V. I.   Lenin

Philistinism in Revolutionary Circles

Published: Proletary, No. 6, October 29, 1906. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 246-256.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Periods of counter-revolution are marked, among other things, by the spread of counter-revolutionary ideas, not only in a crude and direct form, but also in a more subtle form, namely, the growth of philistine sentiments among the revolutionary parties. Comrade Martov, in his latest pamphlet, Political Parties in Russia, applies the term revolutionary parties both to the Social-Democratic and Socialist-Revolutionary parties. We hope to return some other time to this interesting pamphlet of Martov’s, in which he criticises the Cadets with a candour and precision unusual in Menshevik literature, but, at the same time, gives a completely false, non-Marxist classification of our political parties and repeats the fundamental error of Menshevism by classing parties of the Octobrist type with the “Centrist” parties.

But this is by the way. We are interested just now in certain other novel features of Social-Democratic and Socialist-Revolutionary publications and intend to note the most striking expressions, or rather reflections, of counter-revolutionary moods in these circles. After the defeat of the December uprising, the most conspicuous expression of counter revolutionary sentiment among the democrats was the about f ace of the Cadets, who threw overboard the constituent assembly slogan and, in the columns of Polyarnaya Zvezda and similar publications, abused and vilified the participants in and ideologists of the armed uprising. After the dissolution of the Duma and the failure of the popular movements in July, a novelty in counter-revolutionary sentiment among the democrats was the definite secession of the Right wing of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the formation of the semi-Cadet “Popular Socialist” Party. After the first and   major upsurge of October-December, the Cadets dropped out of the ranks of militant, fighting democrats. After the second, smaller upsurge of May-June, the Popular Socialists began to drop out.

In Proletary, No. 4, we outlined the main ideological and political features of these Popular Socialists.[1] Since then they have managed to come out quite officially; they have published the programme of their “Trudovik (Popular Socialist)” Party— changing the Socialist-Revolutionary programme from a revolutionary into an opportunist, petty-bourgeois and legal programme, and have published the names of the members of the organising committee of the new party. True, among the seventeen members of this organising committee (Messrs. Annensky, Yelpatyevsky, Myakotin, Peshekhonov and others) there is only one ex-member of the Duma from the “Trudovik Group”, Mr. Kryukov, a high-school teacher and publicist. The founders of the new Toilers’ Party do not include a single big name from the real “Trudoviks”! It is not surprising that some people call the Popular Socialists pretender Trudoviks. It is not surprising that news of other Trudovik parties has already appeared in the press. Tovarishch reported that Mr. Sedelnikov, who, of course, is a much more prominent “Trudovik” and much better known to the public for his activities in the Duma than the quite obscure Mr. Kryukov, is forming a Popular Trudovik Party. At a large meeting reported in Tovarishch, Mr. Sedelnikov frankly and openly defended his ideas, making no claim to be a socialist and raising the standard of a “democratic monarchy”. According to the same report, the directness and frankness of this Trudovik from the ranks of the people roused the great ire of the Trudovik journalist, Mr. Myakotin, who, in replying, championed the views of the Popular Socialists.

The details of this family quarrel do not interest us. The only important thing for us to note is the various expressions of opportunist trends among former Socialist-Revolutionaries and certain “Trudoviks”. In this respect, Mr. Peshekhonov is making more “progress” than anybody (among the S.-R.’s there are much bolder “progressive innovators” than   among us). In the September issue of Russkoye Bogatstvo he goes further and further on his way from the revolutionaries to the Cadets. He tries to erase the difference between the revolutionary “take” and the Cadet “receive”. After “proving” in August that it is impossible to take either full freedom or all the land, he now “proves” that it is impossible “to take freedom from below. Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte, or, as we say in Russia, the first glass must be forced down, the second trickles down, and all the others glide down in a merry stream. In the columns of a legally published periodical, this neo-Cadet [publicist] rails against the idea of an armed uprising, the idea of a provisional revolutionary government, without calling things by their name, of course, and without quoting in full the manifesto of the revolutionary parties which he is “refuting”. He distorts and vulgarises in the free press the ideas of those who in the illegal press upheld the idea of an uprising, the idea of a provisional revolutionary government. Indeed, the Popular Socialists have not legalised their party for nothing! It can be taken for granted that they have legalised it not to defend the idea of an uprising, but to condemn it!

An important novelty as regards the reflection of counter revolutionary moods in Social-Democratic literature has been the publication of the Moscow weekly Nashe Dyelo.[4] The Cadet press has already deafened everyone with its trumpeting about this new and important “progress” of the Mensheviks: they are “progressing”, as we know, from the revolutionaries to the Cadets. Rech published a special welcoming article; Tovarishch delightedly repeated the main ideas contained in Nashe Dyelo; Rech repeated the opinions of Tovarishch; Tovarishch confirmed its own views by quoting Rech; in short, the enlightened company of the educated betrayers of the Russian revolution are in an extraordinary state of rapturous excitement. Rech has even heard from some source that Nashe Dyelo is edited by the prominent Mensheviks, Messrs. Maslov, Cherevanin, Groman and Valentinov.

We do not know whether Rech’s information is correct, although it usually makes great claims to being well-in formed about all Menshevik affairs. But we do know Cherevanin’s leading article in Nashe Dyelo, No. 1. It is worth while quoting the passage which so delighted the Cadets.

“It would be an absurdity and folly for the proletariat to try, as some propose, to fight in league with the peasantry against the government and the bourgeoisie for a national constituent assembly with full power” (p. 4). “We must insist on the convocation of a new Duma.” The Cabinet must be formed from the Duma majority. “With the peasantry completely unorganised, and terribly ignorant as they are at present, it is difficult to expect more” (p. 6). As you see, this is frank ... angelically frank. Comrade Cherevanin has gone much further to the right, while remaining in the ranks of a revolutionary party, than Mr. Peshekhonov, who has formed a new “legal party”. Mr. Peshekhonov has not yet abandoned the constituent assembly slogan and is still criticising the demand for a Duma Cabinet as inadequate.

Not wishing to insult the intelligence of our readers, we will not, of course, attempt to prove the fallacy of Cherevanin’s position. His name has already become a by-word among all Social-Democrats, irrespective of faction. But we do invite our readers to reflect most earnestly on the reasons for this incredibly easy conversion of a prominent and responsible Menshevik into a liberal. It is not difficult to condemn and reject a glaringly obvious “extreme”, “excess”, of opportunism. It is much more important to lay bare the source of these mistakes which cause Social-Democrats to blush with shame. We invite our readers to reflect on whether there is really any greater difference between Cherevanin and our Central Committee than there is between Sedelnikov and Peshekhonov.

The underlying motives of the whole of this “quartet” are the same. People of a philistine, petty-bourgeois type are weary of the revolution. A little, drab, beggarly but peaceful legality is preferable to the stormy alternations of revolutionary outbursts and counter-revolutionary frenzy. Inside the revolutionary parties this tendency is expressed in a desire to reform these parties. Let the philistine become the main nucleus of the party: “the party must be a mars party”. Down with illegality, down with secrecy, which hinders constitutional “progress”! The old revolutionary parties must be legalised. And this necessitates a radical reform of their programmes in two main directions: political and economic. We must drop the demand for a republic and the confiscation   of the land, we must discard our clearly defined, uncompromisingly sharp and tangible exposition of the socialist goal and represent socialism as a “remote prospect”, as Mr. Peshekhonov has expressed it with such inimitable grace.

It is these strivings that the different representatives of our “quartet” express on different grounds and in different forms. Sedelnikov’s democratic monarchy; the “progress” from the Trudovik to the Cadet in the “Popular Socialist” Party; Cherevanin’s rejection of the revolutionary struggle for a constituent assembly; Axelrod’s and Plekhanov’s labour congress; our Central Committee’s slogan “for the Duma”; the arguments in No. I of Sotsial-Demokrat, published by this same Central Committee, about the conservatism of secret organisation and underground activities, and the progressiveness of going over to the “nation-wide bourgeois revolution”—all these are manifestations of a single, fundamental striving, all form a single current of the philistinism that is showing itself among the revolutionary parties.

From the point of view of legalising the Party, of “bringing it closer” to the masses, of reaching agreement with the Cadets, of association with the nation-wide bourgeois revolution, Cherevanin quite logically proclaimed the struggle for a constituent assembly an “absurdity and folly”. We have already pointed out in Proletary, No. 1,[2] that our Central Committee glaringly contradicts itself by advocating in its famous “Letters to Party Organisations” (Nos. 4 and 5) an alliance with the middle bourgeoisie, the officers, etc., and at the same time putting forward the slogan of a constituent assembly, which is unacceptable to them. In this respect Cherevanin argues more consistently and more correctly, or more honestly and frankly, than the Peshekhonovs or our Central Committee. The latter’s Sotsial-Demokrat is either trying to be cunning or it displays a striking lack of thought when, on the one hand, it fulminates against “roads which lead the proletariat away from the nation-wide movement”, “dooming it to political isolation”, and, on the other hand, it upholds the constituent assembly slogan and says: “it is necessary to prepare for an uprising”.

Take the labour congress. Recently (October 6) the Cadet newspaper Tovarishch at last blurted out the secret of this congress. According to the report of this newspaper ,the following is what was said by “one of the veteran Social-Democratic leaders, who raised the question of a labour congress”, in a lecture delivered by him a few days ago: “They [the members of the “labour congress”] can adopt the entire programme of Social-Democracy with, perhaps, a few alterations, and then the Party will emerge from its underground existence.” The position is quite clear. The veteran leaders are ashamed to say openly that they want the programme of the Party changed so that it can go over to a legal position. Well, suppose we say: get rid of the republic, the constituent assembly and mention of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, add that the Party wages a struggle only by legal means (as was said in the programme of the German Social-Democrats prior to the Anti-Socialist Law[5]), etc. “Then the Party will emerge from its underground existence — so the “veteran leaders” imagine—then the passage will be accomplished from “conservative” illegality, revolutionism and underground existence to “progressive” constitutional legality. Such is the bashfully concealed essence of the labour congress. A labour congress is the chloroform which the veteran leaders prescribe for the “conservative” Social-Democrats, in order to be able to perform on them the pain less operation carried out by the Peshekhonovs on the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. The only difference is that the Peshekhonovs are practical businessmen and know where they are going, whereas it would be unjust to say that of our veteran leaders. They do not understand that in the present political situation a labour congress is just idle talk; when this situation changes in the direction of a revolutionary upswing, a labour congress will by no means bring with it the triumph of philistinely tranquil legality, if at that time the expansion of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party will not have made a labour congress superfluous; and if the present situation changes in the direction of a complete and lasting victory of reaction, a labour congress will then be able to cut down the Social-Democratic programme to an extent that will horrify even Axelrod.

That the Cadet press gives its utmost support to the idea of a labour congress is quite understandable for it has a flair for seizing on the philistine and opportunist tendencies of this scheme. It is not for nothing that Mr. Portugalov—a Cadet who considers himself a non-party socialist—is delight ed by the “wise position” of Axelrod, seizes on his contemptuous words about the Party as a “circle organisation” (a “circle” with 100,000-150,000 members; i.e., on the European scale, with one to one-and-a-half million votes at elections!) and asks with an air of importance: “Is the class for the party or the party for the class?” Let us answer this wise question by another addressed to the bourgeois writers: is the head for the stomach or the stomach for the head?

Finally, let us take the arguments of the Central Committee’s Sotsial-Demokrat. The same Mr. Portugalov accurately seized on their essence when he quoted a passage no less worthy of renown than the statements of Cherevanin. “It [the Menshevik trend] attempted to meet halfway the inevitable conversion of the underground revolutionary struggle of the intelligentsia, who base themselves on the leading sections of the proletariat, into a national bourgeois revolution.” Mr. Portugalov comments: “Not so long ago such threats [?misprint? such ideas?] were invariably declared a heresy of ’bourgeois-democratic’ origin. Now ’bourgeois democrats’ have nothing to add to these remarks.”

Mr. Portugalov is right. It is not only in the recent past that the argument of the leader writer in Sotsial-Demokrat was declared the fruit of bourgeois-democratic ideas, it is declared to be such now and will be so declared in the future. Just reflect, indeed, on this argument. It is possible for an underground struggle to be converted into an open one, for a struggle of the intelligentsia to be converted into a people’s or mass struggle, for the struggle of the leading sections of the class to be converted into one of the entire class, but the conversion of an underground revolutionary struggle into a national bourgeois revolution is sheer gibberish. The real significance of this argument is the substitution of the stand point of bourgeois democracy for the standpoint of the proletariat.

“Two years of civil war have brought about a national revolution in our country. That is a fact,...” says the leader   writer of Sotsial-Demokrat. It is not a fact, but a phrase. The civil war in Russia, if we take this term seriously, has not been going on for two years. In September 1904 there was no civil war. To stretch the concept of civil war out of ill proportion will only be to the advantage of those who ignore the special tasks of the workers’ party in a period of real civil war. The Russian revolution was much more national before October 17, 1905, than it is today. It is sufficient to point to the desertion of the landlords to the reactionary camp. It is sufficient to recall the formation of counter revolutionary parties of the “Octobrist” type, and the unquestionable accentuation of counter-revolutionary characteristics among the Cadets in the summer of 1906, as compared with the Osvobozhdeniye League in the summer of 1905. A year ago the Osvobozhdeniye people did not and could not talk about stopping the revolution; Struve took the side of the revolution. Now the Cadets say openly that their aim is to stop the revolution.

What, then, does this conversion of the underground revolutionary struggle into a national bourgeois revolution amount to in practice? To ignoring, or obscuring, the class contradictions which have already been revealed by the course of the Russian revolution. To converting the proletariat from a fighting vanguard, pursuing an independent revolutionary policy, into an appendage of that faction of the bourgeois democrats which is most in the limelight, which lays most claim to represent “national” aspirations. Hence it is clear why the bourgeois liberal had to say: We have nothing to add to this, we quite agree, we are striving for the conversion of the proletarian struggle into a national struggle. To convert it into a nation-wide struggle (or, what is the same thing, a national revolution) means to take what is common to the Cadet and other parties more to the left and declare it to be binding, cutting out everything else as “dooming the proletariat to political isolation”. In other words, subscribe to the demands of the Cadets, for any other demands will not be “national”. Hence, naturally, the slogans of half-hearted Social-Democratic opportunism: “for the Duma as an organ of power which will convene the constituent assembly”, or for the Duma as a “lever for winning a constituent assembly” (Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 1). Hence the motto   of consistent Social-Democratic opportunism: it would be an absurdity and folly to fight for a constituent assembly, for the demand for a constituent assembly “dooms the proletariat to political isolation”, exceeds the bounds of a “national bourgeois revolution”, etc.

Revolutionary Social-Democrats must argue differently. Instead of uttering phrases about “a national bourgeois revolution”, which are too general and too easily lend themselves to bourgeois distortion, we must analyse the concrete position of definite classes and parties at various moments in the revolution. In 1900 and 1901 the old Iskra and Zarya[6] quite rightly spoke of Social-Democracy as the carrier of the ideas of national emancipation, as the fighting vanguard which endeavoured to win over to its side all elements, including even liberal Marshals of the Nobility. This was true at that time, for, as yet, there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the policy of the government that could satisfy even the mildest bourgeois liberalism. The Russian general strike in October proved that this was true; for the proletarian struggle then became the centre of attraction for all sorts of bourgeois liberals, even the very mildest.

After October 17 things changed, they had to change. The liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie (Comrade Martov is wrong to call it a “liberal-democratic” bourgeoisie) had to rise in defence of the monarchy and landlordism, to do so directly (Octobrists) or indirectly (Cadets), for the further victories of the revolution were becoming a serious and immediate menace to these charming institutions. Those who forget that with the progress of revolution and the growth of its tasks a change takes place in the composition of the classes and elements of the people capable of taking part in the struggle for the achievement of these aims fall into grievous error. Through the bourgeois revolution the proletariat marches to socialism. Therefore, in the course of the bourgeois revolution it must raise and enlist for the revolutionary struggle more and more revolutionary strata of the people. In 1901 the proletariat roused the Zemstvo liberals. Now, because of the objective conditions, its main task is to rouse, educate and mobilise for the struggle the revolutionary peasantry, to deliver them from the ideological and political tutelage not only of the Cadets pure and simple,   but of the Trudoviks of the Peshekhonov type. If the revolution can triumph it will do so only as a result of an alliance between the proletariat and the really revolutionary, not the opportunist, peasantry. Therefore, if we seriously say that we stand for revolution (and not only for a constitution), if we are seriously speaking of a “new revolutionary upsurge”, we must strenuously combat all attempts to discard the constituent assembly slogan, or to weaken it by linking it with the Duma (the Duma as an organ of power which will convene the constituent assembly, or the Duma as a lever for winning a constituent assembly, etc.), or by trimming down the tasks of the proletariat to the limits of a Cadet or alleged national bourgeois revolution. Of the mass of the peasantry, only the well-to-do and middle peasants will inevitably become opportunist and, later, even reactionary. But these constitute the minority of the peasantry. The poor peasantry together with the proletariat constitute the overwhelming majority of the people, the nation. This majority can triumph, and will triumph completely, in the bourgeois revolution, i.e., can win complete freedom and all the land and attain the highest level of prosperity possible for workers and peasants in capitalist society. You can, if you will, call such a revolution of the majority of the nation a national bourgeois revolution, but anyone can see that the ordinary meaning of these words is quite different, that their actual meaning at the present time is a Cadet meaning.

We are “conservative” Social-Democrats in the sense that we stand for the old revolutionary tactics. “The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the autocracy’s resistance by force and paralyse the bourgeoisie s instability” (Two Tactics).[3] This was written in the summer of 1905. Now the stakes are higher, the task is harder, the impending battle will be sharper. We must paralyse the in stability of the whole bourgeoisie, including the intellectualist and the peasant bourgeoisie. We must rally to the proletariat the poor peasantry, which is capable of waging a determined revolutionary struggle. Not our own desires but objective conditions will set before the “new revolutionary   upsurge” precisely these lofty tasks. The class-conscious proletariat must do its duty to the very end.

P. S. This article had already been sent to the press when we read Comrade Martov’s letter to Tovarishch. L. Martov dissociates himself from Cherevanin on the question of forming a bloc with the Cadets. Very good. But it is astonishing and extremely deplorable that L. Martov does not dissociate himself from Cherevanin’s discovery: “the absurdity and folly of fighting for a constituent assembly”, although he must have known of this discovery from Tovarishch, No. 73, which he quotes. Has Martov, too, already “progressed” as far as Cherevanin?


[1] See pp. 197-206 of this volume—Ed.

[2] See pp. 150-66 of this volume—Ed,—Lenin

[3] See present edition, Vol. 9, p. 100.—Ed.

[4] Nashe Dyelo (Our Cause)—a weekly magazine of the Mensheviks, published in Moscow from September to November 1906; in all ten issues appeared. N. Valentinov (N. V. Volsky), P. P. Maslov, N. Cherevanin (F. A. Lipkin) and other Mensheviks were frequent contributors to the magazine. It was in favour of agreements with the Cadets at the elections to the Second Duma, and advocated the idea of a “labour congress”.

In January-February 1907, in place of Nashe Dyelo the magazine Dyelo Zhizni (Life’s Cause) appeared.

[5] The Anti-Socialist Law in Germany was promulgated by the Bismarck Government in 1878. Under this law all organisations of the Social-Democratic Party, all mass working-class organisations, and time working-class press wore prohibited. The best part of German Social-Democracy, centred round A. Bebel and W. Liebknecht, carried out considerable work under illegal conditions and the   Party’s influence among the working masses not only did not decrease, but actually increased. At the elections to the Reichstag in 1890, the Social-Democrats obtained almost one and a half mil lion votes. In the same year the government was compelled to repeal the Anti-Socialist Law.

[6] Zarya (Dawn)—a Marxist theoretical and political magazine published legally in Stuttgart in 1901-02 by the Iskra editorial board. Four issues (three books) of Zarya appeared: No. 1 in April 1901 (it actually appeared on March 10[23]); Nos. 2 and 3 in December 1901, and No. 4 in August 1902.

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