V. I.   Lenin

On the Two Lines in the Revolution

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 48, November 20, 1915. Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [197[4]], Moscow, Volume 21, pages 415-420.
Transcription\Markup: Zodiac, B. Baggins, D. Walters and R. Cymbala
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In Prizyv[1] (No. 3), Mr. Plekhanov attempts to present the fundamental theoretical prohlem of the impending revolution in Russia. He quotes a passage from Marx to the effect that the 1789 Revolution in France followed an ascending line, whereas the 1848 Revolution followed a descending line. In the first instance, power passed gradually from the moderate party to the more radical—the Constitutionalists, the Girondists, the Jacobins. In the second instance, the reverse took place—the proletariat, the petty-bourgeois democrats, the bourgeois republicans, Napoleon III. “It is desirable,” our author infers, “that the Russian revolution should be directed along an ascending line”, i.e., that power should first pass to the Cadets and Octobrists, then to the Trudoviks, and then to the socialists. The conclusion to be drawn from this reasoning is, of course, that the Left wing in Russia is unwise in not wishing to support the Cadets and in prematurely discrediting them.

Mr. Plekhanov’s “theoretical” reasoning is another example of the substitution of liberalism for Marxism. Mr. Plekhanov reduces the matter to the question of whether the “strategic conceptions” of the advanced elements were “right” or wrong. Marx’s reasoning was different. He noted a fact: in each case the revolution proceeded in a different fashion; he did not however seek the explanation of this difference in “strategic conceptions”. From the Marxist point of view it is ridiculous to seek it in conceptions. It should be sought in the difference in the alignment of classes. Marx himself wrote that in 1789 the French bourgeoisie united with the peasantry and that in 1848 petty-bourgeois democracy   betrayed the proletariat. Mr. Plekhanov knows Marx’s opinion on the matter, but he does not mention it, because he wants to depict Marx as looking like Struve. In the France of 1789, it was a question of overthrowing absolutism and the nobility. At the then prevalent level of economic and political development, the bourgeoisie believed in a harmony of interests; it had no fears about the stability of its rule and was prepared to enter into an alliance with the peasantry. That alliance secured the complete victory of the revolution. In 1848 it was a question of the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie. The proletariat was unable to win over the petty bourgeoisie, whose treachery led to the defeat of the revolution. The ascending line of 1789 was a form of revolution in which the mass of the people defeated absolutism. The descending line of 1848 was a form of revolution in which the betrayal of the proletariat by the mass of the petty bourgeoisie led to the defeat of the revolution.

Mr. Plekhanov is substituting vulgar idealism for Marxism when he reduces the question to one of “strategic conceptions”, not of the alignment of classes.

The experience of the 1905 Revolution and of the subsequent counter-revolutionary period in Russia teaches us that in our country two lines of revolution could be observed, in the sense that there was a struggle between two classes—the proletariat and the liberal bourgeoisie—for leadership of the masses. The proletariat advanced in a revolutionary fashion, and was leading the democratic peasantry towards the overthrow of the monarchy and the landowners. That the peasantry revealed revolutionary tendencies in the democratic sense was proved on a mass scale by all the great political events: the peasant insurrections of 1905-06, the unrest in the army in the same years, the “Peasants’ Union” of 1905, and the first two Dumas, in which the peasant Trudoviks stood not only “to the left of the Cadets”, but were also more revolutionary than the intellectual Social-Revolutionaries and Trudoviks. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten, but still it is a fact. Both in the Third and in the Fourth Dumas the peasant Trudoviks, despite their weakness, showed that the peasant masses were opposed to the landed proprietors.

The first line of the Russian bourgeois-democratic revolution, as deduced from the facts and not from “strategic” prattle, was marked by a reso]ute struggle of the proletariat, which was irresolutely followed by the peasantry. Both these classes fought against the monarchy and the landowners. The lack of strength and resolution in these classes led to their defeat (although a partial breach was made in the edifice of the autocracy).

The behaviour of the liberal bourgeoisie was the second line. We Bolsheviks have always affirmed, especially since the spring of 1906, that this line was represented by the Cadets and Octobrists as a single force. The 1905-15 decade has proved the correctness of our view. At the decisive moments of the struggle, the Cadets, together with the Octobrists, betrayed democracy and went to the aid of the tsar and the landowners. The “liberal” line of the Russian revolution was marked by the “pacification” and the fragmentary character of the masses’ struggle so as to enable the bourgeoisie to make peace with the monarchy. The international background to the Russian revolution and the strength of the Russian proletariat rendered this behaviour of the liberals inevitable.

The Bolsheviks helped the proletariat consciously to follow the first line, to fight with supreme courage and to lead the peasants. The Mensheviks were constantly slipping into the second line; they demoralised the proletariat by adapting its movement to the liberals—from the invitation to enter the Bulygin Duma (August 1905), to the Cadet Cabinet in 1906 and the bloc with the Cadets against democracy in 1907. (From Mr. Plekhanov’s point of view, we will observe parenthetically, the “correct strategic conceptions” of the Cadets and the Mensheviks suffered A defeat at the time. Why was that? Why did the masses not pay heed to the wise counsels of Mr. Plekhanov and the Cadets, which were publicised a hundred times more extensively than the advice from the Bolsheviks?)

Only these trends—the Bolshevik and the Menshevik—manifested themselves in the politics of the masses in 1904-08, and later, in 1908-14. Why was that? It was because only these trends had firm class roots—the former in the proletariat, the latter in the liberal bourgeoisie.

Today we are again advancing towards a revolution. Everybody sees that. Khvostov himself says that the mood of the peasants is reminiscent of 1905–06. And again we see the same two lines in the revolution, the same alignment of classes, only modified by a changed international situation. In 1905, the entire European bourgeoisie supported tsarism and helped it either with their thousands of millions (the French), or by training a counter-revolutionary army (the Germans). In 1914 the European war flared up. Everywhere the bourgeoisie vanquished the proletariat for a time, and swept them into the turbid spate of nationalism and chauvinism. In Russia, as hitherto, the petty-bourgeois masses of the people, primarily the peasantry, form the majority of the population. They are oppressed first and foremost by the landowners. Politically, part of the peasantry are dormant, and part vacillate between chauvinism (“the defeat of Germany”, “defence of the fatherland”) and revolutionary spirit. The political spokesmen of these masses—and of their vacillation—are, on the one hand, the Narodniks (the Trudoviks and Social-Revolutionaries), and on the other hand, the opportunist Social-Democrats (Nashe Dyelo, Plekhanov, the Chkheidze group, the Organising Committee), who since 1910, have been determinedly following the road of liberal-labour politics, and in 1915 have achieved the social-chauvinism of Potresov, Cherevanin, Levitsky, and Maslov, or have demanded “unity” with them.

This state of affairs patently indicates the task of the proletariat. That task is the waging of a supremely courageous revolutionary struggle against the monarchy (utilising the slogans of the January Conference of 1912, the “three pillars”), a struggle that will sweep along in its wake all the democratic masses, i.e., mainly the peasantry. At the same time. the proletariat must wage a ruthless struggle against chauvinism, a struggle in alliance with the European proletariat for the socialist revolution in Europe. The vacillation of the petty bourgeoisie is no accident; it is inevitable, for it logically follows from their class stand. The war crisis has strengthened the economic and political factors that are impelling the petty hourgeoisie, including the peasantry, to the left. Herein lies the objective foundation of the full possibility of victory for the democratic   revolution in Russia. There is no need here for us to prove that the objective conditions in Western Europe are ripe for a socialist revolution; this was admitted before the war by all influential socialists in all advanced countries.

To bring clarity into the alignment of classes in the impending revolution is the main task of a revolutionary party. This task is being shirked by the Organising Committee, which within Russia remains a faithful ally to Nashe Dyelo, and abroad utters meaningless “Left” phrases. This task is being wrongly tackled in Nashe Slovo by Trotsky, who is repeating his “original” 1905 theory and refuses to give some thought to the reason why, in the course of ten years, life has been bypassing this splendid theory.

From the Bolsheviks Trotsky’s original theory has borrowed their call for a decisive proletarian revolutionary struggle and for the conquest of political power by the proletariat, while from the Mensheviks it has borrowed “repudiation” of the peasantry’s role. The peasantry, he asserts, are divided into strata, have become differentiated; their potential revolutionary role has dwindled more and more; in Russia a “national” revolution is impossible; “we are living in the era of imperialisnu,” says Trotsky, and “imperialism does not contrapose the bourgeois nation to the old regime, but the proletariat to the bourgeois nation.”

Here we have an amusing example of playing with the word “imperialism”. If, in Russia, the proletariat already stands contraposed to the “bourgeois nation”, then Russia is facing a socialist revolution (!), and the slogan “Confiscate the landed estates” (repeated by Trotsky in 1915, following the January Conference of 1912), is incorrect; in that case we must speak, not of a “revolutionary workers’” government, but of a “workers’ socialist” government! The length Trotsky’s muddled thinking goes to is evident from his phrase that by their resoluteness the proletariat will attract the “non-proletarian [!] popular masses” as well (No. 217)! Trotsky has not realised that if the proletariat induce the non-proletarian masses to confiscate the landed estates and overthrow the monarchy, then that will be the consummation of the “national bourgeois revolution” in Russia; it will be a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry!

A whole decade—the great decade of 1905-15—has shown the existence of two and only two class lines in the Russian revolution. The differentiation of the peasantry has enhanced the class struggle within them; it has aroused very many hitherto politically dormant elements. It has drawn the rural proletariat closer to the urban proletariat (the Bolsheviks have insisted ever since 1906 that the former should be separately organised, and they included this demand in the resolution of the Menshevik congress in Stockholm). However, the antagonism between the peasantry, on the one hand, and the Markovs, Romanovs and Khvostovs, on the other, has become stronger and more acute. This is such an obvious truth that not even the thousands of phrases in scores of Trotsky’s Paris articles will “refute” it. Trotsky is in fact helping the liberal-labour politicians in Russia, who by “repudiation” of the role of the peasantry understand a refusal to raise up the peasants for the revolution!

That is the crux of the matter today. The proletariat are fighting, and will fight valiantly, to win power, for a republic, for the confiscation of the land, i.e. to win over the peasantry, make full use of their revolutionary powers, and get the “non-proletarian masses of the people” to take part in liberating bourgeois Russia from military-feudal “imperialism” (tsarism). The proletariat will at once utilise this ridding of bourgeois Russia of tsarism and the rule of the landowners, not to aid the rich peasants in their struggle against the rural workers, but to bring about the socialist revolution in alliance with the proletarians of Europe.



[1] Prizyv (The Call )—a weekly published in Paris by the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, from October 1915 to March 1917. The reference is to Plekhanov’s article “Two Lines in the Revolution”, published in this newspaper on October 17, 1915.

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