V. I.   Lenin

The Proletariat and its Ally in the Russian Revolution

Written: Written December 10 (23), 1906
Published: Published December 20, 1906 in Proletary, No. 10. Published according to the newspaper text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 365-375.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Such is the heading Karl Kautsky gave to the last chapter of his article “The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution”, published in the latest numbers of Neue Zeit.[1] As in the case of other works of Kautsky’s, a Russian translation of this article will undoubtedly soon be published. This is an article that all Social-Democrats should certainly read, not because a German theoretician of Marxism can be expected to supply answers to the current problems of our tactics (the Russian Social-Democrats would not be worth much if they waited for such answers from afar), but because Kautsky gives us a remarkably logical analysis of the underlying principles of the whole tactics of the Social-Democrats in the Russian bourgeois revolution. To all members of our Party, to all class-conscious workers, overburdened with the humdrum tasks of everyday work, stunned with the hackneyed banalities of unscrupulous bourgeois-liberal scribblers, such works by thoughtful, well-informed and experienced Social-Democrats are especially valuable, for they help us to rise above everyday matters, to get an insight into the fundamental questions of the tactics of the proletariat, and to obtain a clearer idea of the theoretical tendencies and the actual mode of thought of the various trends in the Social-Democratic movement.

Kautsky’s latest article is particularly important in this respect, for it enables us to coin pare the character of the questions put by Plekhanov to Kautsky (among other foreign socialists) with Kautsky’s method of answering some of these questions.

Plekhanov, whom the Cadet Melgunov, in today’s Tovarishch (December 10), aptly called the “former leader and theoretician of Russian Social-Democracy”, asked Kautsky: (1) What is the “general character” of the Russian revolution: bourgeois or socialist. (2) What should be the attitude of the Social-Democrats towards the bourgeois democrats? and (3) What tactics should the Social-Democrats adopt in the Duma elections.

The leader of the Russian opportunists was angling for Kautsky’s approval of blocs with the Cadets. The leader of the German revolutionary Social-Democrats guessed that the questioner was trying to suggest his reply on a point not directly mentioned in the questions, and preferred to answer Plekhanov with a dispassionate, circumstantial, propagandist explanation of how a Marxist should formulate questions concerning bourgeois revolution and bourgeois democracy in general. Let us examine Kautsky’s explanation close]y.

It would be superficial to regard the Russian revolution merely as a movement for the overthrow of absolutism. It must be regarded as the awakening of the mass of the people to independent political activity. Such is Kautsky’s main premise.

This means the following. It would be a superficial analysis of the tasks of the Social-Democratic movement that merely pointed to the attainment of political liberty (the overthrow of absolutism) and to the “common” character of this task for various classes. It is necessary to examine the position of the masses, their objective conditions of life, the different classes among them, the real nature of the liberty for which they are in fact striving. We must not deduce from a common phraseology that there are common interests, nor must we conclude from “political liberty” in general that there must be a joint struggle of different classes. On the contrary, by a precise analysis of the position and interests of the various classes, we must ascertain how far, and in what respects, their fight for freedom, their aspirations for freedom, are identical, or coincide (or whether they coincide at all). We must reason, not like the Cadets, not like the liberals, not like Prokopovich & Co., but like Marxists.

Next. If our point of departure is the interests of the masses, then the crux of the Russian revolution is the agrarian   question. We must judge of the defeat or victory of the revolution not from government violence and the manifestations of “reaction” (which engages all the attention of many of our Cadet-like Social-Democrats), but from the position of the masses in their struggle for land.

Agriculture is the basis of the national economy of Russia. Agriculture is declining, the peasants are ruined. Even liberals (Kautsky quotes the Cadets Petrunkevich and Manuilov) realise this. Kautsky, however, is not content with pointing to the unanimity of the liberals and the socialists on this point. He does not let this lead him to the Cadet conclusion: “Therefore, the Social-Democrats should sup port the Cadets.” He at once proceeds to analyse the class interests concerned, and shows that the liberals will inevitably be half-hearted in regard to the agrarian question. While admitting the decline of agriculture in general, they fail to understand the capitalist character of agriculture and the resulting problem of the special causes which retard this capitalist, and not some other, evolution.

And Kautsky minutely analyses one of these special causes, namely, the shortage of capital in Russia. Foreign capital plays a particularly important part in our country. This retards the capitalist development of agriculture. Kautsky’s conclusion is: “The decline of agriculture, alongside the growing strength of the industrial proletariat, is the main cause of the present Russian revolution.”

You see: Kautsky makes a careful and conscientious study of the specific character of the bourgeois revolution in Russia and does not evade it as the Cadets and the Cadet-like Social-Democrats do by doctrinaire references to the “general character” of every bourgeois revolution.

Next, Kautsky analyses the solution of the agrarian question. Here, too, he is not content with the stock liberal phrase: You see, even the Cadet Duma is in favour of land for the peasants (see the writings of Plekhanov). No. He shows that the mere increase in size of holdings is no good to the peasants unless they obtain enormous financial assistance. The autocracy is incapable of really helping the peasantry. And the liberals? They demand redemption payments. But such compensation can only ruin the peasants. “Confiscation of the large estates” (Kautsky’s italics) is the only way by which   the peasant’s landholding can be substantially increased without imposing new burdens upon him. But the liberals are most emphatically opposed to confiscation.

This argument of Kautsky’s is worth considering in detail. Anyone at all familiar with the party shadings in the revolutionary circles of Russia knows that on this question of redemption payments the opportunists of both revolutionary parties have not only been contaminated with the liberal view, but have also distorted what Kautsky says in this connection. Our Mensheviks, at the Unity Congress and at a number of meetings in St. Petersburg (e.g., Dan in his reports on the Congress to the St. Petersburg workers in the summer), criticised as wrong that clause of the agrarian programme which was adopted with the support of the Bolsheviks, who categorically insisted on the substitution of “confiscation” for “alienation” (see Maslov’s original draft). Our Mensheviks said this was wrong, that only vulgar revolutionaries could insist on confiscation, that for the social revolution it was unimportant whether there was compensation or not, and in this connection they referred to Kautsky’s pamphlet The Social Revolution, in which, with reference to the socialist revolution in general, Kautsky explains that compensation is permissible. And the Socialist-Revolutionary Mensheviks, and the semi-Cadet Popular Socialists, have used exactly the same arguments to defend their turn towards liberalism on the question of compensation (in one of the issues of Narodno-Sotsialisticheskoye Obozreniye[2]), and they, too, cited Kautsky.

Kautsky is probably unaware of the behaviour of the Mensheviks on this question, or of the significance of the policy pursued by the Popular Socialists and their group. But in his formulation of the question of compensation in the Russian revolution he has again given all our opportunists an excellent lesson on how one should not argue. It is wrong to draw a conclusion about compensation in Russia in 1905-06 from general premises about the relation between compensation and confiscation in various revolutions, or in the socialist revolution in general. One must proceed the other way round. One must ascertain which classes in Russia gave rise to the special features of our formulation of the question of compensation and deduce the political significance   of this question in this revolution from the interests of these classes, and only then decide whether the views held by the different parties are right or wrong.

It is quite obvious that, as a result of taking this course, Kautsky did not blur the difference between the liberals and the revolutionaries on the question of compensation (as the Plekhanovites and Popular Socialists always do), but revealed the depth of this difference. Plekhanov, in putting his questions to Kautsky, concealed the difference between the “opposition” and “revolutionary” movements by avoiding concrete questions. Kautsky swept Plekhanov’s concealment aside, brought the important question of compensation into the light of day, and showed Plekhanov that not only the Black Hundreds, but the liberals as well, are “in their own way” fighting against the revolutionary movement of the peasants.

Kautsky writes: “Without the abolition of the standing army, and of naval armament construction, without the confiscation of the entire property of the royal family and of the monasteries, without state bankruptcy, without the confiscation of the big monopolies, insofar as they are still in private hands, the railways, oilfields, mines, iron and steel works, etc., it will be impossible to obtain the enormous sums necessary to extricate Russian agriculture from its terrible plight.”

Recall the customary Menshevik talk about the utopian and visionary ideas of the Bolsheviks; for instance, Plekhanov’s speeches at the Congress on the subject of the demand that cardinal agrarian demands should be linked with cardinal political issues (abolition of the standing army, election of officials by the people, etc.). Plekhanov scoffed at the idea of abolishing the standing army and of the people electing government officials! Plekhanov’s “Sovremennaya Zhizn[3] approves the line of Nashe Dyelo, calling political opportunism “political materialism” (??), counterposing it to “revolutionary romanticism”.

It turns out that the circumspect Kautsky goes much further than the most extreme Bolshevik and makes far more “utopian” and “romantic” (from the opportunist standpoint) demands in connection with the agrarian question!

Kautsky demands not only the confiscation of the landlords’ estates, not only the abolition of the standing army, but also the confiscation of big capitalist monopolies!

And Kautsky quite logically observes immediately after the above-quoted passage: it is clear, however, that the liberals are frightened by such gigantic tasks, such radical changes in existing property relations. Basically, they want no more than to continue the present policy without encroaching on the basis for the exploitation of Russia by foreign capital. They are firmly in favour of a standing army, which alone, in their opinion, can maintain order and save their property..."

Plekhanov protests that he has not been treated fairly. He only asked Kautsky’s opinion on the question of supporting the opposition parties in the Duma elections, and he was given a reply on a different subject! Duma elections and—the abolition of the standing army! What a freak of anarchist fancy, what revolutionary romanticism instead of the “political materialism” demanded by the opportunist!

But Kautsky continues his “tactless” criticism of the liberals in answer to the question about the Duma elections. He accuses them of wanting to go on extorting billions of rubles from the Russian people for armaments and interest on loans. “They [the liberals] imagine that the establishment of a Duma will suffice to conjure billions of rubles out of the around.” “Liberalism is just as incapable [of satisfying the Russian peasants] as tsarism.” Kautsky devotes a special chapter to explaining the attitude of liberalism to Social-Democracy. He points out that in Russia there are no bourgeois democrats of the old type, among whom the urban petty bourgeoisie occupied a primary place. In Russia, unlike the West, the urban petty bourgeoisie “will never be a reliable support of the revolutionary parties”.

“In Russia the firm backbone of a bourgeois democracy is absent”. Kautsky draws this conclusion both from an analysis of the special position of the urban petty bourgeoisie and from the consideration that the class antagonism between the capitalists and the proletariat is now far more developed in Russia than it was in the period of bourgeois revolutions of the “old type”. This conclusion is of enormous importance. It forms the very kernel of Kautsky’s “amendment”   to Plekhanov’s formulation of the question, an amendment which is virtually a radically different formulation.

In his questions Plekhanov employs the old types of bourgeois democracy, and nothing more. He uses a hackneyed term, quite forgetting to determine on the basis of Russian data the degree of democracy, and its stability, etc. possessed by the different strata that are now coming forward in Russia as bourgeois democrats. It is Kautsky’s merit that he point ed to this basic omission of Plekhanov’s and proceeded to explain to him in a practical manner the method which must be applied in order to reach a real understanding of bourgeois democracy in Russia. And through Kautsky’s skilful analysis the outlines of the vital social forces of Russia begin to emerge from the old, hackneyed formula. the urban petty bourgeoisie; the landlord class, with its penny-worth of liberalism and pounds-worth of support of the counter-revolutionary Black Hundreds, the capitalists, with their mortal dread of the proletariat; and, finally, the peasantry.

The nebulous question of the attitude to be adopted to wards “bourgeois democracy” (of the type found in France in the forties of the last century?) has disappeared. The fog has been dispelled. It was this fog that our Prokopoviches, Kuskovas, Izgoyevs, Struves and other liberals used to cloud the vision of the people, and Plekhanov is now playing into their hands. In place of the fog of old stereotyped formulas, a genuine Marxist analysis has shown us the quite special relationships of the democracy of the various strata and elements of the Russian bourgeoisie.

By means of this analysis Kautsky determines that peculiar relation between Russian liberalism and the revolutionary character of the peasants, which the Cadets deliberately conceal, and to which many Social-Democrats are blind! ’The more the peasants become revolutionary, the more do the big landowners become reactionary, the more does liberalism cease to find in them the support it previously had, the more unstable become the liberal parties, and the more the liberal professors and lawyers in the towns shift-to the right, so as not to lose all connection with their previous mainstay." This process “is only accelerating the bankruptcy of liberalism”.

Only after laying bare the roots of this bankruptcy of liberalism in the present Russian revolution does Kautsky proceed to give a direct answer to Plekhanov’s questions. Before answering the question whether we should support the “opposition”, we must understand (Kautsky explains) the class foundations and the class nature of this “opposition” (or Russian liberalism), and in what relation the development of the revolution and of the revolutionary classes stands to the position and interests of liberalism. In elucidating this at the outset, Kautsky proceeds, firstly, to reveal the bankruptcy of liberalism, and only then to explain to the reader the question that interests Plekhanov: Should we support the opposition in the Duma elections? It is not surprising that Kautsky had no need to answer two-thirds of Plekhanov’s questions....

Although Kautsky’s answers do not satisfy Plekhanov, they will help the rank-and-file Russian Social-Democrats to think properly.

(1) Is the revolution in Russia a bourgeois or a socialist revolution?

That is not the way to put the question, says Kautsky. That is the old stereotyped way of putting it. Of course, the Russian revolution is not a socialist revolution. The socialist dictatorship of the proletariat (its “undivided sway”) is out of the question. But neither is it a bourgeois revolution, for “the bourgeoisie is not one of the driving forces of the present revolutionary movement in Russia”. “Wherever the proletariat comes out independently, the bourgeoisie ceases to be a revolutionary class.”

And Kautsky declares with a vehemence even greater than the “tactlessness” the Bolsheviks usually display towards the liberals, that our bourgeoisie fears revolution more than reaction; that it hates absolutism because it engenders revolution; that it wants political freedom in order to stop the revolution! (And Plekhanov, in his questions, naively identified the struggle of the opposition against the old order with the struggle against the government’s attempts to crush the revolutionary movement!)

This first answer of Kautsky’s is a brilliant vindication of the fundamental principles of Bolshevik tactics. Beginning with the Geneva newspapers Vperyod and Proletary, and continuing   with the pamphlet Two Tactics, the Russian Bolsheviks have always regarded as the main issue in their struggle against the Mensheviks the Right-wing Social-Democrats’ distortion of the concept: “bourgeois revolution”. We have said hundreds of times, and have backed our statements with innumerable declarations by the Mensheviks, that to interpret the category “bourgeois revolution” in the sense of recognising the leadership and guiding role of the bourgeoisie in the Russian revolution is to vulgarise Marxism. A bourgeois revolution in spite of the instability of the bourgeoisie, by paralysing the instability of the bourgeoisie—that is how the Bolsheviks formulated the fundamental task of the Social-Democrats in the revolution.

Kautsky’s analysis satisfies us completely. He has fully confirmed our contention that we are defending the position of revolutionary Social-Democracy against opportunism, and not creating any “peculiar” Bolshevik trend, and this confirmation is the more valuable for having been given by expounding the essence of the matter, and not by a mere staff officer’s “endorsement” of this or that group.

(2) Kautsky not only considers it “quite possible” that “in the course of the revolution victory will fall to the lot of the Social-Democratic Party”, but declares also that it is the duty of the Social-Democrats “to inspire their supporters with this confidence in victory, for it is impossible to fight successfully if one renounces victory before hand”.

This conclusion of Kautsky’s is a second brilliant vindication of Bolshevik tactics. Anyone who is at all familiar with the publications of the two trends in the Social-Democratic movement must know that the Mensheviks have most strenuously disputed the possibility and expediency of a Social-Democratic victory in the present Russian revolution. As far back as the spring of 1905, the Mensheviks at their conference (which Plekhanov, Axelrod and others attended) adopted a resolution saying that the Social-Democratic Party must not strive to win power. And since then this idea that the Social-Democrats cannot strive for the victory of Social-Democracy in the bourgeois revolution has run like a red (or black?) thread through the whole literature and the whole policy of Menshevism.

This policy is opportunism. The victory of Social-Democracy in the present Russian revolution is quite possible. It is our duty to inspire all adherents of the workers’ party with confidence in this victory; it is impossible to fight success fully if one renounces victory beforehand.

These simple and obvious truths, which have been obscured by Plekhanov’s sophistry and scholasticism, must be pondered over and mastered by the whole of our Party.

(3) To imagine that “all the classes and parties which are striving for political freedom have simply to work together in order to achieve it”, means “seeing only the political surface of events”.

This is the third vindication of Bolshevism. A mere reference to the fact that the Cadets “are fighting for freedom in their own way” is not enough to justify joint action with them. This is the ABC of Marxism, which Plekhanov, Axelrod and their admirers have temporarily obscured.

(4) Which class can help the Social-Democratic proletariat to achieve victory in the present revolution, can support the proletariat and determine the limits of the immediately realisable changes? In Kautsky’s opinion, this class is the peasantry. Only this class has “stable, common economic interests with the proletariat throughout the whole period of the revolution”. “The common interests of the industrial proletariat and the peasants are the basis of the revolutionary strength of Russian Social-Democracy and of the possibility of its victory; but at the same time these common interests determine the limits within which this victory can be utilised”.

This means: not the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, but the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. In other words, Kautsky has formulated the old premise underlying the whole tactics of the revolutionary Social-Democrats, as distinguished from both the opportunists and the “enthusiasts”. Marx said that every genuine and complete victory of a revolution can only be a dictatorship,[4] having in mind, of course, the dictatorship (i.e., unrestricted power) of the masses over the few, and not vice versa. But the important thing for us, of course, is not any particular formulation of their tactics by the Bolsheviks,   but the essence of these tactics, which Kautsky has entirely endorsed.

Anyone who wants to think like a Marxist and not like a Cadet about the role of the proletariat in our revolution, and about its possible and necessary “ally”, must come round to the views of revolutionary and not opportunist Social Democracy on the principles of proletarian tactics.


[1] Die Neue Zeit (New Times)—a magazine of German Social-Democrats, published in Stuttgart from 1883 to 1923. From the second half of the nineties onwards, after the death of F. Engels, the magazine regularly printed articles by revisionists. During the imperialist world war of 1914-18, it occupied a centrist, Kautskian position and supported the social-chauvinists.

[2] Narodno-Sotsialisticheskoye Obozreniye (Popular-Socialist Review)— organ of the semi-Cadet “Popular Socialist” Party, published in St. Petersburg in 1906-07.

[3] Sovremennaya Zhizn (Contemporary Life)—a Menshevik magazine published in Moscow from April 1906 to March 1907.

[4] Lenin is referring to Marx’s article “Krisis und Konterrevolution” printed in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on September 14, 1848.

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