Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


What Is A “Decisive Victory of the Revolution Over Tsarism”?

The resolution of the “Conference” is devoted to the question: “The conquest of power and participation in a provisional government.”[1] As we have already pointed out, the very manner in which the question is presented betrays confusion. On the one hand, the question is presented in a narrow way: it deals only with our participation in a provisional government and not with the Party’s tasks in regard to a provisional revolutionary government in general. On the other hand, two totally different questions are confused, viz., the question of our participation at one of the stages of the democratic revolution, and the question of the socialist revolution. Indeed, the “conquest of power” by Social-Democracy is a socialist revolution, nor can it be anything else if we use these words in their direct and usually accepted sense. If, however, we are to understand these words to mean the conquest of power for a democratic revolution and not for a socialist revolution, then what is the point in talking not only about participation in a provisional revolutionary government but also about the “conquest of power” in general? Obviously our “Conferencers” were not very clear themselves as to what they should talk about: the democratic or the socialist revolution. Those who have followed the literature on this question know that it was Comrade Martynov, in his notorious Two Dictatorships; the new-Iskrists are reluctant to recall the manner in which this question was presented (even before January 9)[6] [the date of Bloody Sunday] in that model of tail-ender writing. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that it exerted an ideological influence on the Conference.

But let us leave the title of the resolution. Its contents reveal mistakes incomparably more profound and serious. Here is the first part:

“A decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism may be marked either by the establishment of a provisional government, which will emerge from a victorious popular insurrection, or by the revolutionary initiative of a representative institution of one kind or another, which, under direct revolutionary pressure of the people, decides to set up a popular constituent assembly.”

Thus, we are told that a decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism may be marked either by a victorious insurrection, or ... by a decision of a representative institution to set up a constituent assembly! What does this mean? How are we to understand it? A decisive victory may be marked by a “decision” to set up a constituent assembly?? And such a “victory” is put side by side with the establishment of a provisional government which will “emerge from a victorious popular insurrection”!! The Conference failed to note that a victorious popular insurrection and the establishment of a provisional government would signify the victory of the revolution in actual fact, whereas a “decision” to set up a constituent assembly would signify a victory of the revolution in words only.

The Conference of the Mensheviks, or new-Iskra, fell into the very same error that the liberals, the Osvobozhdeniye are constantly committing. The Osvobozhdeniye group prattle about a “constituent” assembly and bashfully shut their eyes to the fact that power and authority remain in the hands of the tsar, forgetting that in order to “constitute” one must possess the power to do so. The Conference also forgot that it is a far cry from a “decision” adopted by representatives—no matter who they are—to the fulfilment of that decision. The Conference further forgot that so long as power remained in the hands of the tsar, all decisions passed by any representatives whatsoever would remain empty and miserable prattle, as was the case with the “decisions” of the Frankfurt Parliament, famous in the history of the German Revolution of 1848. In his Neue Rheinische Zeitung[7] Marx, the representative of the revolutionary proletariat, castigated the Frankfurt liberal Osvobozhdentsi with merciless sarcasm precisely because they uttered fine words, adopted all sorts of democratic “decisions,” “constituted” all kinds of liberties, while actually they left power in the hands of the king and failed to organise an armed struggle against the military forces at the disposal of the king. And while the Frankfurt Osvobozbdentsi were prattling—the king bided his time, consolidated his military forces, and the counterrevolution, relying on real force, utterly routed the democrats with all their fine “decisions.”

The Conference put on a par with a decisive victory the very thing that lacks the essential condition of victory. How was it possible for Social-Democrats who recognise the republican program of our Party to commit such an error? In order to understand this strange phenomenon we must turn to the resolution of the Third Congress on the section which has seceded from the Party.[2] This resolution refers to the fact that various trends “akin to Economism” have survived in our Party. Our “Conferencers” (it is not for nothing that they are under the ideological guidance of Martynov) talk of the revolution in exactly the same way as the Economists talked of the political struggle or the eight hour day. The Economists immediately gave currency to the “theory of stages”: 1) the struggle for rights,
2) political agitation,
3) political struggle; or, 1) a ten-hour day,
2) a nine-hour day,
3) an eight-hour day. The results of this “tactics-as-a-process” are sufficiently well known to all. Now we are invited nicely to divide the revolution too in advance into the following stages: 1) the tsar convenes a representative body; 2) this representative body “decides” under pressure of the “people” to set up a constituent assembly; 3) ... the Mensheviks have not yet agreed among themselves as to the third stage; they have forgotten that the revolutionary pressure of the people will meet with the counter-revolutionary pressure of tsarism and that, therefore, either the “decision” will remain unfulfilled or the issue will be decided after all by the victory or the defeat of the popular insurrection. The resolution of the Conference is an exact reproduction of the following reasoning of the Economists: a decisive victory of the workers may be marked either by the realisation of the eight-hour day in a revolutionary way, or by the grant of a ten-hour day and a “decision” to go over to a nine-hour day.... the duplication is perfect.

The objection may be made to us that the authors of the resolution did not mean to place on a par the victory of an insurrection with the “decision” of a representative institution convened by the tsar, that they only wanted to provide for the Party’s tactics in either case. To this our answer would be: 1) The text of the resolution plainly and unambiguously describes the decision of a representative institution as “a decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism.” Perhaps that is the result of careless wording, perhaps it could be corrected after consulting the minutes, but, so long as it is not corrected, the present wording can have only one meaning, and this meaning is entirely in keeping with the Osvobozhdeniye line of reasoning. 2) The Osvobozbdeniye line of reasoning, into which the authors of the resolution have drifted, stands out in incomparably greater relief in other literary productions of the new Iskra-ists. For instance, the organ of the Tiflis Committee, (in the Georgian language; praised by the Iskra in No. 100), in the article “The Zemsky Sobor[3] and Our Tactics,” Sotsial-Demokrat,[8] organ of the Tiflis Committee (published in the Georgian language; praised by Iskra in No. 100) goes so far as to say that the “Tactics” “which make the Zemsky Sobor the centre of our activities” (about the convocation of which, we may add, nothing definite is known as yet!) “are more advantageous for us” than the “tactics” of armed insurrection and the establishment of a provisional revolutionary government. We shall refer to this article again further on. 3) No objection can be made to a preliminary discussion of what tactics the Party should adopt in the event of the victory of the revolution as well as in the event of its defeat, in the event of a successful insurrection as well as in the event of the insurrection failing to develop into a serious force. It is possible that the tsarist government will succeed in convening a representative assembly for the purpose of coming to terms with the liberal bourgeoisie; providing for that eventuality, the resolution of the Third Congress speaks plainly about “hypocritical policy,” “pseudo democracy,” “a travesty of popular representation, something like the so-called Zemsky Sobor.”[4] But the whole point is that this is not said in the resolution on a provisional revolutionary government, for it has nothing to do with a provisional revolutionary government. This eventuality defers the problem of the insurrection and of the establishment of a provisional revolutionary government; it alters this problem, etc. The point in question now is not that all kinds of combinations are possible, that both victory and defeat are possible, that there may be direct or circuitous paths; the point is that it is impermissible for a Social-Democrat to cause confusion in the minds of the workers concerning the genuinely revolutionary path, that it is impermissible, to describe in the Osvobozhdeniye manner, as a decisive victory that which lacks the main requisite for victory. It is possible that we shall win even the eight-hour day, not at one stroke, but only by a long and roundabout way; but what would you say of a man who calls such impotence, such weakness as renders the proletariat incapable of counteracting procrastination, delays, haggling, treachery and reaction, a victory for the workers? It is possible that the Russian revolution will end in an “abortive constitution,” as was once stated in the Vperyod,[5] but can this justify a Social-Democrat, who on the eve of a decisive struggle would call this abortion a “decisive victory over tsarism”? It is possible that, at the worst, not only will we not win a republic, but that even the constitution we will get will be an illusory one, a constitution “à la Shipov”,[9] but would it be pardonable for a Social-Democrat to obscure our slogan of a republic?

Of course the new-Iskraists have not as yet gone so far as to obscure it. But the degree to which the revolutionary spirit has fled from them, the degree to which lifeless pedantry has blinded them to the militant tasks of the moment is most vividly shown by the fact that in their resolution they, of all things, forgot to say a word about the republic. It is incredible, but it is a fact. All the slogans of Social-Democracy were endorsed, repeated, explained and presented in detail in the various resolutions of the Conference—even the election of shop stewards and deputies by the workers was not forgotten, but in a resolution on a provisional revolutionary government they simply did not find occasion to mention the republic. To talk of the “victory” of the people’s insurrection, of the establishment of a provisional government, and not to indicate what relation these “steps” and acts have to the winning of a republic—means writing a resolution not for the guidance of the proletarian struggle, but for the purpose of hobbling along at the tail end of the proletarian movement.

To sum up: the first part of the resolution 1) gave no explanation whatever of the significance of a provisional revolutionary government from the standpoint of the struggle for a republic and of securing a genuinely popular and genuinely constituent assembly; 2) confused the democratic consciousness of the proletariat by placing on a par with a decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism a state of affairs in which precisely the main requisite for a real victory is lacking.


[1] The full text of this resolution can be reconstructed by the reader from the quotations given on pp. 400, 403, 407, 431, and 433 of the pamphlet. (Author’s note to the 1907 edition. See pp. 32-33, 38-39, 44, 78, 82 of this volume.–Ed.) —Lenin

[2] We cite this resolution in full. “The Congress places on record that since the time of the Party’s fight against Economism, certain trends have survived in the R.S.D.L.P. which, in various degrees and respects, are akin to Economism and which betray a common tendency to belittle the importance of the elements of consciousness in the proletarian struggle, and to subordinate it to the element of spontaneity. On questions of organisation, the representatives of these trends put forward, in theory, the organisation-as-a-process principle, which is out of harmony with methodical Party work, while in practice they systematically deviate from Party discipline in very many cases, and in other cases preach to the least enlightened section of the Party the idea of a wide application of the elective principle, without taking into consideration the objective conditions of Russian life, and so strive to undermine the only basis for Party ties that is possible at the present time. In tactical questions they betray a striving to narrow the scope of Party work, declaring their opposition to the Party pursuing completely independent tactics in relation to the liberal-bourgeois parties, denying that it is possible and desirable for our Party to assume the role of organiser in the people’s insurrection and opposing the participation of the Party in a provisional democratic revolutionary government under any conditions whatsoever.

“The Congress instructs all Party members everywhere to conduct an energetic ideological struggle against such partial deviations from the principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy; at the same time, however, it is of the opinion that persons who share such views to any degree may belong to Party organisations on the indispensable condition that they recognise the Party congresses and the Party Rules and wholly submit to Party discipline.” (Author’s note to the 1907 edition.–Ed.) —Lenin

[3] National Assembly.–Ed.—Lenin

[4] The following is the text of this resolution on the attitude towards the tactics of the government on the eve of the revolution:

“Whereas for purposes of self-preservation the government during the present revolutionary period, while intensifying the usual measures of repression directed mainly against the class-conscious elements of the proletariat, at the same time 1) tries by means of concessions and promises of reform to corrupt the working class politically and thereby to divert it from the revolutionary struggle; 2) with the same object clothes its hypocritical policy of concessions in pseudo-democratic forms, beginning with an invitation to the workers to elect their representatives to commissions and conferences and ending with the establishment of a travesty of popular representation, something like the so-called Zemsky Sobor; 3) organises the so-called Black Hundreds[10] and incites against the revolution all those elements of the people in general who are reactionary, ignorant or blinded by racial or religious hatred:

“The Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. resolves to call on all Party organisations:

“a) while exposing the reactionary purpose of the government’s concessions, to emphasise in their propaganda and agitation the fact that, on the one hand, these concessions were granted under compulsion, and, on the other, that it is absolutely impossible for the autocracy to grant reforms satisfactory to the proletariat;

“b) taking advantage of the election campaign, to explain to the   workers the real significance of the government’s measures and to show that it is necessary for the proletariat to convene by revolutionary means a constituent assembly on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and secret ballot;

“c) to organise the proletariat for the immediate realisation, in a revolutionary way, of the eight-hour working day and of the other immediate demands of the working class;

“d) to organise armed resistance to the actions of the Black Hundreds, and generally, of all reactionary elements led by the government.” (Author’s note to the 1907 edition.–Ed.)Lenin

[5] The newspaper Vperyod, published in Geneva, began to appear in January 1905 as the organ of the Bolshevik section of the Party. From January to May, eighteen issues appeared. After May, by virtue of the decision of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, the Proletary was issued in place of the Vperyod as the central organ of the R.S.D.L.P. (This Congress took place in London May, the Mensheviks did not appear; they organised their own “Conference” in Geneva.) (Author’s note to the 1907 edition.–Ed.)Lenin





[9] A constitution à La Shipov — Lenin’s name for the draft of state structure drawn up by D. Shipov, a moderate liberal leader of the Zemstvos’ Right wing. In an attempt to curb the sweep of the revolution and also to obtain certain concessions from the tsarist government in favour of the Zemstvos, Shipov proposed the creation of an advisory representative body under the tsar. By a deal of this kind the moderate liberals wanted to preserve the monarchy, while winning certain political rights for themselves.

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