V. I.   Lenin

The Advice of the Conservative Bourgeoisie

Published: Proletary, No. 2, June 3 (May 21), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 457-460.
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 Second Congress of the Zemstvo representatives was held in Moscow a few weeks ago. Russian newspapers are not allowed to print a word about it. The English newspapers report numerous details received from eyewitnesses who attended the Congress and who telegraphed, not only its decisions, but the substance of the speeches made by the representatives of the various shadings. The decisions of the 132 Zemstvo representatives amount in their essence to an acceptance of the constitutional programme published by Mr. Struve and analysed by us in Vperyod, No. 18 (“Political Sophisms”).[1] This programme provides for a bicameral popular legislature and the retention of the monarchy. The Upper House is to consist of deputies from the Zemstvos and the municipal councils, the Lower is to be elected on the basis of universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot. Our legal newspapers, forced to keep silent about the Congress, have begun to publish details of the programme, which makes it all the more important now to analyse it.

As regards the Congress, we shall probably have occasion more than once to return to it. For the time being we shall recount, on the authority of the English newspapers, a particularly interesting event at this Congress, namely, the disagreement, or split, between the “liberal”, or opportunist or Shipov, party and the “radical” party. The disagreement arose over the question of universal suffrage, to which the former party is opposed. On Sunday, May 7 (April 24), it transpired that 52 members of the Congress backed Shipov and were ready to walk out if the Congress declared for   universal suffrage. On Monday a score among them voted with the majority for universal suffrage. Thereupon a resolution on the convocation of a Constituent Assembly on the basis of universal suffrage was adopted unanimously, a considerable majority declaring for direct elections and for the non-admission (to the Constituent Assembly) of representatives of the municipal councils and Zemstvos. Thus, for the time being, the followers of Shipov have been defeated at the Congress of the Zemstvo representatives. The majority has come to the conclusion that the only way to preserve the monarchy and prevent revolution is to grant universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot, rendered innocuous through indirect and unequal elections to one of the two houses.

The opinion of the English conservative bourgeoisie on this Congress and on this decision is most instructive. “It is quite impossible,” writes The Times, “for foreigners to gauge the political importance of this remarkable meeting until we learn from trustworthy authority what measure of support it commands amongst the huge mass of the Russian people. It may mark the beginning of a real constitutional reform; it may be the first stage on the road to revolution; it may be a mere fire of straw which the bureaucracy have tolerated because they know it will burn harmlessly out.”

A remarkably true characterisation! Indeed, the further course of the Russian revolution is far from being determined by an event like this Congress. “The support of the huge mass of the people” is still a moot question, not as regards the actual fact of the people’s support (which is assured), but rather as regards the strength of this support. If the government puts down the uprising, then the liberal Congress will indeed have been a fire of straw. And the moderate European liberals, of course, advise the golden mean: a moderate constitution which would stave off the revolution. The government’s confusion, however, fills them with dismay and discontent. The ban on publishing the decisions of the Congress puzzles The Times, since the delegates, now dispersed to their home districts, have every means of informing the entire Russian public of their decisions. “To have refused to allow the Congress to meet, to have arrested its members when they did meet, or to have used them as a screen   for a sham reform would all have been intelligible courses. But to let them meet and disperse, and then to try and silence them is merely inept.”

The stupidity of the tsarist government, as proved by its confusion and impotence (for confusion at a revolutionary moment is a sure sign of impotence), fills European capital with grave concern (The Times is a mouthpiece of “the City”, the high financiers of the world’s richest city). This confusion increases the probability of a real, victorious revolution sweeping everything in its path, a revolution that strikes terror into the hearts of the European bourgeoisie. The latter blames the autocracy for losing its head and the liberals for making “immoderate” demands! Upon the question (universal suffrage) “which the ... most experienced Legislatures in Europe would hesitate to decide in the course of a prolonged session [fumes The Times]—they seem to have practically reversed their attitude in five short days and adopted extremist decisions. European capital advises Russian capital to follow its example. We do not doubt that this advice will be taken—but hardly before the autocracy has had its power curtailed. The European bourgeoisie in its day fought against absolutism still more “immoderately”, by still more revolutionary methods than the Russian bourgeoisie does in its day. The “obduracy” of the Russian autocracy and the immoderacy of Russian liberalism are due, not to their inexperience, as The Times seems to imply, but to factors beyond their control—the international situation, foreign policy, and most of all to that heritage of Russian history which has driven the autocracy to the wall and piled up under its dominance contradictions and conflicts never known in Western Europe. The proverbial stability and strength of Russian tsarism in the past necessarily condition the force of the revolutionary assault upon it. This is most unpleasant to all gradualists and opportunists; it terrifies even many Social-Democrats from the tail-ender camp, but such is the fact.

The Times deplores the defeat of Shipov. Why, only last November he was the undisputed chief of the reform party and now... “so rapidly does revolution devour its children Poor Shipov! To suffer defeat and be branded as the evil genius of the revolution—could fate be more unjust? The   “radicals” who voted Shipov down at the Congress of the Zemstvo representatives shock The Times, which cries in horror that they adhere to the theoretical principles of the French Convention. The doctrine of equality, of equal rights for all citizens, of the sovereignty of the people, etc., “has been proved by many... experiments to be, perhaps, the most prolific of evil amongst all the brood of disastrous sophistries which Jean Jacques Rousseau bequeathed to mankind. It is the tap-root of Jacobinism, fatal by its mere presence to the growth of just and wholesome reforms.”

The opportunists of liberalism touchingly embrace with the opportunists of Social-Democracy in their partiality for employing the bogy of “Jacobinism”. In an epoch of democratic revolution only hopeless reactionaries or hope less philistines can raise the bogy of Jacobinism.


[1] See pp. 425-32 of this volume.—Ed.

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