V. I.   Lenin

A Basic Question


Written: Written April 20 (May 3), 1917
Published: Published May 4 (April 21), 1917 in Pravda No. 37. Published according to the newspaper text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 24, pages 192-195.
Translated: Isaacs Bernard
Transcription\Markup: B. Baggins and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 1999 (2005). 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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Mr. Plekhanov gives an excellent illustration of this. In his First of May letter to the Association of Socialist Students published in today’s Rech, Dyelo Naroda, and Yedinstvo, he writes:

It {the International Socialist Congress of 1889} understood that the social, or more exactly—the socialist, revolution presupposes prolonged educational and organisational work within the working class. This has now been forgotten here by people who call on the Russian working masses to seize political power, an act which would make sense only if the objective conditions necessary for a social revolution prevailed. These conditions do not exist yet....

And so on in the same strain, ending with an appeal for “whole-hearted support” of the Provisional Government.

This argument of Mr. Plekhanov is the typical argument of a small group of “have-beens”, who call themselves Social-Democrats. And because it is typical it is worth dealing with at length.

First of all, is it reasonable and honest to quote the First Congress of the Second International, and not the last one?

The First Congress of the Second International (1889–1914) took place in 1889, the last, in Basle, in 1912. The Basle Manifesto, which was adopted unanimously, speaks precisely, definitely, directly, and clearly (so that not even the Plekhanovs can twist the sense of It) of a proletarian revolution, and one, moreover, which is considered in connection with the very war which subsequently broke out (in1914).

It is not difficult to understand why those socialists who have gone over to the bourgeoisie are prone to “forget” the Basle Manifesto as a whole, or this most important part of it.

Secondly, the seizure of political power by “the Russian working masses”, writes our author, “would make sense only if the objective conditions necessary for a social revolution prevailed”.

This is a muddle, not a thought.

Assuming even that the word “social” here is a misprint for “socialist”, this is not the only muddle. ’What classes do the Russian working masses consist of? Everybody knows that they consist of workers and peasants. Which of these classes is in the majority? The peasants. Who are these peasants as far as their class position is concerned? Petty proprietors. The question arises: if the petty proprietors constitute the majority of the population and if the objective conditions for socialism are lacking, then how can the majority of the population declare in favour of socialism? Who can say anything or who says anything about establishing socialism against the will of the majority?

Mr. Plekhanov has got mixed up in the most ludicrous fashion at the very outset.

To find himself in a ridiculous position is not the worst punishment a man can suffer, who, following the example of the capitalist press, creates an “enemy” of his own imagination instead of quoting the exact words of this or that political opponent.

Further. In whose hands should “political power” be, even from the point of view of a vulgar bourgeois democrat from Rech? In the hands of the majority of the population. Do the “Russian working masses” [i.e. the proletariat and peasantry], so inaptly referred to by the muddled social-chauvinist, constitute the majority of the population in Russia? Undoubtedly they do—the overwhelming majority!

How then, without betraying democracy—even democracy as understood by Milyukov—can one be opposed to the “seizure of political power” by the “Russian working masses”?

The deeper you go into the wood, the thicker the trees. Each step in our analysis opens up new abysses of confusion in Mr. Plekhanov’s ideas.

The social-chauvinist is against political power passing to the majority of the population in Russia!

Mr. Plekhanov doesn’t know what he is talking about. He has also confused—though Marx as far back as 1875 made a point of warning against such confusion—the “working masses” with the mass of proletarians and semi-proletarians.[1] We shall explain the difference to the ex-Marxist, Mr. Plekhanov.

Can the majority of the peasants in Russia demand and carry out the nationalisation of the land? Certainly it can. Would this be a socialist revolution? It would not. It would still be a bourgeois revolution, for the nationalisation of the land is a measure that is not incompatible with the existence of capitalism. It is, however, a blow to private ownership of the most important means of production. Such a blow would strengthen the proletarians and semi-proletarians far more than was the case during the revolutions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Further. Can the majority of the peasants in Russia declare for the merging of all the banks into one, for having a branch of a single nation-wide state bank in each village?

It can, because the convenience and advantage for the people of such a measure are unquestionable. Even the “defencists” could be for such a measure, as it would heighten Russia’s capacity for “defence” enormously.

Is it economically possible to immediately effect such a merger of all the banks? Without a doubt, it is quite possible.

Would this be a socialist measure? No, this would not yet be socialism.

Further. Can the majority of the peasants in Russia declare in favour of the Sugar Manufacturers’ Syndicate passing into the hands of the government, to be controlled by the workers and peasants, and the price of sugar being lowered?

It certainly can, for that would benefit the majority of the people.

Is that possible economically? It is quite possible, since the Sugar Syndicate has not only developed economically into a single industrial organism on a national scale, but had already been subject to “state” control under Tsarism   (i.e., control by government officials serving the capitalists).

Would the taking over of the syndicate by the democratic-bourgeois, peasant, state be a socialist measure?

No, that would not yet be socialism. Mr. Plekhanov could have easily convinced himself of that if he had recalled the commonly known axioms of Marxism.

The question is: Would such measures as the merging of the banks and turning over the Sugar Manufacturers’ Syndicate to a democratic peasant government enhance or diminish the role, importance, and influence of the proletarians and semi-proletarians among the general mass of the population?

They would undoubtedly enhance them, for those measures do not grow out of a system of petty production; they were made possible by those “objective conditions” which were still lacking in 1889, but which already exist now.

Such measures would inevitably enhance the role, importance, and influence upon the population of the workers, especially the city workers, who are the vanguard of the proletarians and semi-proletarians of town and country.

After these measures will have been put into effect, further progress towards socialism in Russia would become fully possible, and given the aid of the more advanced and experienced workers of Western Europe, who have broken with their West-European Plekhanovs, Russia’s real transition to socialism would be inevitable, and the success of such a transition would be assured.

This is the line of argument which every Marxist and socialist who has not gone over to the side of “his own” national bourgeoisie should use.


[1] See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1962, pp. 46–47.

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