Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


What Does Being A Party of Extreme Opposition In Time of Revolution Mean?

Let us return to the resolution on a provisional government. We have shown that the tactics of the new-Iskraists do not push the revolution forward—which they may have wanted to make possible by their resolution—but back. We have shown that it is precisely these tactics that tie the hands of Social-Democracy in the struggle against the inconsistent bourgeoisie and do not safeguard it against being dissolved in bourgeois democracy. Naturally, the false premises of the resolution lead to the false conclusion that: “Therefore, Social-Democracy must not set itself the aim of seizing or sharing power in the provisional government, but must remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition.” Consider the first half of this conclusion, which is part of a statement of aims. Do the new-Iskraists declare the aim of Social-Democratic activity to be a decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism? They do. They are unable correctly to formulate the requisites for a decisive victory and stray into the Osvobozhdeniye formulation, but they do set themselves the aforementioned aim. Further: do they connect a provisional government with insurrection? Yes, they do so plainly, by stating that a provisional government “will emerge from a victorious popular insurrection.” Finally, do they set themselves the aim of leading the insurrection? Yes, they do. Like Mr. Struve, they do not admit that an insurrection is an urgent necessity, but at the same time, unlike Mr. Struve, they say that “Social-Democracy strives to subject it” (the insurrection) “to its influence and leadership and to use it in the interests of the working class.”

How nicely this hangs together, does it not? We set ourselves the aim of subjecting the insurrection of both the proletarian and non-proletarian masses to our influence and our leadership, and of using it in our interests. Hence, we set ourselves the aim of leading, in the insurrection, both the proletariat and the revolutionary bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie (“the non-proletarian groups”), i.e., of “sharing” the leadership of the insurrection between the Social-Democracy and the revolutionary bourgeoisie. We set ourselves the aim of securing victory for the insurrection, which is to lead to the establishment of a provisional government (“which will emerge from a victorious popular insurrection”). Therefore. . . therefore we must not set ourselves the aim of seizing power or of sharing it in a provisional revolutionary government!!

Our friends cannot dovetail their arguments. They vacillate between the standpoint of Mr. Struve, who is evading the issue of an insurrection, and the standpoint of revolutionary Social-Democracy, which calls upon us to undertake this urgent task. They vacillate between anarchism, which on principle condemns all participation in a provisional revolutionary government as treachery to the proletariat, and Marxism, which demands such participation on condition that the Social-Democratic Party exercises the leading influence in the insurrection.[1] They have no independent position whatever: neither that of Mr. Struve, who wants to come to terms with tsarism and is therefore compelled to resort to evasions and subterfuges on the question of insurrection, nor that of the anarchists, who condemn all action “from above” and all participation in a bourgeois revolution. The new-Iskraists confuse a deal with tsarism with a victory over tsarism. They want to take part in a bourgeois revolution. They have gone somewhat beyond Martynov’s Two Dictatorships. They even consent to lead the insurrection of the people—in order to renounce that leadership immediately after victory is won (or, perhaps, immediately before the victory?), i.e., in order not to avail themselves of the fruits of victory but to turn all these fruits over entirely to the bourgeoisie. This is what they call “using the insurrection in the interests of the working class....”

There is no need to dwell on this muddle any longer. It will be more useful to examine how this muddle originated in the formulation which reads: “to remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition.”

This is one of the familiar propositions of international revolutionary Social-Democracy. It is a perfectly correct proposition. It has become a commonplace for all opponents of revisionism or opportunism in parliamentary countries. It has become generally accepted as the legitimate and necessary rebuff to “parliamentary cretinism,” Millerandism, Bernsteinism,[2] and the Italian reformism of the Turati brand. Our good new-Iskraists have learned this excellent proposition by heart and are zealously applying it . . . quite inappropriately. Categories of the parliamentary struggle are introduced into resolutions written for conditions in which no parliament exists. The concept “opposition,” which has become the reflection and the expression of a political situation in which no one seriously speaks of an insurrection, is senselessly applied to a situation in which insurrection has begun and in which all the supporters of the revolution are thinking and talking about leadership in it. The desire to “stick to” old methods, i.e., action only “from below,” is expressed with pomp and clamour precisely at a time when the revolution has confronted us with the necessity, in the event of the insurrection being victorious, of acting from above.

No, our new-Iskraists are decidedly out of luck! Even when they formulate a correct Social-Democratic proposition they don’t know how to apply it correctly. They failed to take into consideration that in a period in which a revolution has begun, when there is no parliament, when there is civil war, when insurrectionary outbreaks occur, the concepts and terms of parliamentary struggle are changed and transformed into their opposites. They failed to take into consideration the fact that, under the circumstances referred to amendments are moved by means of street demonstrations, interpolations are introduced by means of offensive action by armed citizens, opposition to the government is effected by forcibly overthrowing the government.

Like the well-known hero of our folklore, who repeated good advice just when it was inappropriate, our admirers of Martynov repeat the lessons of peaceful parliamentarism just at a time when, as they themselves state, actual hostilities have commenced. There is nothing more ridiculous than this pompous emphasis of the slogan “extreme opposition” in a resolution which begins by referring to a “decisive victory of the revolution” and to a “popular insurrection”! Try to visualise, gentlemen, what it means to be the “extreme opposition” in a period of insurrection. Does it mean exposing the government or deposing it? Does it mean voting against the government or defeating its armed forces in open battle? Does it mean refusing the government replenishments for its exchequer or the revolutionary seizure of this exchequer in order to use it for the requirements of the uprising, to arm the workers and peasants and to convoke a constituent assembly? Are you not beginning to understand, gentlemen, that the term “extreme opposition” expresses only negative actions—to expose, to vote against, to refuse? Why is this so? Because this term applies only to the parliamentary struggle and, moreover, to a period when no one makes “decisive victory” the immediate object of the struggle. Are you not beginning to understand that things undergo a cardinal change in this respect from the moment the politically oppressed people launch a determined attack along the whole front in desperate struggle for victory?

The workers ask us: Is it necessary energetically to take up the urgent business of insurrection? What is to be done to make the incipient insurrection victorious? What use should be made of the victory? What program can and should then be applied? The new Iskra-ists, who are making Marxism more profound, answer: We must remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition. . . . Well, were we not right in calling these knights past masters in philistinism?


[1] See Proletary, No. 3, “On the Provisional Revolutionary Government,” article two. Lenin


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