Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


A Cursory Comparison Between Several of the Resolutions of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. and Those of the “Conference”

The question of the provisional revolutionary government is the pivot of the tactical questions of the Social-Democratic movement at the present time. It is neither possible nor necessary to dwell in as great detail on the other resolutions of the Conference. We shall confine ourselves merely to indicating briefly a few points which confirm the difference in principle, analysed above, between the tactical trends of the resolutions of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. and those of the Conference resolutions.

Take the question of the attitude towards the tactics of the government on the eve of the revolution. Once again you will find a comprehensive answer to this question in one of the resolutions of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. This resolution takes into consideration all the multifarious conditions and tasks of the particular moment: the exposure of the hypocrisy of the government’s concessions, the utilisation of “travesties of popular representation,” the achievement by revolutionary means of the urgent demands of the working class (the principal one being the eight-hour working day), and, finally, resistance to the Black Hundreds. In the Conference resolutions this question is scattered over several sections: “resistance to the dark forces of reaction” is mentioned only in the preamble of the resolution on the attitude to other parties. Participation in elections to representative bodies is considered separately from the question of “compromises” between tsarism and the bourgeoisie. Instead of calling for the achievement of an eight-hour working day by revolutionary means, a special resolution, with the high-sounding title “On the Economic Struggle,” merely repeats (after high-flown and very stupid phrases about “the central place occupied by the labour question in the public life of Russia”) the old slogan of agitation for “the legislative institution of an eight-hour working day.” The inadequacy and the belatedness of this slogan at the present time are too obvious to require proof.

The question of open political action. The Third Congress takes into consideration the impending radical change in our activity. Secret activity and the development of the secret apparatus must on no account be abandoned: this would be playing into the hands of the police and be of the utmost advantage to the government. But at the same time we cannot start too soon thinking about open action as well. Expedient forms of such action and, consequently, special apparatus—less secret—must be prepared immediately for this purpose. The legal and semi-legal societies must be made use of with a view to transforming them, as far as possible, into bases of the future open Social-Democratic Labour Party in Russia.

Here too the Conference divides up the question, and fails to issue any integral slogans. There bobs up as a separate point the ridiculous instruction to the Organisation Commission to see to the “placing” of its legally functioning publicists. There is the wholly absurd decision “to subordinate to its influence the democratic newspapers that set themselves the aim of rendering assistance to the working-class movement.” This is the professed aim of all our legal liberal newspapers, nearly all of which are of the Osvobozhdeniye trend. Why should not the editors of the Iskra make a start themselves in carrying out their advice and give us an example of how to subject the Osvobozhdeniye to Social-Democratic influence? ... Instead of the slogan of utilising the legally existing unions for the purpose of establishing bases for the Party, we are given, first, particular advice about the “trade” unions only (that all Party members must join them) and, secondly, advice to guide “the revolutionary organisations of the workers” = “organisations not officially constituted” = “revolutionary workers’ clubs.” How these “clubs” come to be classed as unofficially constituted organisations, what these “clubs” really are—goodness only knows. Instead of definite and clear instructions from a supreme Party body, we have some jottings of ideas and the rough drafts of publicists. We get no complete picture of the beginning of the Party’s transition to an entirely new basis in all its work.

The “peasant question” was presented by the Party Congress and by the Conference in entirely different ways. The Congress drew up a resolution on the “attitude to the peasant movement,” the Conference on “work among the peasants.” In the one case prime importance is attached to the task of guiding the widespread revolutionary-democratic movement in the general national interests of the fight against tsarism. In the other instance, the question is reduced to mere “work” among a particular section of society. In the one case, a central practical slogan for our agitation is advanced, calling for the immediate organisation of revolutionary peasant committees in order to carry out all the democratic changes. In the other, a “demand for the organisation of committees” is to be presented to a constituent assembly. Why must we wait for this constituent assembly? Will it really be constituent? Will it be stable without the preliminary and simultaneous establishment of revolutionary peasant committees? All these questions are ignored by the Conference. All its decisions reflect the general idea which we have traced—namely, that in the bourgeois revolution we must do only our special work, without setting ourselves the aim of leading the entire democratic movement and of doing this independently. Just as the Economists constantly harped on the idea that the Social-Democrats should concern themselves with the economic struggle, leaving it to the liberals to take care of the political struggle, so the new-Iskraists keep harping in all their discussions on the idea that we should creep into a modest corner out of the way of the bourgeois revolution, leaving it to the bourgeoisie to do the active work of carrying out the revolution.

Finally, we cannot but note also the resolution on the attitude toward other parties. The resolution of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. speaks of exposing all the limitations and inadequacies of the bourgeois movement for emancipation, without entertaining the naïve idea of enumerating every possible instance of such limitation from congress to congress or of drawing a line of distinction between bad bourgeois and good bourgeois. The Conference, repeating the mistake made by Starover, persistently searched for such a line, developed the famous “litmus paper” theory. Starover started from a very good idea: to put the strictest possible terms to the bourgeoisie. Only he forgot that any attempt to separate in advance the bourgeois democrats who are worthy of approval, agreements, etc., from those who are unworthy leads to a “formula” which is immediately thrown overboard by the development of events and which introduces confusion into the proletarian class consciousness. The emphasis is shifted from real unity in the struggle to declarations, promises, slogans. Starover was of the opinion that “universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and secret ballot” was such a radical slogan. But before two years elapsed the “litmus paper” proved its worthlessness, the slogan of universal suffrage was taken over by the Osvobozbdentsi, who not only came no closer to Social-Democracy as a result of this, but, on the contrary, tried by means of this very slogan to mislead the workers and divert them from Socialism.

Now the new-Iskraists are setting “terms” that are even “stricter,” they are “demanding” from the enemies of tsarism “energetic and unequivocal” (!?) “support of every determined action of the organised proletariat,” etc., up to and including “active participation in the self-armament of the people.” The line has been drawn much further—but nonetheless this line is again already obsolete, it revealed its worthlessness at once. Why, for instance, is there no slogan of a republic? How is it that the Social-Democrats—in the interest of “relentless revolutionary war against all the foundations of the system of social estates and the monarchy”—“demand” from the bourgeois democrats anything you like except a fight for a republic?

That this question is not mere captiousness, that the mistake of the new-Iskraists is of most vital political significance is proved by the “Russian Liberation League” (see Proletary, No. 4).[1] These “enemies of tsarism” will fully meet all the “requirements” of the new Iskra supporters. And yet we have shown that the spirit of Osvobozhdeniye reigns in the program (or lack of program) of this “Russian Liberation League” and that the Osvobozhdentsi can easily take it in tow. The Conference, however, declares in the concluding section of the resolution that “Social-Democracy will continue to oppose the hypocritical friends of the people, all those political parties which, though they display a liberal and democratic banner, refuse to render genuine support to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.” The “Russian Liberation League” not only does not refuse this support but offers it most insistently. Is that a guarantee that the leaders of this League are not “hypocritical friends of the people,” even though they are Osvobozhdentsi?

You see: by inventing “terms” in advance and presenting “demands” which are ludicrous by reason of their grim impotence, the new-Iskraists immediately put themselves in a ridiculous position. Their terms and demands immediately prove inadequate when it comes to gauging living realities. Their chase after formulae is hopeless, for no formula can embrace all the various manifestations of hypocrisy, inconsistency and limitations of the bourgeois democrats. It is not a matter of “litmus paper,” of forms, or written and printed demands, nor is it a matter of drawing, in advance, a line of distinction between hypocritical and sincere “friends of the people”; it is a matter of real unity in the struggle, of unabating criticism by Social-Democrats of every “uncertain” step taken by bourgeois democracy. What is needed for a “genuine consolidation of all the social forces interested in democratic change” is not the “points” over which the Conference laboured so assiduously and so vainly, but the ability to put forward genuinely revolutionary slogans. For this slogans are needed that will raise the revolutionary and republican bourgeoisie to the level of the proletariat and not reduce the aims of the proletariat to the level of the monarchist bourgeoisie. For this the most energetic participation in the insurrection and not sophist evasions of the urgent task of armed insurrection is needed.


[1] Proletary, No. 4, which appeared on June 4, 1905, contained a lengthy article entitled “A New Revolutionary Labour League” . The article gives the contents of the appeals issued by this league which assumed the name of “Russian Liberation League” and which set itself the aim of convening a constituent assembly with the aid of an armed insurrection. Further, the article defines the attitude of the Social-Democrats to such non-Party leagues. How far this league really existed, and what its fate was in the revolution is absolutely unknown to us. [Author’s note to the 1907 edition.–Ed.]Lenin

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