V. I.   Lenin

Revolutionary Struggle and Liberal Brokerage

Published: Proletary, No. 3, June 9 (May 27), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary. Checked with the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 486-494.
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 rise of political parties is one of the most interesting and characteristic features of our interesting epoch. The old order, the autocracy, is falling to pieces. Increasing sections, not only of so-called “society”, i.e., the bourgeoisie, but also of the “people”, i.e., the working class and the peasantry, have begun to reflect on the kind of new order that has to be built and on the way to build it. For the class-conscious proletariat these attempts of the various classes to frame a programme and organise the political struggle are of momentous importance. Although these attempts largely originate from individual “figures” responsible to no one and leading no one, and are therefore often fortuitous, arbitrary, and at times bombastic, the basic interests and tendencies of the big social classes, broadly speaking, assert themselves with irresistible force. Out of the seeming chaos of declarations, demands, and platforms there clearly emerge the political physiognomy of our bourgeoisie and its real (not only specious) political programme. The proletariat is obtaining increasingly more material by which to judge how the Russian bourgeoisie, which now talks of political action, is really going to act—what stand it will take in the decisive revolutionary struggle towards which Russia is so rapidly heading.

Valuable material for studying the policy of the bourgeoisie is sometimes offered by Osvobozhdeniye, published abroad, which is able to review the numerous public utterances of the Russian liberals without censorship restrictions. The Programme of the Osvobozhdeniye League, which this   journal has just published (or reprinted from Novosti[1] of April 5) with instructive commentaries by Mr. P. S., is an excellent addendum to the resolutions of the Zemstvo congresses and to the Osvobozhdeniye liberals’ draft constitution, of which we wrote in Vperyod, No. 18.[2] “The drafting and voting of this programme,” as Mr. P. S. justly remarks, “is a big step towards the creation of a Russian Constitutional-Democratic Party.”

For the Russian liberals this is unquestionably a big step, which stands out in the long list of liberal activities. Nevertheless, how little this big “step” of the liberals is, as compared with what is needed for building a real party, as compared even with what Social-Democracy has already done to this end. The bourgeoisie has far greater freedom of legal expression than the proletariat, incomparably more intellectual forces and financial means, and far greater facilities for party organisation; yet we still have before us a “party” without an official name, without a common, distinct, and lucid programme, without worked-out tactics, without a party organisation, a “party” which, according to the competent testimony of Mr. P. S., consists of the “Zemstvo group"and the Osvobozhdeniye League,i.e., of an unorganised conglomeration of individuals plus an organisation. But perhaps the members of the Zemstvo group are “party members” in the now famous sense that they accept the programme and work “under the control of a party organisation”, of a group of the Osvobozhdeniye League? Such a conception of party membership is as convenient and suitable to the liberals and as natural a part of the liberal political pattern as it is alien to the whole spirit of Social-Democracy. Such a conception of party (expressed not in written Rules, but in the actual structure of that “party”) implies, among other things, that the organised members, i.e., the members of the Osvobozhdeniye League, stand, in their majority, for a unicameral system, while at the same time rejecting it in their programme, passing the whole question over in silence in deference to the unorganised membership, to the “Zemstvo group”, which favours a bicameral system. The balance of   “forces”, one might say, is providential for the politically active bourgeoisie. The organised intellectuals propose, and the unorganised businessmen, money-bags, and capitalists dispose.

While heartily welcoming the Programme of the Osvobozhdeniye League, Mr. P. S., in principle, defends both the vagueness, inadequacy, and incompleteness of the programme and its organisational haziness and silence on tactics— all for reasons of “Realpolitik”! We shall revert to this in comparable conception, so singularly characteristic of the essence of bourgeois liberalism, and shall now proceed to examine the basic principles of the liberal programme.

The party, as we have said, has no official designation. Mr. P. S. calls it by the name under which, I believe, it goes in the columns of our legal newspapers of the liberal trend, namely, “Constitutional-Democratic Party”. Unimportant though the question of name may appear at first glance, here too we immediately find material that explains why the bourgeoisie, unlike the proletariat, must content itself with political vagueness and even defend it “in principle”; it “must” do this, not only on account of the subjective moods or qualities of its leaders, but by reason of the objective conditions governing the existence of the bourgeois class as a whole. The name “Constitutional-Democratic Party” immediately calls to mind the well-known adage that speech was given to man in order that he might conceal his thoughts. The name “G.D.P.” was invented to conceal the monarchist nature of the party. Indeed, who does not know that this entire party, in the person both of its master section, the Zemstvo group, and of the Osvobozhdeniye League, stands for the monarchy? Neither section so much as mentions the question of the republic, which they consider “idle talk”, while their draft constitution bluntly and unequivocally accepts the monarchy as the form of government. We have therefore to do with a party that advocates a constitutional monarchy, a party of constitutional monarchists. This is a fact of which there is not the slightest doubt and which cannot be dismissed by any arguments about acceptance “in principle” of the idea of a republic (though we have heard no such arguments yet from the “Constitutional-Democrats”!), since the issue is not acceptance of the   republic purely “in principle”, but acceptance in practical politics, acceptance of the will to achieve the republic and of the necessity to struggle for it.

The fact is that the bourgeois gentlemen cannot call them selves by their real name yet, any more than they can go out into the street naked. They cannot tell the truth openly; they cannot aussprechen was ist (speak out the truth), for that would mean admitting one of the most outrageous and pernicious of political privileges, it would mean admitting their anti-democratism. No bourgeoisie in struggle for political liberty can admit this, and not only because it would be disgraceful, scandalous, and indecent. Nothing is too in decent for bourgeois politicians where their interests are concerned. But their interests at the moment demand liberty, and liberty cannot be won without the people, and the backing of the people cannot be secured unless one calls oneself a “democrat” (=an adherent of the rule of the people), unless one conceals one’s monarchism.

And so the class position of the bourgeoisie inevitably gives rise to an inherent instability and falsity in the very formulation of its basic political tasks. The struggle for freedom, for the abolition of the ancient privileges of the autocracy, is incompatible with the defence of the privileges of private property, since these privileges entail “gentle handling” of the monarchy. The real programme of the monarchist constitution, therefore, is draped in the fine, airy raiment of a democratic constitution. And this embellishment of the programme’s real content with a display of tawdry tinsel is called “Realpolitik”.... Thus, the ideologist of the liberal bourgeoisie speaks with inimitable contempt and sublime self-complacency about the “theoretical self-indulgence” which the “representatives of the extreme parties” are practising (Osvobozhdeniye, No. 69-70, p. 308). The Realpolitiker of the bourgeoisie do not want to indulge in talk or even in day-dreams of the republic because they do not want to struggle for the republic. For this reason, however, they feel the irresistible urge to edify the people with the enticement of “democracy”. They do not want to deceive themselves with regard to their inability to renounce the monarchy, and so they needs must deceive the people by keeping silent about their monarchism.

The name of a party, as can be seen, is not such an incidental and unimportant affair as one might think at first glance. Sometimes the very showiness and pretentiousness of the name betray the inherent flaw in a party’s entire programme and tactical line. The deeper an ideologist of the big bourgeoisie feels himself devoted to the monarchy, the louder he calls upon heaven to witness that he is a democrat. The more an ideologist of the petty bourgeoisie reflects its instability and its incapacity to wage a consistent, steadfast struggle for the democratic revolution and for socialism, the more ardently he holds forth on the party of the “Socialists-Revolutionaries”, of which it has been aptly said that its socialism is anything but revolutionary, and its revolutionariness anything but socialist.. All we need now is for the adherents of the autocracy to call themselves (as they have on more than one occasion attempted to do) “people’s party”, and we shall have a complete picture of the metamorphosis which class interests undergo on political signboards.

The signboard of the liberal bourgeoisie (or the programme of the Osvobozhdeniye League) starts, as befits a signboard, with a striking preamble: “The Osvobozhdeniye League finds that the grave external and internal crisis through which Russia is passing has become so acute at the present time that the people must take its solution into their own hands in conjunction with the other social groups opposed to the existing regime.”

And so, let the power pass into the hands of the people, long live the autocracy of the people in place of the autocracy of the tsar. Isn’t that it, gentlemen? Isn’t that what democratism demands?

No, this is theoretical self-indulgence and a failure to understand practical politics. All power is now in the hands of the absolute monarchy. Ranged against it is the people, namely, the proletariat and the peasantry, who have launched the struggle, are waging it furiously, and ...very likely will maintain their zeal until they have completely overthrown the enemy. But ranged alongside the “people” are “the other social groups”, viz., “society”, i.e., the bourgeoisie, the landowners, the capitalists, and the professional intelligentsia. Thus, the power is to   be divided into three equal parts. One-third is to be left to the monarchy, another goes to the bourgeoisie (an Upper House based on indirect, and as far as possible actually unequal and non-universal, suffrage), while the remaining third goes to the people (a Lower House on the basis of suffrage that is universal, etc.). This will be a “square deal” providing adequate protection for private property and making it possible to use the organised power of the monarchy (the army, bureaucracy, and police) against the people, should they show “zeal” for any of the “unreasonable” demands put forward by the “representatives of the extreme parties out of sheer theoretical self-indulgence”. This square deal, which reduces the revolutionary people to a harmless minority of one-third, is presented as “a radical reform on democratic principles”, and not at all on the principles of monarchism or of bourgeois privilege.

How is this deal to be put through? By means of honest brokerage. Mr. Struve predicted this long ago in his preface to the Witte Memorandum when he said that it is always the moderate parties that gain from the intensification of the struggle between the extreme parties. The struggle between the autocracy and the revolutionary people is gaining in intensity. One has to manoeuvre between the one and the other, enlisting the support of the revolutionary people against the autocracy (with the enticement of “democracy”) and the support of the monarchy against the “excesses” of the revolutionary people. By skilful manoeuvring a deal like that should come off, with the bourgeoisie getting at least a “third” share in any case, while the shares allotted to the people and the autocracy would depend on the outcome of the decisive struggle between them. Whose backing should be sought most will depend on the exigencies of the moment— such is the essence of the huckstering tactics, that is to say, “practical” politics.

At present all power is still in the hands of the autocracy. The thing to do, therefore, is to say that the people must take power into their hands. The thing to do, therefore, is to call yourself a democrat, to put forward a demand for “the immediate convocation of a Constituent Assembly on the basis of suffrage that is universal, etc., for the purpose of drawing up a Russian constitution”. The people now   are unarmed, disunited, unorganised, and helpless in the face of the absolute monarchy. A popular Constituent Assembly will rally them and become a great force which will oppose the power of the tsar. Only then, when the power of the tsar and the united force of the revolutionary people confront each other, will the bourgeoisie have its day; then only will it be possible to “co-ordinate” these two forces with positive chances of success and ensure the most advantageous result for the propertied classes.

Such is the plan of the practical politicians of liberalism. Not a foolish plan at all. It deliberately provides for the preservation of the monarchy and the admission of a Constituent Assembly of the whole people only alongside of the monarchy. The bourgeoisie does not want to have the existing government overthrown or the monarchy replaced by a republic. Therefore, the Russian bourgeoisie (on the pattern of the German bourgeoisie of 1848) stands for a “deal” between the people and the throne. Such a policy can be successful only if neither of these parties engaged in the struggle, neither the people nor the throne, is able to win the day, only if their strength is balanced. Then and only then will the bourgeoisie be able to join with the monarchy and keep a tight hold on the people, compel them to put up with one “third”—or perhaps one-hundredth part, of the power. The Constituent Assembly of the whole people will be just strong enough to make the tsar grant a constitution, but it will not and must not (from the point of view of the bourgeoisie’s interests) be any stronger. It must only counterbalance the monarchy, but not overthrow it; it must leave the material instruments of power (the army, etc.) in the hands of the monarchy.

The Osvobozhdeniye Leaguers laugh at the Shipovists for wanting to give the tsar the power of authority and the people the power of opinion. But is not their position essentially identical with that of the Shipovists? They do not want to give the people all the power either; they, too, stand for a compromise between the power of the tsar and the opinion of the people!

We thus see that the interests of the bourgeoisie as a class quite naturally and inevitably lead it at the present revolutionary moment to advance the slogan of a Constituent   Assembly of the people, but in no case the slogan of a provisional revolutionary government. The first slogan is or has become the slogan of the policy of compromise, huckstering, and brokerage; the second is the slogan of revolutionary struggle. The first is the slogan of the monarchist bourgeoisie, the second, the slogan of the revolutionary people. The first slogan makes it possible chiefly to preserve the monarchy, despite the revolutionary onset of the people; the second offers the straight road to the republic. The first leaves the power with the tsar, restricted only by public opinion; the second is the only slogan which consistently and unreservedly leads to the sovereignty of the people in the full sense of the word.

Only this radical difference in the political aims of the liberal bourgeoisie and the revolutionary proletariat can explain a number of secondary features in the Osvobozhdeniye programme besides those mentioned above. Only in the light of this difference is it possible to understand, for example, why the Osvobozhdeniye adherents require the reservation that the decisions of their League are to be “regarded as binding only insofar as political conditions remain unchanged”, and that the programme allows for “a provisional and conditional element”. This reservation (developed at length and with keen “relish” in the commentaries of Mr. P. S.) is absolutely essential for a party of “compromise” between the people and tsarism. It is a reservation that makes it as clear as daylight that in pursuance of their line of huckstering (“practical”) politics the Osvobozhdeniye Leaguers will throw over a good many of their democratic demands. Their programme is not an expression of steadfast convictions (a quality alien to the bourgeoisie), not some thing designated to be fought for. Rather, their programme is simply a haggling price, fixed beforehand with a definite view to “reduction”, depending on which of the warring parties can “hold out” longer. The Constitutional-“Democratic” (read: constitutional-monarchist) bourgeoisie will strike a bargain with tsarism at a cheaper price than its present programme—there is no doubt of that, and the class-conscious proletariat should have no illusions on that score. Hence Mr. P. S.’s hostility towards the division into a minimum programme and a maximum programme, and towards   “firm decisions of programme in general”. Hence, his assurances that the programme of the Osvobozhdeniye League (purposely couched, not in terms of definite demands precisely formulated, but in the form of a literary, approximative description of the demands) “is more than adequate for a party engaged in practical politics”. Hence, the omission of any mention of the arming of the people in the programme of the monarchist “democrats”, the avoidance of any definitely formulated demand for the disestablishment of the Church, the insistence on the impracticability of abolishing indirect taxes, the substitution of cultural self-determination of the oppressed nationalities for their political self-determination. Hence, the naïvely frank admission that democracy and the interests of capital are linked together; that instead of “protection for enterprises and businessmen, there must be greater protection for the development of the productive forces of the people”; that “industrial prosperity”, etc., must be promoted. hence, the reduction of the agrarian reform to the level of a purely bureaucratic “granting” of land to the peasants with an absolute guarantee that the landowners will be “compensated” for the lands assigned to the peas ants. In other words, the sanctity of “property” derived from bondage and serfdom is to be upheld at all costs. All this, we repeat, is the natural and inevitable result of. the position of the bourgeoisie as a class in modern society. All this confirms the radical difference between the proletarian policy of revolutionary struggle and the bourgeois policy of liberal brokerage.


[1] News.—Ed.

[2] See p. 427 of this volume.—Ed.

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