V. I.   Lenin

Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government



Engels points to the danger of failure on the part of the leaders of the proletariat to understand the non-proletarian character of the revolution, but our sage Martynov infers from this the danger that the leaders of the proletariat, who, by their programme, their tactics (i.e., their entire propaganda and agitation), and their organisation, have separated themselves from the revolutionary democrats, will play a leading part in establishing the democratic republic. Engels sees the danger in the leader’s confounding of the pseudo-socialist with the really democratic character of the revolution, while our sage Martynov infers from this the danger that the proletariat, together with the peasantry, may consciously assume the dictatorship in the establishment of the democratic republic, the last form of bourgeois domination and the best form for the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Engels sees the danger in the false, deceptive position of saying one thing and doing another, of promising the domination of one class and actually ensuring that of another. Engels sees the irrevocable political doom consequent upon such a false position, while our sage Martynov deduces the danger that the bourgeois adherents of democracy will not permit the proletariat and the peasantry to secure a really democratic republic. Our sage Martynov cannot for the life of him understand that such a doom, the doom of the leader of the proletariat, the doom of thousands of proletarians in the struggle for a truly democratic republic, would well be a physical doom, but not, how ever, a political doom; on the contrary, it would be a momentous political victory of the proletariat, a momentous achievement of its hegemony in the struggle for liberty. Engels speaks of the political doom of one who unconsciously strays from the path of his own class to that of an alien class, while our sage Martynov, reverently quoting Engels, speaks of the doom of one who goes further and further along the sure road of his own class.

The difference between the point of view of revolutionary Social-Democracy and that of tail-ism is glaringly obvious. Martynov and the new Iskra shrink from the task which the proletariat, together with the peasantry, is called upon   to shoulder—the task of the most radical democratic revolution; they shrink from the Social-Democratic leadership of this revolution and thus surrender, albeit unwittingly, the interests of the proletariat into the hands of the bourgeois democrats. From Marx’s correct idea that we must prepare, not a government party, but an opposition party of the future, Martynov draws the conclusion that we must form a tail-ist opposition to the present revolution. This is what his political wisdom adds up to. His line of reasoning, which we strongly advise the reader to ponder, is as follows:

“The proletariat cannot win political power in the state, either wholly or in part, until it has made the socialist revolution. This is the indisputable proposition which separates us from opportunist Jaurèsism...” (Martynov, op. cit., p. 58)—and which, we would add, conclusively proves that the worthy Martynov is incapable of grasping what the whole thing is about. To confound the participation of the proletariat in a government that is resisting the socialist revolution with its participation in the democratic revolution is to miss the point hopelessly. It is Like confounding Millerand’s participation in the Cabinet of the murderer Galliffet with Varlin’s[3] participation in the Commune, which defended and safeguarded the republic.

But listen further, and see what a tangle our author gets himself into: “But that being the case, it is evident that the coming revolution cannot realise any political forms against the will of the whole bourgeoisie, for the latter will be the master tomorrow...” (Martynov’s italics). In the first place, why are only political forms mentioned here, when the previous sentence referred to the power of the proletariat in general, even to the extent of the socialist revolution? Why does not the author speak of realising economic forms? Because, without noticing it, he has already leaped from the socialist to the democratic revolution. Secondly, that being the case, the author is absolutely wrong in speaking tout court (bluntly) of “the will of the whole bourgeoisie”, because the very thing that distinguishes the epoch of democratic revolution is the diversity of wills of the various strata of the bourgeoisie which is just emancipating itself from absolutism. To speak of the democratic revolution and confine oneself to a bald   contrast of “proletariat” and “bourgeoisie” is sheer nonsense, for that revolution marks the period in the development of society in which the mass of society virtually stands between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and constitutes an immense petty-bourgeois, peasant stratum. For the very reason that the democratic revolution has not yet been consummated, this immense stratum has far more interests in common with the “proletariat” in the matter of realising political forms than has the “bourgeoisie” in the real and strict sense of the word. Failure to understand this simple thing is one of the main sources of Martynov’s muddle.

Further: “That being the case, the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, by simply frightening the majority of the bourgeois elements, can have but one result—the restoration of absolutism in its original form ... and, of course, the proletariat will not halt before this possible result; at the worst, if things tend decidedly towards a revival and strengthening of the decaying autocratic regime by means of a pseudo-constitutional concession, it will not hold back from frightening the bourgeoisie. In entering the struggle, however, the proletariat obviously does not have this ’worst’ in view.”

Can you make anything of this, dear reader? The proletariat will not hold back from frightening the bourgeoisie, which course will lead to the restoration of absolutism, if there should be a threat of a pseudo-constitutional concession! This is as much as to say: I am threatened with an Egyptian plague in the form of a one-day conversation with Martynov alone; therefore, if the worst comes to the worst, I shall fall back on the method of intimidation, which can lead only to a two-day conversation with Martynov and Martov. This is the sheerest gibberish, sir!

The idea that haunted Martynov when he wrote the non sense here quoted was the following: if in the period of the democratic revolution the proletariat uses the threat of the socialist revolution to frighten the bourgeoisie, this can lead only to reaction, which will also weaken the democratic gains already won. That and nothing more. There can be no question, of course, either of restoring absolutism in its original form or of the proletariat’s readiness, if the worst comes to the worst, to resort to the worst kind of stupidity. The whole   thing takes us back to the difference between the democratic and the socialist revolution, overlooked by Martynov, to the existence of that immense peasant and petty-bourgeois population which is capable of supporting the democratic revolution, but is at present incapable of supporting the socialist revolution.

Let us listen further to our sage Martynov: “Evidently, the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie on the eve of the bourgeois revolution must differ in some respects from the same struggle at its concluding stage, on the eve of the socialist revolution....” Yes, this is evident; and if Martynov had paused to think what this difference actually is, he would hardly have written the above-given drivel, or, indeed, his while pamphlet.

“The struggle to influence the course and outcome of the bourgeois revolution can find expression only in the exertion of revolutionary pressure by the proletariat on the will of the liberal and radical bourgeoisie, and in the compulsion on the part of the more democratic ’lower strata’ of society to bring the ’upper strata’ into agreement to carry through the bourgeois revolution to its logical conclusion. The struggle will find expression in the fact that the proletariat will at every opportunity confront the bourgeoisie with the dilemma—either backward, into the strangling grip of absolutism, or forward, with the people.”

This tirade is the central point of Martynov’s pamphlet. We have here its sum and substance, all its fundamental “ideas”. And what do all these clever ideas turn out to be? Who are these “lower strata” of society, the “people” of whom our sage has at last bethought himself? They are precisely that multitudinous petty-bourgeois stratum of town and village which is quite capable of functioning in a revolutionary democratic capacity. And what is this pressure that the proletariat and the peasantry can exert on the upper social strata, what is meant by the proletariat advancing together with the people in despite of the upper social strata? It is that same revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry against which our tail-ender is declaiming! Only he is afraid to think to the end, to call a spade a spade. And so he utters words whose meaning he   does not understand. in ludicrous, florid language,[1] he timidly repeats slogans, the true significance of which escapes him. None but a tail-ender could deliver himself of such a curio in the most “interesting” part of his summary as: revolutionary pressure of the proletariat and the “people” on the upper strata of society, but without a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Only a Martynov could show himself so adept! Martynov wants the proletariat to threaten the upper strata of society that it will go forward with the people, while at the same time firmly deciding with its new-Iskra leaders not to go for ward along the democratic path, because that is the path of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship. Martynov wants the proletariat to exert pressure on the will of the up per strata by displaying its own lack of will. Martynov wants the proletariat to bring the upper strata “into agreement” to carry the bourgeois revolution through to its logical, democratic-republican conclusion, but to do so by expressing its own fear of assuming, jointly with the people, the task of carrying the revolution through, its fear of taking power and forming the democratic dictatorship. Martynov wants the proletariat to be the vanguard in the democratic revolution and therefore our sage Martynov frightens the proletariat with the perspective of participation in the provisional revolutionary government in the event of the success of the insurrection!

Reactionary tail-ism could go no further. We should all prostrate ourselves before Martynov, as we would before a saint, for having developed the tail-ist tendencies of the new Iskra to their logical conclusion and for having given them emphatic and systematic expression with regard to the most pressing and basic political questions.[2]



[1] We have already pointed out the absurdity of the idea that, if the worst comes to the worst, the proletariat might push the bourgeoisie hack.—Lenin

[2] This article was already set up when we received issue No. 93 of Iskra, with which we shall deal on another occasion.[4]Lenin

[3] Millerand—French reformist socialist. In 1899, joined the reactionary bourgeois government, in which he collaborated with General Galliffet, executioner of the Paris Commune.

Varlin, Louis-Eu gene (1839-71)—a French worker, prominent leader of the First International, member of the Central Committee of the National Guard and member of the Paris Commune of 1871.

[4] L. Martov’s article “On the Order of the Day: The Workers’ Party and ’the Seizure of Power’ as Our Immediate Task” was published in the Menshevik Iskra, No. 93. Lenin criticised the article in his “The Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry” and in his Report at the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. “On the Participation of the Social-Democrats in a Provisional Revolutionary Government.” (See p. 293 and pp. 390-92 of this volume.)

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