V. I. Lenin

The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia

The subject indicated by the above title is dealt with in articles by Trotsky and Martov in Nos. 50 and 51 of Neue Zeit. Martov expounds Menshevik views. Trotsky follows in the wake of the Mensheviks, taking cover behind particularly sonorous phrases. Martov sums up the “Russian experience” by saying: “Blanquist and anarchist lack of culture triumphed over Marxist culture” (read: Bolshevism over Menshevism). “Russian Social-Democracy spoke too zealously in Russian”, in contrast to the “general European” methods of tactics. Trotsky’s “philosophy of history” is the same. The cause of the struggle is the “adaptation of the Marxist intelligentsia to the class movement of the, proletariat”. “Sectarianism, intellectualist individualism, ideological fetishism” are placed in the forefront. “The struggle for influence over the politically immature proletariat”—that is the essence of the matter.


The theory that the struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism is a struggle for influence over an immature proletariat is not a new one. We have been encountering it since 1905 (if not since 1903) in innumerable books, pamphlets, and articles in the liberal press. Martov and Trotsky are putting before the German comrades liberal views with a Marxist coating.

Of course, the Russian proletariat is politically far less mature than the proletariat of Western Europe. But of all   classes of Russian society, it was the proletariat that displayed the greatest political maturity in 1905–07. The Russian liberal bourgeoisie, which behaved in just as vile, cowardly, stupid and treacherous a manner as the German bourgeoisie in 1848, hates the Russian proletariat for the very reason that in 1905 it proved sufficiently mature politically to wrest the leadership of the movement from this bourgeoisie and ruthlessly to expose the treachery of the liberals.

Trotsky declares: “It is an illusion” to imagine that Menshevism and Bolshevism “have struck deep roots in the depths of the proletariat”. This is a specimen of the resonant but empty phrases of which our Trotsky is a master. The roots of the divergence between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks lie, not in the “depths of the proletariat”, but in the economic content of the Russian revolution. By ignoring this content, Martov and Trotsky have deprived themselves of the possibility of understanding the historical meaning of the inner Party struggle in Russia. The crux of the matter is not whether the theoretical formulations of the differences have penetrated “deeply” into this or that stratum of the proletariat, but the fact that the economic conditions of the Revolution of 1905 brought the proletariat into hostile relations with the liberal bourgeoisie—not only over the question of improving the conditions of daily life of the workers, but also over the agrarian question, over all the political questions of the revolution, etc. To speak of the struggle of trends in the Russian revolutions distributing labels such as “sectarianism”, “lack of culture”, etc., and not to say a word about the fundamental economic interests of the proletariat, of the liberal bourgeoisie and of the democratic peasantry, means stooping to the level of cheap journalists.

Here is an example: “In the whole of Western Europe,” Martov writes, “the peasant masses are considered suitable for an alliance [with the proletariat] only to the extent that they begin to feel the grave consequences of the capitalist revolution in agriculture; in Russia, however, a picture has been drawn of a numerically weak proletariat combining with a hundred million peasants who have not yet felt, or have hardly felt, the ‘educational’ effect of capitalism, and there fore have not yet been through the school of the capitalist bourgeoisie.”

This is not a slip of the pen on Martov’s part. It is the central point of all the ideas of Menshevism. The opportunist history of the Russian revolution which is being published in Russia under the editorship of Potresov, Martov and Maslov (The Social Movement in Russia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century) is thoroughly permeated with these ideas. The Menshevik Maslov expressed these ideas still more graphically when he stated in the article which sums up this “work”: “a dictatorship of the proletariat and the, peasantry would run counter to the whole course of economic development.” It is precisely here that the roots of the divergencies between Bolshevism and Menshevism must be sought.

Martov substituted the school of the capitalist bourgeoisie for the school of capitalism. (Let us state in parenthesis that there is no other bourgeoisie in the world than the capitalist bourgeoisie.) What is meant by the school of capitalism? That capitalism lifts the peasants from the idiocy of rural life, rouses them and impels them to fight. What is meant by the school of the “capitalist bourgeoisie”? That “the German bourgeoisie of 1848 is without the least compunction betraying the peasants, who are its most natural allies... and without whom it is powerless against the nobility” (Karl Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung of July 29, 1848).{1} That the Russian liberal bourgeoisie in 1905–07 systematically and persistently betrayed the peasants, that it in fact desert ed to the side of the landlords and tsarism against the fighting peasants and put direct obstacles in the path of the development of the peasant struggle.

Under cover of “Marxist” catchwords about the “education” of the peasants by capitalism, Martov is advocating the “education” of the peasants (who fought the nobility in revolutionary fashion) by the liberals (who betrayed the peasants to the nobles).

This is substituting liberalism for Marxism. This is liberalism embellished with Marxist phrases. What Bebel said in Magdeburg about there being National Liberals among the Social-Democrats is true not only of Germany.

It is also necessary to observe that most of the ideological leaders of Russian liberalism were brought up on German literature and are deliberately transplanting to Russia the Brentano and Sombart brand of “Marxism”, which recognises   the “school of capitalism”, but rejects the school of revolutionary class struggle. All the counter-revolutionary liberals in Russia, such as Struve, Bulgakov, Frank, Izgoyev and Co., flaunt similar “Marxist” phrases.

Martov compares Russia of the epoch of peasant uprisings against feudalism with “Western Europe”, which put an end to feudalism long ago. This is a stupendous distortion of the historical perspective. Are there any socialists “in the whole of Western Europe” whose programme contains the demand: “to support the revolutionary actions of the peasantry including confiscation of the landed estates”?{2} No, there are none. The socialists “in the whole of Western Europe” do not at all support the small proprietors in their fight over landownership against the big proprietors. Wherein lies the difference? In the fact that “in the whole of Western Europe” the bourgeois system, including, in particular, bourgeois agrarian relations, was established and took definite shape long ago, whereas in Russia it is just now that a revolution is taking place over the question of the form this bourgeois system is to assume. Martov repeats the threadbare method of the liberals, who always contrast the period of revolutionary conflicts over a given question with periods in which there are no such revolutionary conflicts because the question itself was solved long ago.

The tragicomedy of Menshevism lies in the fact that at the time of the revolution it had to accept theses which were incompatible with liberalism. If we support the struggle of the “peasantry” for the confiscation of the land, it means that we admit that victory is possible and economically and politically advantageous for the working class and the whole of the people. But the victory of the “peasantry” led by the proletariat in the struggle for the confiscation of the landed estates is precisely the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. (Let us recall what Marx said in 1848 about the need for a dictatorship in a revolution, and Mehring’s deserved ridicule of those who accused Marx of wishing to achieve democracy by setting up a dictatorship.{3})

The view that the dictatorship of these classes “runs counter to the whole course of economic development” is radically wrong. The very opposite is the case. Only such a dictator ship could make a clean sweep of the remnants of feudalism   and secure the speediest development of the productive forces. The policy of the liberals, on the contrary, entrusts the whole matter to the Russian Junkers, who are retarding “the course of the economic development” of Russia a hundredfold.

In 1905–07 the contradiction existing between the liberal bourgeoisie and the peasantry became fully revealed. In the spring and autumn of 1905, as well as in the spring of 1906, from one-third to one-half of the uyezds of Central Russia were affected by peasant revolts. The peasants destroyed approximately 2,000 country houses of landlords (unfortunately this is not more than one-fifteenth of what should have been destroyed). The proletariat alone whole heartedly supported this revolutionary struggle, directed it in every way, guided it, and united it by its mass strikes. The liberal bourgeoisie never helped this revolutionary struggle; they preferred to “pacify” the peasants and “reconcile” them with the landlords and the tsar. The same thing was then repeated in the parliamentary arena in the first two Dumas (1906 and 1907). During the whole of that period the liberals hindered the struggle of the peasants and betrayed them; and it was only the workers’ deputies who directed and supported the peasants in opposition to the liberals. The entire history of the First and Second Dumas is full of the struggle of the liberals against the peasants and the Social-Democrats. The struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism is inseparably bound up with that history, being a struggle over the question whether to support the liberals or to overthrow the hegemony of the liberals over the peasantry. Therefore, to attribute our splits to the influence of the intelligentsia, to the immaturity of the proletariat, etc., is a childishly naïve repetition of liberal fairy-tales.

For the same reason Trotsky’s argument that splits in the international Social-Democratic movement are caused by the “process of adaptation of the social-revolutionary class to the limited (narrow) conditions of parliamentarism”, etc., while in the Russian Social-Democratic movement they are caused by the adaptation of the intelligentsia to the proletariat, is absolutely false. Trotsky writes: “While the real political content of this process of adaptation was limited (narrow) from the standpoint of the socialist, final aim,   its forms were unrestrained, and the ideological shadow cast by this process was great.”

This truly “unrestrained” phrase-mongering is merely the “ideological shadow” of liberalism. Both Martov and Trotsky mix up different historical periods and compare Russia, which is going through her bourgeois revolution, with Europe, where these revolutions were completed long ago. In Europe the real political content of Social-Democratic work is to prepare the proletariat for the struggle for power against the bourgeoisie, which already holds full sway in the state. In Russia, the question is still only one of creating a modern bourgeois state, which will be similar either to a Junker monarchy (in the event of tsarism being victorious over democracy) or to a peasant bourgeois-democratic republic (in the event of democracy being victorious over tsarism). And the victory of democracy in present-day Russia is possible only if the peasant masses follow the lead of the revolutionary proletariat and not that of the treacherous liberals. History has not yet decided this question. The bourgeois revolutions are not yet completed in Russia and within these bounds, i. e., within the bounds of the struggle for the form of the bourgeois regime in Russia, “the real political content” of the work of Russian Social-Democrats is less “limited” than in countries where there is no struggle for the confiscation of the landed estates by the peasants, where the bourgeois revolutions were completed long ago.

It is easy to understand why the class interests of the bourgeoisie compel the liberals to try to persuade the workers that their role in the revolution is “limited”, that the struggle of trends is caused by the intelligentsia, and not by profound economic contradictions, that the workers’ party must be “not the leader in the struggle for emancipation, but a class party”. This is the formula that the Golosist liquidators advanced quite recently (Levitsky in Nasha Zarya) and which the liberals have approved. They use the term. “class party” in the Brentano-Sombart sense: concern yourself only with your own class and abandon “Blanquist dreams” of leading all the revolutionary elements of the people in a struggle against tsarism and treacherous liberalism.



{1} Marx/Engels/Lenin, Zur Deutschen Geschichte, Band II, 1. Halbband, Berlin, 1954, S. 254.

{2} Lenin is referring to the “Tactical Resolution on the Agrarian Question” adopted by the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (See The C.P.S.U. in Resolutions and Decisions of Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, 7th Russian ed., Part 1, 1953, pp. 124–25.)

{3} This refers to Karl Marx’s article “The Berlin Counter-revolution” published on September 13, 1848, in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. This article was included in the third volume of Aus dem literarischen Nachlass von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lassalle (The Literary Legacy of Karl Marx, Frederick Engels and Ferdinand Lassalle), which was prepared by F. Mehring and published in Stuttgart, 1902, pp. 192–96. In referring to “Mehring’s deserved ridicule” Lenin has in mind Mehring’s introduction to this third volume, pp. 53–54.

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