Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


Comrade Martynov Again Renders the Question “More Profound”

Let us pass on to Martynov’s articles in Nos. 102 and 103 of the Iskra. We shall, of course, make no reply to Martynov’s attempts to prove the incorrectness of our and the correctness of his interpretation of a number of citations from Engels and Marx. These attempts are so trivial, Martynov’s subterfuges so obvious and the question so clear that it would be of no interest to dwell on this point again. Every thinking reader will be able easily to see through the simple wiles employed by Martynov in his retreat all along the line, particularly when the complete translations of Engels’ pamphlet The Bakunists at Work and Marx’s Address of the Central Council to the Communist League of March 1850,[4] on which a group of collaborators of the Proletary are now working, are published. A single quotation from Martynov’s article will suffice to make his retreat clear to the reader.

“The Iskra admits,” says Martynov in No. 103, “that the establishment of a provisional government is one of the possible and expedient ways of furthering the revolution, and denies the expediency of the participation of Social-Democrats in a bourgeois provisional government, precisely in the interests of a complete seizure, in the future, of the state machine for a socialist revolution.” In other words, the Iskra now admits the absurdity of all its fears concerning the responsibility of a revolutionary government for the exchequer and the banks, concerning the danger and impossibility of taking over the “prisons,” etc. But the Iskra is only muddling things as of old, confusing the democratic with the socialist dictatorship. This muddle is unavoidable, it is a means to cover up the retreat.

But among the muddleheads of the new Iskra Martynov stands out as a muddleheaded of the first order, as a muddlehead of talent, if we may so express it. Confusing the question by his laborious efforts to render it “more profound,” he almost invariably “arrives at” new formulations which show up splendidly the entire falsity of the stand he has taken. You will remember how in the days of Economism he rendered Plekhanov “more profound” and created the formulation: “economic struggle against the employers and the government.” It would be difficult to find in all the literature of the Economists a more apt expression of the entire falsity of this trend. It is the same today. Martynov zealously serves the new Iskra and almost every time he opens his mouth he furnishes us with new and excellent material for an evaluation of the new Iskra’s false position. In No. 102 he says that Lenin “has imperceptibly substituted the concept dictatorship for that of revolution” (p. 3, col. 2).

As a matter of fact all the accusations levelled at us by the new-Iskraists can be reduced to this one. And how grateful we are to Martynov for this accusation! What an invaluable service he renders us in the struggle against the new Iskra ideas by formulating his accusation in this way! We must positively beg the editors of the Iskra to let Martynov loose against us more often for the purpose of rendering the attacks on the Proletary “more profound” and for a “truly principled” formulation of these attacks. For the more Martynov strains to argue on the plane of principles the worse his arguments appear, and the more clearly he reveals the gaps in the new Iskra ideas, the more successfully he performs on himself and on his friends the useful pedagogical operation: reductio ad absurdum (reducing the principles of the new Iskra to absurdity).

The Vperyod and the Proletary “substitute” the term dictatorship for that of revolution. The Iskra does not want such a “substitution.” Just so, most esteemed Comrade Martynov! You have unwittingly stated a great truth. With this new formulation you have confirmed our contention that the Iskra is dragging at the tail of the revolution, is straying into an Osvobozhdeniye formulation of its tasks, whereas the Vperyod and the Proletary are issuing slogans that lead the democratic revolution forward.

You don’t understand this, Comrade Martynov? In view of the importance of the question we shall try to give you a detailed explanation.

The bourgeois character of the democratic revolution expresses itself, among other things, in the fact that a number of classes, groups and sections of society which take their stand entirely on the recognition of private property and commodity production and are incapable of going beyond these bounds, are led by force of circumstances to recognise the uselessness of the autocracy and of the whole feudal order in general, and join in the demand for liberty. The bourgeois character of this liberty, which is demanded by “society” and advocated in a flood of words (and words only!) by the landowners and the capitalists, is manifesting itself more and more clearly. At the same time the radical difference between the struggle of the workers and the struggle of the bourgeoisie for liberty, between proletarian and liberal democratism, also becomes more obvious. The working class and its class-conscious representatives are marching forward and pushing this struggle forward, not only without fearing to carry it to completion, but striving to go far beyond the uttermost limits of the democratic revolution. The bourgeoisie is inconsistent and self-seeking, and accepts the slogans of liberty only in part and hypocritically. All attempts to draw a particular line or to draw up particular “points” (like the points in Starover’s or the Conferencers’ resolution) beyond which begins this hypocrisy of the bourgeois friends of liberty, or, if you like, this betrayal of liberty by its bourgeois friends, are inevitably doomed to failure; for the bourgeoisie, caught between two fires (the autocracy and the proletariat), is capable of changing its position and slogans by a thousand ways and means, of adapting itself by moving an inch to the Left or an inch to the Right, constantly bargaining and dickering. The task of proletarian democratism is not to invent such lifeless “points,” but unceasingly to criticise the developing political situation, to expose the ever new and unforeseeable inconsistencies and betrayals on the part of the bourgeoisie.

Recall the history of Mr. Struve’s political pronouncements in the illegal press, the history of Social-Democracy’s war with him, and you will see clearly how these tasks were carried out by Social-Democracy, the champion of proletarian democratism. Mr. Struve began with a purely Shipov slogan: “Rights and an Authoritative Zemstvo” (see my article in the Zarya, “The Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism”[1]). Social-Democracy exposed him and pushed him in the direction of a definitely constitutionalist program. When this “pushing” took effect, thanks to the particularly rapid progress of revolutionary events, the struggle shifted to the next question of democracy: not only a constitution in general, but one providing for universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and secret ballot. When we “captured” this new position from the “enemy” (the adoption of universal suffrage by the Osvobozhdeniye League) we began to press further; we showed up the hypocrisy and falsity of a two-chamber system, and the fact that universal suffrage had not been fully recognised by the Osvobozhdentsi; we pointed to their monarchism and showed up the huckstering nature of their democratism, or, in other words, the bartering away of the interests of the great Russian revolution by these Osvobozhderiye heroes of the moneybags.

Finally, the savage obstinacy of the autocracy, the enormous progress of the civil war and the hopelessness of the position into which the monarchists have led Russia have begun to penetrate even the thickest skulls. The revolution has become a fact. It is no longer necessary to be a revolutionary to acknowledge the revolution. The autocratic government has actually been and is disintegrating in the sight of all. As has justly been remarked in the legal press by a certain liberal (Mr. Gredeskul), actual insubordination to this government has set in. Despite all its apparent strength the autocracy has proved impotent; the events attending the developing revolution have simply begun to brush aside this parasitic organism which is rotting alive. Compelled to base their activity (or, to put it more correctly, their political wire-pulling) on relationships as they are actually taking shape, the liberal bourgeois have begun to see the necessity of recognising the revolution. They do so not because they are revolutionaries, but despite the fact that they are not revolutionaries. They do so of necessity and against their will, angrily glaring at the successes of the revolution, they blame the autocracy for the revolution because it does not want to strike a bargain, but wants a life-and-death struggle. Born hucksters, they hate struggle and revolution, but circumstances force them to tread the ground of revolution, for there is no other ground under their feet.

We are witnessing a highly instructive and highly comical spectacle. The bourgeois liberal prostitutes are trying to drape themselves in the toga of revolution. The Osvobozhdentsirisum teneatis, amici![2]—the Osvobozhdentsi are beginning to speak in the name of the revolution! The Osvobozhdentsi are beginning to assure us that they “do not fear revolution” (Mr. Struve in the Osvobozhdeniye, No. 72)!!! The Osvobozhdentsi are voicing their claims “to be at the head of the revolution”!!!

This is an exceptionally significant phenomenon that characterises not only the progress of bourgeois liberalism, but even more so the progress of the real successes of the revolutionary movement, which has compelled recognition. Even the bourgeoisie is beginning to feel that it is more to its advantage to take its stand on the side of the revolution—so shaky is the autocracy. On the other hand, this phenomenon, which testifies to the fact that the entire movement has risen to a new and higher plane, also sets us new and higher tasks. The recognition of the revolution by the bourgeoisie cannot be sincere, irrespective of the personal integrity of this or that bourgeois ideologist. The bourgeoisie cannot help introducing selfishness and inconsistency, the bargaining spirit and petty reactionary tricks even into this higher stage of the movement. We must now formulate the immediate concrete tasks of the revolution differently, in the name of our program and in amplification of our program. What was adequate yesterday is inadequate today. Yesterday, perhaps, the demand for the recognition of the revolution was adequate as an advanced democratic slogan. Today this is not enough. The revolution has forced even Mr. Struve to recognise it. The advanced class must now define exactly the very content of the urgent and pressing tasks of this revolution. While recognising the revolution, Messrs. the Struves again and again expose their asses’ ears and strike up the old song about the possibility of a peaceful outcome, about Nicholas calling on the Osvobozhdentsi to take power, etc., etc. The Osvobozhdentsi recognise the revolution in order the more safely for themselves to conjure it away, to betray it. It is our duty at the present time to show the proletariat and the whole people the inadequacy of the slogan: “Revolution”; we must show how necessary it is to have a dear and unambiguous, consistent and determined definition of the very content of the revolution. And this definition is provided by the one slogan that is capable of correctly expressing a “decisive victory” of the revolution, the slogan: for the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.[5]

The misuse of terms is a most common practice in politics. The term “Socialist,” for example, has often been appropriated by the supporters of English bourgeois liberalism (“We are all Socialists now,”[3] said Harcourt), by the supporters of Bismarck, and by the friends of Pope Leo XIII. The term “revolution” also fully lends itself to misuse and at a certain stage in the development of the movement such misuse is inevitable. When Mr. Struve began to speak in the name of revolution I involuntarily remembered Thiers. A few days before the February revolution, this monstrous gnome, this most consummate expression of the political corruption of the bourgeoisie, scented the approach of a popular storm, and so he announced from the parliamentary tribune: that he was of the party of revolution! (See Marx’s The Class Struggles in France,[6] 1848-50.) The political significance of Osvobozhdeniye’s turn to the party of revolution is quite identical with that of Thiers. The fact that the Russian Thiers are talking about their belonging to the party of revolution shows that the slogan revolution has become inadequate, meaningless and defines no tasks: for the revolution has become a fact, and the most diverse elements are flocking to its side.

Indeed, what is revolution from the Marxist point of view? The violent break-up of the obsolete political superstructure, the contradiction between which and the new relations of production caused its collapse at a certain moment. The contradiction between the autocracy and the entire structure of capitalist Russia, all the requirements of her bourgeois-democratic development, has now caused its collapse, all the more severe owing to the lengthy period in which this contradiction was artificially sustained. The superstructure is cracking at every joint, it is yielding to pressure, it is growing weaker. The people, through the representatives of the most diverse classes and groups, must now, by its own efforts, build a new superstructure for itself. At a certain stage of development the uselessness of the old superstructure becomes obvious to all. The revolution is recognised by all. The task now is to define which classes must build the new superstructure, and how they are to build it. If this is not defined, the slogan revolution is empty and meaningless at the present time; for the feebleness of the autocracy makes “revolutionaries” even of the Grand Dukes and of the Moskovskiye Vyedomosti![7] If this is not defined there can be no talk about the advanced democratic tasks of the advanced class. This definition is given in the slogan: the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. This slogan defines the classes upon which the new “builders” of the new superstructure can and must rely, the character of the new superstructure (a “democratic” as distinct from a socialist dictatorship), and how it is to be built (dictatorship, i.e., the violent suppression of violent resistance, arming the revolutionary classes of the people). Whoever now refuses to recognise this slogan of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, the slogan of a revolutionary army, of a revolutionary government, of revolutionary peasant committees, either hopelessly fails to understand the tasks of the revolution, is unable to define the new and higher tasks that are called forth by the present situation, or is deceiving the people, betraying the revolution, misusing the slogan “revolution.”

The former case applies to Comrade Martynov and his friends. The latter applies to Mr. Struve and the whole of the “constitutional-democratic” Zemstvo party.

Comrade Martynov was so shrewd and smart that he hurled the charge of “substituting” the term dictatorship for that of revolution just at the time when the development of the revolution called for a definition of its tasks by the slogan dictatorship! Actually, Comrade Martynov again had the misfortune to remain at the tail end, to get stranded at the penultimate stage, to find himself on the level, of Osvobozhdeniye-ism, for it is precisely to the political stand of Osvobozhdeniye, i.e., to the interests of the liberal monarchist bourgeoisie, that recognition of “revolution” (in words) and refusal to recognise the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry (i.e., revolution in deeds) now corresponds. The liberal bourgeoisie, through the mouth of Mr. Struve, is now expressing itself in favour of revolution. The class-conscious proletariat, through the mouths of the revolutionary Social-Democrats, is demanding the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. And here the wiseacre of the new Iskra intervenes in the controversy and yells: don’t dare “substitute” the term dictatorship for that of revolution! Well, is it not true that the false stand taken by the new-Iskraists dooms them to be constantly dragging along at the tail of Osvobozhdeniye-ism?

We have shown that the Osvobozhdentsi are ascending (not without encouraging prods by the Social-Democrats) step by step in the matter of recognising democracy. At first the issue in the dispute between us was: the Shipov system (rights and an authoritative Zemstvo) or constitutionalism? Then it was: limited suffrage or universal suffrage? Later: recognition of the revolution or a stock-jobber’s bargain with the autocracy? Finally, now it is: recognition of the revolution without the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry or recognition of the demand for a dictatorship of these classes in the democratic revolution? It is possible and probable that Messrs. the Osvobozhdentsi (whether the present ones or their successors in the Left wing of the bourgeois democrats makes no difference) will ascend another step, i.e., recognise in time (perhaps by the time Comrade Martynov goes up one more step) the slogan of dictatorship also. This will inevitably be so if the Russian revolution continues to forge ahead successfully and achieves a decisive victory. What will be the position of Social-Democracy then? The complete victory of the present revolution will mark the end of the democratic revolution and the beginning of a determined struggle for a socialist revolution. The satisfaction of the demands of the present-day peasantry, the utter rout of reaction, and the winning of a democratic republic will mark the complete end of the revolutionism of the bourgeoisie and even of the petty bourgeoisie—will mark the beginning of the real struggle of the proletariat for Socialism. The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the more widespread, the purer and the more determined will be the development of this new struggle. The slogan of a “democratic” dictatorship expresses the historically limited nature of the present revolution and the necessity of a new struggle on the basis of the new order for the complete emancipation of the working class from all oppression and all exploitation. In other words: when the democratic bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie ascends another step, when not only the revolution but the complete victory of the revolution becomes an accomplished fact, we shall “substitute” (perhaps amid the horrified cries of new, future, Martynovs) for the slogan of the democratic dictatorship, the slogan of a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., of a complete socialist revolution.


[1] First published in 1901. See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 31-80.–Ed. —Lenin

[2] Restrain your laughter, friends! —Lenin

[3] These words are in English in the original.–Ed.—Lenin

[4] Engels’s article, “The Bakunists at Work. Review of the Uprising in Spain in the Summer of 1873” was translated into Russian under Lenin’s editorship and in 1905 was published in Geneva by the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. in the form of a pamphlet. A second edition came out in 1906 in St. Petersburg.

Written by Marx and Engels in March 1850, the Address to the Central Committee to the Communist League was published in Russian in 1906 as a supplement to the pamphlet The Cologne Communist Trial, brought out by the Molot Publishers in St. Petersburg.




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