V. I.   Lenin

Working-Class and Bourgeois Democracy

Published: Vperyod, No. 3, January 24 (11), 1905. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 72-82.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The question of the attitude of the Social-Democrats, or working-class democrats, to the bourgeois democrats is an old and yet ever new question. It is old because it has been an issue ever since the inception of Social-Democracy. Its theoretical principles were elucidated in the earliest Marxist literature, in the Communist Manifesto and in Capital. It is ever new because every step in the development of every capitalist country produces a peculiar, original blending of different shades of bourgeois democracy and different trends within the socialist movement.

In Russia, too, this old question has become particularly new at the present time. To make clear for ourselves how this question should be presented today, we shall begin with a brief excursion into history. The old Russian revolutionary Narodniks[14] held a utopian, semi-anarchist point of view. They considered the peasants in the village communes ready-made socialists. Behind the liberalism of the educated Russian society they clearly perceived the ambitious desires of the Russian bourgeoisie. They repudiated the struggle for political freedom on the grounds that it was a struggle for institutions advantageous to the bourgeoisie. The Narodnaya Volya members[15] made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism. The clear socialist approach to the question was even overshadowed when the waning faith in the socialist nature of our communes began to be renewed with theories in the spirit of V. V.[16] about the non-class, non-bourgeois nature of the Russian democratic intelligentsia. The result was that Narodism, which in the past had positively rejected bourgeois liberalism, began gradually to merge with the latter in a single   liberal-Narodist trend. The bourgeois-democratic nature of the movement among the Russian intellectuals, beginning with the most moderate, the uplift movement, and ending with the most extreme, the revolutionary terrorist movement, became more and more obvious with the rise and development of a proletarian ideology (Social-Democracy) and a mass working-class movement. But the growth of the latter was attended by a split among the Social-Democrats. A revolutionary and an opportunist wing of Social-Democracy became clearly defined, the former representing the proletarian tendencies in our movement, the latter the tendencies of the intelligentsia. Legal Marxism[17] soon proved in fact to be “the reflection of Marxism in bourgeois literature”,[18] and, via Bernsteinian opportunism,[19] ended up in liberalism. On the one hand, the Economists in the Social-Democratic movement were carried away by the semi-anarchist conception of a labour movement pure-and-simple; they regarded socialist support of the bourgeois opposition as a betrayal of the class point of view and declared bourgeois democracy in Russia to be a phantom.[1] On the other hand, the Economists of another shade, carried away by the selfsame idea of a labour movement pure-and-simple, accused the revolutionary Social-Democrats of ignoring the social struggle against the autocracy which our liberals, Zemstvo men and uplifters wage.[2]

The old Iskra pointed to elements of bourgeois democracy in Russia at a time when many did not yet perceive them. It demanded support for this democratic trend on the part of the proletariat (see Iskra, No. 2, on support of the student movement[3] ; No. 8, on the illegal Zemstvo Congress; No. 16, on the liberal Marshals of the Nobility[4] ; No. 18[5] , on the ferment within the   Zemstvo[6] et al.). It constantly stressed the class, bourgeois nature of the liberal and radical movement and said of the vacillating Osvobozhdeniye people: “It is high time to under stand the simple truth that it is not political chicanery, not what the late Stepnyak[7] once called self-restriction and self-concealment, not the conventional lie of diplomatic mutual recognition that ensure a genuine (and not merely verbal) joint struggle against the common enemy, but actual participation in the struggle, actual unity in struggle. When the struggle of the German Social-Democrats against the military-police and feudal-clerical reaction really became one with the struggle of any genuine party which relied for support upon a definite class of the people (for instance, the liberal bourgeoisie), then joint action was instituted without any phrase-mongering about mutual recognition” (No. 26).[8]

This approach to the question on the part of the old Iskra brings us directly to the present differences over the attitude of the Social-Democrats towards the liberals. These disputes, as we know, began at the Second Congress, which adopted two resolutions representing the points of view of the majority (Plekhanov’s resolution) and of the minority (Starover’s resolution[20]), respectively. The first resolution accurately defines the class character of liberalism, as a movement of the bourgeoisie, and brings to the fore the task of explaining to the proletariat the anti-revolutionary and anti-proletarian essence of the main liberal trend (the Osvobozhdeniye movement). While recognising the need for the proletariat’s support of bourgeois democracy, this resolution does not resort to the politicians’ mutual recognition device, but, in the spirit of the old Iskra, makes it a question of concerted struggle. “To   the extent that the bourgeoisie is revolutionary or merely oppositional in its struggle against tsarism”, the Social-Democrats “must support” it.

Starover’s resolution, on the contrary, does not give a class analysis of liberalism and democracy. It is full of good intentions, it devises terms of agreement that are possibly loftier and better, but unfortunately fictitious, just words: the liberals or the democrats must declare so-and-so, must not put forward such-and-such demands, must adopt such-and-such a slogan. As if the history of bourgeois democracy anywhere and everywhere has not warned the workers against putting their trust in declarations, demands, and slogans. As if history has not afforded us hundreds of instances in which bourgeois democrats came forward with slogans demanding, not only full liberty, but also equality, with socialist slogans—without thereby ceasing to be bourgeois democrats—and thus “be fogged” the minds of the proletariat all the more. The intellectualist wing of Social-Democracy wants to combat this befogging by setting conditions to the bourgeois democrats that they abstain from befogging. The proletarian wing, in its struggle, resorts to an analysis of the class content of democratism. The intellectualist wing hunts out words for terms of an agreement. The proletarian wing demands actual co-operation in the struggle. The intellectualist wing devises a criterion of a good and kind bourgeoisie, worthy of concluding agreements with. The proletarian wing expects no kindness from the bourgeoisie, but supports any, even the very worst bourgeoisie, to the extent that it actually fights tsarism. The intellectualist wing slips into a huckster’s standpoint: if you side with the Social-Democrats and not with the Socialists-Revolutionaries, we shall agree upon a pact against the common enemy; otherwise we won’t. The proletarian wing maintains the point of view of expediency: the support we shall lend you will be exclusively conditioned on whether it will put us in a better position to aim a blow—greater or lesser—at our enemy.

All the shortcomings of Starover’s resolution came to light upon its very first impact with reality. The touch stone was provided by the famous plan of the new Iskra’s   Editorial Board, the plan “of a higher type of mobilisation”, bearing on the debated questions of principle in No. 77 (the editorial “Democracy at the Parting of the Ways”) and No. 78 (Starover’s feuilleton). The plan was dealt with in Lenin’s pamphlet, but the arguments will need to be more closely discussed here.

The main idea (or rather the main confusion of ideas) of the new Iskra’s arguments is the differentiation between the Zemstvo liberals and the bourgeois democrats. This differentiation is the guiding thread that runs through both articles. Incidentally, the attentive reader will observe that in place of the term bourgeois democracy, parallel with it and synonymously, the following terminology is used: democracy, radical intelligentsia (sic!), nascent democracy, and intellectualist democracy. This differentiation was hailed by the new Iskra with characteristic modesty as a great discovery, an original conception that was “beyond” poor Lenin. The differentiation is linked directly with the new method of struggle of which we have heard so much both from Trotsky and directly from the Iskra editors, namely, that Zemstvo liberalism “is fit only to be chastised with scorpions”, while intellectualist democracy is suitable for agreements with us. Democracy must act independently, as an independent force. “Russian liberalism, bereft of its historically essential part, its motive nerve [mark that!], its bourgeois-democratic half, is fit only to be chastised with scorpions.” In Lenin’s conception “of Russian liberalism there was no room for such social elements on which the Social-Democrats, in their role of vanguard of democracy, could at any time 1!] exert their influence

Such is the new theory. Like all new theories of the present Iskra, it is a complete muddle. In the first place, the claim to priority in the discovery of intellectualist democracy is unfounded and absurd. Secondly, the differentiation made between Zemstvo liberalism and bourgeois democracy is erroneous. Thirdly, the conception that the intelligentsia can become an independent force does not hold water. Fourthly, the assertion that Zemstvo liberalism (without its “bourgeois-democratic” half) is fit only to be chastised, etc., is unjust. Let us examine all these points.

Lenin is supposed to have ignored the birth of intellectualist democracy and the third element.

Let us open Zarya,[21] No. 2-3,[9] and take the “Review of Home Affairs” which is quoted in Starover’s feuilleton. We read the heading of the third section, “The Third Element”. Throughout this section we read about “the increase in the numbers and in the influence of such persons serving in the Zemstvos as doctors, technicians, and so on”; of “the unsubmissive economic development ... which gives rise to the need for intellectuals, who are becoming increasingly numerous”; of “the inevitability of conflicts between these intellectuals and the bureaucrats and administration bigwigs”; of “the outright epidemic character of these conflicts lately”; of “the irreconcilability of autocracy with the interests of the intelligentsia generally”. We read a direct appeal to these elements to rally “to the banner” of Social-Democracy....

Quite a pretty account, wouldn’t one say? The newly discovered intellectualist democracy and the need for rallying it to the banner of Social-Democracy were “discovered” by that mischievous Lenin three years ago!

Of course, the antithesis between the Zemstvo men and the bourgeois democrats had not yet been discovered at that time. But contraposing the two would be just as rational as saying, “Moscow Gubernia[10] and the territory of the Russian Empire”. Both the Zemstvo people, who believe in qualified suffrage, and the Marshals of the Nobility are democrats, to the extent that they oppose autocracy and serfdom. Their democratism is limited, narrow, and inconsistent, just as any and all bourgeois democratism is in one or another degree limited, narrow and inconsistent. The editorial in Iskra, No. 77, analyses our liberals by dividing them into the following groups: (1) serf-owning landlords; (2) liberal landlords; (3) the liberal intelligentsia,   which stands for a constitution with qualified suffrage; and (4) the extreme Left—-the democratic intelligentsia. This analysis is incomplete and muddled, since the division of the intelligentsia is confounded with those of various classes and groups whose interests are expressed by the intelligentsia. Besides the interests of a broad section of The landlords, Russian bourgeois democratism reflects the interests of the mass of tradesmen and manufacturers, chiefly medium and small, as well as (and this is particularly important) those of the mass of proprietors and petty proprietors among the peasantry. The first flaw in Iskra’s analysis is its ignoring of this broadest section of Russia’s bourgeois-democratic sphere. The second flaw is its failure to see that the Russian democratic intelligentsia breaks up necessarily, not by accident, into three main trends corresponding to their political stand: the Osvobozhdeniye, the Socialist-Revolutionary, and the Social-Democratic. All these trends have a long history, and each expresses (as definitely as is possible in an autocratic state) the point of view of the moderate and the revolutionary ideologists of the bourgeois democrats and the point of view of the proletariat. Nothing could be more amusing than the innocent wish of the new Iskra that “the democrats should act as an independent force”, while at the same time the democrats are identified with the radical intelligentsia! The new Iskra has forgotten that the radical intelligentsia or intellectual democratic movement, which has become “an independent force”, is none other than our “Socialist Revolutionary Party”! Our democratic intelligentsia could have no other “extreme Left”. It stands to reason, however, that one can speak of the independent force of such an intelligentsia only in the ironical or terrorist sense of the word. To stand on the same platform with the bourgeois democrats and move Leftward away from the Osvobozhdeniye means to move towards the Socialists-Revolutionaries, and in no other direction.

Finally, still less does the latest discovery of the new Iskra stand up to criticism, namely, the discovery that “liberalism without its bourgeois-democratic half” is fit only to be chastised with scorpions, that “it is wiser to scrap the idea of hegemony” if there is no one to turn to except   the Zemstvo people. Liberalism, of whatever kind, merits support by the Social-Democrats only to the extent that it actually opposes the autocracy. It is this support of all the inconsistent (i.e., bourgeois) democrats by the only really consistent democrat (i.e., the proletariat) that makes the idea of hegemony a reality. Only a petty-bourgeois huckster’s idea of hegemony can conceive it as a compromise, mutual recognition, a matter of worded terms. From the proletarian point of view hegemony in a war goes to him who fights most energetically, who never misses a chance to strike a blow at the enemy, who always suits the action to the word, who is therefore the ideological leader of the democratic forces, who criticises half-way policies of every kind.[11] The new Iskra is sadly mistaken if it thinks that half-heartedness is a moral and not a politico-economic attribute of bourgeois democracy, if it thinks it possible and necessary to fix such a degree of half-heartedness up to which liberalism deserves only the scorpion’s lash and beyond which it deserves agreements. This simply means “determining in advance the permissible degree of baseness”. Indeed, ponder the meaning of these words: to make it the term of an agreement with the opposition groups that they recognise universal, equal, and direct suffrage by secret ballot means “to present them with the infallible reagent of our demands, the litmus-paper test of democracy, and to place the whole weight of the proletariat’s valuable support on the scale of their political plans” (No. 78). How prettily this is put! And how one feels like saying to the author of these fine words, Starover: My dear friend, Arkady Nikolayevich, your fine words are wasted! Mr. Struve rendered Starover’s infallible reagent ineffectual with a single stroke of the pen when he wrote universal suffrage into the programme of the Osvobozhdeniye League. And the same Struve has proved to us in deeds on more than one occasion that all these programmes are   mere scraps of paper as far as the liberals are concerned, not litmus-paper, but ordinary paper, since a bourgeois democrat thinks nothing of writing one thing today and another tomorrow. This is characteristic even of many bourgeois intellectuals who go over to the Social-Democrats. The entire history of European and Russian liberalism provides hundreds of instances wherein word and deed are at variance, which is why Starover’s desire to think up infallible paper reagents is so naive.

This naïve desire leads Starover to the great idea that supporting the anti-tsarist struggle of bourgeois who do not agree to universal suffrage means “bringing to nought the idea of universal suffrage”! Perhaps Starover will write us another pretty[12] feuilleton to prove that by supporting the monarchists in their struggle against the autocracy we are reducing to nought the “idea” of a republic? The trouble is that Starover’s thoughts revolve helplessly in a vicious circle of terms, slogans, demands, and declarations, and overlook the only real criterion—the degree of actual participation in the struggle. In practice, this inevitably results in varnishing the radical intelligentsia with whom an “agreement” is declared to be possible. With disdain for Marxism, the intelligentsia is declared to be the “motive nerve” (not the glib servant?) of liberalism. The French and Italian radicals are honoured with the designation of people to whom anti-democratic or anti-proletarian demands are alien, although everyone knows that these radicals have betrayed their platforms and misled the proletariat   times out of number, although on the very next page (p. 7) of the same issue of Iskra (No. 78) you may read that the monarchists and the republicans in Italy were “at one in the fight against socialism”. The resolution of the Saratov intellectuals (the Sanitary Service Society), pressing for participation of representatives of all the people in legislative activities, is declared to be “the real voice [!] of democracy” (No. 77). The practical plan for proletarian participation in the Zemstvo campaign is accompanied by the advice “to enter into some agreement with the representatives of the Left Wing of the oppositional bourgeoisie” (the famous agreement not to create panic fear). In answer to Lenin’s question, what had happened to Starover’s notorious terms of agreement, the Editorial Board of the new Iskra wrote:

“These terms should always be present in the minds of Party members, and the latter, knowing on what conditions the Party consents to enter into formal political agreements with a democratic party, are morally bound, even in the case of local agreements referred to in the letter, to differentiate strictly between the reliable representatives of the bourgeois opposition—the real democrats, and the liberal milk-skimmers.”[13]

Step leads to step. In addition to Party agreements (the only permissible ones, according to Starover’s resolution), local agreements have appeared in various cities. Side by side with formal agreements, moral ones have appeared. It now seems that verbal recognition of “terms” and their “moral” binding force carries with it the title of a “reliable” and “real democrat”, although every child understands that hundreds of Zemstvo windbags would make any verbal statements and even give the word of honour of a radical that they are socialists—anything to keep the Social-Democrats quiet.

No, the proletariat will not be drawn into this game of slogans, declarations, and agreements. The proletariat will never forget that bourgeois democrats never make reliable democrats. The proletariat will support the bourgeois democrats, not on the basis of deals to abstain from creating panic fear, not on the basis of belief in their reliability, but when and to the extent that they actually struggle against the autocracy. Such support is necessary in the interests of achieving the independent social-revolutionary aims of the proletariat.


[1] See the Rabocheye Dyelo pamphlet Two Conferences (p. 32), directed against Iskra.—Lenin

[2] See “Separate Supplement” to Rabochaya Mysl, September 1899.—Lenin

[3] “The Drafting of 183 Students into the Army”, Iskra February 1901. See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 414-19.—Ed.

[4] “Political Agitation and ’The Class Point of View’”, Iskra, February 1,1902. See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 337-43.—Ed.

[5] “A Letter to the Zemstvo-ists”, Iskra, March 10, 1902. See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 151-59.—Ed.

[6] I take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to Starover and Plekhanov, who undertook the very useful job of revealing the authors of the unsigned articles in the old Iskra. It is to be hoped that they will complete this work—the material will be highly interesting for an appraisal of the new Iskra’s volte-face to the standpoint of Rabocheye Dyelo.—Lenin

[7] Stepnyak-Kravchinsky, S. M. (1851-95)—Narodnaya Voiya revolutionary; author.—Ed.

[8] “Political Struggle and Political Chicanery”, Iskra, October 15, 1902. See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 260-61.—Ed.

[9] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 281-89.—Ed.

[10] Gubernia, uyezd, volost—Russian administrative-territorial units. The largest of these was the gubernia, which had its subdivisions in uyezds, which in turn were subdivided into volosts. This system of districting continued under the Soviet power until the introduction of the new system of administrative-territorial division of the country in 1929-30.—Ed.

[11] A note for a shrewd new-Iskrist. We shall probably be told that the energetic struggle of the proletariat without any terms will result in the theft of the fruits of victory by the bourgeoisie. Our reply to this is the question: what possible guarantee can there be for the fulfilment of the proletariat’s terms other than the independent force of the proletariat?—Lenin

[12] Another specimen of our Arkady Nikolayevich’s prose: “Anyone who has been following public life in Russia during the last few years could not have failed to note the growing democratic urge towards an untouched-up concept of constitutional liberty stripped of all ideological trappings, of all survivals of the historical past. This urge was, in a way, the realisation of a long process of molecular changes within the democratic trend, of its Ovidian metamorphoses, whose kaleidoscopic variety has held the attention and interest of several successive generations over a period of two decades.” A pity, indeed, that this is not true; for the idea of liberty is not stripped, but, on the contrary, touched up with the idealism of the latest philosophers of bourgeois democracy (Bulgakov, Berdayev, Novgorodtsev, and others. See “Problems of Idealism” and The New Way). A pity, too, that all these kaleidoscopic Ovidian metamorphoses of Starover, Trotsky, and Martov reveal an unadulterated urge for florid phrases.—Lenin

[13] See the second editorial, “A Letter to the Party Organisations”, likewise published secretly (“for members of the Party only”), although there is nothing secret about it. It is very instructive to compare this reply of the whole Editorial Board with Plekhanov’s “secret” pamphlet, On Our Tactics Towards the Struggle of the Liberal Bourgeoisie Against Tsarism (Geneva, 1905. A letter to the Central Committee. For Party members only). We hope to return to both these works.—Lenin

[14] Narodism (from the word narod—people)—a petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary movement, which began to manifest itself in the sixties and seventies of the nineteenth century. The Narodniks stood for the abolition of the autocracy and the transfer of the landlords’ lands to the peasantry. At the same time, they believed capitalism in Russia to be a fortuitous phenomenon with no prospect of development, and they therefore considered the peasantry, and not the proletariat, to be the main revolutionary force in Russia. They regarded the village commune as the embryo of socialism. With the object of rousing the peasantry to struggle against absolutism, the Narodniks “went among the people”, to the village, but they found no support there. In the eighties and nineties the Narodniks adopted a policy of conciliatoriness to tsarism, ex pressed the interests of the kulak class, and waged a persistent fight against Marxism.

[15] Narodnaya Volya members—participants in the secret political organisation of the Narodnik terrorists called Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will), which came into being in August 1879 as a result of the split in the Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom) secret society. The immediate aim of the Narodnaya Volya was the over throw of the autocracy. Its programme called for the organisation of “a permanent representative assembly of the people” elected on the basis of universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, transfer of the land to the people, and adoption of measures for transferring the factories and mills to the workers. The Narodnaya Volya members, however, failed to find a way to the broad masses and took the path of political conspiracies and individual terrorism. Their terroristic struggle was not supported by the revolutionary movement of the masses, and this enabled the government to wreck the organisation by means of savage persecutions,death sentences, and provocations.

After 1881 the Narodnaya Volya broke up. Abortive attempts to revive it were made repeatedly in the course of the eighties. Thus, in 1886 a terrorist group was formed, headed by A. I. Ulyanov (Lenin’s brother) and P. Y. Shevyryov, which followed the traditions   of the Narodnaya Volya. After the failure of the attempt to assassinate Alexander III the group was discovered and its active members were executed.

While criticising their fallacious and utopian programme, Lenin thought highly of the noble struggle of the Narodnaya Volya members against tsarism. In 1899, in “A Protest by Russian Social Democrats”, he pointed out that “the members of the old Narodnaya Volya managed to play an enormous role in the history of Russia, despite the fact that only narrow social strata supported the few heroes, and despite the fact that it was by no means a revolutionary theory which served as the banner of the movement”. (See present edition, Vol. 4, p. 181.)

[16] V. V.—pseudonym of V. P. Vorontsov, one of the ideologues of liberal Narodism of the eighties and nineties of the past century.

[17] Legal Marxism—a bourgeois perversion of Marxism, which originated in the nineties of the past century among the bourgeois intellectuals. The “legal Marxists” tried to make the labour movement serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. While criticising the Narodniks and acknowledging the capitalist path of development, the “legal Marxists” denied the inevitability of capitalism’s downfall. They threw out of the Marxian doctrine its most important tenet, the doctrine of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

[18] See Lenin, “The Economic Content of Narodism and the Criticism of It in Mr. Struve’s Book” (present edition, Vol. 1, pp. 333-507).

[19] Bernsteinian opportunism—an anti-Marxian trend in the inter national Social-Democratic movement which appeared in the late nineteenth century in Germany, so called from the name of the German Social-Democrat Eduard Bernstein. The latter tried to revise the revolutionary teaching of Marx in the spirit of bourgeois liberalism.

The followers of Bernstein in Russia were the “legal Marxists”, the “Economists”, the Bundists, and the Mensheviks.

[20] Starover—pseudonym of the Menshevik A. N. Potresoy.

[21] Zarya (Dawn)—a Marxist scientific and political magazine published in Stuttgart in 1901-02 by the Iskra Editorial Board. The following articles by Lenin appeared in this publication: “Casual Notes”, “The Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism”, the first four chapters of “The Agrarian Question and the ’Critics of Marx’\thinspace" (under the heading of “Messrs. the ’Critics’ on the Agrarian Question”), “Review of Home Affairs”, “The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy”. Altogether four numbers (in three issues) appeared: No. 1, No. 2-3, and No. 4.

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