Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


“Revolutionary Communes” and the Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry

The Conference of the new-Iskraists did not keep to the anarchist position into which the new Iskra had talked itself (only “from below,” not “from below and from above”). The absurdity of admitting the possibility of an insurrection and not admitting the possibility of victory and participation in a provisional revolutionary government was too glaring. The resolution therefore introduced certain reservations and restrictions into the solution of the question proposed by Martynov and Martov. Let us consider these reservations as stated in the following section of the resolution:

“These tactics” (“to remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition”) “do not, of course, in any way exclude the expediency of a partial and episodic seizure of power and the establishment of revolutionary communes in one or another city, in one or another district, exclusively for the purpose of helping to spread the insurrection and of disrupting the government.”

That being the case, it means that in principle they admit the possibility of action not only from below, but also from above. It means that the proposition laid down in L. Martov’s well-known article in the Iskra (No. 93) is discarded and that the tactics of Vperyod, i.e., not only “from below,” but also “from above,” are acknowledged as correct.

Further, the seizure of power (even if partial, episodic, etc.) obviously presupposes the participation not only of Social-Democrats and not only of the proletariat. This follows from the fact that it is not only the proletariat that is interested and takes an active part in a democratic revolution. This follows from the fact that the insurrection is a “popular” one, as is stated in the beginning of the resolution we are discussing, that “non-proletarian groups” (the words used in the Conference resolution on the uprising), i.e., the bourgeoisie, also take part in it. Hence, the principle that any participation of Socialists in a provisional revolutionary government jointly with the petty bourgeoisie is treachery to the working class was thrown overboard by the Conference, which is what the Vperyod [Lenin’s articles “Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government”, and “The Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry” ] sought to achieve. “Treachery” does not cease to be treachery because the action which constitutes it is partial, episodic, local, etc. Hence, the parallel drawn between the participation in a provisional revolutionary government and vulgar Jaurèsism was thrown overboard by the Conference, which is what the Vperyod sought to achieve.[4] A government does not cease to be a government because its power does not extend to many cities but is confined to a single city, does not extend to many districts but is confined to a single district; nor because of the name that is given to it. Thus, the formulation of the principles of this question which the new Iskra tried to give was discarded by the Conference.

Let us see whether the restrictions imposed by the Conference on the formation of revolutionary governments and participation in them, which is now admitted in principle, are reasonable. What difference there is between the concept “episodic” and the concept “provisional”[1] we do not know. We are afraid that this “new” and foreign word is merely a screen for lack of clear thinking. It seems “more profound,” but actually it is only more obscure and confused. What is the difference between the “expediency” of a partial “seizure of power” in a city or district, and participation in a provisional revolutionary government of the entire state? Do not “cities” include a city like St. Petersburg, where the events of January 9 took place? Do not districts include the Caucasus, which is bigger than many a state? Will not the problems (which at one time vexed the new Iskra) of what to do with the prisons, the police, public funds, etc., confront us the moment we “seize power” in a single city, let alone in a district? No one will deny, of course, that if we lack sufficient forces, if the insurrection is not wholly successful, or if the victory is indecisive, it is possible that provisional revolutionary governments will be set up in separate localities, in individual cities and the like. But what is the point of such an assumption, gentlemen? Do not you yourselves speak in the beginning of the resolution about a “decisive victory of the revolution,” about a “victorious popular insurrection”?? Since when have the Social-Democrats taken over the job of the anarchists: to divide the attention and the aims of the proletariat, to direct its attention to the “partial” instead of the general, the single, the integral and complete? While presupposing the “seizure of power” in a city, you yourselves speak of “spreading the insurrection”—to another city, may we venture to think? to all cities, may we dare to hope? Your conclusions, gentlemen, are as unsound and haphazard, as contradictory and confused as your premises. The Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. gave an exhaustive and clear answer to the question of a provisional revolutionary government in general. And this answer covers all cases of local provisional governments as well. The answer given by the Conference however, by artificially and arbitrarily singling out a part of the question, merely evades (but unsuccessfully) the issue as a whole, and creates confusion.

What does the term “revolutionary communes” mean? Does it differ from the term “provisional revolutionary government,” and, if so, in what respect? The Conference gentlemen themselves do not know. Confusion of revolutionary thought leads them, as very often happens, to revolutionary phrase-mongering. Yes, the use of the words “revolutionary commune” in a resolution passed by representatives of Social-Democracy is revolutionary phrase-mongering and nothing else. Marx more than once condemned such phrase-mongering, when “fascinating” terms of the bygone past were used to hide the tasks of the future. In such cases a fascinating term that has played its part in history becomes futile and pernicious trumpery, a child’s rattle. We must give the workers and the whole people a clear and unambiguous explanation as to why we want a provisional revolutionary government to be set up, and exactly what changes we shall accomplish, if we exercise decisive influence on the government, on the very morrow of the victory of the popular insurrection which has already commenced. These are the questions that confront political leaders.

The Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. gave perfectly clear answers to these questions and drew up a complete program of these changes—the minimum program of our Party. The word “commune,” however, is not an answer at all; it only serves to confuse people by the distant echo of a sonorous phrase, or empty rhetoric. The more we cherish the memory of the Paris Commune of 1871, for instance, the less permissible is it to refer to it offhand, without analysing its mistakes and the special conditions attending it. To do so would be to follow the absurd example of the Blanquists—whom Engels ridiculed—who (in 1874, in their “Manifesto”) paid homage to every act of the Commune.[5] What reply will a “Conference” give to a worker who asks him about this “revolutionary commune” that is mentioned in the resolution? He will only be able to tell him that this is the name, known in history, of a workers’ government that was unable to, and could not at that time, distinguish between the elements of a democratic revolution and those of a socialist revolution, that confused the tasks of fighting for a republic with the tasks of fighting for Socialism, that was unable to carry out the task of launching an energetic military offensive against Versailles, that made a mistake in not seizing the Bank of France, etc. In short, whether in your answer you refer to the Paris Commune or to some other commune, your answer will be: it was a government such as ours should not be. A fine answer, indeed! Does it not testify to pedantic moralising and impotence on the part of a revolutionary who says nothing about the practical program of the Party and in appropriately begins to give lessons in history in a resolution? Does this not reveal the very mistake which they unsuccessfully accuse us of having committed, i.e., of confusing a democratic revolution with a socialist revolution, between which none of the “communes” was able to distinguish?

Extending the insurrection and the disorganising the government are presented as the “exclusive” aim of the provisional government. (so in appropriately termed a “commune”). Taken in its literal sense, the word “exclusively” eliminates all other aims; it is an echo of the absurd theory of “only from below.” Such elimination of other aims is another instance of short-sightedness and lack of reflection. A “revolutionary commune,” i.e., a revolutionary government, even if only in a single city, will inevitably have to administer (even if provisionally, “partly, episodically”) all the affairs of state, and it is the height of folly to hide one’s head under one’s wing and refuse to see this. This government will have to enact an eight-hour working day, establish workers’ inspection of factories, institute free universal education, introduce the election of judges, set up peasant committees, etc.; in a word, it will certainly have to carry out a number of reforms. To designate these reforms as “helping to spread the insurrection” would be playing with words and deliberately causing greater confusion in a matter which requires absolute clarity.

*     *

The concluding part of the new Iskra-ists’ resolution does not provide any new material for a criticism of the trends of principles of “Economism” which has revived in our Party, but it illustrates from a somewhat different angle, what has been said above.

Here is that part:

“Only in one event should Social-Democracy, on its own initiative, direct its efforts towards seizing power and holding it as long as possible—namely, in the event of the revolution spreading to the advanced countries of Western Europe, where conditions for the achievement of Socialism have already reached a certain”(?) “degree of maturity. In that event the limited historical scope of the Russian revolution can be considerably widened and the possibility of entering the path of socialist reforms will arise.

“By framing its tactics in accordance with the view that, during the whole period of the revolution, the Social-Democratic Party will retain the position of extreme revolutionary opposition to all the governments that may succeed one another in the course of the revolution, Social-Democracy will best be able to prepare itself to utilise governmental power if it falls” (??) “into its hands.”

The basic idea here is the one that the Vperyod has repeatedly formulated, stating that we must not be afraid (as is Martynov) of a complete victory for Social-Democracy in a democratic revolution, i.e., of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, for such a victory will enable us to rouse Europe, and the socialist proletariat of Europe, after throwing off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, will in its turn help us to accomplish the socialist revolution. But see how this idea is worsened in the new Iskra-ists’ rendering of it. We shall not dwell on details—on the absurd assumption that power could “fall” into the hands of a class-conscious party which considers seizure of power harmful tactics; on the fact that in Europe the conditions for Socialism have reached not a certain degree of maturity, but are already mature; on the fact that our Party program does not speak of socialist changes at all, but only of a socialist revolution. Let us take the principal and basic difference between the idea presented by the Vperyod and that presented in the resolution. The Vperyod set the revolutionary proletariat of Russia an active aim: to win the battle for democracy and to use this victory for carrying the revolution into Europe. The resolution fails to grasp this connection between our “decisive victory” (not in the new Iskra sense) and the revolution in Europe, and therefore it speaks not about the tasks of the proletariat, not about the prospects of its victory, but about one of the possibilities in general: “in the event of the revolution spreading....” The Vperyod pointedly and definitely indicated—and this was incorporated in the resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party—how “governmental power” can and must “be utilised” in the interests of the proletariat, bearing in mind what can be achieved immediately, at the given stage of social development, and what must first be achieved as a democratic prerequisite of the struggle for Socialism. Here, also, the resolution hopelessly drags at the tail when it states: “will be able to prepare itself to utilise,” but fails to say how it will be able, how it will prepare itself, and to utilise for what? We have no doubt, for instance, that the new-Iskraists may be “able to prepare themselves to utilise” the leading position in the Party; but the point is that the way they have utilised, their preparation up till now, do not hold out much hope of possibility being transformed into reality. . . .

The Vperyod quite definitely stated wherein lies the real “possibility of holding power”—namely, in the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, in their joint mass strength, which is capable of outweighing all the forces of counterrevolution, in the inevitable concurrence of their interests in democratic changes. Here, too, the resolution of the Conference gives us nothing positive, it merely evades the question. Surely, the possibility of holding power in Russia must be determined by the composition of the social forces in Russia itself, by the circumstances of the democratic revolution which is now taking place in our country. A victory of the proletariat in Europe (it is still somewhat of a far cry between carrying the revolution into Europe and the victory of the proletariat) will give rise to a desperate counter-revolutionary struggle on the part of the Russian bourgeoisie—yet the resolution of the new-Iskraists does not say a word about this counter-revolutionary force, the importance of which has been appraised in the resolution of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. If in our fight for a republic and democracy we could not rely upon the peasantry as well as on the proletariat, the prospect of our “holding power” would be hopeless. But if it is not hopeless, if a “decisive victory of the revolution over tsarism” opens up such a possibility, then we must point to it, we must actively call for its transformation into reality and issue practical slogans not only for the contingency of the revolution being carried into Europe, but also for the purpose of carrying it there. The reference made by the khvostist Social-Democrats to the “limited historical scope of the Russian revolution” merely serves to cover up their limited understanding of the aims of this democratic revolution and of the leading role of the proletariat in this revolution!

One of the objections raised to the slogan of “the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” is that dictatorship presupposes a “single will” (Iskra, No. 95), and that there can be no single will of the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie. This objection is unsound, for it is based on an abstract, “metaphysical” interpretation of the term “single will.” There can be a single will in one respect and not a single will in another. The absence of unity on questions of Socialism and in the struggle for Socialism does not preclude singleness of will on questions of democracy and in the struggle for a republic. To forget this would be tantamount to forgetting the logical and historical difference between a democratic and a socialist revolution. To forget this would be tantamount to forgetting the character of the democratic revolution as a revolution of the whole people: if it is “of the whole people” it means that there is “singleness of will” precisely in so far as this revolution satisfies the common needs and requirements of the whole people. Beyond the bounds of democracy there can be no question of the proletariat and the peasant bourgeoisie having a single will. Class struggle between them is inevitable; but it is in a democratic republic that this struggle will be the most thoroughgoing and widespread struggle of the people for Socialism. Like everything else in the world, the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry has a past and a future. Its past is autocracy, serfdom, monarchy and privilege. In the struggle against this past, in the struggle against counterrevolution, a “single will” of the proletariat and the peasantry is possible, for here there is unity of interests.

Its future is the struggle against private property the struggle of the wage worker against the employer the struggle for Socialism. Here singleness of will is impossible.[2] Here our path lies not from autocracy to a republic but from a petty-bourgeois democratic republic to Socialism.

Of course, in actual historical circumstances, the elements of the past become interwoven with those of the future, the two paths cross. Wage labour, with its struggle against private property, exists under the autocracy as well; it is generated even under serfdom. But this does not in the least prevent us from drawing a logical and historical dividing line between the major stages of development. We all draw a distinction between bourgeois revolution and socialist revolution, we all absolutely insist on the necessity of drawing a most strict line between them; but can it be denied that individual, particular elements of the two revolutions become interwoven in history? Have there not been a number of socialist movements and attempts at establishing Socialism in the period of democratic revolutions in Europe? And will not the future socialist revolution in Europe still have to do a very great deal that has been left undone in the field of democracy?

A Social-Democrat must never for a moment forget that the proletariat will inevitably have to wage the class struggle for Socialism even against the most democratic and republican bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. This is beyond doubt. Hence the absolute necessity of a separate, independent, strictly class party of Social-Democracy. Hence the temporary nature of our tactics of “striking jointly” with the bourgeoisie and the duty of keeping a strict watch “over our ally, as over an enemy,” etc. All this is also beyond the slightest doubt. But it would be ridiculous and reactionary to deduce from this that we must forget, ignore or neglect these tasks which, although transient and temporary, are vital at the present time. The fight against the autocracy is a temporary and transient task of the Socialists, but to ignore or neglect this task in any way would be tantamount to betraying Socialism and rendering a service to reaction. The revolutionary-Democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry is unquestionably only a transient, temporary aim of the Socialists, but to ignore this aim in the period of a democratic revolution would be downright reactionary.

Concrete political aims must be set in concrete circumstances. All things are relative, all things flow and all things change. The program of the German Social-Democratic Party does not contain the demand for a republic. The situation in Germany is such that this question can in practice hardly be separated from the question of Socialism (although even as regards Germany, Engels, in his comments on the draft of the Erfurt Program in 1891, warned against belittling the importance of a republic and of the struggle for a republic!).[6] In the Russian Social-Democratic Party the question of eliminating the demand for a republic from its program and agitation has never even arisen, for in our country there can be no talk of an indissoluble connection between the question of a republic and the question of Socialism. It was quite natural for a German Social-Democrat of 1898 not to put the special question of a republic in the forefront, and this evokes neither surprise nor condemnation. But a German Social-Democrat who in 1848 would have left the question of a republic in the shade would have been a downright traitor to the revolution. There is no such thing as abstract truth. Truth is always concrete.

The time will come when the struggle against the Russian autocracy will end and the period of democratic revolution will be over in Russia; then it will be ridiculous to talk about “singleness of will” of the proletariat and the peasantry, about a democratic dictatorship, etc. When that time comes we shall attend directly to the question of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat and deal with it at greater length. But at present the party of the advanced class cannot but strive most energetically for a decisive victory of the democratic revolution over tsarism. And a decisive victory means nothing else than the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.


1) We would remind the reader that in the polemics between the Iskra and the Vperyod, the former referred among other things to Engels’ letter to Turati, in which Engels warned the (future) leader of the Italian reformists not to confuse the democratic with the socialist revolution.[8] The impending revolution in Italy—wrote Engels about the political situation in Italy in 1894—will be a petty-bourgeois, democratic and not a socialist revolution. The Iskra reproached the Vperyod with having departed from the principle laid down by Engels. This reproach was unjustified, because the Vperyod (No. 14)[3] fully acknowledged, on the whole, the correctness of Marx’s theory of the difference between the three main forces in the revolutions of the nineteenth century. According to this theory, the following forces take a stand against the old order, against the autocracy, feudalism, serfdom: 1) the liberal big bourgeoisie,
2) the radical petty bourgeoisie,
3) the proletariat. The first fights for nothing more than a constitutional monarchy; the second, for a democratic republic; the third, for a socialist revolution. To confuse the petty-bourgeois struggle for a complete democratic revolution with the proletarian struggle for a socialist revolution spells political bankruptcy for a Socialist. Marx’s warning to this effect is quite justified. But it is precisely for this very reason that the slogan “revolutionary communes” is erroneous, because the very mistake committed by the communes that have existed in history is that they confused the democratic revolution with the socialist revolution. On the other hand, our slogan—a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry—fully safeguards us against this mistake. While recognising the uncontestably bourgeois nature of the revolution, which is incapable of directly overstepping the bounds a mere democratic revolution, our slogan pushes forward this particular revolution and strives to mould it into forms most advantageous to the proletariat; consequently, it strives to make the very most of the democratic revolution in order to attain the greatest success in the further struggle of the proletariat for Socialism.


[1] The first word was in scholarly use at the term, while the second was, and still is, colloquial Russian.—Tr.

[2] The development of capitalism, more widespread and rapid in conditions of liberty, will inevitably soon put an end to singleness of will; the earlier counter-revolution and reaction are crushed.—Lenin

[3] “Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government”, 1905. See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 275-92.–Ed.


[5] Lenin is refering to the programme published in 1874 by the London Blanquist group of former members of the Paris Commune (see F. Engels, “Flüchtlingslitcratur. II. Programm der blanqui stischen Kommunefluichtlinge”, Internationajes aus dem Voiksstaot, Berlin 1957, S. 47-56).



[8] See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow 1953 pp. 551-55

  What Does Being A Party of Extreme Opposition In Time of Revolution Mean? | A Cursory Comparison Between Several of the Resolutions of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. and Those of the “Conference”  

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