V. I.   Lenin

Deception of the People by the Liberals

Published: Proletary, No. 25, March (25) 12, 1908. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 13, pages 485-489.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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At the last, London, congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party the question of the attitude to wards bourgeois parties was discussed and a resolution adopted on the subject. Controversy was particularly aroused at the Congress by the passage in this resolution which speaks of deception of the people by the liberals.[1] The Social-Democrats of the Right wing of our Party thought this pas sage to be highly incorrect. They even declared that it was not Marxist to speak in the resolution about the liberals’ “deception” of the people, i.e., to account for certain sections of the population joining a given party (in this case the Cadet Party) not by the class interests of these sections, but by the “immoral” political practices of one or another group of parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists, and so on.

As a matter of fact, these specious arguments, arrayed in ostensibly Marxist garb, concealed a policy of weakening the class independence of the proletariat and subordinating it (in effect) to the liberal bourgeoisie. For these gentlemen do not seriously defend the interests of the democratic petty bourgeoisie who follow the Cadets, but betray them by their policy of intrigues and deals with the government, with the Octobrists, with the “historic authority” of the tsarist autocracy.

Extremely interesting material throwing new light, on this question—one of the fundamental questions of Social-Democratic tactics in all capitalist countries—is afforded by the present struggle for universal suffrage in the Prussian Landtag (Diet). German Social-Democracy raised the banner of that struggle. The proletariat of Berlin, followed by all   the large cities of Germany, came out into the street, organised imposing demonstrations of tens of thousands of people, and inaugurated a broad mass movement, which already, at its very outset, has led to violent acts on the part of the constitutional authorities, to the use of military force and the beating up of the unarmed masses. Struggle grows out of struggle! The leaders of the revolutionary proletariat met these acts of violence proudly and bravely. But here the question came up of the attitude towards the democratic (and liberal) bourgeoisie in the struggle for the franchise. The debates on this question between the German revolutionary Social-Democrats and the opportunists (revisionists, as they are called in Germany) bear a remarkably close re semblance to our own disputes on the subject of the deception of the people by the liberals.

The central organ of the German Social-Democratic Labour Party, Vorwärts, published a leading article, the gist and substance of which is clearly expressed in its heading: “The Struggle for the Franchise Is a Class Struggle!” As was to be expected, this article was received by the opportunists as a challenge, although it set forth in a positive form only established Social-Democratic axioms. The gauntlet was taken up. Comrade Südekum, a well-known worker in the field of municipal socialism, launched an aggressive campaign against this “sectarians’ tactic”, against the “isolation of the proletariat”, against “Social-Democratic support of the Black Hundreds” (the Germans use the milder term—reactionaries). For to a German opportunist too the introduction of the class struggle into a cause common to both the proletariat and the liberals means supporting the reactionaries! “The introduction of universal suffrage in Prussia instead of the present three-class system is not the concern of any single class”, wrote Südekum. This, he said, was the affair of “the urban population against the agrarians, of democracy against the bureaucracy, of the peasantry against the land lords, of Western Prussia against Eastern Prussia” (i. e., the industrially and capitalistically advanced part of the country against the economically backward part). “What has to be done now is to unite on this point all the friends of the reform, whatever the other issues which may divide them.”

The reader sees that these are all very familiar arguments, that here, too, the garb is strictly and orthodoxly “Marxist”, inclusive of the reference to the economic position and interests of definite elements of bourgeois democracy (the “urban democracy”, the peasantry, etc.). There is hardly any need to add that the German liberal-bourgeois press has been harping systematically on this note for decades, accusing Social-Democracy of sectarianism, of supporting the reactionaries, and of inability to isolate the reactionaries.

What arguments did the German revolutionary Social-Democrats use to refute this reasoning. We shall list their chief arguments so as to enable the reader—viewing German affairs as a “bystander”, “without anger or bias”—to judge whether the predominant part is played here by references to special conditions of place and time or to general principles of Marxism.

Yes, our freethinkers “demand” universal suffrage in their programmes, said Vorwärts. Yes, they have become more than usually zealous in making grandiloquent speeches about it today. But are they fighting for reform? Do we not see, on the contrary, that the truly popular movement, the street demonstrations, the broad agitation among the masses, the unrest of the masses, evoke in them ill-concealed fear, aversion, and at best, in rare cases, indifference?

We must distinguish between the programmes of the bourgeois parties, between the banquet and parliamentary speeches of the liberal careerists and their actual participation in the real struggle of the people. Bourgeois politicians, one and all, in all parliamentary countries, have always paid lip-service to democracy while betraying it.

Yes,within the Centre and the Party of freethinkers [the Liberal Party] there are undoubtedly elements who are interested in universal and equal suffrage”, said Vorwärts. But it is not these elements that lead the bourgeois parties, not the petty artisans, not the semi-proletariat, not the semi-ruined peasants. They follow the lead of the liberal bourgeois, who try to keep them away from the struggle by making compromises with reaction behind their backs, by corrupting their class-consciousness and not really defending their interests.

To draw these elements into the struggle for universal suffrage it is necessary to arouse their class-consciousness, to win them away from the vacillating bourgeois parties. “Within the Liberal [freethinking] Party they, the elements interested in universal suffrage, form an impotent minority, which is forever being fed with promises and then always duped once again, and whose political energy is completely paralysed. If, however, the freethinkers and the Centre are really to be forced to make concessions to democracy owing to the threat of losing votes, then it is the glass struggle, which weakens the bourgeois parties, that is the only means of pushing the reluctant bourgeoisie to the Left.”

For the political facts long ago proved that reaction is less hateful to the freethinkers than Social-Democracy. “We must therefore not only ruthlessly castigate the sins of all the bourgeois parties, but above all make it clear that the betrayals of the freethinkers and the Centre on the question of the franchise are a necessary consequence of the class character of these parties.”

In the immediate future the question whether our Cadets are capable of “fighting” for the democratic demands put forward in their programme, or whether they are putting them forward merely to betray to the Octobrists the petty bourgeois and peasants who are following the liberals’ lead, will confront the Russian Social-Democrats again and again, as it repeatedly did before in the course of the revolution. Therefore some people in our Party would do well to ponder these arguments of Vorwärts.

P. S. This article was sent to press before we read Rech, issue No. 52 (of March 1), containing an article by Mr. K. D., the Berlin correspondent of this newspaper, entitled “The Crisis of German Liberalism”. The writer handles the controversy of Vorwärts with Südekum in the customary tone and with the customary methods used by our liberal falsifiers. lie makes no attempt to give the line of reasoning of the parties concerned or exact quotations. He simply declares: “The official Vorwärts promptly throws mud at the heretic, and in a leading article, extremely unappetising on account of its offensive and blustering tone, accuses him of ignorance and unpardonable forgetfulness of party tenets.” We leave it to the reader to judge whether Südekum himself will   find such a defence of him by the Cadets “appetising” or not. But such is the fate of the revisionists in any country—they are given generous support and heartfelt “recognition” of their efforts by the bourgeoisie. An alliance between the Südekum and the Struve gentry—could anything more “appetising” be thought of to confirm the correctness of our position?


[1] See present edition, Vol. 12, pp. 501-02.—Ed.

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