V. I.   Lenin

The Nature and Significance of Our Polemics Against the Liberals

Published: Nevskaya Zvezda No. 12, June 10, 1912. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the text in Nevskaya Zvezda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 122-128.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
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

Mr. Prokopovich, a well-known advocate of revisionism and of a liberal labour policy, contributed to Russkiye Vedomosti an article entitled “Danger Ahead”. The danger, according to this politician, is that the elections to the Fourth Duma will be shaped by the police chiefs. To combat this danger, he proposes “the unity of all the constitutionalist elements of the country”, i.e., the Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks, as well as the Cadets and the Progressists.

The Right-Cadet Russkiye Vedomosti in an editorial note declares its “satisfaction” with Mr. Prokopovich’s article. “Such unity of the opposition forces,” it says, “we regard as an urgent requirement of the present moment.”

The official-Cadet Rech gives a summary of Mr. Prokopovich’s article and, quoting the opinion of Russkiye Vedomosti, comments for its own part:

However, judging by the publications of the Social-Democratic trend, which bend all their energies mostly to fight the opposition, one can hardly attach any real importance to this appeal” (i.e., the appeal for “unity”).

Thus the important question of the election tactics and the attitude of the workers to the liberals is being raised once more. Once again we see that the liberals pose this question not like serious politicians, but like matchmakers. Their aim is not to establish the truth, but to obscure it.

Indeed, ponder over the following circumstance. Do the liberals mean amalgamation of the parties when they speak of “unity”? Not in the least. Mr. Prokopovich, Russkiye Vedomosti and Rech are all agreed on this score.

Consequently, what they mean by unity is joint action against the Rights—from Purishkevich to Guchkov—is it not? It would seem that is so!

The question arises: does anyone among the “Lefts” reject such joint action?

No one does. That is common knowledge.

An agreement with the liberals to vote against the Rights is precisely what is meant by “unity” between the democrats and the liberals in the elections. Why, then, are the liberals dissatisfied? Why do they not say that the “Lefts” have quite definitely and explicitly declared in favour of agreements? Why are they so shy of mentioning the fact that it is the liberals who have said nothing clear, definite, explicit and official about agreements with the Lefts, with the democrats, with the Marxists? Why is it that, in speaking of the election tactics, they do not say a word about the well-known decision of the Cadet conference, which permitted of blocs with the “Left Octobrists”?

The facts are there, gentlemen, and no amount of dodging can alter them. It is the Lefts, the Marxists, that have declared, clearly, explicitly and officially, in favour of an agreement with the liberals (including both the Cadets and the Progressists) against the Rights. And it is none other than the Cadets who have evaded a quite explicit and official answer regarding the Lefts!

Mr. Prokopovich knows these facts very well, and it is therefore absolutely unpardonable on his part to distort the truth by keeping silent about the explicit decision of the Marxists and the evasiveness of the Cadets.

What is the reason for this silence? It is only too obvious from the quoted statement of Rech alleging that we “bend all our energies mostly to fight the opposition”.

From the wording used by Rech, it follows inevitably that if they want to unite with the liberals, the democrats must not “bend all their energies” to fight the opposition. But in that case say so plainly, gentlemen! State your terms explicitly and officially. The trouble with you, however, is that you cannot do so. You would merely make everyone laugh if you tried to formulate such a condition. By putting forward such a condition you would refute yourselves, for you have all of you unanimously admitted that there are   “profound differences” between the liberals and the democrats (to say nothing of the Marxists).

And since there are differences, and profound ones at that, how is it possible to avoid fighting?

The falsity of the liberals is precisely that, on the one hand, they reject amalgamation, acknowledge the existence of profound differences, emphasise that it is impossible “for any of the parties to renounce the fundamental provisions of its programme” (Russkiye Vedomosti), and, on the other band, they complain of the “fight against the opposition”!!

But let us examine the matter more closely. To begin with, is it true that the newspapers and magazines, to which Rech refers, bend all their energies mostly to fight the opposition? No, far from it. The liberals cannot point to a single question, not one, in which the democrats do not bend all their energies mostly to fight the Rights!! Let anyone of you who wishes to check this statement make a test. Let him take any, say, three successive issues of any Marxist newspaper. Let him take three political questions as test cases and compare the documentary data showing against whom the fight of the Marxists on the questions selected is mostly “directed” in those newspaper issues.

You will not make that simple and easy test, liberal gentlemen, because any such test will prove you wrong.

Nor is that all. There is another, and particularly important, consideration which refutes you even more strongly. How do the democrats in general, and the Marxists in particular, carry on their fight against the liberals? They carry it on in such a way, and only in such a way, that each—positively and absolutely each—reproach or accusation levelled at the liberals naturally involves an even sharper reproach, an even graver accusation levelled at the Rights.

That is the gist of the matter, the crux of the issue! A few examples will make our idea quite clear.

We accuse the liberals, the Cadets, of being counter revolutionary. Show us a single one of our accusations of this kind that does not reflect with even greater force upon the Rights.

We accuse the liberals of “nationalism” and “imperialism”. Show us a single one of our accusations of this kind   that is not directed with even greater force against the Rights.

We have accused the liberals of being afraid of the movement of the masses. Now can you find in our newspapers a formulation of this accusation such as is not directed against the Rights as well?

We have accused the liberals of defending “certain” medieval institutions that are capable of “operating” against the workers. To accuse the liberals of that means accusing thereby all the Rights of the same thing, and of even more.

These examples can be multiplied indefinitely. You will find that always and everywhere, without any exception, the working-class democrats accuse the liberals exclusively for being close to the Rights, for the irresolute and fictitious nature of their fight against the Rights, for their half-heartedness, thereby accusing the Rights, not merely of “half a sin”, but of a “whole sin”.

The fight against the liberals” waged by the democrats and the Marxists is more profound, more consistent and richer in content, and it does more to enlighten and rally the masses, than the fight against the Rights. That, gentle men, is how matters stand!

And in order not to leave any doubts on this score, in order to forestall any absurd distortion of the meaning and significance of our fight against the liberals—to forestall, for example, the absurd theory of “one reactionary mass” (i.e., the lumping together of the liberals and the Rights in the single political concept of a reactionary bloc, of a reactionary mass)—we always take care, in our official statements, to speak of the fight against the Rights in terms different from those we use in speaking of our fight against the liberals.

Mr. Prokopovich knows this very well, as does every educated liberal. He knows, for instance, that in our definition of the social, class nature of the various parties, we always stress the medievalism of the Rights and the bourgeois nature of the liberals. And there is a world of difference between these two things. Medievalism can (and should) be destroyed, even keeping within the framework of capitalism. Bourgeois nature cannot be destroyed within this frame work, but we can (and should) “appeal” from the bourgeois   landlord to the bourgeois peasant, from the bourgeois liberal to the bourgeois democrat, from bourgeois half freedom to bourgeois full freedom. It is in such appeals, and only iii such appeals, that our criticism of the liberals consists during the period Russia is passing through, i.e., the criticism which we are voicing from the standpoint of the immediate and next tasks of this period.

Take the following statement in Mr. Prokopovich’s article. “The creation of sound conditions for the political life of the mass of the people—this is the immediate aim which at present unites the Lefts and the opposition.”

Nothing could he more meaningless, more empty and misleading than this statement. Even an Octobrist, even an astute “nationalist”, will subscribe to it, because it is so vague. It is a mere promise, sheer declamation, diplomatic concealment of one’s thoughts. But if Mr. Prokopovich, like so many other liberals, has been given a tongue so that he may conceal his thoughts, we shall try to do our duty and reveal what is concealed behind his statement. To be on the safe side, let us take a minor example, something of rather little importance.

Is the two-chamber system a sound condition for political life? We do not think so. The Progressists and the Cadets think it is. For holding such views, we accuse the liberals of being anti-democratic, of being counter-revolutionary. And by formulating this accusation against the liberals, we level an even greater accusation at all the Rights.

Further, the question arises: How about “unity between the Lefts and the opposition”? Do we, on account of this difference of opinion, refuse to unite with a liberal against a Right? By no means. The counter-revolutionary views of the liberals on this question, as well as on all similar, much more important questions of political liberty, have been known to us for a long time—since 1905 or even earlier. Nevertheless, we repeat even in 1912 that both in a second ballot and at the second stage of the elections it is permissible to enter into agreements with the liberals against the Rights. For, despite its half-heartedness, bourgeois monarchist liberalism is not at all the same as feudal reaction. It would be very bad working-class politics not to take advantage of this difference.

But to proceed. How should we take advantage of it? On what terms is “unity between the Lefts and the opposition” possible? The answer of the liberal is: since the Lefts are waging a relentless fight against the opposition, there is no point in even talking of unity. And the liberal goes on to explain his idea as follows: the more modest the demand, the wider is the circle of those who agree with it, the more complete is the unity, and the greater the force capable of implementing that demand. A “tolerable” constitution providing for a two-chamber system (and other—how shall we put it mildly?—slight digressions from democracy) will have the support of all democrats and all liberals; that is a great deal. But if you insist on “pure” democracy, the Progressists will drop out, and you will also “alienate” many Cadets, with the result that the “constitutionalist elements” will be disunited and weakened.

That is how the liberal reasons. But we reason differently. Our main premise is that unless the masses are politically conscious there can be no change for the better. The liberal looks to the upper ranks, while we look to the “lower ranks”. If we refrain from explaining the harm of the two-chamber system, or even relax ever so slightly the “fight” against all sorts of anti-democratic views on this question, we may “attract” the liberal landlord, merchant, lawyer, professor, who are all of a feather with Purishkevich, and can do nothing serious against the Purishkeviches. By “attracting” them, we alienate the masses—in the sense that the masses, to whom democracy is not just a diplomatic signboard, not a showy phrase, but their own, vital cause, a question of life and death, would lose their confidence in the partisans of the two-chamber system; and also in the sense that relaxing the attacks on the two-chamber system implies inadequate political education of the masses, and unless the masses are politically conscious, wide-awake and full of determination, no changes for the better can be brought about.

The Cadets and the Prokopoviches tell us that by our polemics against the liberal we are driving a wedge between the Lefts and the opposition. Our answer is that consistent democracy repels the most wavering and unreliable liberals, those most tolerant to Purishkevichism—and they represent a mere handful; on the other hand, it attracts the millions   now awakening to a new life, to a “sound political life”, by which we mean something quite different from, something that is not at all the same as, that which Mr. Prokopovich means by it.

Instead of the two-chamber system, we might cite as an example the question of the composition of the land committees. Should influence in these committees be so divided as to give one-third to the landlords, one-third to the peasants and one-third to the bureaucrats, as the Cadets propose, or should they be elected quite freely, on the basis of a fully democratic electoral law? What, Mr. Prokopovich, are we to understand, in regard to this point, by “sound conditions for the political life of the mass of the people”? Whom will we repel and whom will we attract by adhering to a consistently democratic course on this question?

And let not Russkiye Vedomosti reply that “at present one point dominates over all the other points of the programme, a point common to all the progressive parties—the demand for political liberty”. Precisely because this point dominates—and this is indisputable, it is gospel truth—there is a need for the widest masses, for millions upon millions of people, to distinguish between half freedom and freedom and to see the indissoluble connection between political democracy and democratic agrarian reform.

Unless the masses are interested, politically conscious, wide awake, active, determined and independent, absolutely nothing can be accomplished in either sphere.


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