V. I.   Lenin

The Aim of the Proletarian Struggle in Our Revolution



Comrade Martov touches on Kautsky, and in doing so manages once more to pack so many inaccuracies in so few words that to answer him to the point we are obliged to tell the reader the whole story practically from the beginning.

The statement that “many, including Lenin in his preface to Kautsky’s article on Prospects,[1] emphatically denied the bourgeois character of our revolution” is utterly false, as also is the statement that Kautsky “has declared that the Russian revolution is not bourgeois”. The facts are entirely different.

Plekhanov put questions to a number of representatives of the international Social-Democratic movement. His first question was about the “general character” of the Russian revolution, and the second was about “the attitude of the Social-Democratic Party towards the bourgeois democrats who are fighting in their own way for political liberty”. In formulating the questions in this way Comrade Plekhanov committed two errors against Marxism. First, he confused the “general character” of the revolution, its social and economic content, with the question of the motive forces of the revolution. Marxists must not confuse these questions; they must not even directly deduce the answer to the second question from the answer to the first without a special concrete analysis. Secondly, he confused the role of the peasantry in our revolution with the role of the bourgeois democracy in general. Actually both the peasantry and the liberals are covered by the scientific term: “bourgeois democracy”; but the attitude of the proletariat towards these two varieties of “bourgeois democracy” must of necessity differ materially.

Kautsky immediately detected Comrade Plekhanov’s errors and corrected them in his reply. As regards the social and economic content of the revolution, Kautsky did not deny its bourgeois character—on the contrary, he definitely recognised it. Here are Kautsky’s statements relevant to the point as quoted in those same Prospects which have been so utterly garbled by Comrade Martov.

The present revolution tin Russia] in its effect on the countryside can lead only to the creation of a strong peasantry on the basis of private property in land, and there by create as wide a gulf between the proletariat and the property-owning section of the rural population as exists already in Western Europe. Therefore one cannot imagine that the present Russian revolution would lead immediately to the introduction of the socialist mode of production, even if it temporarily gave the reins of government to the Social-Democrats” (p. 311 of the Russian translation edited by N. Lenin).

It was this passage that prompted the following words in Lenin’s preface (p. 6, ibid.). “Needless to say, Kautsky fully agrees with the fundamental thesis of all Russian Social-Democrats that the peasant movement is non-socialist, that socialism cannot arise from small peasant production, etc.” (Lenin’s italics in the preface).

Comrade Martov’s assertion that Lenin positively denied the bourgeois character of our revolution is positively at variance with the truth. Lenin says just the opposite. Kautsky definitely recognised that in its general character, i. e., in its social and economic content, our revolution is bourgeois.

Plekhanov’s “first question”—wrote Kautsky in this article—“cannot, it seems to me, be given a simple answer, one way or the other. The time for bourgeois revolutions, i. e., revolutions in which the bourgeoisie is the motive force, has passed; it has passed for Russia too. ... The bourgeoisie is not one of the motive forces of the present revolutionary movement in Russia, and that being the case, this movement cannot be called bourgeois” (p. 29). As the reader sees, Kautsky here makes it perfectly clear what he is discussing: he is perfectly clearly speaking of a bourgeois revolution, not in the sense of its social and economic content, but in the sense of a revolution “of which the bourgeoisie is the motive force

To proceed. Kautsky corrected Plekhanov’s second mistake by drawing a clear and definite distinction between “liberal” and peasant bourgeois democracy. Kautsky stated that “the revolutionary strength of Russian Social-Democracy lies in the community of interests of the industrial proletariat   and the peasantry”, that “without the peasants we cannot now gain the victory in Russia” (p. 31). Apropos of the dull question of the word “and” which monopolises Comrade Martov’s discussion of principle, it is interesting to note that in this same article, i. e., in 1906, Kautsky employs on one and the same page the expression “rely” ("on what class can the Russian proletariat rely?”) and the expression: “the alliance between the proletariat and other classes in the revolutionary struggle must primarily be based on community of economic interests” (p. 30).

Perhaps Comrade Martov will accuse Karl Kautsky, will say that in 1906—in anticipation of the December 1908 Conference of the R.S.D.L.P.—Kautsky set out to “mislead the readers”, to “slur over” and “paste over” the differences between the Bolsheviks and the Polish Social-Democrats, to “engage in pettifoggery”, and so forth?

We may point out that, in advocating the idea of an alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry in the Russian bourgeois revolution, Kautsky is not proposing any thing “new”, but is entirely following in the footsteps of Marx and Engels. In 1848, Marx wrote in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung[2]: “The big bourgeoisie,” i. e., the German bourgeoisie after March 18, 1848—“anti-revolutionary from the very outset, concluded a defensive and offensive alliance with reaction out of fear of the people, that is to say, the workers and the democratic bourgeoisie” (see Volume III of Marx’s Collected Works published by Mehring; so far only two volumes have appeared in Russian). “The German revolution of 1848,” wrote Marx on July 29, 1848, “is a mere travesty of the French Revolution of 1789.... The French bourgeoisie of 1789 did not abandon its allies the peasants for a moment.... The German bourgeoisie of 1848 is betraying the peasants without the slightest compunction....”

Here in relation to a bourgeois revolution Marx is clearly contraposing the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie allied with reaction to the working class allied with the democratic bourgeoisie, i.e., primarily the peasantry. And this view can hardly be put down to the fact that Marx’s socialist world-outlook had not fully crystallised at that time. Forty-four years later, in 1892, in his article, “Historical Materialism” (Neue Zeit, XI, Vol. I, published in Russian   in the symposium Historical Materialism) Engels wrote the following: “... In all the three great bourgeois risings [the Reformation and Peasant War in the sixteenth century in Germany, the English Revolution of the seventeenth century and the French in the eighteenth] the peasantry furnishes the army that has to do the fighting.... Had it not been for that yeomanry [in the English Revolution] and for the plebeian element in the towns, the bourgeoisie alone would never have fought the matter out to the bitter end, and would never have brought Charles I to the scaffold.”[3]

Consequently, the specific feature of the Russian bourgeois revolution is merely that instead of the plebeian element of the towns taking second place as it did in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is the proletariat which is taking first place in the twentieth century.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 11, pp. 408-13.—Ed.

[2] Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung was published in Cologne from June 1, 1848 to May 19, 1849 under the management of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Editor-in-Chief was Marx. Under the blows of reaction the newspaper closed down after issue No. 301.

Here Lenin quotes from the articles by K. Marx and F. Engels “Die Berliner Debatte über die Revolution” and “Der Gesetzenwurf über die Aufhebung der Feudallasten” published in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung on June 14 and July 30, 1848.

[3] See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 104-05.

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