Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution


The Vulgar Bourgeois Representation of Dictatorship and Marx’s View of It

Mehring[4] tells us in his notes to Marx’s articles from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of 1848 that he published, that one of the reproaches levelled at this newspaper by bourgeois publications was that it had allegedly demanded “the immediate introduction of a dictatorship as the sole means of achieving democracy” (Marx, Nachlass, Volume III, p. 53). From the vulgar bourgeois standpoint the terms dictatorship and democracy are mutually exclusive. Failing to understand the theory of class struggle, and accustomed to seeing in the political arena the petty squabbling of the various bourgeois circles and coteries, the bourgeois conceives dictatorship to mean the annulment of all the liberties and guarantees of democracy, tyranny of every kind, and every sort of abuse of power in the personal interests of a dictator. In essence, it is precisely this vulgar bourgeois view that is manifested in the writings of our Martynov, who winds up his “new campaign” in the new Iskra by attributing the partiality of the Vperyod and the Proletary for the slogan of dictatorship to Lenin’s “passionate desire to try his luck” (Iskra, No. 103, p. 3, col. 2). In order to explain to Martynov the meaning of the term class dictatorship as distinct from personal dictatorship, and the tasks of a democratic dictatorship as distinct from those of a socialist dictatorship, it would not be amiss to dwell on the views of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.

“Every provisional organisation of the state after a revolution,” wrote the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on September 14, 1848, “requires a dictatorship, and an energetic dictatorship at that. From the very beginning we have reproached Camphausen” (the head of the Ministry after March 8, 1848) “for not acting dictatorially, for not having immediately smashed up and eliminated the remnants of the old institutions. And while Herr Camphausen was lulling himself with constitutional illusions, the defeated party (i.e., the party of reaction) strengthened its positions in the bureaucracy, and in the army, and here and there even began to venture upon open struggle.”[5]

These words, Mehring justly remarks, sum up in a few propositions all that was propounded in detail in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in long articles on the Camphausen Ministry. What do these words of Marx tell us? That a provisional revolutionary government must act dictatorially (a proposition which the Iskra was totally unable to grasp since it was fighting shy of the slogan: dictatorship) and that the task of such a dictatorship is to destroy the remnants of the old institutions (which is precisely what was clearly stated in the resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party about the struggle against counterrevolution, and what was omitted in the resolution of the Conference, as we showed above). Thirdly, and lastly, it follows from these words that Marx castigated the bourgeois democrats for entertaining “constitutional illusions” in a period of revolution and open civil war. The meaning of these words becomes particularly obvious from the article in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of June 6, l848. “A Constituent National Assembly,” wrote Marx, “must first of all be an active, revolutionary-active assembly. The Frankfurt Assembly, however, is busying itself with school exercises in parliamentarism while allowing the government to act. Let us assume that this learned assembly succeeds after mature consideration in working out the best possible agenda and the best possible constitution. But what is the use of the best possible agenda and of the best possible constitution, if the German governments have in the meantime placed the bayonet on the agenda?”[6]

That is the meaning of the slogan: dictatorship. We can judge from this what Marx’s attitude would have been towards resolutions which call a “decision to organise a constituent assembly” a decisive victory, or which invite us to “remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition”!

Major questions in the life of nations are settled only by force. The reactionary classes themselves are usually the first to resort to violence, to civil war; they are the first to “place the bayonet on the agenda,” as the Russian autocracy has been doing systematically and undeviatingly everywhere ever since January 9. And since such a situation has arisen, since the bayonet has really become the main point on the political agenda, since insurrection has proved to be imperative and urgent—constitutional illusions and school exercises in parliamentarism become only a screen for the bourgeois betrayal of the revolution, a screen to conceal the fact that the bourgeoisie is “recoiling” from the revolution. It is therefore the slogan of dictatorship that the genuinely revolutionary class must advance.

On the question of the tasks of this dictatorship Marx wrote, already in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung [of June 6, l848]: “The National Assembly should have acted dictatorially against the reactionary attempts of the obsolete governments; the force of public opinion in its favour would then have been so strong as to shatter all bayonets.... But this Assembly bores the German people instead of carrying the people with it or being carried away by it [them].”[7] In Marx’s opinion, the National Assembly should have “eliminated from the regime actually existing in Germany everything that contradicted the principle of the sovereignty of the people,” then it should have “consolidated the revolutionary ground on which it stands in order to make the sovereignty of the people, won by the revolution, secure against all attacks.”[8]

Thus, the tasks which Marx set before a revolutionary government or dictatorship in 1848 amounted in substance primarily to a democratic revolution: defence against counterrevolution and the actual elimination of everything that contradicted the sovereignty of the people. This is nothing else than a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship.

To proceed: which classes, in Marx’s opinion, could and should have achieved this task (actually to exercise to the full the principle of the sovereignty of the people and to beat off the attacks of the counterrevolution)? Marx speaks of the “people.” But we know that he always ruthlessly combated the petty-bourgeois illusions about the unity of the “people” and about the absence of a class struggle within the people. In using the word “people,” Marx did not thereby gloss over class distinctions, but combined definite elements that were capable of carrying the revolution to completion.

After the victory of the Berlin proletariat on March 18, wrote the Neue Rheinische Zeitung[of June 14, 1848], the results of the revolution proved to be twofold: “On the one hand the arming of the people, the right of association, the sovereignty of the people actually attained; on the other hand, the preservation of the monarchy and the Camphausen-Hansemann Ministry, i.e., the government of representatives of the big bourgeoisie. Thus, the revolution had two series of results, which had inevitably to diverge. The people had achieved victory, it had won liberties of a decisive democratic nature, but the direct power passed not into its hands, but into those of the big bourgeoisie. In a word, the revolution was not completed. The people allowed the big bourgeois to form a ministry, and the big bourgeois immediately displayed their strivings by offering an alliance to the old Prussian nobility and bureaucracy. Arnim, Canitz and Schwerin joined the Ministry.

The upper bourgeoisie, ever anti-revolutionary, concluded a defensive end offensive alliance with the reaction out of fear of the people, that is to say, the workers and the democratic bourgeoisie.” (Our italics.)[9]

Thus, not only a “decision to organise a constituent assembly,” but even its actual convocation is insufficient for a decisive victory of the revolution! Even after a partial victory in an armed struggle (the victory of the Berlin workers over the troops on March 18, 1848) an “incomplete” revolution, a revolution “that has not been carried to completion,” is possible. On what, then, does its completion depend? It depends on whose hands the immediate rule passes into, whether into the hands of the Petrunkeviches and Rodichevs, that is to say, the Camphausens and the Hansemanns, or into the hands of the people, i.e., the workers and the democratic bourgeoisie. In the first case the bourgeoisie will possess power, and the proletariat “freedom of criticism.” freedom to “remain the party of extreme revolutionary opposition.” Immediately after the victory, the bourgeoisie will conclude an alliance with the reaction (this would inevitably happen in Russia too, if, for example, the St. Petersburg workers gained only a partial victory in street fighting with the troops and left it to Messrs. Petrunkeviches and Co. to form a government). In the second case, a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship, i.e., the complete victory of the revolution, would be possible.

It now remains to define more precisely what Marx really meant by “democratic bourgeoisie” (demokratische Bürgerschaft), which together with the workers he called the people, in contradistinction to the big bourgeoisie.

A clear answer to this question is supplied by the following passage from an article in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung of July 30, 1848: “...The German revolution of 1848 is only a parody of the French revolution of 1789.

“On August 4, 1789, three weeks after the storming of the Bastille, the French people in a single day prevailed over all the feudal burdens.

“On July 11, 1848, four months after the March barricades, the feudal burdens prevailed over the German people. Teste Gierke cum Hansemanno.[1]

“The French bourgeoisie of 1789 did not for a moment leave its allies, the peasants, in the lurch. It knew that the foundation of its rule was the destruction of feudalism in the countryside, the creation of a free landowning (grundbesitzenden) peasant class.

“The German bourgeoisie of 1848 is without the least compunction betraying the peasants, who are its most natural allies, the flesh of its flesh, and without whom it is powerless against the nobility.

“The continuance of feudal rights, their sanction under the guise of (illusory) redemption—such is the result of the German revolution of 1848. The mountain brought forth a mouse.”[10]

This is a very instructive passage: it gives us four important propositions: 1) The incompleted German revolution differs from the completed French revolution in that the German bourgeoisie betrayed not only democracy in general, but also the peasantry in particular. 2) The foundation for the full consummation of a democratic revolution is the creation of a free class of peasants. 3) The creation of such a class means the abolition of feudal burdens, the destruction of feudalism, but does not yet mean a socialist revolution. 4) The peasants are the “most natural” allies of the bourgeoisie, that is to say, of the democratic bourgeoisie, which without them is “powerless” against the reaction.

Making proper allowances for concrete national peculiarities and substituting serfdom for feudalism, all these propositions can be fully applied to Russia in 1905. There is no doubt that by learning from the experience of Germany, as elucidated by Marx, we cannot arrive at any other slogan for a decisive victory of the revolution than: a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. There is no doubt that the chief components of the “people,” whom Marx in 1848 contrasted with the resisting reactionaries and the treacherous bourgeoisie, are the proletariat and the peasantry. There is no doubt that in Russia too the liberal bourgeoisie and the gentlemen of the Osvobozhdeniye League are betraying and will continue to betray the peasantry, i.e., will confine themselves to a pseudo reform and taking the side of the landlords in the decisive battle between them and the peasantry. Only the proletariat is capable of supporting the peasantry to the end in this struggle. There is no doubt, finally, that in Russia also the success of the peasant struggle, i.e., the transfer of the whole of the land to the peasantry, will signify a complete democratic revolution and constitute the social support of the revolution carried to its completion, but it will by no means be a socialist revolution, or “socialisation” that the ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie, the Socialist-Revolutionaries talk about. The success of the peasant insurrection, the victory of the democratic revolution will merely clear the way for a genuine and decisive struggle for Socialism on the basis of a democratic republic. In this struggle the peasantry as a landowning class will play the same treacherous, vacillating part as is now being played by the bourgeoisie in the struggle for democracy. To forget this is to forget Socialism, to deceive oneself and others as to the real interests and tasks of the proletariat.

In order to leave no gaps in the presentation of the views held by Marx in 1848, it is necessary to note one essential difference between German Social-Democracy of that time (or the Communist Party of the Proletariat, to use the language of that period) and present-day Russian Social Democracy. Here is what Mehring says:

“The Neue Rheinische Zeitung appeared in the political arena as the ’organ of democracy.’ There is no mistaking the thread that ran through all its articles. But in the direct sense, it championed the interests of the bourgeois revolution against absolutism and feudalism more than the interests of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Very little is to be found in its columns about the separate working-class movement during the years of the revolution, although one should not forget that along with it there appeared twice a week, under the editorship of Moll and Schapper, a special organ of the Cologne Workers’ League.[11] [Zeitung des Arbeiter-Vereins zu Köln] At any rate, the present day reader will be struck by the little attention the Neue Rheinische Zeitung paid to the German working-class movement of its day, although its most capable mind, Stephan Born, was a pupil of Marx and Engels in Paris and Brussels and in 1848 was the Berlin correspondent for their newspaper. Born relates in his Memoirs that Marx and Engels never expressed a single word in disapproval of his agitation among the workers; nevertheless, it appears probable from subsequent declarations of Engels’ that they were dissatisfied, at least with the methods of this agitation. Their dissatisfaction was justified inasmuch as Born was obliged to make many concessions to the as yet totally undeveloped class consciousness of the proletariat in the greater part of Germany, concessions which do not stand the test of criticism from the viewpoint of the Communist Manifesto. Their dissatisfaction was unjustified inasmuch as Born managed nonetheless to maintain the agitation conducted by him on a relatively high plane. . . . Without doubt, Marx and Engels were historically and politically right in thinking that the primary interest of the working class was to push the bourgeois revolution forward as far as possible. . . . Nevertheless, a remarkable proof of how the elementary instinct of the working-class movement is able to correct the conceptions of the greatest minds is provided by the fact that in April 1849 they declared in favour of a specific workers’ organisation and decided to participate in the workers’ congress, which was being prepared especially by the East Elbe (Eastern Prussia) proletariat.”

Thus, it was only in April 1849, after the revolutionary newspaper had been appearing for almost a year (the Neue Rheinische Zeitung began publication on June 1, 1848) that Marx and Engels declared in favour of a special workers’ organisation! Until then they were merely running an “organ of democracy” unconnected by any organisational ties with an independent workers’ party. This fact, monstrous and improbable as it may appear from our present-day standpoint, clearly shows us what an enormous difference there is between the German Social-Democratic Party of those days and the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party of today. This fact shows how much less the proletarian features of the movement, the proletarian current within it, were in evidence in the German democratic revolution (because of the backwardness of Germany in 1848 both economically and politically—its disunity as a state). This should not be forgotten in judging Marx’s repeated declarations during this period and somewhat later about the need for organising an independent proletarian party. Marx arrived at this practical conclusion only as a result of the experience of the democratic revolution, almost a year later—so philistine, so petty-bourgeois was the whole atmosphere in Germany at that time. To us this conclusion is an old and solid acquisition of half a century’s experience of international Social-Democracy—an acquisition with which we began to organise the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. In our case there can be no question, for instance, of revolutionary proletarian newspapers being outside the Social-Democratic Party of the proletariat, or of their appearing even for a moment simply as “organs of democracy.”

But the contrast which had hardly begun to reveal itself between Marx and Stephan Born exists in our case in a form which is more developed by reason of the more powerful manifestation of the proletarian current in the democratic stream of our revolution. Speaking of the probable dissatisfaction of Marx and Engels with the agitation conducted by Stephan Born, Mehring expresses himself too mildly and too evasively. Here is what Engels wrote of Born in 1885 (in his preface to the Enthüllungen über den Kommunistenprocess zu Köln. Zürich, 1885[2] ):

The members of the Communist League[12] everywhere stood at the head of the extreme democratic movement, proving thereby that the League was an excellent school of revolutionary action. “. . . the compositor Stephan Born, who had worked in Brussels and Paris as an active member of the League, founded a Workers’ Brotherhood” (“Arbeiterverbruderung”) “in Berlin which became fairly widespread and existed until 1850. Born, a very talented young man, who, however, was a bit too much in a hurry to become a big political figure, ‘fraternised’ with the most miscellaneous ragtag and bobtail” (Kreti und Plethi) “in order to get a crowd together, and was not at all the man who could bring unity into the conflicting tendencies, light into the chaos. Consequently, in the official publications of the association the views represented in the Communist Manifesto were mingled hodgepodge with guild recollections and guild aspirations, fragments of Louis Blanc and Proudhon, protectionism, etc.; in short, they wanted to please everybody [allen alles sein].” “In particular, strikes, trade unions and producers’ co-operatives were set going and it was forgotten that above all it was a question of first conquering, by means of political victories, the field in which alone such things could be realised on a lasting basis.” (Our italics.) “When, afterwards. the victories of the reaction made the leaders of the Brotherhood realise the necessity of taking a direct part in the revolutionary struggle, they were naturally left in the lurch by the confused mass which they had grouped around themselves. Born took part in the Dresden uprising in May, 1849 and had a lucky escape. But, in contrast to the great political movement of the proletariat, the Workers’ Brotherhood proved to be a pure Sonderbund [separate league], which to a large extent existed only on paper and played such a subordinate role that the reaction did not find it necessary to suppress it until 1850, and its surviving branches until several years later. Born, whose real name was Buttermilch[3] has not become a big political figure but a petty Swiss professor, who no longer translates Marx into guild language but the meek Renan into his own fulsome German.”[13]

That is how Engels judged the two tactics of Social Democracy in the democratic revolution!

Our new-Iskraists are also pushing towards “Economism,” and with such unreasonable zeal as to earn the praises of the monarchist bourgeoisie for their “seeing the light.” They too collect around themselves a motley crowd, flattering the “Economists,” demagogically attracting the undeveloped masses by the slogans of “initiative,” “democracy,” “autonomy,” etc., etc. Their labour unions, too, exist only on the pages of the Khlestakov-type[14] new Iskra. Their slogans and resolutions betray a similar failure to understand the tasks of the “great political movement of the proletariat.”


[1] “Witnesses: Herr Gierke and Herr Hansemann.” Hansemann was a minister who represented the party of the big bourgeoisie (Russian counterpart: Trubetskoy or Rodichev, and the like); Gierke was Minister of Agriculture in the Hansemann Cabinet, who drew up a plan, a “bold” plan for “abolishing feudal burdens,” professedly “without compensation,” but in fact for abolishing only the minor and unimportant burdens while preserving or granting compensation for the more essential ones. Herr Gierke was something like the Russian Messrs. Kablukov, Manuilov. Hertzenstein and similar bourgeois liberal friends of the muzhik who desire the “extension of peasant landownership” but do not wish to offend the landlords. —Lenin

[2] Revelations About the Cologne Communist Trial, Zürich, 1885.–Ed.Lenin

[3] In translating Engels I made a mistake in the first edition by taking the word Buttermilch to be not a proper noun but a common noun. This mistake naturally afforded great delight to the Mensheviks. Koltsov wrote that I had “rendered Engels more profound” (reprinted in Two Years, a collection of articles) and Plekhanov even now recalls this mistake in the Tovarishch[15]—in short, it afforded an excellent pretext to slur over the question of the two tendencies in the working-class movement of 1848 in Germany, the Born tendency (akin to our Economists) and the Marxist tendency. To take advantage of the mistake of an opponent, even if it was only on the question of Born’s name, is more than natural. But to use a correction to a translation to slur over the question of the two tactics is to dodge the real issue. [Author’s note to the 1907 edition.—Ed.)]Lenin













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