As is evident from the title, the resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, is devoted wholly and exclusively to the question of a provisional revolutionary government. Hence, the participation of Social-Democrats in a provisional revolutionary government is included in it as part of that question. On the other hand, it deals only with a provisional revolutionary government and with nothing else; consequently, it completely leaves out, for example, the question of the “conquest of power” in general, etc. Was the Congress right in eliminating this and similar questions? Undoubtedly it was right, because the political situation in Russia does not at all give rise to such questions as immediate issues. On the contrary, the whole of the issue that has been raised by the people at the present time is the overthrow of the autocracy and the convocation of a constituent assembly. Party congresses should take up and decide not issues which this or that writer happened to mention , but those that are of vital political importance by reason of the prevailing conditions and the objective course of social development.
Of what importance is a provisional revolutionary government in the present revolution, and in the general struggle of the proletariat? The resolution of the Congress explains this by pointing at the very outset to the need for the “fullest possible measure of political liberty,” both from the standpoint of the immediate interests of the proletariat and from the standpoint of the “final aims of Socialism.” And complete political liberty requires that the tsarist autocracy be replaced by a democratic republic, as our Party program has already recognised. The stress laid in the Congress resolution on the slogan of a democratic republic is necessary both as a matter of logic and in point of principle, for it is precisely complete freedom that the proletariat, as the foremost champion of democracy, is striving to attain. Moreover, it is all the more advisable to stress this at the present time because right now the monarchists, namely, the so-called constitutional-“democratic” party, or party of “liberation,” in our country, are flying the flag of “democracy.” In order to establish a republic it is absolutely necessary to have an assembly of people’s representatives; and it must be a popular (elected on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and secret ballot), and a constituent assembly. This exactly what is recognised in the Congress resolution, further on. But the resolution does not stop there. In order to establish the new order “that will really express the will of the people” it is not enough to call a representative assembly a constituent assembly. This assembly must have the authority and power to “constitute.” Taking this into consideration, the resolution of the Congress does not confine itself to the formal slogan of a “constituent assembly,” but adds the material conditions which alone will enable that assembly really to carry out its tasks. Such specification of the conditions that will enable an assembly which is constituent in name to become constituent in fact is imperatively necessary, for, as we have pointed out more than once, the liberal bourgeoisie, as represented by the Constitutional-Monarchist Party, is deliberately distorting the slogan of a popular constituent assembly and reducing it to a hollow phrase.
The Congress resolution states that a provisional revolutionary government on its own — one, moreover, that will be the organ of a victorious popular insurrection — can secure full freedom of agitation in the election campaign and convene an assembly that will really express the will of the people. Is this postulate correct? Whoever took it into his head to dispute it would have to assert that it is possible for the tsarist government not to side with the reaction, that it is capable of being neutral during the elections, that it will see to it that the will of the people is really expressed. Such assertions are so absurd that no one would venture to defend them openly; but they are being surreptitiously smuggled in under liberal colours, by our liberationists. Somebody must convene the constituent assembly, somebody must guarantee the freedom and fairness of the elections; somebody must invest such an assembly with full power and authority. Only a revolutionary government, which is the organ of the insurrection, can desire this in all sincerity and be capable of doing all that is required to achieve this. The tsarist government will inevitably counteract this. A liberal government, which will come to terms with the tsar, and which does not rely in full on the popular uprising, cannot sincerely desire this, and could not accomplish it even if it most sincerely desired to. Therefore, the resolution of the Congress gives the only correct and entirely consistent democratic slogan.
But an appraisal of a provisional revolutionary government’s significance would be incomplete and wrong if the class nature of the democratic revolution were lost sight of. The resolution therefore adds that the revolution will strengthen the rule of the bourgeoisie. This is inevitable under the present, i.e., capitalist, social and economic system. And the strengthening of the bourgeoisie’s rule over the proletariat which has secured some measure of political liberty must inevitably lead to a desperate struggle between them for power, must lead to desperate attempts on the part of the bourgeoisie “to take away from the proletariat the gains of the revolutionary period.” Therefore the proletariat, which is fighting for democracy in front of all and at the head of all, must not for a single moment forget about the new antagonisms that are inherent in bourgeois democracy and about the new struggle.
Thus, the section of the resolution which we have just reviewed fully appraises the significance of a provisional revolutionary government in its relation to the struggle for freedom and for a republic, in its relation to a constituent assembly and in its relation to the democratic revolution, which clears the ground for a new class struggle.
The next question is that of the proletariat’s attitude in general towards a provisional revolutionary government. The Congress resolution answers this first of all by directly advising the Party to spread among the working class the conviction that a provisional revolutionary government is necessary. The working class must be made aware of this necessity. Whereas the “democratic” bourgeoisie leaves the question of overthrowing the tsarist government in the shade, we must push it to the fore and insist on the need for a provisional revolutionary government. More than that, we must outline for such a government a program of action that will conform with the objective conditions of the historic period through which we are now passing and with the aims of proletarian democracy. This program is the entire minimum program of our Party, the program of the immediate political and economic reforms which, on the one hand, can be fully realised on the basis of the existing social and economic relationships and, on the other hand, are requisite for the next step forward, for the achievement of Socialism.
Thus, the resolution fully clearly defines the nature and aims of a provisional revolutionary government. In its origin and fundamental nature such a government must be the organ of the popular insurrection. Its formal purpose must be to serve as the instrument for convening a popular constituent assembly. The content of its activities must be to put into effect the minimum program of proletarian democracy, the only program capable of safeguarding the interests of the people which has risen against the autocracy.
It might be argued that being only provisional, a provisional government cannot carry out a constructive program which has not yet received the approval of the entire people. Such an argument would merely be the sophistry of reactionaries and “absolutists.” To abstain from carrying out a constructive program means tolerating the existence of the feudal regime of the putrid autocracy. Such a regime could be tolerated only by a government of traitors to the cause of the revolution, but not by a government which is the organ of a popular insurrection. It would be mockery for anyone to propose that we should refrain from exercising freedom of assembly pending the confirmation of such freedom by a constituent assembly, on the plea that the constituent assembly might not confirm freedom of assembly! It is equal mockery to object to the immediate execution of the minimum program by a provisional revolutionary government.
Finally, we will note that the resolution, by making implementation of the minimum program provisional revolutionary government’s task eliminates the absurd, semi-anarchist ideas about giving immediate effect to the maximum program, and the conquest of power for a socialist revolution. The degree of economic development of Russia (an objective condition) and the degree of class consciousness and organisation of the broad masses of the proletariat (a subjective condition inseparably connected with the objective condition) make the immediate complete emancipation of the working class impossible. Only the most ignorant people can ignore the bourgeois nature of the democratic revolution which is now taking place; only the most naive optimists can forget how little as yet the masses of the workers are informed about the aims of Socialism and about the methods of achieving it. And we are all convinced that the emancipation of the workers can be effected only by the workers themselves; a socialist revolution is out of the question unless the masses become class conscious and organised, trained and educated in open class struggle against the entire bourgeoisie. In answer to the anarchist objections that we are putting off the socialist revolution, we say: we are not putting it off, but we are taking the first step towards it in the only possible way, along the only correct road, namely, the road of a democratic republic. Whoever wants to reach Socialism by a different road, other than that of political democracy, will inevitably arrive at conclusions that are absurd and reactionary both in the economic and the political sense. If any workers ask us at the given moment why we should not go ahead and carry out our maximum program, we shall answer by pointing out how far the masses of the democratically-minded people still are from Socialism, how undeveloped class antagonisms still are, how unorganised the proletarians still are. Organise hundreds of thousands of workers all over Russia; enlist the sympathy of millions for our program! Try to do this without confining yourselves to high-sounding but hollow anarchist phrases—and you will see at once that in order to achieve this organisation, in order to spread this socialist enlightenment, we must achieve the fullest possible measure of democratic reforms.
Let us continue. Once we are clear about the importance of a provisional revolutionary government and the attitude of the proletariat toward it, the following question arises: is it permissible for us to participate in it (action from above) and, if so, under what conditions? What should be our action from below? The resolution supplies precise answers to both these questions. It emphatically declares that it is permissible in principle for Social-Democrats to participate in a provisional revolutionary government (during the period of a democratic revolution, the period of struggle for a republic). By this declaration we once and for all dissociate ourselves both from the anarchists, who answer this question in the negative on principle, and from the khvostists among the Social-Democrats (like Martynov and the new Iskra-ists) who have tried to frighten us with the prospect of a situation wherein it might prove necessary for us to participate in such a government. By this declaration the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party rejected, once and for all, the idea expressed by the new Iskra that the participation of Social-Democrats in a provisional revolutionary government would be a variety of Millerandism, that it is impermissible in principle, as sanctifying the bourgeois order, etc.
It stands to reason, however, that the question of permissibility in principle does not solve the question of practical expediency. Under what conditions is this new form of struggle—the struggle “from above” recognised by the Party Congress—expedient? It goes without saying that at the present time it is impossible to speak of concrete conditions, such as relation of forces, etc., and the resolution, naturally, refrains from defining these conditions in advance. No intelligent person would venture at the present time to prophesy anything on this subject. What we can and must do is determine the nature and aim of our participation. This is precisely what is done in the resolution, which points out two objectives of our participation: 1) a relentless struggle against counter-revolutionary attempts, and 2) the defence of the independent interests of the working class. At a time when the liberal bourgeoisie is beginning to talk assiduously about the psychology of reaction (see Mr. Struve’s most instructive “Open Letter” in the Osvobozhdeniye, No. 71) in an attempt to frighten the revolutionary people and induce it to show compliance towards the autocracy—at such a time it is particularly appropriate for the party of the proletariat to call attention to the task of waging a real war against counterrevolution. In the final analysis, force alone settles the great problems of political liberty and the class struggle, and it is our business to prepare and organise this force and to employ it actively, not only for defence, but also for attack. The long reign of political reaction in Europe, which has lasted almost uninterruptedly since the days of the Paris Commune, has too greatly accustomed us to the idea that action can proceed only “from below,” has too greatly inured us to seeing only defensive struggles. We have now, undoubtedly, entered a new era: a period of political upheavals and revolutions has begun. In a period such as Russia is passing through at the present time, it is impermissible to confine ourselves to old, stereotyped formulae. We must propagate the idea of action from above, we must prepare for the most energetic, offensive action, and must study the conditions for and forms of such actions. The Congress resolution puts two of these conditions into the forefront: one refers to the formal aspect of Social-Democratic participation in a provisional revolutionary government (strict control by the Party over its representatives), the other to the very nature of such participation (never for an instant to lose sight of the aim of effecting a complete socialist revolution).
Having thus explained from all aspects the Party’s policy with regard to action “from above”—this new, hitherto almost unprecedented method of struggle—the resolution also provides for the eventuality that we shall not be able to act from above. We must exercise pressure on the provisional revolutionary government from below in any case. In order to be able to exercise this pressure from below, the proletariat must be armed—for in a revolutionary situation matters develop with exceptional rapidity to the stage of open civil war—and must be led by the Social-Democratic Party. The object of its armed pressure is that of “defending, consolidating and extending the gains of the revolution,” i.e., those gains which from the standpoint of the interests of the proletariat must consist in the fulfilment of the whole of our minimum program.
With this we conclude our brief analysis of the resolution of the Third Congress on a provisional revolutionary government. As the reader can see, the resolution explains the importance of this new question, the attitude of the Party of the proletariat toward it, and the policy the Party must pursue both inside a provisional revolutionary government and outside of it.
Let us now consider the corresponding resolution of the “Conference.”