V. I.   Lenin

While the Proletariat is Doing the Fighting the Bourgeoisie is Stealing Towards Power

Published: Proletary, No. 10, August 2 (July 20), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 169-178.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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.README

In war-time the diplomats stand idle, but when hostilities are over they are very much in the picture, casting up the results, making out the bills, and acting the honest broker.

Something of the kind is under way in the Russian revolution as well. During the armed clashes between the people and the forces of autocracy, the liberal bourgeois lie low; they are against violence either from above or from below, and are opposed both to the authorities’ acts of despotism and to mob anarchy. It is only when the fighting is over that they appear on the scene, their political decisions clearly reflecting the change in the political situation brought about by the fighting. After January 9 the liberal bourgeoisie turned “pink”; it has now begun to go “red” following the Odessa events, which (in connection with events in the Caucasus, Poland, etc.) point to a steep rise in the people’s insurrection against the autocracy during six months of revolution.

Highly instructive in this respect are three recent liberal congresses. The most conservative of them was that of the merchants and manufacturers, who are most trusted by the autocracy and are undisturbed by the police. They criticise and condemn the Bulygin scheme and demand a constitution, but, as far as we can judge from the incomplete information available, they do not even raise the question of boycotting the Bulygin elections. The most radical of the three was a delegate Congress of the Union of Unions[2]   held in secret within a stone’s throw of St. Petersburg, but on non-Russian soil—in Finland. Congress members are said to have taken the precaution of concealing their papers, police searches at the border yielding no results. By a majority vote (though there seems to have been a sizable minority) this Congress approved a thorough and determined boycott of the Bulygin elections and called for a widespread campaign for universal suffrage.

In the middle stood the most “influential”, fanfared, and vociferous of the three, the Zemstvo and Municipal Congress, which enjoyed almost legal status. The police drew up a protocol just as a matter of form, their demand that the Congress break up merely evoking smiles. But newspapers that began to report the Congress were either suspended (Slovo)[3] or cautioned (Russkiye Vedomosti). According to Mr. Pyotr Dolgorukov’s concluding address as reported in The Times, the Congress was attended by 216 delegates. Reports on its proceedings were cabled to all parts of the world by foreign correspondents. No opinion whatever was expressed on the main political issue—a boycott of the Bulygin “constitution”. According to British newspapers, the majority stood for a boycott, but the Organising Committee was against it. A compromise was reached, leaving the question open pending publication of the Bulygin scheme, after which a new congress was to be convened by telegraph. Naturally, the Bulygin scheme was strongly condemned by the Congress, which adopted the Osvobozhdeniye draft constitution (providing for a monarchy and a two-chamber system), rejected an appeal to the tsar, and decided to “appeal to the people”.

We are not yet in possession of the latter appeal. According to the foreign press, it amounts to a survey, couched in moderate terms, of events since the November Zemstvo Congress, as well as a list of facts revealing the government’s unconscionable procrastination, its broken promises, and cynical flouting of the demands of public opinion. Besides an appeal to the people, an almost unanimous resolution was passed calling for resistance to the government’s unjust and arbitrary acts. “In view of the arbitrary acts of the Administration and the constant violation of the rights of the public,” the resolution declares, “the Congress deems it incumbent upon all to defend the natural rights of man by   peaceful means, including resistance to the acts of the authorities violating these rights, although such acts may be based on the letter of the law.” (We quote from The Times.)

So our liberal bourgeoisie has beyond doubt taken a step to the left. The revolution marches on—the bourgeois democrats hobble along in the rear. The true nature of this democracy, as bourgeois democracy, representing the propertied classes’ interests and inconsistently and self-interestedly defending the cause of freedom, is being revealed ever more clearly, even though bourgeois democracy is going “red” and sometimes attempts to use “almost revolutionary” language.

Indeed, postponement of a decision on the boycott of the Bulygin constitution can denote nothing but a desire to go on haggling with the autocracy, a lack of self-confidence within the majority which seemed to emerge in favour of a boycott, and a tacit admission that, while asking for nothing short of a constitution, the landowners and the merchants would, probably, agree to something less. Even if a congress of liberal bourgeois does not venture to break at once with the autocracy and the Bulygin farce, what can be expected of that congress of all and sundry bourgeois which is to be styled the Bulygin “Duma” and will be elected (if ever elected it will be!) under every kind of pressure from the autocratic government?

That is exactly how the autocratic government looks upon this act of the liberals, which it considers merely an episode in the bourgeoisie’s chaffering. On the one hand, the autocracy, in view of the liberals’ discontent, is “adding to” its promises—the Bulygin scheme, according to reports in the foreign press, is to include a number of new “liberal” changes. On the other hand, the autocracy is replying to Zemstvo discontent with a new threat: characteristic in this respect is a Times report, which says that Bulygin and Goremykin propose, as a measure against Zemstvo “radicalism”, to stir up the peasants against “the quality” by promising them extra land in the name of the tsar, and holding a “people’s” plebiscite (with the aid of the Rural Superintendents[4]), on the question of whether or not the elections should be held on a social-estate basis. This report is, of course, just a rumour set afloat, probably with a definite purpose,   but there can be no doubt that the government is not afraid to resort to the grossest, most brutal, and most unbridled demagogy; nor is it afraid of an uprising by “masses on the rampage” and the dregs of society, while the liberals are afraid of the people rising up against their oppressors, against the- heroes of plunder, looting, and bashi-bazouk atrocities. The government has long been shedding blood in a way and on a scale that have no precedent, yet the liberals respond by saying they want to prevent bloodshed! After a reply of this kind, is not any hired thug entitled to despise them as bourgeois hagglers? After this, is it not ridiculous to adopt a resolution calling for an appeal to the people and recognising “peaceful resistance” to violence and arbitrary acts? The government is distributing arms right and left, and bribing all comers to beat up and massacre Jews, “democrats”, Armenians, Poles, and so on. But our “democrats” still think that campaigning for “peaceful resistance” is a revolutionary” step!

In No. 73 of Osvobozhdeniye, which we have just received, Mr. Struve is ireful against Mr. Suvorin[5] for the latter’s condescendingly patting Mr. Ivan Petrunkevich on the back and suggesting that such liberals should be mollified with posts in ministries and government departments. Mr. Struve is indignant, for it is precisely Mr. Petrunkevich and his Zemstvo supporters (“who, before history and the nation, have committed themselves to a programme”—What kind of programme? Where did they commit themselves?) that he has designated for ministerial posts in some future Cabinet to be formed by the Constitutional-Democratic Party. We, however, hold that the way in which the Petrunkeviches behaved both at their reception by the tsar and at the Zemstvo Congress of July 6 (19) has given even the Suvorins good reason to despise such “democrats”. “Every sincere and thinking liberal in Russia demands a revolution,” Mr. Struve writes. For our part we shall add that if in July 1905 this “demand for a revolution” is voiced in a resolution on peaceable methods of resistance then the Suvorins have every right to despise and sneer at such a “demand” and at such “revolutionaries

Mr. Struve will, probably, retort that events which have until now swung our liberals to the left will in due course   carry them farther still. Here is what he has written in the selfsame No. 73:

“Conditions for the army’s physical intervention in the political struggle will actually be provided only when the autocratic monarchy clashes with a nation organised through popular representation. The army will then have to choose between the government and the nation, and the choice will not be difficult or mistaken.”

This peaceful idyll looks very much like putting revolution off until the Greek calends.[6] Who is to organise the nation in a popular representation? The autocracy? But the latter consents to organise only the Bulygin Duma, which you yourselves are protesting against and refuse to recognise as popular representation! Or, perhaps, the “nation” will itself organise representation of the people? If so, why is it that the liberals are dead set against a provisional revolutionary government, which can rely only on a revolutionary army? Why is it that, while at their congress they spoke in the name of the people, the liberals are taking no step that would signify the nation being organised in a popular representation? If, gentlemen, you really represent the people and not the bourgeoisie which betrays the interests of the people in the revolution, why don’t you appeal to the army? Why don’t you announce a break with the autocratic monarchy? Why do you shut your eyes to the inevitability of a decisive struggle between the army of revolution and the army of tsarism?

The reason is that you are afraid of the revolutionary people; you address them in trite words, while in actual fact you reckon and haggle with the autocracy. Additional proof of that is provided by the talks held by Mr. Golovin, Chair man of the Zemstvo Congress’s Organising Committee, with Kozlov, Governor General of Moscow. Mr. Golovin assured Kozlov that rumours of any intent to turn the Congress into a constituent assembly were absurd. What does that mean? It means in effect that a representative of organised bourgeois democracy gave his pledge to a representative of the autocracy that bourgeois democracy has no intention of breaking with the autocracy! Only political tyros will fail to realise that an undertaking not to declare the Congress a constituent assembly was tantamount to promising to refrain   from all genuinely revolutionary measures: Kozlov, of course, shied not at the words “constituent assembly” but at acts that could exacerbate the conflict and lead to the people and the army beginning a determined struggle against tsarism. Is it not political hypocrisy for you to call your selves revolutionaries, talk of appealing to the people and placing no more reliance in the tsar, while in actual fact you reassure the tsar’s servants as to your intentions?

Oh, those florid liberal phrases! How many were uttered at the Congress by Mr. Petrunkevich, leader of the “Constitutional-Democratic” Party! Let us see what commitments to “history and the nation” he has assumed. The source is The Times.

Mr. de Roberti spoke in favour of petitioning the tsar. This was opposed by Petrunkevich, Novosiltsev, Shakhovskoi, and Rodichev. A ballot produced only six votes for a petition. Mr. Petrunkevich had said that “when they went to Peterhof on June 6(19), they still hoped the tsar would under stand the terrible dangers of the situation and do something to avert them. All hope in that direction must be abandoned. There remained only one issue. Till now they had hoped for reform from above, but henceforth their only hope was in the people. (Loud applause.) They must tell them the truth in plain and homely words. The inability and impotence of the government had promoted revolution. That was a fact which they all had to recognise. Their duty was to use every effort to prevent the accompaniment of bloodshed. Many of them had devoted long years to the service of their countrymen; they must go boldly to the people, no longer to the tsar.” On the following day Mr. Petrunkevich continued: "We must break out of the narrow confines of our activities and go to the peasant. Till now we hoped for reforms from above, but, while we waited, time was doing its work. Expedited by the government revolution has overtaken us. Yesterday two of our members were so much frightened by the word revolution that they left the Congress, but we must face the situation manfully. We cannot wait with folded arms. The objection has been raised that any appeal to the nation by the Zemstvos and Municipal Councils will amount to agitation that stirs up unrest. But does calm reign in the villages? No, unrest already exists there, and of the worst kind.   We cannot keep the storm in check, but we must at least try to avert too much turmoil. We must tell the people that it is useless to destroy factories and estates. We cannot regard such destruction as mere vandalism: it is the peasants’ blind and ignorant way of remedying an evil which they instinctively feel but are unable to understand. The authorities may reply with the knout. It is nevertheless our duty to go to the people. We should have done that earlier. The Zemstvos have been in existence for forty years without coming into close and intimate contact with the peasants. Let us lose no time in rectifying this error. We must tell the peasant that we stand with him.”

Excellent, Mr. Petrunkevich! You stand with the peas ants, with the people; you recognise the revolution as a fact, and have abandoned all hope in the tsar.... Good luck to you, gentlemen! Only... only, what exactly do you mean? You say you are not with the tsar, but with the people, so therefore you promise Governor General Kozlov that the Congress will not act as a constituent assembly, i.e., as a body that is genuinely and actually representative of the people. You recognise the revolution, so therefore you reply with peaceful methods of resistance to the atrocities, killings, and pillage perpetrated by the government’s servants. You go to the peasant and stand with the peasant, so therefore you confine yourselves to a most vague programme, whose only promise is that the peasants may buy back land, given the landlords’ consent. You are not with the tsar, but with the people, so therefore you accept a draft constitution which, in the first place, provides for a monarchy and the tsar’s control of the army and the bureaucracy, and, in the second place, guarantees in advance the political supremacy of the landlords and the big bourgeoisie through an upper chamber.[1]

The liberal bourgeoisie is turning to the people. That is true. It has been forced to do so, for without the people it is powerless to fight the autocracy. But it is also afraid of the revolutionary people; it does not turn to the latter as a representative of their interests, or as a new and ardent   comrade-in-arms, but as a chafferer, a stockjobber, who dashes from one belligerent to the other. Today it is with the tsar and implores him on behalf of the “people” to grant a monarchist constitution, at the same time cravenly renouncing the people, “unrest”, “sedition”, and revolution. On the morrow it threatens the tsar at its congress, threatens him with a monarchist constitution, and with peaceable resistance to his bayonets. And yet, gentlemen, you are surprised that the tsar’s servants have taken the measure of your craven, petty, double-dealing souls. You are afraid to remain without a tsar, but the tsar is not afraid to remain without you. You are afraid of a decisive struggle; the tsar is not afraid of that, but wants it; he is himself provoking and commencing the struggle; he wants a test of strength before he yields. It is quite natural for the tsar to despise you. It is quite natural for his contempt to be conveyed to you by his lackeys, the Suvorins, who patronisingly pat your Mr. Petrunkevich on the back. You deserve this contempt, for you are not fighting on the people’s side, but are only stealing towards power behind the backs of the revolutionary people.

On occasions foreign correspondents and bourgeois publicists grasp the gist of the matter very aptly, although their rendering is somewhat peculiar. M. Gaston Leroux has undertaken to present the Zemstvo views in Matin[7]: “There is disorder above and disorder below; we alone are people of order,” he writes. That, indeed, is what the Zemstvos think. Translated into plain Russian that means: Both above and below, there are people ready to do the fighting, but as for us, we are honest brokers—we are stealing towards power. We are waiting in the hope that our March 18 will also come round, that the people will at least once defeat the government in street fighting, and that, like the German liberal bourgeoisie, we shall get an opportunity to take over power, following the first victory of the people. Then, after becoming a force against the autocracy, we shall turn against the revolutionary people and strike a deal with the tsar, against the people. Our draft constitution is a ready-made programme of such a deal.

Quite a skilful calculation! One has sometimes to say of the revolutionary people that which the Romans said of   Hannibal: “You know how to win victories, but you don’t know how to profit by them.” A victorious rising will not yet be a victory of the people unless it leads to a revolutionary upheaval, to the complete overthrow of the autocracy, to the ousting of the inconsistent and selfish bourgeoisie, and to a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.

Le Temps, organ of the French conservative bourgeoisie, has straightforwardly advised the Zemstvos to put a speedy end to the conflict by coming to terms with the tsar (editorial of July 24, New Style). Reforms, it says, are impossible without a union of moral force and material force. Only the government has material force. The Zemstvos are a moral force.

This is an excellent rendering of bourgeois views—and excellent confirmation of our analysis of Zemstvo policy. The bourgeois has forgotten a petty detail, the people, the scores of millions of workers and peasants, whose labour creates all the bourgeoisie’s wealth, and who are fighting for the liberty they need as they do light or air. The bourgeois has been entitled to forget them, inasmuch as they have not yet proved their “material force” by defeating the government. No major historical issue has ever been decided otherwise than by “material force”, and the tsarist autocracy, we repeat, is itself starting the struggle by challenging the people to a test of strength.

The French bourgeoisie is advising the Russian bourgeoisie to come speedily to terms with the tsar. It is afraid, albeit vicariously, of a decisive struggle. If the people are victorious it remains to be seen whether they will allow the Petrunkeviches to take power, although the latter are stealing towards it. It cannot be gauged in advance how decisive the victory will be and what consequences it will have—and this fully accounts for the bourgeoisie’s timidity.

All over Russia the proletariat is preparing for the decisive struggle. It is marshalling its forces; it learns and gains strength after each new clash; past encounters have all ended in failure, but have invariably led to fresh and stronger attacks. The proletariat is marching to victory and rousing the peasantry to follow its leadership. Relying on the peasantry it will paralyse the instability and   treachery of the bourgeoisie, brush aside bourgeois bidders for power, crush the autocracy by force, and eradicate from Russian life all traces of the accursed system of serf- ownership. When that time comes we shall win for the people not a monarchist constitution, which secures political privileges for the bourgeoisie—no, we shall win for Russia a republic, with full liberty for all oppressed nationalities, for the peasants and the workers. We shall then use all the revolutionary energy of the proletariat for the boldest and most far-reaching struggle for socialism, for the complete emancipation of all toilers from exploitation of any kind.


[1] See the leaflet “Three Constitutions” published by our newspaper. (See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 557-58.—Ed.)—Lenin

[2] The Union of Unions—a political organisation of liberal bourgeois intellectuals, founded in May 1905 at the first congress of representatives of 14 unions, such as lawyers, writers, medical men, engineers, teachers, and the like. In 1905 the Union favoured a boycott of the Bulygin Duma, but soon changed its stand, deciding to take part in the Duma elections. It fell apart towards the close of 1906.

Regarding the attitude of Social-Democracy towards the liberal unions see pp. 281-82 in this volume.

[3] Slovo (The Word)—a bourgeois daily published in St. Petersburg from 1903 till 1909. Originally a Right-wing Zemstvo organ, it became the mouthpiece of the Octobrist Party from November 1905 till July 1906, when it ceased publication. Publication was resumed on November 19 (December 2), 1906, when the paper became the organ of the constitutional monarchist party of “Peaceful Renovation”, which in essence in no way differed from the Octobrists.

[4] Rural Superintendent (Zemsky Nachalnik) —an administrative post instituted in 1889 by the tsarist government with the aim of strengthening the landlords’ authority over the peasants. Rural Superintendents were selected from among the local landed nobility, and were given very great powers not only of an administrative character, but also judicial, which included the right to arrest peasants and administer corporal punishment.

[5] Suvorin, A. S.—editor of the reactionary newspaper Novoye Vremya from 1876 till 1912.

[6] Until the Greek calends— a translation of the Latin ad calendas graecas. The calends was the name given in the Roman calendar to the first day of each month. The Greek calendar had no calends, so the expression means “never”.

[7] Le Matin—the name of a French bourgeois daily paper that was founded in 1884.

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