V. I.   Lenin

Liberalism and Democracy

Published: Zvezda, Nos. 27 (63) and 32 (68), April 8, and April 19, 1912. Signed: P.P.. Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 569-578.
Translated: Dora Cox
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.
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The Trudovik conference of which we have already spoken and which was reported in several newspapers (among others, in Rech of March 28), is of special importance from the standpoint of making clear party alignments in the elections to the Fourth Duma. After the bloc of moderate liberals (the Cadets and “independent Progressists”) and after the resolutions of the working-class democrats about their tactics in the elections, it only remained for the Trudoviks to “define themselves” in order to complete the picture.

By now all classes of Russian society, as represented by all political parties of any importance and worthy of attention, have defined their position in the election campaign. For the bourgeois parties, particularly those that have found a “permanent” place for themselves under the June Third regime, the elections are primarily an occasion for an intensified publicity drive, but for working-class democrats, for Marxists, the main task in the election campaign is to explain to the people the nature of the various political parties, what views are advocated and who advocates them, what are the real and vital interests behind each party, which classes of society shelter behind each party label.

From this point of view we shall have to deal with the conference of the Trudoviks repeatedly, and in the interests of the working class, our special attention must be devoted to the fundamental question indicated above. The Black Hundreds, the Right parties, and the liberals (the Cadets) all ignore this question, or else they misinterpret its presentation and solution in a thousand ways, not be cause of any lack of understanding or because of the malice   of individuals, but because the class interests of the land owners and the bourgeoisie compel them to misrepresent the essence of the peasants’ and workers’ parties.

On the other hand, the Trudoviks, a mainly peasant party, do not try to evade the question, say, of what distinguishes liberalism from democracy, but their answer to it is a wrong one. Nor is it possible to give a proper answer to the question when approached from the peasant point of view, i.e., that of the small proprietor. It is only from the point of view of the wage-earner that the question is settled—this is borne out not only by theory and science, but also by the experience of all European countries, by the entire economic and political history of the European parties, particularly in the nineteenth century.

Observe, for one thing, what the liberals say of the Trudoviks and what the Trudoviks say of themselves. The liberal Rech, chief organ of the Cadet Party, says that the Trudoviks suffered most from the change in the electoral law effected on June 3, 1907, and that their tactics “cannot in any way differ perceptibly” from the tactics of the Cadets; for the Cadets, if you please, can “repeat” and do repeat practically everything said by the Trudoviks. “Lastly,” writes Rech, “election agreements with the Trudoviks may perhaps turn out to be necessary in isolated places only, and in few such places at that.”

Consider this statement, and you will see that it is the statement of a liberal bourgeois, whom the law of June 3 deprived of his leading position (which he enjoyed under the law of December 11, 1905[2]), but at the same time gave him a by no means insignificant place in the opposition, segregated from democracy. You don’t matter much, Messrs. Trudoviks, and we are not taking you seriously—that is what the Rech statement really amounts to. Why do they not matter? Because the law of June 3 has made them powerless in the elections.

From the standpoint of any democrat, and particularly from the standpoint of any worker, the parties that matter are not those that enjoy a monopoly or privileges under the given electoral law, but those that represent the large masses of the population, especially of the toiling and exploited population. As it happens, however, it is precisely   from these masses that the law of June 3 protects the liberal bourgeois—and that is why they do not matter to him. The liberal lawyers and journalists want seats in the Duma, the liberal bourgeois want to share power with the Purishkeviches, that is what they really want. As for the development of the independent political thought of the peasant masses, the development of their initiative as a class, this is something the liberal does not want; more, it constitutes an outright danger to him. The liberals need voters, they need a crowd that would trust and follow them (in order to compel the Purishkeviches to make room), but they fear the political independence of the crowd.

Why, then, are they not afraid of the Trudoviks who, as an “independent” party particularly close to the peasantry, i.e., to the vast majority of the population, are not liberals but representatives of bourgeois democracy? For the very reason that the Trudoviks are democrats insufficiently independent in their relations with the liberals, lacking the ability to fight the liberals for influence over the masses! We must not tire of dwelling hundreds of times on this most important problem of contemporary politics in Russia if we take these politics seriously, conscientiously, as a matter of principle, and not in the fraudulent (or liberal) sense of chasing after Duma seats. As long as Russia’s political transformation along democratic lines remains the historical task of the present epoch, the entire crux of the problem of this transformation will inevitably consist in the necessity for very broad, the broadest possible, masses of the population to become conscious democrats, i.e., emphatic, consistent and determined opponents of liberal narrow-mindedness, half-heartedness and cowardice. And no worker can claim to be a class-conscious worker if he has not realised that he cannot be a consistent fighter for the abolition of wage slavery, unless he is fully aware of and works for this political task of our times.

When the liberals, the Cadets, say that their “tactics” do not in any way “differ perceptibly” from Trudovik tactics, it is a case of unmitigated ignorance or shameless lying. The political history of Russia for the past decade teems with hundreds and thousands of refutations of this lie. Russia’s most recent history provides proof based on our   Russian experience showing that the difference between the liberals and the peasant democrats is immeasurably deeper than any question of “tactics”; this difference has always and invariably come to the surface during the past, say, eight years, despite the fact that the course of events has often given rise to the most drastic changes in “tactics”; this difference goes much deeper than any “programmes”, for a programme expresses simply what the advanced representatives of a given class think of the tasks and position of their class. Not the opinions of advanced individuals, but the actions of the millions, have shown us the root difference between the present-day economic and political condition of the liberal bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the bourgeois-democratic peasantry on the other. Hence the fundamental difference between their class interests in regard to the “forces in control” of Russia today. Hence the fundamental difference between them on all points of departure and in the entire scope of political activity.

Both the liberal and the Trudovik may be under the illusion that they hold the same political opinions, for both are “against Purishkevich”. But probe just a little below these opinions of political leaders, down to the class position of the masses, and you will find that in real life the liberal bourgeoisie shares political privileges with the Purishkeviches, and their controversy is only over the question whether the Purishkeviches are to hold two-thirds of these privileges and the Milyukovs one third, or the other way round. Take “real life”, take the economic position of the present-day Russian peasantry as a stratum of small proprietors in agriculture, and you are sure to find that it is by no means a question of dividing political privileges, by no means a question of political privileges at all, but that even the word “life” must be written in inverted commas, for the very existence of the Purishkeviches means death from starvation for millions of such petty proprietors.

Modern Russia has two bourgeoisies. One is the very narrow stratum of ripe and overripe capitalists who, in the person of the Octobrists and Cadets, are actually concerned with sharing the present political power, the present political privileges, with the Purishkeviches. The word “present” in this case be must be given a rather broad meaning, so as to   include, for instance, the privileges which the law of June 3, 1907, safeguards today, and the privileges which the law of December 11, 1905, safeguarded yesterday.

The other bourgeoisie is the very wide stratum of petty and in part medium proprietors, who have not yet matured but are energetically endeavouring to do so. They are mostly peasants who in the present era of Russian history are by no means actually confronted with the question of privileges, but with the question of how not to starve to death because of the Purishkeviches. This is a question that concerns the very foundations of the power of the Purishkeviches in general, the sources of all power held by the Purishkeviches.

The entire history of Russia’s political emancipation centres around the struggle between these two bourgeois tendencies. Behind all the thousands upon thousands of fine words about liberty and equality, about “equalitarian” distribution of the land and “Narodism”, is the struggle between these bourgeois tendencies, The result of the struggle will inevitably be a Russia that is completely bourgeois and painted entirely or predominantly in one of these two “colours”. It is clear that this struggle is by no means with out significance for the wage-worker; quite the contrary, if he is a class-conscious wage-worker he most vigorously interferes in this fight, doing his utmost to get the peasant to follow him and not follow the liberal.

This also underlies the problems which the Trudovik conference could not help touching upon. We shall deal with those in greater detail in later articles. For the time being, we shall confine ourselves to a brief summary of what has been said. The question of the Trudoviks and the Cadets is one of the most important questions of Russia’s political emancipation. There is nothing more banal than to reduce this question to one of the “strength” of this or that party in the June Third system or of the “advantage” to be derived from different agreements in elections based on this system. On the contrary, the particular questions of agreements, second ballots, etc., can, from the standpoint of the wage-worker, be settled correctly only if the class roots of both parties, the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks) and the bourgeois liberals (Cadets, “Progressists”, etc.), have been understood.



The conference of the Trudoviks raised a number of highly interesting and instructive political questions. We are now in possession of a splendid commentary on its decisions—Mr. V. Vodovozov’s article on “The Election Programme of the Trudovik Group” in No. 13 of the St. Petersburg weekly Zaprosy Zhizni,[3] whose closest contributors include Messrs. Kovalevsky and Blank. Mr. Vodovozov’s commentary is “splendid”, not from our point of view, of course, but because it correctly represents the views and aspirations of the Trudoviks. Everyone interested in the role of the democratic social forces in Russia must pay due attention to Mr. Vodovozov’s article.

The Trudovik group,” he writes, “proceeds from the belief that at the present historical moment the interests of the peasantry, the working class and the working intelligentsia, far from contradicting each other, are practically identical; therefore, one party could fully take care of the interests of these three classes of society. But, owing to the force of historical conditions, the working class found its representation in the Social-Democratic Party, and that is why the Trudovik group necessarily had to become primarily the political representative of the peasantry. And such it has been.”

Here we see at a glance the fundamental mistake shared by all the Narodniks, including those who are the most “left”. They proceed from a “belief” which contradicts all the maxims of economic science and the entire experience of countries which have gone through epochs resembling the present epoch in Russia. They cling to these “beliefs” even when the experience of Russian history compels them to admit that in our country, too, these beliefs are refuted by the course of events.

The Trudoviks’ second phrase contradicts their first. If one party could have taken care of the interests both of the working class and the peasantry, what could have given rise to a separate party of the working class? Since such a party was created and became consolidated during a particularly important and particularly crucial period of Russian history (1905), and since even the Trudoviks have to admit that the working class “found” its party “owing to the force of historical conditions”, this, consequently, means that   the “beliefs” of the Trudoviks have been related by “the force of historical conditions”.

If the Trudoviks have turned out to be a party of the peasantry, although, according to their own beliefs, they ought not to be a party only of the peasantry, their beliefs must be wrong, must be an illusion. And it is the same sort of illusion as the one entertained by all bourgeois-democratic parties of Europe in the period of the struggle against feudalism and absolutism. In one form or another, the idea of a “non-class party” dominated, but the “force of historical conditions” invariably refuted this idea and shattered this illusion. The attempts or efforts to include different classes in “one party” have always been characteristic of bourgeois democracy at the time when it had to look for its main enemy in the past, not in the future—when it saw its enemy in the feudal lords, not in the proletariat.

The claim to “encompass” various classes makes the Trudoviks akin to the Cadets. The latter, too, want to be a party standing above classes, they also insist that the interests of the working class, the peasantry and the working intelligentsia are “practically identical”. And when they speak of the working intelligentsia, they include the Maklakovs too! The class-conscious workers will always combat the various concepts of parties that stand above classes, against every attempt to gloss over the gulf between the class of wage-workers and the class of the petty proprietors.

The Trudoviks resemble the Cadets in sharing bourgeois illusions as to the possibility of fusing the different classes. The difference between them lies in the class to which the particular party will be drawn under the influence of events, against the wishes of that party and sometimes in spite of the ideas entertained by some of its members. The Trudoviks have been taught by history to keep closer to the truth, to call themselves a peasant party. The Cadets continue to call themselves democrats, although in actual fact they are counter-revolutionary liberals.

Unfortunately, the Trudoviks are far from being aware of the latter truth—so much so that in the official decisions of their conference they failed to give any characterisation of the Cadets. All we read in the official resolutions is that agreements should be concluded “in the first place   with the Social-Democrats, and subsequently with the Constitutional-Democrats”. This is insufficient. The question of election agreements can be settled correctly, consistently, and in a principled manner, only if there exists complete clarity as to the class nature of the parties concluding the agreement, as to what constitutes their fundamental divergence, and on what points their interests temporarily coincide.

These matters are dealt with only in Mr. Vodovozov’s commentary. Rech, which noted and discussed that article, took care to leave its readers entirely in the dark with regard to these very points. In our opinion, these points ought to be dwelt on with all due attention.

The Trudovik group,” writes Mr. Vodovozov, “is fully aware that the present regime in Russia is a regime of absolutism and arbitrary rule; that is why it has emphatically disapproved of all the actions and steps taken by the Constitutional-Democratic Party to proclaim urbi et orbi[1] that in Russia we have a constitutional regime, and why it has assumed a negative attitude to the solemn receptions given to the representatives of the British and French Parliaments as a demonstration of Russian constitutionalism. The Trudovik group has never doubted that only a radical and profound revolution in the entire political and social system can lead Russia on to the highroad of proper and sound development; that is why it has been in sympathy with all expressions of such convictions in our public life. It is this conviction that has implied the existence of a deep gulf between it and the Constitutional-Democratic Party....” Further on the author repeats the same idea about “the peaceful evolutionism of the Cadets and Cadet tactics produced by this evolutionism”, “owing to which the Trudoviks have always been farther removed from the Constitutional-Democrats than from the Social-Democrats”.

It is obvious why the Cadet Rech was obliged to take care to withhold these reflections from its readers. For these reflections represent a clearly expressed desire to draw a line between democratism and liberalism. The line is unquestionably there, but Mr. Vodovozov, although he speaks   of a “deep gulf”, has a very shallow conception of this line. According to him, the difference, at bottom, is one of tactics and of the appraisal of the situation: the Trudoviks are in favour of a radical revolution, while the Cadets are peaceful evolutionists; according to the Trudoviks the regime in Russia is one of absolutism, according to the Cadets we have, thank God, a constitution. Such differences may exist between the Right and the Left wings of the same class.

Are these all the differences there are between the Trudoviks and the Cadets? Has not Mr. Vodovozov himself admitted that the Trudoviks are a party of the peasantry? If we take the class position of the peasantry in relation, say, to Purishkevich and Purishkevichism, are there no features that distinguish this position from that of the liberal bourgeoisie?

If there are no such distinguishing features, then there is no profound difference between the Trudoviks and the Cadets even in their attitude to feudalism and absolutism. If there are such distinguishing features, then it is the difference of Class interests, and not the difference of “opinion” on absolutism and the Constitution or on peaceful evolution, that must be stressed.

The Trudoviks want to be more radical than the Cadets. That is very good. But their radicalism would be more consistent and profound if they had a clear idea of the class essence of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, if they plainly referred in their platform to the counter-revolutionary liberalism of the Cadets.

It is therefore in vain that Mr. Vodovozov tries to “justify” himself by pleading external obstacles owing to which, he claims, the Trudoviks “were obliged to draft a resolution in which the most essential points were concealed behind a reference, one not very intelligible to most readers, to the ‘platform of the Trudovik group’, which is hardly accessible to them”. But, to begin with, the Trudoviks were not obliged to confine themselves to the arena fenced off by such obstacles; by confining themselves to this arena, they, just like our liquidators, are betraying how little they differ from the Cadets. Secondly, it was always possible, no matter what the arena, to formulate the class essence of the Cadet liberalism and its counter-revolutionary nature.

Thus we see that the vacillations of the Trudoviks between the Cadets and the Social-Democrats are not fortuitous, but the result of very profound and fundamental conditions, those under which the peasantry has to live. The intermediary position of aloofness from the direct fight between the bourgeois and the proletarian nourishes illusions about a party that stands outside or above classes. What brings the Trudoviks and the Cadets close to one another are the common bourgeois prejudices characteristic both of the big and the small proprietor. Hence, as bourgeois democrats, the Trudoviks lack consistency even in their struggle against the foundations of the power of the Purishkeviches.

The task of the class-conscious workers is to help rally the forces of the peasant democracy, those who are least dependent on the liberals and least liable to yield to their influence, those who are most consistent and determined. Such is the condition of the vast mass of the peasantry that the striving for “a radical and profound revolution”, as formulated by Mr. Vodovozov, has extremely strong, widely ramified and deep-seated roots.


[1] Far and wide—Ed.

[2] The law of December 11 (24), 1905, convening the “legislative” State Duma was published by the tsarist government during the height of the Moscow armed uprising. The law ensured a tremendous majority of landlords and capitalists in the Duma. The First Duma, elected on the basis of the law of December 11, 1905, was a Cadet Duma.

[3] Zaprosy Zhizni (Demands of Life)—a weekly magazine published in St. Petersburg from 1909 to 1912. Among its contributors were Cadets, Popular Socialists, and Menshevik-liquidators.

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