government at that. In what way, then, does acclaiming the provisional revolutionary government differ from acclaiming the democratic republic? Must Social-Democracy, the political leader of the most revolutionary class, take after an anaemic and hysterical old maid who finically insists on a fig-leaf? Is it right to acclaim what the bourgeois-democratic government stands for, but wrong directly to acclaim the provisional revolutionary-democratic government?

Picture it: the uprising of the workers in St. Petersburg has been victorious; the autocracy is overthrown; the provisional revolutionary government has been proclaimed; the armed workers jubilate, with outcries of “Long Live the Provisional Revolutionary Government!” The new-Iskrists stand on the side lines, their innocent eyes raised heavenward, solemnly uttering as they beat their chaste breasts:   “We thank Thee, 0 Lord, that we are not like these wretches and have not sullied our lips with such word combinations ...."

No, comrades, a thousand times no! Have no fear of sullying yourselves by most energetic halting-at-nothing participation in a republican revolution together with the revolutionary bourgeois democrats. Do not exaggerate the dangers of such participation; our organised proletariat is quite capable of coping with them. More will be accomplished in months of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry than in decades of the peaceful, stupefying atmosphere of political stagnation. If, after the Ninth of January, the Russian working class, under conditions of political slavery, was able to mobilise over a million proletarians for staunch, disciplined, collective action, then, given the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, we will mobilise scores of millions of the urban and rural poor, and we will make the Russian political revolution the prelude to the socialist revolution in Europe.


[1] D. I. Ilovaisky (1832-1920)—a Russian historian, apologist of monarchism.—Ed.

[2] The article “The Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry” was published also in pamphlet form by the Caucasian League Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. in Georgian, Russian, and Armenian.

[3] The reference is to the resolution on “International Rules of Socialist Tactics” adopted at the Amsterdam Congress of the Second International in August 1904.

[4] By the term parliamentary cretinism Lenin characterised the opportunists’ view that the parliamentary system of government was all-powerful and parliamentary struggle the sole and, under all conditions, the principal form of political struggle.

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