V. I.   Lenin

In the Wake of the Monarchist Bourgeoisie, or In the Van of the Revolutionary Proletariat and Peasantry?

Published: Proletary, No. 15, September 5 (August 23), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 212-223.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Social-Democracy’s tactics towards the State Duma still heads all the questions of the revolutionary struggle on the agenda of the day. The differences which have arisen between the opportunist (Iskra) and the revolutionary (Proletary) wings of the R.S.D.L.P. on the score of these tactics must be analysed most painstakingly not for the sake of captious polemising (which sometimes degenerates into a squabble), but for the purpose of thoroughly elucidating the question and assisting the comrades on the spot to work out the most exact, definite, and uniform slogans possible.

First of all, a few words on the origin of these differences. Even before the State Duma Act had been promulgated, we set forth in Proletary, No. 12 the fundamentals of our tactics and of our differences with Iskra. We demanded: 1) support for the idea of a boycott, in the sense of increased agitation and an appeal to the people, in the sense of the proletariat’s support for the Left wing of bourgeois democracy, and constant exposure of the treachery of its Right wing; 2) an active boycott at all costs, and not “passive abstention”, i.e., “increasing agitation tenfold”, going so far as “to force our way into election meetings”, and, finally, 3) “a clear, precise, and immediate agitational slogan”, namely, for an armed uprising, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government. We categorically rejected the slogan of Iskra (No. 106) for “organisation of a revolutionary self-government”, as confusing and as playing into the hands of the Osvobozhdeniye League, i.e.,   the monarchist bourgeoisie. At the same time, anticipating, as it were, that Iskra would once more “beget” more differences we immediately added that we agreed with Iskra’s condemnation of the idea of a passive boycott.

So if Iskra, No. 108, now drops sundry hints about a theory of “non-interference”, “absenteeism”, “abstention”, “folded arms”, and the like, we must first of all brush aside “objections” of this sort, since this is not polemising, but merely an attempt to “get under the opponent’s skin”. By such methods of “polemising”, culminating in the aspersion that some of the leaders would like to get into a provisional government themselves, the new Iskra has long evoked a very definite attitude towards itself among the widest circles of Social-Democrats.

Thus, the essence of the differences is that Iskra does not accept our slogan of agitation, which we consider the main slogan (for an armed uprising, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government). Proletary, on the other hand, considers it absolutely impermissible “to obscure or relegate into the background the slogan of insurrection by bringing forward the slogan of revolutionary self- government” (Proletary, No. 12). All the other points of disagreement are relatively less important. On the contrary, what is especially important is that (as has been the case on more than one occasion) in No. 108 Iskra begins to back out, to twist and turn; to the slogan of revolutionary self-government it adds the slogan of “active militant action by the masses of the people” (wherein this differs from an armed uprising God only knows). Iskra goes even so far as to say that the “organisation of a revolutionary self-government is the only means of really ’organising’ an uprising of the whole people”. Iskra, No. 108, is dated August 13 (26); and on August 24 (N. S.) the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung carried an article by Comrade Martov setting forth Iskra ’s “plan” wholly in the spirit of No. 106, and not in the spirit of the “amendments” in No. 108. We are giving below[1] a translation of the most important parts of this invaluable article by Comrade Martov, as a specimen of “Social Democratic Manilovism”.

Let us try to unravel this tangle.

To make matters clear it is necessary first of all to realise what forces are at present “making history” for the Russian revolution, and just how they are doing it. The autocracy has adopted the theory of “consultation” between the tsar and the people. Desirous of consulting with a police-screened handful of persons elected by the landowners and shop keepers, the autocracy is beginning with desperate ferocity to suppress the revolution. Broader circles of the monarchist bourgeoisie are in favour of the theory of compromise between the tsar and the people (the Osvobozhdeniye League, or the Constitutional-“Democratic” Party). By this theory the bourgeoisie is showing its treachery to the revolution, its readiness first to support it and then to unite with the reactionaries against it. The revolutionary proletariat, inasmuch as it is led by Social-Democracy, demands the sovereignty of the people, i.e., the complete destruction of the forces of reaction, and, above all, the actual overthrow of the tsarist government and its replacement by a provisional revolutionary government. The proletariat strives (often without being aware of it, but unswervingly and energetically) to win over the peasantry, and with the latter’s assistance to carry forward the revolution to complete victory, despite the bourgeoisie’s instability and treachery.

The State Duma is undoubtedly a concession to the revolution, but a concession made (and this is still more indubitable) so as to suppress the revolution and withhold a constitution. The bourgeois “compromisers” want to achieve a constitution so as to suppress the revolution; this desire of the liberal bourgeoisie, which is an inevitable result of its class position, has been most clearly expressed by Mr. Vinogradov (in Russkiye Vedomosti).

The question now arises: under such circumstances, what is the significance of the decision to boycott the Duma, passed by the Union of Unions (see Proletary, No. 14), i.e., by the most comprehensive organisation of the bourgeois intelligentsia? By and large, the bourgeois intelligentsia also wants “a compromise”. That is why, as Proletary has repeatedly pointed out, it too vacillates between reaction and revolution, between haggling and fighting, between a deal with the tsar and an uprising against him. Nor can   it be otherwise, in view of the class position of the bourgeois intelligentsia. However, it would be a mistake to forget that this intelligentsia is more capable of expressing the essential interests of the bourgeois class as a whole, in their broadest implications, as distinct from the temporary and narrow interests of the bourgeoisie’s “upper crust”. The intelligentsia is more capable of expressing the interests of the masses of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry. With all its vacillations, it is therefore more capable of waging a revolutionary struggle against the autocracy, and, provided it draws closer to the people, it could become an important force in this struggle. Powerless by itself, it could nevertheless give quite considerable sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry just what they lack— knowledge, programme, guidance, and organisation.

Thus, the essence of the “boycott” idea, as it first arose in the Union of Unions, is that the big bourgeoisie’s first step towards consultation, towards compromise with the tsar has inevitably led to the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia’s first step towards drawing close .to the revolutionary people. The landlords and capitalists have swung to the right, while the bourgeois intelligentsia, representing the petty bourgeoisie, has swung to the left. The former are going to the tsar, although they have by no means given up their intention of threatening him again and again with the might of the people. The bourgeois intelligentsia is considering whether it should not rather go to the people, without as yet finally breaking with the theory of “compromise”, and without fully taking the revolutionary path.

Such is the essence of the boycott idea, which, as we have pointed out in Proletary, No. 12, arose among the bourgeois democrats. Only very short-sighted and superficial people could discern in this idea non-interference, absenteeism, abstention, and so on. The bourgeois intelligentsia need not abstain, since the high property qualification actually keeps it out of the State Duma. In its resolution on the boycott the bourgeois intelligentsia makes “the mobilisation of all the democratic elements of the country” its most important point. The bourgeois intelligentsia is the most active, resolute, and militant element of the Osvobozhdeniye League, the Constitutional-“Democratic” Party. To accuse   this intelligentsia of abstention, etc., because of its boycott idea, or even to refuse to support its idea and to develop it means to display short-sightedness and thus play into the hands of the monarchist big bourgeoisie, whose organ, Osvobozhdeniye, has good reason to combat the idea of a boycott.

Besides the general and basic considerations, the correctness of the view just outlined is supported by the valuable admissions of Mr. S.S.[2] in Osvobozhdeniye, No. 75. It is highly significant that Mr. S.S. describes advocates of the boycott idea as the “radical” group, and opponents of that idea as the “moderate” group. He accuses the former of a “Narodnaya Volya attitude”, of repeating the mistakes of the “active revolutionary groups” (an accusation doing honour to those it is levelled against by Osvobozhdeniye); about the latter he states flatly that they stand “between two fires”, between the autocracy and the “social [sic!] revolution”, poor Mr. S.S. being so terrified that he has very nearly mistaken the democratic republic for a social revolution! But the most valuable admission by Mr. S. S. is the following: for the radicals—he says, comparing the Congress of the Union of Unions with the Zemstvo Congress—“every thing undoubtedly centred [mark this!] around the demand to amend the electoral system, whereas for the more moderate group the main interest lay in extending the rights of the Duma”.

This sums up matters in a nutshell! Mr. S. S. has blurted out the innermost “thoughts” of the landlords and capitalists, which we have laid bare hundreds of times. Their “main interest” lies not in getting the people to take part in the elections (they are afraid of that), but in extending the rights of the Duma, i.e., in converting the assembly of the big bourgeoisie from a consultative into a legislative body. That is the crux of the matter. The big bourgeoisie will never be satisfied with a “consultative” Duma. Hence, the inevitability of constitutional conflicts in the State Duma. But the big bourgeoisie can never become a true and depend able supporter of people’s sovereignty. It will always be taking the constitution (for itself) with one hand, and taking away the rights of the people, or opposing the extension of popular rights, with the other. The big bourgeoisie cannot   but strive for a constitution that secures privileges for the big bourgeoisie. The radical intelligentsia cannot but strive to express the interests of the broader strata of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry. Once it got the bird in the hand the Right wing of bourgeois democracy immediately began to see reason, and, as we have seen, is already renouncing “illegal” congresses. The Left wing saw itself without even a bird in the hand; it saw that the landlords and capitalists, having taken advantage of the services of the “third element”[3] (agitation, propaganda, organisation of the press, etc.), are now prepared to betray it, directing their efforts in the State Duma not towards securing the people’s rights but towards securing their own rights, which militate against those of the people. And now sensing incipient treachery the bourgeois intelligentsia brands the State Duma as an “audacious challenge” made by the government to all the peoples of Russia, declares a boycott, and counsels “the mobilisation of the democratic elements”.

Under such conditions the Social-Democrats would be playing the part of political simpletons if they were to attack the idea of a boycott. The revolutionary proletariat’s unerring class instinct has prompted most of the comrades in Russia to adopt the idea of an active boycott. This means supporting the Left wing and drawing it closer to us, means endeavouring to single out the elements of revolutionary democracy, so as to strike at the autocracy together with them. The radical intelligentsia has held out a finger to us—we must catch it by the hand! If the boycott is not mere bragging, if mobilisation is more than a word, if indignation at the audacious challenge is not just mummery, then you must break with the “compromisers”, come over to the theory of the sovereignty of the people, and adopt, adopt in deed, the only consistent and integral slogans of revolutionary democracy—an armed uprising, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government. To make all those who indeed accept these slogans join us, and to pillory all who remain on the side of the “compromisers — such is the only correct tactics of the revolutionary proletariat.

Our new-Iskrists have failed to see both the class origin and the real political significance of the boycott idea, and   have opened fire ... into the air. Comrade Cherevanin writes in No. 108: “As is evident from the bulletins of the Don Committee and the St. Petersburg group, both these organisations [N. B.: Menshevik organisations. Note by the Proletary Editorial Board I have declared for the boycott. They consider participation in elections to such a Duma a disgrace, treason to the cause of the revolution, and they condemn in advance those liberals who will take part in the elections. Thus, the very possibility of making the State Duma a weapon of the democratic revolution is precluded, and agitation directed towards that end is evidently rejected.” The words we have italicised reveal the mistake indicated just now. Those who rant against “non-intervention” are only obscuring the really important question of the methods of intervention. There are two methods of intervention, two types of slogans. The first method is: “increasing agitation tenfold, organising meetings everywhere, taking advantage of election meetings, even if we have to force our way into them, holding demonstrations, political strikes, and so on and so forth”. (Proletary, No. 12.) We have already explained the slogans of this campaign of agitation. The other method is: to demand “a revolutionary pledge to enter the State Duma for the purpose of bringing about its transformation into a revolutionary assembly which will depose the autocracy and convene a constituent assembly” (Comrade Cherevanin in Iskra, No. 108), or “to bring pressure to bear on the electors so that only resolute advocates of democratic and free representation should be elected to the Duma” (Comrade Martov in the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung).

It is just this difference in methods that reflects the difference in the “two tactics” of Social-Democracy. The opportunist wing of Social-Democracy is always inclined to “bring pressure to bear” on bourgeois democracy by demanding pledges from it. The revolutionary wing of Social-Democracy “brings pressure to bear” on bourgeois democracy and impels it to the left by condemning it for its shifts to the right, by spreading among the masses the slogan of a determined revolution. The theory of “demanding pledges”, this famous Starover litmus-test theory, is sheer naïveté and can only serve to sow confusion among the proletariat and corrupt it. Whom will Comrade Cherevanin hold responsible for the   carrying out of the “pledges” he has received? Perhaps God Almighty? Can it be that Comrade Cherevanin does not know that under the pressure of material class interests all pledges will go by the board? Is it not childishness on the part of the selfsame Comrade Cherevanin to think that the bourgeois deputies to the State Duma can be bound to the revolutionary proletariat by means of “binding instructions”? And if Comrade Martov were to begin actually to carry out his plan he would have to announce to the working class that certain members of the given assembly of landlords are “resolute advocates of free and democratic representation!” To make such announcements would mean sowing the greatest political corruption!

And now note another thing: all these “revolutionary pledges” on the part of the Petrunkeviches, Rodichevs, and tutti quanti, all these “binding instructions”, all these pledges “resolutely to support democratic and free representation” (could anyone have picked a more general, vague, and nebulous phrase?) would be demanded and given in the name of Social-Democracy and behind the proletariat’s back. After all, this cannot be done openly, for even in free countries, where agitation is carried on openly, political figures are bound not so much by private deals as by party programmes; in our case we do not and shall not have definite and established parties at the elections to the State Duma! Just see, comrades of the new Iskra, what a mess you have again managed to get into: you keep repeating “the masses”, “to the masses”, “with the masses”, “the initiative of the masses”, but in fact your “plan” boils down to secret deals obliging Mr. Petrunkevich to be not a traitor to the revolution but its “resolute” advocate!

The new-Iskrists have themselves reduced their position to absurdity. No one, anywhere in Russia, even among their followers, would dream of concluding deals on the basis of those absurd “revolutionary pledges”. No. This is not the way to intervene. You must intervene by ruthlessly branding the theory of compromise and the bourgeois compromisers, all those Petrunkeviches, etc. Expose their bourgeois betrayal of the revolution and unite the revolutionary forces for an uprising against the autocracy (and, to be on the safe side, against the Duma as well)—that is the only   reliable method of really “bringing pressure to bear” on the Duma, of really paving the way for the victory of the revolution. It is only with such a slogan that we should intervene in the election campaign, not for electioneering purposes, deals, or pledges, but in order to preach insurrection. And it is only the real strength of the armed people that will enable us to take advantage of possible and probable future conflicts within the State Duma, or between the State Duma and the tsar, in the interests of the revolution (and not of a strictly bourgeois constitution). Less confidence in the State Duma, gentlemen, and more confidence in the forces of the proletariat which is now arming it self!

We have now come to the slogan of the organisation of revolutionary self-government bodies. Let us examine it more closely.

In the first place it is wrong from a purely theoretical standpoint to give pre-eminence to the slogan of revolutionary self-government instead of the slogan of the people’s sovereignty. The former bears on the administration, the second on the organisation of the state. The former is, there fore, compatible with the treacherous bourgeois theory of “compromise” (a self-governing people headed by the tsar, “who reigns but does not govern”); the latter is wholly incompatible with it. The first is acceptable to the Osvobozhdeniye League, the second is not.

In the second place, it is utterly absurd to identify the organisation of revolutionary self-government with the organisation of a people’s uprising. An uprising is civil war, and war requires an army, whereas self-government does not in itself require an army. There are countries with a system of self-government, but without an army. And revolutionary self-government does not require a revolutionary army where a revolution takes place in the Norwegian fashion: the king was “sacked” and a plebiscite held. But when the people are oppressed by a despotic government which relies on an army and starts civil war, then to identify revolutionary self-government with a revolutionary army, to advocate the former and to maintain silence about the latter, is almost indecent and signifies either betrayal of the revolution or the utmost stupidity.

Thirdly, history also confirms the- truth (incidentally, a self-evident truth) that only the complete and decisive victory of an uprising can make it fully possible to establish genuine self-government. Would the municipal revolution in France in July 1789 have been possible if on July 14 the people of Paris, who had risen in arms, had not defeated the royal troops, taken the Bastille, and completely smashed the resistance of the autocracy? Or will the new Iskrists, perhaps, cite in this connection the example of the city of Montpellier, where the municipal revolution, the establishment of revolutionary local self-government took place peacefully, and a vote of thanks to the intendant was even passed for the kindness with which he had assisted in his own deposition? Does the new Iskra perhaps expect that during our Duma election campaign we shall thank the governors for having eliminated themselves before the capture of the Russian Bastilles? Is it not significant that in the France of 1789 the period of the municipal revolution took place when the emigration of reactionaries was under way, while in our country the slogan of revolutionary self-government instead of the slogan of an uprising is being advanced at a time when the emigration of revolutionaries is still going on? When a certain Russian high official was asked why an amnesty was not granted on August 6 he replied: “Why should we set free 10,000 people whom it took us considerable trouble to arrest and who tomorrow would start a desperate struggle against us?” This dignitary reasoned intelligently, whereas those who speak about “revolutionary self—government” before the release of these 10,000 reason unintelligently.

Fourthly, present-day Russian life plainly shows the inadequacy of the slogan of “revolutionary self-government” and the need for a direct and definite slogan of insurrection. Consider what took place in Smolensk on August 2 (Old Style). The Municipal Council declared the billeting of the Cossacks contrary to law, stopped all payments to them, organised a city militia to protect the population, and appealed to the soldiers to refrain from violence against citizens. We should like to know whether our good new Iskrists find this adequate. Should not this militia be regarded as a revolutionary army, as an organ of attack as well   as of defence?—and of attack not only against the Smolensk Cossack detachment, but against the autocratic government in general? Should not this idea of proclaiming a revolutionary army and its tasks be popularised? Can the administration of the city of Smolensk by genuine government of the people be considered secure until a revolutionary army has won a decisive victory over the tsarist army?

Fifthly, the facts prove incontrovertibly that the slogan of revolutionary self-government instead of the slogan of insurrection, or as implying (?) the slogan of insurrection, is not only “acceptable” to the Osvobozhdeniye League, but has actually been accepted by it. Take Osvobozhdeniye, No. 74. You will find there a sweeping condemnation of the “senseless and criminal advocacy of insurrection” and at the same time a plea for city militias and the establishment of local self-government bodies as elements of a future provisional government (cf. Proletary, No. 12).

No matter how one approaches the question, it will invariably turn out that the new slogan of the new Iskra is an Osvobozhdeniye slogan. The Social-Democrats who either relegate to the background or reject a slogan calling for an armed uprising, a revolutionary army, and a provisional government in favour of one demanding the organisation of revolutionary self-government are trailing along in the wake of the monarchist bourgeoisie, instead of marching in the van of the revolutionary proletariat and peasantry.

We are accused of stubbornly “hammering away” at the same slogans. We think such an accusation a compliment. For it is plainly our task to hammer away persistently at vital political slogans, while spreading the general truths of the Social-Democratic programme. We succeded in giving the widest publicity to the “quartet” formula so repugnant to the liberals (universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and a secret ballot). We acquainted the masses of the working people with the “sextet” of political liberties (freedom of speech, conscience, the press, assembly, association, and the right to strike). We must now repeat millions and billions of times the “trio” of immediate revolutionary tasks (an armed uprising, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government). The popular forces which will accomplish these tasks are shooting up   spontaneously, not only with every day but with every hour that passes. Attempted uprisings are becoming more frequent, their organisation is growing, and arming is proceeding apace. From the ranks of the workers and peasants clad in rustic coats, city suits, and uniforms nameless heroes are emerging, people fused with the mass and ever more deeply imbued with a noble obsession to liberate the people. It is our business to see to it that all these rivulets merge into a mighty torrent, that the light of a class-conscious, direct, clear, and precise revolutionary programme of our immediate tasks be thrown on the spontaneous movement, multiplying its strength tenfold.

To sum up. Our tactics with regard to the State Duma may be formulated in five points: 1) intensified agitation in connection with the State Duma Act and the elections to the Duma, the organisation of meetings, utilisation of the election campaign, demonstrations, etc., etc.; 2) the centring of this entire agitational campaign on slogans calling for an insurrection, a revolutionary army, and a provisional revolutionary government; popularisation of the programme of this provisional government; 3) gaining the adherence for the promotion of this agitation and of the armed struggle of all revolutionary democratic elements, and of such elements only, i.e., only those who accept the above-mentioned slogans in deed; 4) support of the boycott idea, which arose among the Left-wing bourgeois democrats, with the purpose of making it an active boycott in the sense of the most wide spread agitation as described above; winning over the Left-wing representatives of bourgeois democracy to the revolutionary-democratic programme and to activities which will draw them closer to the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry; 5) ruthless exposure of the bourgeois theory of “compromise” and the bourgeois “compromisers”, and their denunciation to the broadest masses of workers and peasants; making public and explaining every treacherous and irresolute step they take, both before and after they enter the Duma; warning the working class against these bourgeois betrayers of the revolution.


[1] See pp. 224-26 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] S. S.—the pseudonym of P. N. Milyukov, leader of the Constitutional-Democratic Party.

[3] The third element—an expression used to designate the Zemstvo democratic intelligentsia.

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