Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


Will the Sweep of the Democratic Revolution be Diminished if the Bourgeoisie Recoils from it?

The foregoing lines were already written when we received a copy of the resolutions adopted by the Caucasian Conference of the new Iskra supporters, published by the Iskra. Better material than this pour la bonne bouche (for dessert) we could not even have invented.

The editors of the Iskra quite justly remark: “On the fundamental question of tactics, the Caucasian Conference also arrived at a decision analogous” (in truth!) “to the one adopted by the All-Russian Conference” (i.e., of the new Iskra-ists). “The question of the attitude of Social-Democracy towards a provisional revolutionary government has been settled by the Caucasian comrades in the spirit of most outspoken opposition to the new method advocated by the Vpeyod group and by the delegates of the so-called Congress who joined it.” “It must be admitted that the formulation of the tactics of the proletarian party in a bourgeois revolution as given by the Conference is very apt.”

What is true is true. No one could have given a more “apt” formulation of the fundamental error of the new Iskra-ists. We shall quote this formulation in full, indicating in parentheses first the blossoms and then the fruit presented at the end.

Here is the resolution of the Caucasian Conference of new-Iskraists on a provisional revolutionary government:

“Whereas we consider it to be our task to take advantage of the revolutionary situation to render more profound” (of course! They should have added: “à la Martynov!”) “the Social-Democratic consciousness of the proletariat” (only to render the consciousness more profound, and not to win a republic? What a “profound” conception of revolution 1) “and in order to secure for the Party fullest freedom to criticise the nascent bourgeois-state system” (it is not our business to secure a republic! Our business is only to secure freedom of criticism. Anarchist ideas give rise to anarchist language: “bourgeois-state” system!), “the Conference declares against the formation of a Social-Democratic provisional government and joining such a government” (recall the resolution passed by the Bakunists ten months before the Spanish revolution and referred to by Engels: see the Proletary, No. 3),[2] "and considers it to be the most expedient course to exercise pressure from without" (from below and not from above) “upon the bourgeois provisional government in order to secure a feasible measure” (?!) “of democratisation of the state system. The Conference believes that the formation of a provisional government by Social-Democrats, or their joining such a government, would lead, on the one hand, to the masses of the proletariat becoming disappointed in the Social-Democratic Party and abandoning it because the Social-Democrats, in spite of the fact that they had seized power, would not be able to satisfy the pressing needs of the working class, including the establishment of Socialism” (a republic is not a pressing need! The authors, in their innocence, do not notice that they are speaking a purely anarchist language, as if they were repudiating participation in bourgeois revolutions!), “and, on the other hand, would cause the bourgeois classes to recoil from the revolution and diminish its sweep.”

That is the crux of the matter. That is where anarchist ideas become interwoven (as is constantly the case among the West-European Bernsteinians also) with the purest opportunism. Just think of it: not to join a provisional government because this will cause the bourgeoisie to recoil from the revolution and thus diminish the sweep of the revolution! Here, indeed, we have the new Iskra philosophy in its complete, pure and consistent form: the revolution is a bourgeois revolution, therefore we must bow down to bourgeois philistinism and make way for it. If we are guided, even in part, even for a moment, by the consideration that our participation may cause the bourgeoisie to recoil, we thereby simply yield leadership in the revolution entirely to the bourgeois classes. We thereby place the proletariat entirely under the tutelage of the bourgeoisie (while retaining complete “freedom of criticism”!!), compelling the proletariat to be meek and mild so as not to cause the bourgeoisie to recoil. We emasculate the most vital needs of the proletariat, namely, its political needs—which the Economists and their epigones have never properly understood—so as not to cause the bourgeoisie to recoil. We completely abandon the field of revolutionary struggle for the achievement of democracy to the extent required by the proletariat for the field of bargaining with the bourgeoisie, betraying our principles, betraying the revolution to purchase the bourgeoisie’s voluntary consent (“that it might not recoil”).

In two brief lines, the Caucasian new-Iskraists managed to express the quintessence of the tactics of betrayal of the revolution and of converting the proletariat into a wretched appendage of the bourgeois classes. The tendency, which we traced above to the mistakes of the new Iskra-ists, now stands out before us as a clear and definite principle, viz., to drag at the tail of the monarchist bourgeoisie. Since the establishment of a republic would cause (and is already causing: Mr. Struve, for example) the bourgeoisie to recoil, therefore, down with the fight for a republic. Since every resolute and consistent democratic demand of the proletariat always and everywhere in the world causes the bourgeoisie to recoil, therefore, hide in your lairs, comrades and fellow workers, act only from without, do not dream of using the instruments and weapons of the “bourgeois-state” system in the interests of the revolution, and reserve for yourselves “freedom to criticize”!

The fundamental fallacy of their very conception of the term “bourgeois revolution” has come to the surface. The Martynov or new Iskra “conception” of this term leads straight to a betrayal of the cause of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.

Those who have forgotten the old Economism, those who do not study it or remember it, will find it difficult to under stand the present echo of Economism. Recall the Bernsteinian Credo.[3] From “purely proletarian” views and programs, people arrived at the conclusion: we, the Social-Democrats, must concern ourselves with economics, with the real cause of labour, with freedom to criticise all political chicanery, with rendering Social-Democratic work really more profound. Politics are for the liberals. God save us from dropping into “revolutionism”: that will cause the bourgeoisie to recoil. Those who read the whole Credo over again or the Supplement to No. 9 of the Rabochaya Mysl (September 1899)[4] will be able to follow this entire line of reasoning.

Today we have the same thing, only on a large scale, applied to an appraisal of the whole of the “great” Russian revolution—alas, already vulgarised and reduced to a travesty in advance by the theoreticians of orthodox philistinism! We, the Social-Democrats, must concern ourselves with freedom of criticism, with rendering class consciousness more profound, with action from without. They, the bourgeois classes, must have freedom to act, a free field for revolutionary (read: liberal) leadership, freedom to put through “reforms” from above.

These vulgarizers of Marxism have never pondered over what Marx said about the need of substituting the criticism of weapons for the weapon of criticism.[5] Taking the name of Marx in vain, they, in actual fact, draw up resolutions on tactics wholly in the spirit of the Frankfurt bourgeois windbags, who freely criticised absolutism and rendered democratic consciousness more profound, but failed to understand that the time of revolution is the time of action, of action both from above and from below. Having converted Marxism into pedantry, they have made the ideology of the advanced, most determined and energetic revolutionary class the ideology of its most undeveloped strata, which shrink from the difficult revolutionary-democratic tasks and leave it to Messrs. the Struves to take care of these democratic tasks.

If the bourgeois classes recoil from the revolution because the Social-Democrats join the revolutionary government, they will thereby “diminish the sweep” of the revolution.

Listen to this, Russian workers: The sweep of the revolution will be mightier if it is carried out by Messrs. the Struves, who are not frightened away by the Social-Democrats and who want, not victory over tsarism, but to come to terms with it. The sweep of the revolution will be mightier if, of the two possible outcomes which we have outlined above, the first eventuates, i.e., if the monarchist bourgeoisie comes to terms with the autocracy concerning a “constitution” à la Shipov!

Social-Democrats who write such disgraceful things in resolutions intended for the guidance of the whole Party, or who approve of such “apt” resolutions, are so blinded by their pedantry, which has utterly eroded the living spirit out of Marxism, that they do not see how these resolutions convert all their other fine words into mere phrase-mongering. Take any of their articles in the Iskra, or take even the notorious pamphlet written by our celebrated Martynov—you will read there about a popular insurrection, about carrying the revolution to completion, about striving to rely upon the common people in the fight against the inconsistent bourgeoisie. But then all these excellent things become miserable phrase-mongering immediately you accept or approve of the idea that “the sweep of the revolution” will be “diminished” as a consequence of the alienation of the bourgeoisie. One of two things, gentlemen: either we, together with the people, must strive to carry out the revolution and win a complete victory over tsarism in spite of the inconsistent, self-seeking and cowardly bourgeoisie, or we do not accept this “in spite of,” we fear lest the bourgeoisie “recoil” from the revolution, in which case we betray the proletariat and the people to the bourgeoisie—to the inconsistent, self-seeking and cowardly bourgeoisie.

Don’t try to misinterpret what I have said. Don’t start howling that you are being accused of deliberate treachery. No, you have always been crawling and have at last crawled into the mire as unconsciously as the Economists of old, drawn inexorably and irrevocably down the inclined plane of making Marxism “more profound” to anti-revolutionary, soulless and lifeless “philosophising.”

Have you ever considered, gentlemen, what real social forces determine “the sweep of the revolution”? Let us leave aside the forces of foreign politics, of international combinations, which have turned out very favourably for us at the present time, but which we all leave out of our discussion, and rightly so, inasmuch as we are concerned with the question of the internal forces of Russia. Look at these internal social forces. Aligned against the revolution are the autocracy, the imperial court, the police, the bureaucracy, the army and the handful of high nobility. The deeper the indignation of the people grows, the less reliable become the troops, and the more the bureaucracy wavers. Moreover, the bourgeoisie, on the whole, is now in favour of the revolution, is zealously making speeches about liberty, holding forth more and more frequently in the name of the people, and even in the name of the revolution.[1] But we Marxists all know from theory and from daily and hourly observation of our liberals, Zemstvo people and Orvobozhdentsi, that the bourgeoisie is inconsistent, self-seeking and cowardly in its support of the revolution. The bourgeoisie, in the mass, will inevitably turn towards counterrevolution, towards the autocracy, against the revolution and against the people, immediately its narrow, selfish interests are met, immediately it “recoils” from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!). There remains the “people,” that is, the proletariat and the peasantry: the proletariat alone can be relied on to march to the end, for it is going far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the front ranks for a republic and contemptuously rejects silly and unworthy advice to take care not to frighten away the bourgeoisie. The peasantry includes a great number of semi-proletarian as well as petty-bourgeois elements. This causes it also to be unstable and compels the proletariat to unite in a strictly class party. But the instability of the peasantry differs radically from the instability of the bourgeoisie, for at the present time the peasantry is interested not so much in the absolute preservation of private property as in the confiscation of the landed estates, one of the principal forms of private property. While this does not make the peasantry become socialist or cease to be petty-bourgeois, it is capable of becoming a wholehearted and most radical adherent of the democratic revolution. The peasantry will inevitably become such if only the progress of revolutionary events, which is enlightening it, is not checked too soon by the treachery of the bourgeoisie and the defeat of the proletariat. Subject to this condition, the peasantry will inevitably become a bulwark of the revolution and the republic, for only a completely victorious revolution can give the peasantry everything in the sphere of agrarian reforms—everything that the peasants desire, of which they dream, and of which they truly stand in need (not for the abolition of capitalism as the “Socialist-Revolutionaries” imagine, but) in order to emerge from the mire of semi-serfdom, from the gloom of oppression and servitude, in order to improve their living conditions as much as it is possible to improve them under the system of commodity production.

Moreover, the peasantry is attached to the revolution not only by the prospect of radical agrarian reform but by its general and permanent interests. Even in fighting the proletariat the peasantry stands in need of democracy, for only a democratic system is capable of giving exact expression to its interests and of ensuring its predominance as the mass, as the majority. The more enlightened the peasantry becomes (and since the war with Japan it is becoming enlightened much more rapidly than those who are accustomed to measure enlightenment by the school standard suspect), the more consistently and determinedly will it favour a thoroughgoing democratic revolution; for, unlike the bourgeoisie, it has nothing to fear from the supremacy of the people, but, on the contrary, stands to gain by it. A democratic republic will become the ideal of the peasantry as soon as it begins to free itself from its naïve monarchism, because the enlightened monarchism of the bourgeois stock-jobbers (with an upper chamber, etc.) implies for the peasantry the same disfranchisement and the same down-troddenness and ignorance as it suffers from today, only slightly glossed over with the varnish of European constitutionalism.

That is why the bourgeoisie as a class naturally and inevitably strives to come under the wing of the liberal-monarchist party, while the peasantry, in the mass, strives to come under the leadership of the revolutionary and republican party. That is why the bourgeoisie is incapable of carrying the democratic revolution to its consummation, while the peasantry is capable of doing so, and we must exert all our efforts to help it to do so.

It may be objected: but this requires no proof, this is all ABC; all Social-Democrats understand this perfectly well. But that is not so. It is not understood by those who can talk about “the sweep” of the revolution being “diminished” because the bourgeoisie will fall away from it. Such people repeat the words of our agrarian program that they have learned by rote without understanding their meaning, for otherwise they would not be frightened by the concept of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which inevitably follows from the entire Marxian world outlook and from our program; otherwise they would not restrict the sweep of the great Russian revolution to the limits to which the bourgeoisie is prepared to go. Such people defeat their abstract Marxian revolutionary phrases by their concrete anti-Marxian and anti-revolutionary resolutions.

Those who really understand the role of the peasantry in a victorious Russian revolution would not dream of saying that the sweep of the revolution would be diminished if the bourgeoisie recoiled from it. For, as a matter of fact, the Russian revolution will begin to assume its real sweep, will really assume the widest revolutionary sweep possible in the epoch of bourgeois-democratic revolution, only when the bourgeoisie recoils from it and when the masses of the peasantry come out as active revolutionaries side by side with the proletariat. In order that it may be consistently carried to its conclusion, our democratic revolution must rely on such forces as are capable of paralysing the inevitable inconsistency of the bourgeoisie (i.e., capable precisely of “causing it to recoil from the revolution,” which the Caucasian adherents of Iskra fear so much because of their lack of judgement).

The proletariat must carry to completion the democratic revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of the autocracy and to paralyse the instability of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyse the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. Such are the tasks of the proletariat which the new-Iskraists present so narrowly in all their arguments and resolutions about the sweep of the revolution.

One circumstance, however, must not be forgotten, although it is frequently lost sight of in discussions about the “sweep” of the revolution. It must not be forgotten that the point at issue is not the difficulties this problem presents, but the road along which we must seek and attain its solution. The point is not whether it is easy or difficult to make the sweep of the revolution mighty and invincible, but how we must act in order to make this sweep more powerful. It is precisely on the fundamental nature of our activity, on the direction it should take, that our views differ. We emphasise this because careless and unscrupulous people too frequently confuse two different questions, namely, the question of the direction in which the road leads, i.e., the selection of one of two different roads, and the question of how easily the goal can be reached, or of how near the goal is on the given road.

We have not dealt with this last question at all in the foregoing because it has not evoked any disagreement or divergency in the Party. But it goes without saying that the question itself is extremely important and deserves the most serious attention of all Social-Democrats. It would be a piece of unpardonable optimism to forget the difficulties which accompany the task of drawing into the movement the masses not only of the working class, but also of the peasantry. These difficulties have more than once been the rock against which the efforts to carry a democratic revolution to completion have been wrecked; and it was the inconsistent and self-seeking bourgeoisie which triumphed most of all, because it “made capital” in the shape of monarchist protection against the people, and at the same time “preserved the virginity” of liberalism . . . or of the Osvobozhdeniye trend. But difficult does not mean impossible. The important thing is to be convinced that the path chosen is the correct one, and this conviction will multiply a hundred-fold the revolutionary energy and revolutionary enthusiasm which can perform miracles.

The depth of the rift among present-day Social-Democrats on the question of the path to be chosen can be seen at once by comparing the Caucasian resolution of the new-Iskraists with the resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The Congress resolution says: the bourgeoisie is inconsistent, it will certainly try to deprive us of the gains of the revolution. Therefore, make more energetic preparations for the fight, comrades and fellow workers! Arm yourselves, win the peasantry to your side! We shall not surrender our revolutionary gains to the self-seeking bourgeoisie without a fight. The resolution of the Caucasian new-Iskraists says: the bourgeoisie is inconsistent, it may recoil from the revolution. Therefore, comrades and fellow workers, please do not think of joining a provisional government, for, if you do, the bourgeoisie will certainly recoil, and the sweep of the revolution will thereby be diminished!

One side says: advance the revolution forward, to its consummation, in spite of the resistance or the passivity of the inconsistent bourgeoisie.

The other side says: do not think of carrying the revolution to completion independently, for if you do, the inconsistent bourgeoisie will recoil from it.

Are these not two diametrically opposite paths? Is it not obvious that one set of tactics absolutely excludes the other? That the first tactics are the only correct tactics of revolutionary Social-Democracy, while the second are in fact purely Osvobozhdeniye tactics?


[1] Of interest in this connection is Mr. Struve's open letter to Jaurès recently published by the latter in L’Humanité[6] and by Mr. Struve in the Osvobozhdeniye, No. 72. —Lenin

[2] 36. Lenin has in view the article “On the Provisional Revolutionary Government” (see present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 461-81), and also the article by F. Engels, Die Bakunisten an der Arbeit. Denkschrift über den Aufstand in Spanien im Sommmer 1873, in which he criticises the Bakuninist resolution Lenin is referring to (see Der Volksstaat, Nos. 105, 106, 107, 1873).



[5] 39. The reference is to Marx’s words in his Zur Kritik der lie gelsehien Rechtsphilosophie, MEGA, 1. Abt., Bd. 1, S. 614.


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