V. I.   Lenin

The Strength and Weakness of the Russian Revolution

Published: Nashe Ekho, Nos. 11 and 12, April 5 and 7, 1907. Published according to the text in Nashe Ekho.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 349-358.
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

An article with the above title in yesterday’s Narodnaya Duma is an example of a calm, clear, simple exposition of the real differences in principle among the Social-Democrats. It is as pleasant and useful to conduct a dispute on such a basis, as it is unpleasant and impossible to answer the hysterics of Privet[5] or Otgoloski.

To get down to business. Differences have arisen over the appraisal of the Cadets and the Narodniks. With regard to the Cadets, according to the perfectly correct opinion of Narodnaya Duma, the differences boil down to the question of whom they represent. “The middle and petty, mainly urban, bourgeoisie,” answers Narodnaya Duma. “The economic basis of these parties is provided by a section of the middle landlords and the middle bourgeoisie, especially the bourgeois intelligentsia, while a section of the urban and rural petty-bourgeois democrats still follow these parties merely by force of tradition and because they are deliberately deceived by the liberals.”[1]

Clearly the Mensheviks are more optimistic in their assessment of the Cadets than we are. They gloss over or deny their links with the landlords, while we stress them. They stress their links with the urban democratic petty bourgeoisie, while we consider those links extremely weak.

As far as the landlords are concerned, Narodnaya Duma says that our statement in Nashe Ekho, No. 7, is naïve— the statement in which we estimated twenty landlords, not in the past (that was a mistake on the part of Narodnaya   Duma) but in the present Cadet group in the Duma.[2] There are millionaires and high-ranking officials even among the Social-Democrats, says Narodnaya Duma ironically.

Feeble irony! Everybody realises that the Singers, Aronses and Nalivkins are instances of individuals going over from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat. But, gentlemen, would you seriously insist that twenty landlords (out of the seventy-nine members forming the Constitutional-Democratic group, i.e., a quarter) are individual followers of sixty bourgeois intellectuals, and not vice versa? Will you insist that it is the landlords who are conducting a liberal-intellectualist policy and not the liberal intellectuals who are conducting the policy of the landlords? Your joke about Singer and Comrade Nalivkin—that was nothing more than a nice little joke to cover up a hopeless position.

The composition of the Cadet Duma group, of course, is not the main proof, but merely a symptom. The main proof lies, first of all, in the history of landlord liberalism in Russia (as Narodnaya Duma admits); secondly— and this is the main thing—it lies in an analysis of the present-day policy of the Constitutional-Democrats. “The Cadet agrarian policy is essentially [note this] a landlord policy” (Nashe Ekho, No. 7). “Cadet ’liberalism’ is the liberalism of the bourgeois lawyer who reconciles the peasant with the landlord, and does that to the advantage of the landlord” (ibid.).[3]

Narodnaya Duma has no answer to this argument.

To continue. How do they demonstrate the class links between the Constitutional-Democratic Party and the urban democratic petty bourgeoisie? By using election statistics— the towns return mostly Cadets, that is a fact. But it is no proof. In the first place, our election law gives preference to the non-democratic strata of the urban bourgeoisie. Everybody knows that the popular assemblies express more precisely the views and temper “of the democratic petty bourgeoisie of the towns”. Secondly, the Cadets are stronger and the Lefts weaker in the urban curias of the big cities than in those of the small towns. This is shown by the statistics on electors. Hence it follows that the Cadets represent,   not the democratic petty bourgeoisie, but the liberal middle bourgeoisie. The bigger the town, the sharper the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and the stronger the Cadets in the urban (bourgeois) curia, as compared with the Lefts. Thirdly, in twenty-two big cities where there was a Left bloc, the Rights obtained 17,000 votes, the Octobrists 34,000, the Cadets, 74,000, and the Lefts 41,000 votes. It was possible at one go to deprive the Cadets of such a large number of votes, only because they are not democrats. Everywhere, all over the world, liberal lawyers have deceived the democratic petty bourgeoisie, and have been exposed by the socialists.

“Is it true,” asked Narodnaya Duma, “that our middle and petty bourgeoisie are already interested in the suppression of the revolution so as to break down the forces of the proletariat, which constitute a direct threat to them?” And itself answers: “It is definitely not true.”

These words provide a definitely untrue expression of our views. This, comrades, means polemics without principles. You know very well that we distinguish between the counter-revolutionary nature of the Cadets and that of the Octobrists; that we do not include the petty bourgeoisie in our accusation of counter-revolutionariness; that we believe that the Cadet landlords fear not only the workers, but the peasants as well. You are distorting, not objecting.

The next argument by Narodnaya Duma actually is an objection. The Cadets become more moderate and more reactionary as the revolution declines, and not as it rises, i.e., not because of their counter-revolutionary nature but because of their weakness. The Cadets’ tactics, says Narodnaya Duma in italics “are not the tactics of counter-revolutionary strength but the tactics of revolutionary impotence”.

It thus appears that the Cadets are revolutionaries too, but only impotent revolutionaries. A monstrous conclusion to draw. To arrive at this howling incongruity, they had to argue from a radically erroneous premise. That error is the denial of the landlord character of the Cadets (in Russia the landlord is counter-revolutionary either in the Black-Hundred and Octobrist manner, or in the Cadet manner) and the denial of the fact that bourgeois intellectuals pro dominate among the Cadets. If we rectify these two errors,   we get the correct conclusion: the tactics of the Constitutional-Democrats are the tactics of landlord counter-revolution and bourgeois-intellectual impotence. The landlords are a counter-revolutionary force. So are the big bourgeoisie. The bourgeois intellectual and the liberal government official are their cowardly servants, who hide their servility to counter-revolution behind a mask of “democratic” hypocrisy.

It is not true that the Cadets “shifted to the Right” only with the decline, not with the upsurge, of the revolution. Remember Nachalo,[6] comrades from Narodnaya Duma. Remember articles in the spirit of “Witte Is the Agent of the Bourse, Struve Is the Agent of Witte”. Those were excellent articles! And those were excellent times—we did not then disagree with the Mensheviks in our assessment of the Cadets.... To provide a correct picture of the Cadets’ attitude to the upsurge, or upsurges, of the revolution, we must say—when the revolution shows itself in the streets, the Cadet shows himself in the minister’s ante-chamber.

Struve went to Witte in November 1905. Somebody from the Cadets visited somebody from the Black Hundreds in June 1906. Milyukov went to Stolypin on January 15, 1907. As it was, so will it be....

*     *

Giving an economic basis for its views on the Cadets, Narodnaya Duma concludes:

“Owing to the Russia’s poor urban development and the dominant influence of big enterprises in urban industry, our urban middle and petty bourgeoisie has too small an influence on the general economic life of the country to feel itself the independent political force that those classes in England and France at one time felt themselves to be....” Very good and perfectly correct. Only it does not apply to the Cadets. And, furthermore, thereby disappears that allegedly Marxist counterposing of “big urban progressive” and “petty rural backward” bourgeoisie that has often been used in an attempt to justify Menshevik tactics.... “They cannot make the proletariat their tool because the proletariat is already fighting under its own Social-Democratic banner....”   Very true! “This is the source of all its wavering, of all its indecisiveness, in the struggle against the autocratic semi-feudal system....” Again very true, but it does not apply to the Cadets, it applies to the Trudovik parties and groups who find their support not only in the rural but in the urban petty bourgeoisie!

“This relative weakness of urban bourgeois democracy also ex plains the fact that as soon as our bourgeois democrats begin shifting to the Left they immediately lose the urban soil under their feet and become entangled in the peasant-Narodnik swamp....”

True, a thousand times true! We did not even dare dream of such complete confirmation of Bolshevik tactics on the part of Narodnaya Duma. “As soon as our bourgeois democrats begin shifting to the Left, they become Narodniks.” That is exactly how it is—Left bourgeois democrats are Narodniks. The Cadets only pretend to be democrats; actually they are not democrats at all. Therefore, insofar as the proletariat have to carry on the bourgeois revolution in the company of bourgeois democracy, they are so far fated to act in a political “bloc” in the broad sense of the term, that including not only electoral and not only parliamentary agreements, but also joint action without any agreement with the Left, that is, the Narodnik, petty bourgeoisie, against the Black Hundreds and against the Cadets!

Quod erat demonstrandum.

Next time we will talk to Narodnaya Duma specifically about the Narodniks.


If we recognise that the “Narodniks are the Left neighbours of the Cadets”, that they “constantly waver between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats”, this must inevitably lead to a recognition of the Bolshevik policy—compel the Narodniks to take the side of Social-Democracy, against the Black Hundreds and against the Constitutional-Democrats.

The Mensheviks are trying to weaken the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from their admissions, or to avoid   it by reference to the fact that the peasantry, while being “more revolutionary and more democratic” than the liberals, are, at the same time, “imbued with reactionary social utopias” and are striving to “turn back the wheel of history in the sphere of economy”.

This argument, common enough in our Social-Democratic literature, contains a big error from the standpoint of logic and of economic history. Here yards are compared with pounds, the reactionary nature of peasant ideas about the socialist revolution is compared with the reactionary nature of liberal politics in the bourgeois revolution.

If the peasants undoubtedly favour reactionary utopias in respect of the tasks of socialism, the. liberal bourgeoisie, in respect of those same tasks, favours reactionary excesses similar to those of June 1848 or May 1871.

If, in the present, i.e., the bourgeois, revolution, the peasants and their ideologists, the Narodniks, conduct a reactionary policy as compared with the liberals, a Marxist would never recognise the Narodniks as being more to the Left, more revolutionary and more democratic than the liberals.

Obviously there is something wrong here.

Compare the agrarian policy of the liberals with that of the Narodniks. Does it contain features that are at present economically reactionary? In both parties the urge to limit mobilisation of land ownership is reactionary. The bureaucratic nature of the Cadet agrarian policy (landlord bureaucratic land committees) makes its reactionary nature mush more dangerous in practice and immediately. And so, on this point the comparison does not favour the liberals.

“Equalitarianism” in land tenure.... The idea of the equality of small producers is reactionary because it is an attempt to seek in the past and not in the future the solution of the tasks of the socialist revolution. The proletariat does not bring with itself the socialism of equality for petty proprietors, but the socialism of large-scale socialised production. But that same idea of equality is the fullest, most consistent and most decisive expression of bourgeois-democratic tasks. Those Marxists who have forgotten this are advised to turn to Volume I of Marx’s Capital or to Engels’s Ants-Dühring. The idea of equality most completely   expresses the struggle against all the survivals of the serf owning system, the struggle for the broadest and purest development of commodity production.

Our people frequently forget this when they speak of the reactionary nature of Narodnik “equalitarian” agrarian projects.

It is not only ideologically that equality expresses the most complete implementation of the conditions of free capitalism and commodity production. Materially too, in the sphere of the economic relations of an agriculture emerging from the state of serfdom, the equality of petty producers is a condition for the broadest, most complete, free and rapid development of capitalist agriculture.

This development has been proceeding in Russia for a long time. It has been accelerated by the revolution. The only question is—will it follow, say, the Prussian type (the retention of landlord farming with the Knecht in bond age and paying “according to a just estimate” for a starvation minimum of land), or the American type (the abolition of landlord farming and the transfer of all the land to the farmers).

That is the basic problem of our entire bourgeois-democratic revolution, the question that will decide its defeat or victory.

The Social-Democrats demand the transfer of all the land to the peasants without compensation, i.e., they struggle determinedly for the second type of capitalist development, the type that is advantageous to the people. In the peasants’ struggle against the feudal-minded landlords, the idea of equality is the strongest ideological impetus in the struggle for land—and the establishment of equality between petty producers is the most complete abolition of all and every survival of serfdom. The idea of equality, therefore, is the most revolutionary idea for the peasant movement, not only because it stimulates the political struggle, but also because it stimulates the economic purging of agriculture of serfdom’s survivals.

Insofar as the Narodniks hold the opinion that equality may be maintained on a basis of commodity production and that that equality may be an element of the development to socialism, their views are erroneous and their socialism   reactionary. That is something every Marxist should know and remember. The Marxist, however, would be unfaithful to his historical analysis of the specific tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution if he were to forget that this very idea of equality and the many different equalitarian plans are the fullest possible expression of the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, not the socialist, and that they express the tasks, not of the struggle against capitalism, but of the struggle against the rule of the landlords and bureaucracy.

One alternative is evolution of the Prussian type—the serf-owning landlord becomes a Junker; the landlords’ power in the state is consolidated for a decade; monarchy; “military despotism, embellished in parliamentary forms” in stead of democracy; the greatest inequality among the rural and non-rural population. The second alternative is evolution of the American type—the abolition of landlord farming; the peasant becomes a free farmer; popular government; the bourgeois-democratic political system; the greatest equality among the rural population as the starting point of, and a condition for, free capitalism.

Such are the historical alternatives that are coloured by the hypocrisy of the Cadets (who would lead the country along the first path) and the socially reactionary utopianism of the Narodniks (who would lead the country along the second path).

It is obvious that the proletariat must devote all its efforts to supporting the latter path. Only by so doing will the labouring classes speedily get rid of the last bourgeois illusions—for the socialism of equality is the last bourgeois illusion of the petty proprietor. Only in that case will the masses of the people, learning from reality and not from books, speedily gain practical experience of the impotence of all types of equalitarian plans, impotence in face of the power of capital. Only in that case will the proletariat speedily shake off “Trudovik” (i.e., petty-bourgeois) traditions, rid itself of the bourgeois-democratic tasks that inevitably devolve upon it now, and devote itself entirely to its own, truly class. (i.e., socialist) tasks.

It is only failure to understand the relationship between bourgeois-democratic and socialist tasks that leads some   Social-Democrats to fear the consummation of the bourgeois revolution.

Only failure to understand the tasks and essential nature of the bourgeois revolution can give rise to arguments like the following: “It [our revolution] has not, in the final analysis, been engendered by the interests of the peasants, but [??] by the interests of developing bourgeois society”, or, “this revolution is bourgeois and, therefore [!!??] it cannot proceed under a peasant banner and peasant leadership” (Narodnaya Duma, No. 21, April 4). From this it seems that peasant farming in Russia does not rest on a bourgeois basis, but on some other! The interests of the peasant masses are precisely the interests of the most complete, rapid and extensive “development of bourgeois society”, a development of the “American” and not the “Prussian” type. It is exactly for this reason that the bourgeois revolution may proceed “under peasant leadership” (more correctly: under proletarian leadership, if the peasants, wavering between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats, in general follow the Social-Democrats). The bourgeois revolution under the leadership of the bourgeoisie can only be an unconsummated revolution (i.e., strictly speaking, not revolution but reform). It can be a real revolution only under the leadership of the proletariat and the peasantry.


[1] See p. 137 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See p. 336 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] Ibid.—Ed.

[4] Since the government has suppressed Narodnaya Duma we shall, as far as possible, eliminate direct polemics with that paper, and deal with Marxism’s assessment of Narodism in principle.—Lenin

[5] Privet (Greetings)—a Menshevik weekly published in St. Petersburg in March 1907; two issues appeared.

[6] Nachalo (The Beginning)—a legal Menshevik weekly published in St. Petersburg in November and December 1905.

Works Index   |   Volume 12 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >