V. I.   Lenin

The Political Crisis and the Bankruptcy of Opportunist Tactics


Let us now examine the arguments of the Central Commit tee. They are set out most fully in its fourth “letter to the Party organisations” (this letter is neither dated nor numbered, but the next letter is called the fifth). This letter is a truly remarkable specimen of opportunist thought: it deserves to be published over and over again and included in socialist readers and textbooks, as an object-lesson of how Social-Democrats should not discuss tactics.

The kernel of this letter is its analysis of a question which the authors themselves formulate as follows: “Into whose hands can power now pass?” And it goes on to say:

“Who at the present time is, or can be, in the eyes of the nation numbering 140,000,000, the natural successor to state power wrested from the tsarist government?... For when the popular movement for winning state power starts, the people must have a clear idea in their minds of who is to take the place of the overthrown government.... In every given period of the movement some association or organisation must, in the people’s mind, play such a role.”

We have underlined the places in the argument we have quoted which at once reveal their total fallacy. On the question of winning power, the Central Committee at once adopts the petty-bourgeois idealist and not the proletarian materialist point of view. It deduces “natural succession to power from the most widespread “idea” (“in the eyes” of the people), and not from the realities of the struggle. It fails to understand that the “natural successor” will not be the one who, in somebody’s “mind”, “plays such a role”, but the one who will really overthrow the government, who will really win power, who will be victorious in the struggle. The issue will not be decided by the “mind of the people”, but   by the strength of the respective classes and elements of society.

Thus, the Central Committee immediately flies off at a tangent from the point at issue. Instead of examining the realities of the struggle, how it has been and is being waged, it starts speculating, in the worst idealist manner, about “mind” and the “idea” of who is “to take the place of the overthrown”, and not about who does the overthrowing and will achieve it. To arrive at these opportunist conclusions it was necessary to discard the whole Marxist method, a method that demands a study of the question: which interests of which classes demand that the government be overthrown, and which—demand that its power be limited; which material conditions give rise to a revolutionary struggle (“overthrow”) and which—give rise to efforts to arrange a constitutional co-habitation of the overthrown with the overthrowers. If the Central Committee had not forgotten the ABC of Marxism it might have considered, if only on the basis of the experience of the Russian revolution, which of the classes in our country are forced by the very course of events, often irrespective of their “mind” (and even in spite of their monarchist minds) to overthrow the governmental institutions which stand in their way. The history of the workers’ and peasants’ movement in twentieth-century Russia should have provided our Central Committee with enough examples of the partial and local overthrow of governmental institutions to enable them to conceive of the general and complete overthrow of the central government in a Marxist manner, and not à la Ledru-Rollin.

Having taken the wrong path, the Central Committee goes further and further astray in its arguments on this subject. It begins to enumerate all the possible and probable combinations in the composition of the “provisional revolutionary government”.

The Central Committee declares that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and likewise an Executive Committee composed of the Trudovik and Social-Democratic groups in the Duma, are unsuitable. The former would not receive the backing of the “hundred million peasants”; the latter would not receive the backing of “any considerable section of the urban petty bourgeoisie, the middle bourgeoisie, soldiers,   Cossacks, officers, etc. It would be a very dangerous error, however, to think that a new state power could be established against the wish of all these elements.”

We suggest that the reader compare the first part of these arguments with the Bolshevik draft resolution on the provisional government (see Partiiniye Izvestia, No. 2, March 20, 1906, reprinted in Lenin’s Report on the Congress, p. 92[1] ).[3] This draft resolution precisely enumerates the organisations which actually played the role of organs of revolutionary power during the December uprising. In addition to the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, it mentions, of course, the soldiers’, railwaymen’s and peasants’ committees, and the elected rural bodies in the Caucasus and the Baltic Provinces. Thus, history has already provided an answer to the problem which the Central Committee is now so helplessly trying to solve. History has already shown which classes and which elements of the population take part in an uprising and create the organs for it. The opportunist Social-Democrats, however, not only forget (or fail to understand) the recent past of the revolution, but do not understand in general what a provisional revolutionary government is. Only a little reflection is needed to realise that such a government is the organ of an uprising (and not only the result of an uprising, as is mistakenly assumed in the Menshevik draft resolution on the provisional government—see the same Report, p. 91, or Partiiniye Izvestia, No. 2).

Further, the second part of the above-quoted argument is even more fallacious. It is based on the usual method of the opportunists: the attempt to prove that the most moderate slogan is the most reasonable one on the grounds that it serves to unite the largest number of social elements. Bernstein said: Social revolution is supported only by a section of the proletariat, whereas social reform is supported by many social-liberal elements. Do not be misled by the idea that socialism can be established against their wishes! It is better to become a party of democratic socialist reforms! The Mensheviks say: Only the proletariat and the revolutionary section of the petty bourgeoisie (primarily the peasants) are in favour of a real victory of our revolution. But “both   the middle bourgeoisie and the army officers, etc.” are in favour of the limitation of the old monarchy as proposed by the liberals. Let us, therefore, call a deal between the liberals and the tsar a victory of the revolution, and, in stead of a really revolutionary government as the organ of an uprising, let us have the Duma!

No, comrades. There are things in political arithmetic a bit more complicated than simply adding up all the “opposition” elements. The addition of a vacillating and treacherous opposition to the actually fighting revolutionary elements does not always produce a plus, more often it proves to be a minus. Those whose interests compel them to strive for the limitation of the monarchy and to fear its downfall can never create a bold and vigorous organ of an uprising. To try in advance to fashion the future organ of an uprising to fit these Cadet elements would be the same as trying to fashion the social revolution in Europe to fit a Naumann or a Clemenceau.

What a comical contradiction our opportunists have landed themselves in! They want an alliance with the middle bourgeoisie and the army officers, in short, with the elements of the Cadet Party. But in that case they must entirely discard the “constituent assembly” slogan, for the Cadets are discarding it. To proclaim the “constituent assembly” slogan, which is unpalatable to the middle bourgeoisie and the army officers, and at the same time to try to attract them by foisting an ultra-revolutionary role on a moderate and loyal Duma (to overthrow the government and become a provisional revolutionary government!) —such are the depths of absurdity to which our Central Committee has descended.

Incidentally, as regards absurdities, the Central Committee’s letter contains even choicer gems. How do you like this one? “If, indeed, it is impossible, at the present moment, to put forward any other body than the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies as the instrument of power, then we can say in advance that the victory over the government in a struggle for power (and such a victory necessarily presupposes the participation of the army in the fight) would lead to nothing short of a military dictatorship of the army which had passed over ’to the side of the people’.” (The italics are in the original.)

Just ponder over this monstrous tirade: if the Soviets   of Workers’ Deputies were to defeat the government with the aid of a section of the army, the army’s passing over “to the side of the people”[2] would lead to military dictatorship!! I doubt whether such attempts to intimidate us with the prospect of a victorious outcome of the struggle could be found even in Cadet literature. I doubt whether even Mr. Struve went quite so far in Osvobozhdeniye,[4] in the summer of 1905, and in Polyarnaya Zvezda,[5] in the spring of 1906, when he fulminated against the idea of an armed uprising as being a! to the idea of a military dictatorship. If the Central Committee had examined at least the ordinary demands of the soldiers and sailors during their innumerable “revolts” of the past year, it would have seen that these demands amount in fact to a demand that the caste-ridden army be converted into a people’s army, i.e., a militia. The soldiers and sailors were not always able to formulate the sub stance of their demands; indeed, in most cases they were unable to do so. But can anyone doubt that military service in the soldier’s home district and the right to hold meetings, etc., is equivalent to the establishment of a militia? Has the Central Committee lost its elementary revolutionary instinct to such an extent that it no longer sees the difference between the aristocratic revolutionary spirit of the Decembrists[6]–the raznochintsi’s[7] revolutionary spirit of the army officers in the Narodnaya Volya[8]—and the profoundly democratic, proletarian and peasant revolutionary spirit of the soldiers and sailors in twentieth-century Russia? Has it never been struck by the fundamental difference between the revolutionary spirit of the army officers in the days of the Narodnaya Volya, when almost complete apathy reigned in the ranks of the soldiers, and the reactionary spirit of the army officers today, when there is a mighty movement precisely among rank-and-file soldiers? Anyone who thinks that if the present-day Russian soldier or sailor goes over to the side of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in the fight against the government it can serve as the transition to a military dictator ship—who thinks that this can be counteracted by winning over the army officers by means of the moderate slogan “for   the Duma”—must either have lost all sense of reality, or have gone even more to the right than Struve & Co.! The Central Committee of the Social-Democratic Party wants to combat the strivings of the Russian soldiers toward a military dictatorship by winning over the officers: this is what the opportunists have brought us to!

The Central Committee tries to bolster up its hopeless case with the further argument that there is no need for us to invent a new government, as we have the Duma or, at any rate, remnants of it. These remnants “can declare them selves the State Duma”, while the “popular mind, unversed in the subtleties of a written constitution, regarded and still regards the State Duma as the organ of power.... If the troops, refusing to obey the tsarist government, could enter the service of the new government, that new government would be the State Duma.”

Splendid! If tomorrow the “popular mind” should regard another legal institution as “the government”, we must undertake to spread this prejudice. A fine understanding of the duties of a revolutionary party, indeed! Do try to under stand at last, dear comrades, that power must be taken by force, by fighting, by an uprising. Are the Cadets prepared to go so far? If so, they are welcome; we will reject no ally in this struggle. But if they are not prepared, if they are even afraid to make a direct call for an uprising (this, after all, is, if sincerely meant, the first step to real action, and of all the members of the Duma only the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks have taken it)—then all this talk about the Duma being an “organ of power which will convene a constituent assembly” is nothing but pernicious Manilovism[9] and a deception of the people.

If the political atmosphere had been different the remnants of the Duma would have acted differently, says the Central Committee in justification of the Cadets, who were scared even by the Vyborg Manifesto. Yes, it is true, they would have acted differently. What conclusion should be drawn from this? That we must strive to create that different atmosphere. By what means? By rousing the elements that are capable of fighting to revolutionary consciousness, by raising their consciousness to a level higher than that of the Cadets, higher than the level of Cadet slogans. But   you justify the timidity of the Cadets with the plea that the atmosphere is non-revolutionary, and at the same time you make the atmosphere less revolutionary by substituting Cadet slogans for revolutionary ones!


[1] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 277-382.—Ed.

[2] The inverted commas evidently express the irony of our Central Committee!—Lenin

[3] Lenin is referring to the second paragraph of the Bolshevik draft resolution to the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. on “The Provisional Revolutionary Government and Local Organs of Revolu tionary Authority” (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 154-56).

[4] Osvobozhdeniye (Emancipation)—a fortnightly magazine of the bourgeois liberals, published abroad from 1902 to 1905 under the editorship of P. B. Struve. From January 1904 it was the or gan of the liberal-monarchist “League of Emancipation”. Later the Osvobozhdentye group formed the nucleus of the Cadet Party—the chief bourgeois party in Russia.

[5] Polyarnaya Zvezda (The Pole Star)—a weekly magazine, organ of the Right wing of the Cadet Party, which was published in St. Petersburg in 1905-06 under the editorship of P. B. Struve.

[6] Decembrists— Russian revolutionaries of the nobility, fighters against serfdom and the autocracy, who made an abortive armed uprising in December 1825.

[7] The raznochintsi (i.e., “men of different estates”) were the Russian commoner-intellectuals, drawn from the small towns folk, the clergy, the merchant classes, the peasantry, as distinct from those drawn from the nobility.

[8] Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will)—the secret political organisation of the terrorist Narodniks formed in August 1879 after the split in the organisation Zemlya i Volya. It was headed by an Executive Committee consisting of A. I. Zhelyahov, A. D. Mi khailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, Vera Figner, Sophia Perovskaya, A. A. Kvyatkovsky, and others.

While still adhering to the Narodnik utopian-socialist ideas, the members of Narodnaya Volya nevertheless embarked on a political struggle, regarding the overthrow of the autocracy and the achievement of political freedom as a major aim. Its programme envisaged a “permanent popular representative body” elected by universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, the transfer of the land to the people, and measures to put the factories in the hands of the workers. “The Narodnaya Volya members,” Lenin wrote, “made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism” (see present edition, Vol. 8, p. 72).

Narodnaya Volya fought heroically against the tsarist autocracy. But, starting out from the erroneous theory of “active” heroes and a “passive” mass, it expected to achieve the remaking of society without the participation of the people, by its own efforts, through individual terrorism that would intimidate and disorganise the government. After the assassination of Alexander II on March 1, 1881, the government was able, by savege reprisals, death sentences, and acts of provocation, to crush it out of existence.

Repeated attempts to revive the organisation during the eigh ties ended in failure. Thus, in 1886 a group in the Narodnaya Volya tradition was formed by A. I. Ulyanov (elder brother of Lenin) and P. Y. Shevyryov; but after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Alexander III in 1887, the group was uncovered and its active members executed.

While criticising Narodnaya Volya’s erroneous, utopian programme, Lenin expressed great respect for its members’ selfless struggle against tsarism.

[9] Manilovism—from the name of the landlord Manilov in Gogol’s Dead Souls, who was the embodiment of philistinism, smug complacency and futile day-dreaming.

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