V. I.   Lenin

Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government



Such dreams, of course, are strange and alien to the philistines of the new Iskra and to that “master of men’s minds”, our good dogmatist Martynov. They fear the full achievement of our minimum programme through the revolutionary dictatorship of the simple, common people. They are afraid for their own political consciousness, afraid of losing the book knowledge they have learned by rote (but not assimilated), afraid that they may not be able to distinguish the correct and bold steps of the democratic transformations from the adventurous leaps of non-class, Narodnik socialism or of anarchism. Their philistine souls warn them with good reason that in a rapid onward march it is more difficult to distinguish the right path and quickly to solve the new and complex problems than in the routine of small-scale, everyday work; therefore, they mutter instinctively: Away, away! Let this cup of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship pass from me! It’s as much as our life is worth! Gentlemen, better “go slow, with timid zigzags”.

Small wonder that Parvus, who had so generously supported the new-Iskrists as long as it was a question chiefly of co-opting the most venerable and the most deserving, finally began to feel very uncomfortable in this stagnant company. Small wonder, too, that he began more and more to feel the taedium vitae, life weariness, in this company. In the end he rebelled. He did not stop at defending the slogan “Organise the revolution”, which had frightened the new Iskra to death; he did not limit himself to writing manifestos, which Iskra published as separate leaflets, carefully avoiding all mention of the name of the Social-Democratic   Labour Party in view of the “Jacobin” horrors.[1] No, having freed himself from the nightmare of the profound organisation-as-process theory advanced by Axelrod (or was it Luxemburg?), Parvus managed at last to go forward, in stead of moving backward like a crab. He refused to perform the Sisyphean labour[2] of endlessly correcting Martynov ’s and Martov’s follies. He openly advocated (unfortunately, together with the windbag Trotsky in a foreword to the latter’s bombastic pamphlet Before the Ninth of January) the idea of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, the idea that it was the duty of Social-Democrats to take part in the provisional revolutionary government after the overthrow of the autocracy. Parvus is profoundly right in saying that the Social-Democrats must not fear to take bold strides forward, to deal joint “blows” at the enemy, shoulder to shoulder with the revolutionary bourgeois democrats, on the definite understanding, however (very appropriately brought to mind), that the organisations are not to be merged, that we march separately but strike together, that we do not conceal the diversity of interests, that we watch our ally as we would our enemy, etc.

But for all our warm sympathy for these slogans of a revolutionary Social-Democrat who has turned away from the tail-enders, we could not help feeling jarred by certain false notes that Parvus struck. We mention these slight errors, not out of captiousness, but because from him to whom much is given, much is demanded. It would be most dangerous at present for Parvus to compromise his correct position by his own imprudence. Among the least imprudent is the following sentence in his preface to Trotsky’s pamphlet: “If we wish to keep the revolutionary proletariat apart from the other political currents, we must learn to stand ideologically at the head of the revolutionary movement [this is correct], to be more revolutionary than anyone else.” This is incorrect. That is to say, it is incorrect, if the statement is taken in the general sense in which it is expressed by Parvus;   it is incorrect from the point of view of the reader to whom this preface is something standing by itself, apart from Martynov and the new-Iskrists, whom Parvus does not mention. If we examine this statement dialectically, i.e., relatively, concretely, in all its aspects, and not after the manner of those literary jockeys, who, even many years after, snatch separate sentences from some single work and distort their meaning, it will become clear that Parvus directs the assertion expressly against tail-ism, to which extent he is right (compare particularly his subsequent words: “If we lag behind revolutionary development”, etc.). But the reader cannot have in mind only tail-enders, since there are others besides tail-enders among the dangerous friends of the revolution in the camp of the revolutionaries—there are the “Socialists-Revolutionaries”; there are people like the Nadezhdins, who are swept along by the tide of events and are helpless in the face of revolutionary phrases; or those who are guided by instinct rather than by a revolutionary outlook (like Gapon). These Parvus forgot; he forgot them because his presentation, the development of his thoughts, was not free, but was hampered by the pleasant memory of the very Martynovism against which he seeks to warn the reader. Parvus’ exposition is not sufficiently concrete because he does not consider the totality of the various revolutionary cur rents in Russia, which are inevitable in the epoch of democratic revolution and which naturally reflect the still unstratified classes of society in such an epoch. At such a time, revolutionary-democratic programmes are quite naturally veiled in vague, even reactionary, socialist ideas concealed behind revolutionary phrases (to wit, the Socialists-Revolutionaries and Nadezhdin, who, it seems, changed only his label when he went over from the “revolutionary socialists” to the new Iskra). Under such circumstances we, the Social-Democrats, never can and never will advance the slogan “Be more revolutionary than anyone else”. We shall not even try to keep up with the revolutionariness of a democrat who is detached from his class basis, who has a weakness for fine phrases and flaunts catchwords and cheap slogans (especially in agrarian matters). On the contrary, we will always be critical of such revolutionariness; we will expose the real meaning of words, the real content of idealised great events;   and we will teach the need for a sober evaluation of the classes and shadings within the classes, even in the hottest situations of the revolution.

Equally incorrect, for the same reason, are Parvus’ statements that “the revolutionary provisional government in Russia will be a government of working-class democracy”, that “if the Social-Democrats are at the head of the revolutionary movement of the Russian proletariat, this government will be a Social-Democratic government”, that the Social-Democratic provisional government “will be an integral government with a Social-Democratic majority”. This is impossible, unless we speak of fortuitous, transient episodes, and not of a revolutionary dictatorship that will be at all durable and capable of leaving its mark in history. This is impossible, because only a revolutionary dictatorship supported by the vast majority of the people can be at all durable (not absolutely, of course, but relatively). The Russian proletariat, however, is at present a minority of the population in Russia. It can become the great, overwhelming majority only if it combines with the mass of semi-proletarians, semi-proprietors, i.e., with the mass of the petty-bourgeois urban and rural poor. Such a composition of the social basis of the possible and desirable revolutionary-democratic dictatorship will, of course, affect the composition of the revolutionary government and inevitably lead to the participation, or even predominance, within it of the most heterogeneous representatives of revolutionary democracy. It would be extremely harmful to entertain any illusions on this score. If that windbag Trotsky now writes (unfortunately, side by side with Parvus) that “a Father Gapon could appear only once”, that “there is no room for a second Gapon”, he does so simply because he is a windbag. If there were no room in Russia for a second Gapon, there would be no room for a truly “great”, consummated democratic revolution. To become great, to evoke 1789-93, not 1848-50, and to surpass those years, it must rouse the vast masses to active life, to heroic efforts, to “fundamental historic creativeness”; it must raise them out of frightful ignorance, unparalleled oppression, incredible backwardness, and abysmal dullness. The revolution is already raising them and will raise them completely; the government itself is facilitating   the process by its desperate resistance. But, of course, there can be no question of a mature political consciousness, of a Social-Democratic consciousness of these masses or their numerous “native” popular leaders or even “muzhik” leaders. They cannot become Social-Democrats at once without first passing a number of revolutionary tests, not only because of their ignorance (revolution, we repeat, enlightens with marvellous speed), but because their class position is not proletarian, because the objective logic of historical development confronts them at the present time with the tasks, not of a socialist, but of a democratic revolution.

In this revolution, the revolutionary proletariat will participate with the utmost energy, sweeping aside the miser able tail-ism of some and the revolutionary phrases of others. It will bring class definiteness and consciousness into the dizzying whirlwind of events, and march on intrepidly and unswervingly, not fearing, but fervently desiring, the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, fighting for the republic and for complete republican liberties, fighting for substantial economic reforms, in order to create for itself a truly large arena, an arena worthy of the twentieth century, in which to carry on the struggle for socialism.


[1] I do not know whether our readers have noticed the following characteristic fact: among all the trash issued by the new Iskra in the form of leaflets, there were some good writings bearing Parvus’ signature. The editors of the new Iskra turned their back on these leaflets, which they printed without the name of our Party or of the publishers.—Lenin

[2] Sisyphean labour—synonym for hard, wearisome and futile toil, which originated in the ancient Greek myth about King Sisyphus condemned by the gods to roll to the top of a hill a huge stone which constantly rolled back again.

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