V. I.   Lenin

Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government



Only five years ago many representatives of Social-Democracy thought the slogan “Down with the Autocracy!” premature and unintelligible to the mass of the workers. These representatives were rightly classed as opportunists. It was explained to them again and again and finally made clear that they were lagging behind the movement, that they did not understand the tasks of the Party as vanguard of the class, as its leader and organiser, as the representative of the movement as a whole and of its fundamental and principal aims. These aims might be overshadowed for a time by the day-to-day routine, but they should never lose their significance as the guiding star of the fighting proletariat.

Now the time has come when the flames of revolution have spread throughout the land, and when even the most sceptical have come to believe in the inevitable overthrow of the autocracy in the near future. But Social-Democracy, as if by some irony of history, has to deal once more with precisely the same reactionary and opportunist attempts to drag the movement back, to play down its tasks, and to obscure its slogans. Polemics with the proponents of such attempts become the task of the day, and (contrary to the opinion of the very many who dislike intra-Party polemics) acquire tremendous practical importance. For the nearer we get to realising our immediate political tasks, the greater is the need to have an absolutely clear understanding of those tasks and the more harmful is all ambiguity, all reticence and mental inconclusiveness on this question.

And yet mental inconclusiveness is by no means a rare thing among the Social-Democrats of the new Iskra or (what is practically the same) the Rabocheye Dyelo camp. Down   with the Autocracy!—everyone agrees with this, not only all Social-Democrats, but all democrats, even all liberals, if one is to believe their current declarations. But what does it mean? How is this overthrow of the present government to take place? Who is to convene the Constituent Assembly, which even the Osvobozhdeniye people (see issue No. 67 of Osvobozhdeniye) are now prepared to advance as their slogan, including the demand for universal, direct, and equal suffrage? Precisely what should constitute the real guarantee that the elections to such an assembly will be free and will express the interests of the whole people?

He who fails to give a clear and definite answer to these questions does not grasp the meaning of the slogan “Down with the Autocracy”. And these questions inevitably bring us to the question of the provisional revolutionary government; it is not difficult to understand that really free, popular elections to a Constituent Assembly, fully guaranteeing truly universal, equal, and direct suffrage by secret ballot, are not only improbable, but actually impossible under the autocracy. And if we are in earnest in putting forward a practical demand for the immediate overthrow of the autocratic government, we must be clear in our minds as to precisely what other government we want to replace the one that is to be overthrown. In other words, what do we think should be the attitude of the Social-Democrats towards a provisional revolutionary government?

On this question the opportunists of present-day Social-Democracy, viz., the new-Iskrists, are dragging the Party back just as strenuously as the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists did five years ago on the question of political struggle in general. Their reactionary views on this point are fully elaborated in Martynov’s pamphlet Two Dictatorships, which Iskra, No. 84, approved and recommended in a special re view, and to which we have repeatedly called our readers’ attention.

At the outset of his pamphlet Martynov tries to frighten us with the following grim prospect: If a strong, revolutionary Social-Democratic organisation could “time and carry out the general armed uprising of the people” against the autocracy, as Lenin dreamed, “is it not obvious that the general will of the people would on the morrow after the revolution   designate precisely this party as the provisional government? Is it not obvious that the people would entrust the immediate fate of the revolution precisely to this party, and to no other?”

This is incredible, but true. The future historian of Russian Social-Democracy will have to record with surprise that at the very outset of the Russian revolution the Girondists of Social-Democracy tried to frighten the revolutionary proletariat with such a prospect! Martynov’s pamphlet (as well as a host of articles and passages in the new Iskra) is nothing but an attempt to daub the “horrors” of such a prospect. The ideological leader of the new-Iskrists is haunted by fear of “a seizure of power”, by the bogy of “Jacobinism”, of Bakuninism, of Tkachovism,[1] and of all the other dreadful isms with which old wives on the fringe of the revolution are so eager to scare political infants. Naturally, this is done not without “quoting” Marx and Engels. Poor Marx and poor Engels, what abuses their works have suffered through quotations! You remember how the maxim “Every class struggle is a political struggle”[2] was invoked to justify the narrowness and backwardness of our political tasks and methods of political agitation and struggle? Now it is Engels who is made to give false evidence in favour of tail-ism. In The Peasant War in Germany, he wrote: “The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents, and for the realisation of the measures which that domination requires.” One has only to read carefully this opening of the lengthy passage which Martynov quotes to see plainly how our tail-ender distorts the author’s meaning. Engels speaks of a government that is required for the domination of a class. Is this not obvious? Applied to the proletariat, it consequently means a government that is required for the domination of the proletariat, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat for the effectuation of the socialist revolution. Martynov fails to understand this, and confounds the provisional revolutionary government in the period of the overthrow of the autocracy with the requisite domination of the proletariat in the period of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie; he confounds the democratic dictatorship of the   proletariat and the peasantry with the socialist dictatorship of the working class. Yet if we continue reading the quoted passage, Engels’ idea becomes still clearer. The leader of the extreme party, he says, will have to “advance the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, and with the assurances that the interests of that alien class are its own interests. Whoever finds himself in this false position is irrevocably lost.”[3]

The underlined passages clearly show that Engels expressly warns against the false position that results from a leader’s failure to understand the real interests of “his own” class and the real class content of the revolution. To make this clearer to the subtle mind of our Martynov we shall essay a simple illustration. When the adherents of the Narodnaya Volya, in the belief that they represented the interests of “Labour”, assured themselves and others that 90 per cent of the peasants in the future Russian Constituent Assembly would be socialists, they put themselves in a false position which was bound to spell their irrevocable political doom, since these “promises and assurances” were at variance with objective reality. Actually they would have advanced the interests of the bourgeois democrats, “the interests of an alien class”. Are you not beginning to perceive a ray of light, most worthy Martynov? When the Socialists-Revolutionaries describe the agrarian reforms that must inevitably come about in Russia as “socialisation”, as “the transfer of the land to the people”, as the beginning of “equality in land tenure”, they place themselves in a false position which is bound to lead to their irrevocable political doom, because, in practice, the very reforms for which they strive will bring about the domination of an alien class, of the peasant bourgeoisie, so that the more rapidly the revolution develops, the more rapidly will their phrases, promises, and assurances be refuted by reality. Do you still fail to see the point, most worthy Martynov? Do you still fail to comprehend that the essence of Engels’ thought is that it is fatal not to understand the real historical tasks of the revolution and that Engels’ words are applicable, therefore, to the Narodnaya Volya adherents and the “Socialists-Revolutionaries”?



[1] Bakuninism—an anarchist trend hostile to Marxism. Named after its founder Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76). The basic postulate of Bakuninism was the negation of the state as such, including the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bakuninists held that the revolution was to take the form of immediate popular revolts directed by a secret revolutionary society, made up of “outstanding” individuals. The theory and the tactics of the Bakuninists were severely condemned by Marx and Engels. Lenin described Bakuninism as the world outlook “of tile petty bourgeois who despairs of his salvation”. Bakuninism was one of the ideological sources of Narodism.

Tkachovism—from Tkachov, one of the ideologists of Narodism. He ignored the role of the popular masses and advocated the idea of a conspiratorial organisation and the tactics of individual terrorism.

[2] See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. I, pp. 42-43.

[3] See Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, Moscow, 1956, p. 139.

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