V. I.   Lenin

An Attempt at a Classification of the Political Parties of Russia

Published: Proletary, No. 5, September 30, 1900. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 225-231.
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.README

As we know, the Unity Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party evaded the task of making a class analysis of the political parties in Russia and of defining the proletarian attitude to these parties. Its general endorsement of the Amsterdam Resolution was nothing more than a form of evasion. And yet the revolution more and more insistently demands that we apply the Marxist method and Marxist theory to throw light on the profound and highly interesting process of the formation of parties, which for obvious reasons is more rapid and intense in Russia than anywhere else.

This process, of course, has not come to an end by a long, long way, and has not yet produced fully stable results. But such a process can never come to an end in capitalist society, and its results can become “stable” only if the revolution, as the drastic demolition of the whole of the old political superstructure, reaches a state of stagnation. Therefore we cannot under any circumstances postpone our analysis of the bourgeois parties, the more so, because the period of the October liberties, on the one hand, and the period of the First Duma, on the other, have undoubtedly already produced important results which must not be ignored. The open revolutionary struggle by means of strikes, uprisings, etc., and the new election campaign will demand from our Party a clear and precise definition of its attitude to the various parties, and this is possible only on the basis of a scientific, i.e., a class analysis.

Let us start with the enumeration of the more or less important political parties (or, perhaps, types[1] of parties) in their order from “Right” to “Left”. 1) The Union of the Russian People, the monarchists, etc.; 2) the Party of Law and Order; 3) the Octobrists; 4) the Party of Peaceful Renovation; 5) the Party of Democratic Reforms; 6) the Cadets; 7) the free-thinkers, the radicals, the Bezzaglavtsi, etc.; 8) the Toilers’ Popular Socialists; 9) the Socialist-Revolutionaries; 10) the Maximalists; 11) the Social-Democrats—Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, We do not count the anarchists, for it would be too risky to call them (and, perhaps, the Maximalists) a political party.

In this motley series of parties, we can clearly distinguish five main types: 1) the Black Hundreds; 2) the Octobrists; 3) the Cadets; 4) the Trudoviks, and 5) the Social-Democrats. The soundness of this classification is proved by the analysis of the class nature of each particular party.

There can be no doubt about the need to single out the Social-Democratic Party as a distinct type. It is a type common to the whole of Europe. In Russia it is the only workers’ party, the party of the proletariat, both in composition and in its strictly consistent proletarian point of view.

Further, it is equally obvious that the Trudoviks must also be singled out as a distinct type. They include: the Toilers’ Popular Socialist Party, the Socialist-Revolutionaries proper, and, lastly, the Maximalists. They all base their theoretical standpoint on the “labour principle”. They all strive to unite and merge the proletarians with the small producers in a single “toilers’ group”. They strive mainly for the support of the peasantry. The State Duma, where the majority of the peasant deputies formed a separate “Trudovik Group”, proved in fact that the above-mentioned trends have succeeded (more or less) in actually   laying the foundation of a political· organisation of the peasants.

True, the political parties of this type have a far less definite and finished form than that of the Social-Democratic Party. Nominally, the Party of the Maximalists does not exist, although their split from the Socialist-Revolutionaries is an accomplished fact, certified by their independent actions, both literary and terrorist. In the State Duma, the Socialist-Revolutionaries did not form their own group, but acted behind the backs of a section of the Trudoviks. The Toilers’ Popular Socialist Party, likewise, is still only about to be born, although its literary activity is already conducted not only in alliance with the Socialist-Revolutionaries proper, but sometimes quite independently of them. Its leaders in the Duma also acted partly in unison with the Socialist-Revolutionaries and partly independently of them. The Minutes of the First Congress of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party (Paris 1906) also show the Toilers’ Popular Socialists as a distinct “group”, which behaves independently of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. In short, we find in this camp: (1) a secret party (the Socialist-Revolutionaries) quite incapable of creating anything like a stable, mass organisation, and incapable of acting independently under its own flag, whether in the State Duma or in the literature of the period of liberties; (2) a nascent legal party (the Toilers’ Popular Socialists) which acted as a group at the Congress of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party (December 1905), but which hitherto has been unable even to begin the formation of a mass organisation and which in its literature and in the State Duma acts mostly in alliance with the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

The fact that after two periods of relative freedom (the “October” and the “Duma” periods) the Trudoviks still remain a politically amorphous body cannot, of course, be attributed to chance. Undoubtedly, this to some extent is due to the fact that the petty bourgeoisie (especially in the rural districts) is less capable of organising than the proletariat. Undoubtedly, the ideological confusion of the Trudoviks also reflects the extremely precarious position of the small producer in present-day society: the extreme Right wing of the Trudoviks (the Toilers’ Popular Socialist Party,   led by Peshekhonov & Co.) differs very little from the Cadets, for it deletes from its programme both republicanism and the demand for all the land; the extreme Left of the Trudoviks, the Maximalists, differs very little from the anarchists.

These two extremes indicate the amplitude, so to speak, of the political oscillations of the toiling petty bourgeoisie. That the petty bourgeoisie should display such instability is quite explicable from the economic point of view. Undoubtedly, the immediate future of the Russian revolution will increase rather than diminish this instability. But, while noting and explaining this instability, we must not lose sight of the enormous political importance of the parties of the Trudovik type. Real political liberty will strengthen these parties most of all, because in the absence of political liberty their ability to organise is less than that of the bourgeoisie, and also less than that of the proletariat. On the other hand, in a predominantly petty-bourgeois and peasant country like Russia, the formation of ideologically vacillating and politically unstable but exceedingly large petty-bourgeois or “Trudovik” parties is inevitable.

In a country like Russia, the outcome of the bourgeois revolution depends most of all on the political conduct of the small producers. That the big bourgeoisie will be tray the revolution is beyond doubt (they have already betrayed it two-thirds). After October and December, no further proof is required that, as far as the Russian workers are concerned, the proletariat will be the most reliable fighter. The petty bourgeoisie, however, is the variable quantity which will determine the outcome. Social-Democrats must therefore watch very carefully its present political oscillations between abject Cadet loyalty and bold, ruthless, revolutionary struggle; and not only watch that process, of course, but as far as possible bring proletarian influence to bear upon it.

To proceed. Undoubtedly, the Cadets must be singled out as a separate type. The Party of Democratic Reforms to the right of them, and the free-thinkers, radicals, etc., to the left, are not more than quite insignificant offshoots. In the present political period the Cadets are an independent political type. What distinguishes them from the Trudoviks   is clear. The typical Trudovik is a politically conscious peasant. He is not averse to a compromise with the monarchy, to settling down quietly on his own plot of land under the bourgeois system; but at the present time his main efforts are concentrated on the fight against the land lords for land, on the fight against the feudal State and for democracy. His ideal is to abolish exploitation; but he conceives this abolition in a petty-bourgeois fashion, and therefore, in fact, his strivings are converted into a struggle, not against all exploitation, but only against the exploitation practised by the landlords and the big financiers. The Cadet, however, is a typical bourgeois intellectual and sometimes even a liberal landlord. To compromise with the monarchy, to put a stop to the revolution is his main striving. Totally incapable of fighting, the Cadet is a typical stockbroker. His ideal is to perpetuate bourgeois exploitation in respectable, civilised, parliamentary forms. His political strength lies in the amalgamation of an enormous mass of bourgeois intellectuals, who are indispensable in every capitalist society, but, of course, absolutely incapable of seriously influencing a real change of the social system in this society.

The typical Octobrist is not a bourgeois intellectual, but a big bourgeois. He is not the ideologist of bourgeois society, he is its real master. Being directly interested in capitalist exploitation, he has a contempt for all theories, despises the intelligentsia, and, unlike the Cadets, repudiates all claims to “democracy”. He is a bourgeois businessman. Like the Cadet, he is also striving for a deal with the monarchy, but his idea of such a deal is not some particular political system, or parliamentarism, but an agreement between a few persons, or chiefs, with the Court camarilla with a view to directly subordinating the clumsy, dull-witted and Asiatically corrupt Russian officials to the ruling bourgeoisie. An Octobrist is a Cadet who applies his bourgeois theories in business. A Cadet is an Octobrist who, when not busy robbing the workers and peasants, dreams of an ideal bourgeois society. The Octobrist has still to learn something of parliamentary etiquette and of political hypocrisy coupled with flirting with democracy. The Cadet has still to learn something of the art of bourgeois business trickery—and   then they will undoubtedly and inevitably merge, quite irrespective of whether this fusion will be brought about at the present time and by the present “Peaceful Renovators”.

But let us not discuss the future. Our business is to learn to understand the present. With full power remaining in the hands of the scoundrelly Court gang, it is quite natural that the mere utterance of democratic phrases by the Cadets and their “parliamentary” opposition were in fact of greater service to the elements on their lift. It is also natural that the Octobrist, who is directly hostile to these elements, angrily turned away from the Cadets and supported (in the elections to the First Duma) the government Black Hundreds.

The Black Hundreds are the last type of our political parties. Unlike Guchkov & Co., they do not want the “Constitution of October 17th”, but the preservation and formal restoration of the autocracy. It is in their interests to perpetuate the filth, ignorance and corruption that flourish under the sceptre of the adored monarch. They are united by the frantic struggle for the privileges of the Court camarilla, for the opportunity, as of old, to rob, oppress and muzzle the whole of Russia. Their determination to defend the present tsar’s government at all costs very often unites them with the Octobrists, and that is why it is so difficult to tell of some members of the Party of Law and Order where the Black Hundred begins and where the Octobrist ends.

Thus, the Russian revolution has in an extremely short period revealed the major types of political parties that correspond to all the main classes of Russian society. We have a party of the class-conscious socialist proletariat; parties of the radical, or radically inclined, petty bourgeoisie, mainly of the rural petty bourgeoisie, i.e., of the peasantry; liberal-bourgeois parties; and reactionary bourgeois parties. The political formations fail to correspond to the economic, class divisions only in that the two last-named groups correspond not to two, but to three groups of political parties: the Cadets, the Octobrists, and the Black Hundreds. This discrepancy, however, is fully explained by the transient peculiarities of the present situation, when the revolutionary struggle has become extraordinarily acute, when it is very difficult to separate defence of the autocracy   from out-and-out defence of the monarchy, when the economic classification (for progressive and for reactionary capitalism) naturally cuts across the political classification (for or against the present government). However, the kinship between the Cadets and the Octobrists is too obvious, and hardly any one can deny that the formation of a big, “business”, liberal-bourgeois party is inevitable.

To sum up: the process of formation of political parties in Russia strikingly confirms the soundness of the theory of Marxism.

P. S. This article was written before the split in the Union of October Seventeenth. Shipov’s resignation and the forth coming formation of a moderate liberal party (the Left Octobrists, the Party of Peaceful Renovation, and the Right Cadets) now definitely promise to reduce all the Russian political parties to the four main types that we see in every capitalist country.


[1] We say types of parties, firstly, because it is impossible to keep track of all the small divisions, nor are they important (e.g., the difference between, say, the Progressive Industrial Party, or the Disc,[2] and the Party of Law and Order is quite negligible); secondly, it would be wrong to take into account only those parties which have formally appeared in the political arena and to ignore clearly defined political trends. A very slight change in the political atmosphere would suffice to convert these trends into regular parties within a few weeks.—Lenin

[2] Disc”—the “Democratic Union of Constitutionalists”, a counter revolutionary organisation which arose in the autumn of 1905; it united representatives from the big nobility, conservative sections of the industrial bourgeoisie and the upper bureaucracy. At the end of 1905 the Disc was merged in the Octobrist Party.

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