V. I.   Lenin

On the Question of a Nation-Wide Revolution

Published: Proletary, No. 16, May 2, 1907. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 404-408.
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

In a certain sense 6f the word, it is only a nation-wide revolution that can be victorious. This is true in the sense that the unity of the overwhelming majority of the population in the struggle for the demands of that revolution is essential for victory to be won. This overwhelming majority must consist either entirely of one class, or of different classes that have certain aims in common. It is also true, of course, that the present Russian revolution can be victorious only if it is nation-wide in that specific sense of the word that the conscious participation of the overwhelming majority of the population in the struggle is essential for victory to be won.

That, however, is the limit of the conventional truthfulness of the catchword of a “nation-wide” revolution. No further conclusions can be drawn from this concept, which is nothing but a truism (only an overwhelming majority can be victorious over an organised and dominant minority). For this reason it is fundamentally incorrect and profoundly un-Marxist to apply it as a general formula, as a model, a criterion of tactics. The concept of a “nation-wide revolution” should tell the Marxist of the need for a precise analysis of those varied interests of different classes that coincide in certain definite, limited common aims. Under no circumstances must this concept serve to conceal or overshadow the study of the class struggle in the course of any revolution. Such use of the concept of “nation-wide revolution” amounts to a complete rejection of Marxism and a return to the vulgar phraseology of the petty-bourgeois democrats or petty bourgeois socialists.

This truth is frequently forgotten by our Social-Democratic Right wing. Still more frequently do they forget that class relations in a revolution change with the progress of that revolution. All real revolutionary progress means drawing broader masses into the movement; consequently—a greater consciousness of class interests; consequently—more clearly-defined political, party groupings and more precise outlines of the class physiognomy of the various parties; consequently—greater replacement of general, abstract, unclear political and economic demands that are vague in their abstractness, by the varying concrete, clearly-defined demands of the different classes.

For instance, the Russian bourgeois revolution, like any other bourgeois revolution, inevitably begins under the common slogans of “political liberty” and “popular interests”; only in the course of the struggle, the concrete meaning of those slogans becomes clear to the masses and to the different classes, only to the extent that a practical attempt is made to implement that “liberty”, to give a definite content even to such a hollow-sounding word as “democracy”. Prior to the bourgeois revolution, and at its onset, all speak in the name of democracy—the proletariat and the peasantry together with urban petty-bourgeois elements, and the liberal bourgeoisie together with the liberal landlords. It is only in the course of the class struggle, only in the course of a more or less lengthy historical development of the revolution, that the different understanding of this “democracy” by the different classes is revealed. And what is more, the deep gulf between the interests of the different classes is revealed in their demands for different economic and political measures, in the name of one and the same “democracy”.

Only in the course of the struggle, only as the revolution develops, is it revealed that one “democratic” class or stratum does not want to go, or cannot go, as far as another, that while “common” (allegedly common) objectives are being achieved, fierce skirmishes develop around the method by which they are to be achieved, for example, on the degree, extent or consistency of freedom and power of the people, or the manner in which land is to be transferred to the peasantry, etc.

We have had to recall all these forgotten truths so as to enable the reader to understand the dispute that recently took place between two newspapers. This is what one of them, Narodnaya Gazeta, wrote against the other, Nashe Ekho.

“’The grouping of the population by party,’ wrote Nashe Ekho, ’that important political lesson and the revolution’s most important political acquisition at the time of the elections to the Second Duma, showed clearly by nation-wide facts that broad strata of the landlords and bourgeoisie are swinging to the Right.’ Quite true. But the mood and the mandates which the ’Left’ deputies—Socialist Revolutionaries, Trudoviks, and Popular Socialists—have brought with them from their localities also ’showed clearly’ on a nationwide scale that the ’people’ are at present steeped in Cadet ’constitutional illusions’ to a considerable degree, that the ’people’ place excessive hopes on the independent activities of the Duma, that they are excessively concerned with ’saving’ the Duma. That is the obvious fact that the Nashe Ekho writers failed to notice. They did notice whom the people sent to the Duma, but not what they were sent there for. But in that case, will Nashe Ekho not agree that, in proposing that the proletariat ignore ’nation-wide’ tasks, it is proposing that it isolate itself, not only from bourgeois ’society’, but also from the petty-bourgeois ’people’?"

This is an extremely instructive and noteworthy tirade, which conceals three major opportunist errors; first, the results of the elections are contrasted with the mood of the deputies, which is substituting the deputies’ mood for that of the people, and reverting from the more profound, exten sive and basic to the shallower, narrower and derivative.[1] Secondly, the question of a firm and sustained political line pnd tactics for the proletariat is replaced by the question of an assessment of some “mood” or another. Thirdly—and this is most important—for the sake of the vulgarly democratic fetish of a “nation-wide revolution”, the proletariat is scared with the bogey of “isolation” from the “petty bourgeois people”.

We shall deal with the first two errors as briefly as possible. The elections affected the masses, and showed, not only their fleeting mood but their profound interests. It is altogether   unworthy of Marxists to revert from class interests (expressed by the party grouping at the elections) to a fleeting mood. The mood of the deputies may be one of gloom, while the economic interests of the masses may call forth a mass struggle. An assessment of “mood”, therefore, may be necessary to determine the moment for some action, step, appeal, etc., but certainly not to determine proletarian tactics. To argue differently would mean replacing sustained proletarian tactics by unprincipled dependence on “mood”. And all the time, the point at issue was that of a line and had nothing to do with a “moment”. Whether or not the proletariat has at present recovered (and Narodnaya Gazeta does not think so) is of importance in deciding the “moment” for action, but not in determining the tactical line of action of the working class.

The third error is the most profound and the most important—the fear of “isolating” the Social-Democrats or the proletariat (which is the same thing) from the petty-bourgeois people. That is really a most improper fear.

Social-Democracy must isolate itself from the petty-bourgeois people inasmuch as the Socialist-Revolution aries, Trudoviks and Popular Socialists are really trailing along in the wake of the Constitutional-Democrats—and that is happening — and indeed has happened very frequently beginning with the voting for Golovin, and continuing with the famous tactics of sepulchral silence, etc. For there must be one of two things; either the vacillation of the petty bourgeoisie is, in general, an indication of the shaky nature of the petty bourgeois, and the difficult and arduous development of the revolution, but does not signify that it has ended or that its forces are exhausted (which is our opinion). Then, by isolating itself from all and every vacillation and wavering in petty-bourgeois people, the Social-Democratic proletariat educates them for the struggle, trains them in preparation for the struggle and develops their political consciousness, determination, firmness, etc. Or else, the wavering of the petty-bourgeois people means the finale of the present bourgeois revolution (we believe such a view to be wrong, and none of the Social-Democrats have directly and openly defended it, although extreme Right-wing Sociel-Democrats are undoubtedly inclined to do so). Then,   again, the Social-Democratic proletariat must also isolate itself from the wavering (or treachery) of the petty bourgeoisie, in order to educate the working-class masses in class-consciousness, and prepare them for a more planned, firm and decisive participation in the next revolution.

In both cases and in all cases, the Social-Democratic proletariat must isolate itself from the petty-bourgeois people, which is steeped in Cadet illusions, and do so unconditionally. The proletariat must in all cases pursue the firm, sustained policy of a truly revolutionary class, with out allowing itself to be flustered by any reactionary or philistine cock-and-bull stories, whether these are about nationwide tasks in general, or about a nation-wide revolution.

It is possible that, given a certain combination of forces or a concurrence of unfavourable conditions, the overwhelming part of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois strata may be infected, for the time being, with servility, slavishness or cowardice. That would be “nation-wide” cowardice, and the Social-Democratic proletariat isolates itself from it in the interests of the working-class movement as a whole.


[1] As far as “mandates” are concerned we reject that argument completely. Who makes a count of revolutionary and opportunist instructions and mandates? Who does not know how many newspa pers have been suppressed for publishing revolutionary instructions?—Lenin

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