V. I.   Lenin

The Bolsheviks and the Petty Bourgeoisie

Published: Novy Luch, No. 6, February 25, 1907. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the text in Novy Luch.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 179-183.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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An article bearing the above title, published in Noviye Sily,[2] provides a suitable occasion for giving certain explanations.

The newspaper expresses dissatisfaction at our “hackneyed” division of the bourgeoisie into petty, revolutionary and liberal. There is no doubt, says this organ of the Trudoviks, repeating the usual Menshevik argument, that many petty-bourgeois people voted for the Cadets.

Many petty bourgeois, it is true, did vote for the Cadets. But the class character of a party cannot be judged from the fact that certain elements, among others, voted for it at a given moment. Undoubtedly many German petty bourgeois vote for the Social-Democrats and many workers for the German “Centre”. Noviye Sily, however, probably realises that it cannot be concluded from this fact that the “hackneyed” division of the working classes into petty bourgeoisie and proletariat is wrong.

The entire history of the Cadet Party, and the latest elections in particular, have shown clearly that the land owner who runs a capitalist estate, the middle bourgeois, and the bourgeois intellectual constitute the class basis of the party. The majority of the people, i.e., extensive sections of the urban petty bourgeoisie, as well as the peasantry, have no interest in a party that fears any independent action by the masses, and opposes such action, that defends land redemption payments and carries on a struggle against local agrarian committees using the four-point electoral system[3] as a pretext, etc. This alone accounts for the rapid retreat of the petty bourgeoisie from the Cadets at the recent election. The peasantry, as we know,   completely rejected the Cadets, and were mainly responsible for their defeat at gubernia electoral meetings. As we said in Novy Luch, No. 1,[1] the urban petty bourgeoisie had already cast 41,000 votes for the Left bloc, as compared with 74,000 votes for the Cadets, and this despite the fact that the Left had no daily press, etc.

The Cadets are a party of the liberal bourgeoisie. The economic position of that class makes it afraid of a peasant victory and of working-class solidarity. This accounts for the inevitable, and by no means fortuitous, tendency of the Cadets to turn the more rapidly to the Right, to turn towards a deal with reaction, the more rapidly the popular masses turn to the Left. After the dissolution of the Duma, it was an economic necessity, not fortuity, that made the proletariat, the peasantry, and the impoverished urban petty bourgeoisie turn terrifically Left and become revolutionised, and made the Cadets turn terrifically Right. Only the petty bourgeois or the political philistine could regret this, or try to change or stop the process.

We Social-Democrats have a different task—that of accelerating the liberation of the masses from the sway of the Cadets. This sway is maintained by tradition, by old ties and by the influence of the liberals, by their economic domination of the petty bourgeoisie, their role as a bourgeois intelligentsia, as liberal civil servants, etc. The sooner the masses realise what their own interests are, the sooner will they understand the hostility of the liberals to the mass movement, the sooner will they alienate themselves politically from the liberals and enter various democratic, revolutionary organisations, unions, parties, etc. In particular, the, peasantry, who in Russia constitute eight- or nine-tenths of the petty bourgeoisie, are struggling primarily for land. The liberal landlord (and there are still such in Russia—the landowner curia elected 24.4 per cent of the Cadets and those more to the Left at the last elections) is against the peasant in the struggle, and the liberal civil servant, the bourgeois intellectual is very close to the liberal landlord. That is why the peasantry are now more determinedly and more speedily emancipating themselves   from the influence of the Cadets than the urban petty bourgeoisie are. The victory of the peasantry in the struggle for land is the real economic basis for the victory of the bourgeois revolution in Russia. The liberals (including the Cadets) are opposed to the victory of the peasantry; they defend land redemption payments, i.e., the conversion of part of the peasantry into Grossbauern, and part into Knechte under a landlord of the Prussian type. For this reason the victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is impossible in Russia without the emancipation of the peasantry from the political sway of the liberals. The victory of the peasantry abolishes landed proprietorship, and gives the fullest scope to the development of the productive forces on purely capitalist lines. The victory of the liberals preserves landed proprietorship, only superficially cleansing it of its feudal aspects, and leads to the least speedy and least free development of capitalism, to the development of the Prussian, we might say, type of capitalism, not the American.

Noviye Sily does not understand this economic, class basis of the Russian revolution when it says that in its social-economic demands the petty bourgeoisie are closer to the liberals, and in their political demands closer to the proletarians, and that the “centre of gravity of the revolution” is shifting to “politics”. Noviye Sily’s arguments are a mass of confusion. The petty bourgeois, the peasant included, is naturally closer to the liberal than to the proletarian; he is closer as a proprietor, as a petty producer. It would, therefore, be politically ridiculous and, from the standpoint of socialism, downright reactionary, to unite the petty bourgeoisie and the proletarians in one party (as the Socialist-Revolutionaries would like to do). However, in the present bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, the struggle is by no means on account of the antagonism between masters and workers (as it will be in the socialist revolution) but on account of the antagonism between peasant and landlord: “the revolution’s centre of gravity” is shifting towards this, the economic struggle, and certainly not towards the “political” struggle.

But even if our revolution is bourgeois in its economic content (this cannot be doubted), the conclusion must not   be drawn from it that the leading role in our revolution is played by the bourgeoisie, that the bourgeoisie is its motive force. Such a conclusion, usual with Plekhanov and the Mensheviks, is a vulgarisation of Marxism, a caricature of Marxism. The leader of the bourgeois revolution may be either the liberal landlord together with the factory owner, merchant, lawyer, etc., or the proletariat together with the peasant masses. In both cases the bourgeois character of the revolution remains, but its scope, the degree of its advantage to the proletariat, the degree of its advantage to socialism (that is, to the rapid development of the productive forces, first and foremost) are completely different in the two cases.

From this, the Bolsheviks deduce the basic tactics of the socialist proletariat in the bourgeois revolution—to carry with them the democratic petty bourgeoisie, especially the peasant petty bourgeoisie, draw them away from the liberals, paralyse the instability of the liberal bourgeoisie, and develop the struggle of the masses for the complete abolition of all traces of serfdom, including landed proprietorship.

The question of the Duma presidium was a partial question of the general tactics of the Social-Democrats in the bourgeois revolution. The Social-Democrats had to wrest the Trudoviks away from the Cadets, either by voting for the Trudoviks or by demonstratively abstaining from voting and giving a reason for the abstention. Noviye Sily now admits that it was a mistake for the Left to take part in a conference with the Cadets. This is a valuable admission. Noviye Sily, however, is sadly mistaken in thinking that “it was a mistake of practical expediency and not of principle”. This opinion, as we have shown, arises out of a misunderstanding of the fundamentals, principles and tactics of the socialist proletariat in the bourgeois revolution.

It is only from this point of view that a correct answer can be found to those particular questions that are giving Noviye Sily a headache.

How “to guarantee that the petty bourgeoisie, recognised by Novy Luck as allies, will not turn away from the Left and defect to the Constitutional-Democratic camp”? It is because this cannot be guaranteed that we are against   any permanent agreement with the Trudoviks. Our line is “march separately but strike together” at both the Black Hundreds and the Cadets. That is what we did during the St. Petersburg elections, and that is what we shall always do.

Noviye Sily’s objection is that part of the petty bourgeoisie might be drawn away from the Cadets. Of course they might, just as we took away part of the Cadet Tovarishch at the St. Petersburg elections. To achieve this, we Social-Democrats must go firmly along our own, revolutionary road, paying no attention to what the Cadet’s Marya Alexevna[4] may say.

Legislative work “must inevitably be placed in the hands of the Constitutional-Democrats”. Nothing of the sort. The Cadets, as leaders of the liberal “Centre” in the Duma, have a majority over the Black-Hundred group, without our support. We must therefore table our own Social-Democratic bills, not liberal and not petty-bourgeois, bills that are written in revolutionary language, not in official jargon, and must put them to the vote. Let the Black Hundreds and the Cadets turn them down. We shall then go over to a ruthless criticism of the Cadet bill and regularly submit amendments. When the amendments end we shall abstain from voting on the Cadet bill as a whole, leaving the Cadets to defeat the Black Hundreds, thereby taking no responsibility on ourselves before the people for the poverty arid worthlessness of Cadet pseudo-democracy.


[1] See p. 154 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Noviye Sily (New Forces)—a daily Trudovik newspaper published in St. Petersburg from February 16 (March 1), 1907; nine issues appeared. The newspaper was banned on February 27 (March 12), 1907.

The article “The Bolsheviks and the ’Petty Bourgeoisie’\thinspace”, referred to here, appeared unsigned in Noviye Sily, No. 7, on February 23 (March 8), 1907.

[3] The four-point electoral system—an abbreviation (a single word in the Russian original) for the democratic electoral system with its four demands—universal, equal, direct and secret balloting.

[4] Marya Alexevna (Princess Maria Alexeyevna)—a character from Griboyedov’s comedy Wit Works Woe.

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