V. I.   Lenin

They Do Not See the Wood for the Trees

Published: First published in Proletary No. 6, September 1 (August 19), 1917. Signed: N. Karpov. Published according to the Proletary text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 255-260.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Speaking at the session of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets on August 4, L. Martov said (we quote from the Novaya Zhizn report) that “Tsereteli’s criticism is too mild”, that “the government does not repel counter-revolutionary attempts by army officers”, and that “it is not our aim to overthrow the present government or undermine confidence in it....” “The actual balance of forces,” Martov continued, “does not at present warrant the demand for power to be transferred to the Soviets. This could come only in the course of a civil war, which at the moment is impermissible.” “It is not our intention to overthrow the government,” Martov concluded, “but we must call its attention to the fact that there are other forces in the country besides the Cadets and army officers. They are the revolutionary democratic forces, and on them the Provisional Government must rely for support.”

These are remarkable arguments from Martov, and they deserve very careful examination. They are remarkable in that they bring out very clearly the most widespread, the most harmful and most dangerous political errors of the petty-bourgeois masses and their most typical prejudices. Of all spokesmen for these masses, Martov, a publicist, is certainly one of the most “Left-wing”, most revolutionary, most politically conscious and most skilful. It is therefore more useful to analyse his arguments than those of a Chernov flaunting an array of empty words or of a stupid Tsereteli and their like. In analysing Martov’s arguments, we shall analyse what is at present most reasonable in the ideas of the petty bourgeoisie.

First of all, Martov’s vacillation over the transfer of power to the Soviets is quite typical. Prior to July 4 Martov was against this slogan. After July 4, he was for it. Early in August, he was once more against it, and note his   monstrously illogical and amusing, from a Marxist point of view, argumentation. He is against it because, he says, “the actual balance of forces does not at present warrant the demand for power to be transferred to the Soviets. This could come only in the course of a civil war, which at the moment is impermissible”.

What a muddle. It implies, first, that before July 4 the. transfer of power was possible without civil war (true enough!), but it was just then that Martov was against the transfer. It implies, secondly, that after July 4, when Martov was for the transfer of power to the Soviets, it was possible without civil war—an obvious, glaring distortion of the facts, for it was on the night of July 4–5 that the Bonapartists, supported by the Cadets and attended on by lackeys like Chernov and Tsereteli, brought -the counter-revolutionary troops to Petrograd. To take power peacefully under these circumstances would have been absolutely impossible.

Thirdly and lastly, Martov implies that a Marxist or even just a revolutionary democrat had the right to reject a slogan correctly expressing the interests of the people and those of the revolution on the grounds that the slogan could be realised “only in the course of a civil war”. But this is an obvious absurdity, an obvious renunciation of the whole class struggle, the whole revolution. For everyone knows that the history of all revolutions the world over reveals an Inevitable rather than an accidental transformation of the class struggle into civil war. Everyone knows that it was after July 4 that we in Russia saw the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie starting civil war, the disarming of regiments, executions at the front, and assassination of Bolsheviks. Civil war is “impermissible” for revolutionary democrats, if you please, just when the course of events has inexorably brought about a situation in which the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie have started civil war.

Martov has entangled himself in the most unbelievable, amusing, and helpless fashion..

In disentangling the confusion created by him, we must say:

It was before July 4 that to transfer full power to the then existing Soviets was the only correct slogan, At that time, it could have been done peacefully, without civil war, because there had been no systematic acts of violence against   the masses, against the people, such as began after July 4. At that time, the transfer of power guaranteed the peaceful progress of the whole revolution and, in particular, made it possible to peacefully eliminate the struggle between classes and parties within the Soviets.

After July 4, the transfer of power to the Soviets became impossible without civil war, since, on July 4 and 5, power had passed to a military Bonapartist clique backed by the Cadets and the Black Hundreds. Hence, all Marxists, all those on the side of the revolutionary proletariat, all honest revolutionary democrats, must now explain to the workers and peasants the radical change in the situation which necessitates a new path for the transfer of power to the proletarians and semi-proletarians.

Martov has advanced no arguments in defence of his “idea” that civil war is impermissible “at the moment”, in defence of his statement that it is not his intention “to overthrow the present government”. Because his opinion is unsubstantiated, and particularly because he voiced it at a meeting of defencists, it inevitably smacks of the defencist argument that civil war is impermissible while the enemy threatens from without.

We wonder whether Martov could have brought himself to advance such an argument openly. Among the mass of the petty bourgeoisie, this argument is very popular. And, of course, it is one of the most commonplace. The bourgeoisie were unafraid of revolution and civil war at times when the enemy threatened from without—either in September 1870 in France or in February 1917 in Russia. The bourgeoisie were unafraid of seizing power at the price of civil war at times when the enemy threatened from without. The revolutionary proletariat will reckon just as little with this “argument” from liars and lackeys of the bourgeoisie.

*     *

One of the most glaring theoretical mistakes which Martov makes and which is also very typical of the whole range of political ideas of the petty bourgeoisie, is to confound tsarist counter-revolution, and monarchist counter-revolution in general, with bourgeois counter-revolution. It is due to the   particular narrow-mindedness, or particular stupidity, of the petty-bourgeois democrat who cannot break free from economic, political and ideological dependence on the bourgeoisie, who cedes them priority, sees them as an “ideal”, and believes their cries about the danger of “counter-revolution from the right”.

Martov expressed this range of ideas, or rather this petty-bourgeois stupidity, by saying in his speech: “To counterbalance the pressure exerted upon it [the government I from the right, we must create a counter-pressure.”

Here is a sample of the philistine credulity-and disregard of the class struggle. It implies that the government is something above classes and above parties, the only trouble being that it is under too strong pressure from the right, so that there is need of stronger pressure from the left. What wisdom worthy of Louis Blanc, Chernov, Tsereteli, and all that despicable crew! How infinitely useful this philistine wisdom is for the Bonapartists! How they long to make “the foolish yokels” believe that the present government is fighting both the Right and the Left, the extremes only, as it builds up true statehood and exercises true democracy! Yet, in practice, it is this Bonapartist government that constitutes a government of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.

It is to the advantage of the bourgeoisie (and necessary for the perpetuation of their domination) to deceive the people by making believe that they represent “the revolution in general, while counter-revolution threatens from the right, from the tsar.” It is only through the infinite stupidity of the Dans and Tseretelis, through the infinite conceit of the Chernovs and Avksentyevs, that this idea, nurtured by the conditions of Life of the petty bourgeoisie, still survives among “revolutionary democrats” in general.

Anyone who has learned anything from history or from Marxism will have to admit that a political analysis must focus on the class issue: what class represents the revolution and what class the counter-revolution?

French history shows us that the Bonapartist counterrevolution developed at the end of the eighteenth century (and then, for a second time, from 1848 to 1852) on the basis of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, and in turn paved   the way for the restoration of a legitimate monarchy. Bonapartism is a form of government which grows out of the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, in the conditions of democratic changes and a democratic revolution.

You have to purposely shut your eyes not to see how, before your very eyes, Bonapartism is growing in Russia under very similar conditions. The tsarist counter-revolution is at present negligible; it has no political importance and plays no political role. The bogey of a tsarist counterrevolution is being purposely played up and made a fuss over by charlatans to frighten fools, to treat philistines to a political sensation, to distract the people’s attention from the real and serious counter-revolution. You just cannot help laughing at the arguments of a Zarudny, who endeavours to assess the counter-revolutionary role of a little backyard union called “Holy Russia” but who does “not see” the counter-revolutionary role of the union of the entire bourgeoisie of Russia called the Cadet Party.

The Cadet Party is the major political force of the bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia. This force has splendidly rallied around it all Black Hundred elements, both at the elections and (more important still) in the apparatus of military and civil administration and in the press campaign of Lies, slander and baiting directed primarily at the Bolsheviks, i.e., the party of the revolutionary proletariat, and then against the Soviets.

Gradually but relentlessly, the present government is pursuing the very policy which the Cadet Party has been systematically advocating and preparing for ever since March 1917. It has resumed and is prolonging the imperialist war; it has stopped chattering about peace; it first gave ministers the right to close down newspapers, then to disperse conferences, then to arrest and exile people; it has restored capital punishment and executions at the front; it is disarming the workers and the revolutionary regiments; it has flooded the capital with counter-revolutionary troops; it has begun to arrest and persecute the peasants for unauthorised “seizures”; it is shutting down factories and organising lock-outs. This is a far from complete list of measures which present an excellent picture of the bourgeois counterrevolution of Bonapartism.

And what about the postponed convocation of the Constituent Assembly and the crowning of a Bonapartist policy with a Zemsky Sobor in Moscow—a step leading to the postponement of the Constituent Assembly until after the war? Isn’t this a gem of Bonapartist politics? Yet Martov does not see where the general headquarters of the bourgeois counterrevolution is. Really some do not see the wood for the trees.

*     *

What really dirty lackey’s role the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets, i.e., the S.R.s and Mensheviks who dominate it, played in the matter of postponing the Constituent Assembly! The Cadets set the tone by launching the idea of postponement, starting a press campaign and using the Cossack congress as a pretext to demand postponement. (A Cossack congress! How could the Liebers, Avksentyevs, Chernovs and Tseretelis help behaving like lackeys!) The Mensheviks and S.R.s hopped along after the Cadets, they crawled at their master’s call like dogs threatened with their master’s whip.

Instead of giving the people a plain statement of the facts showing how brazenly, how shamelessly the Cadets had been delaying and blocking the convocation of the Constituent Assembly since March, and instead of exposing the false evasions and the assertion that it was impossible to convoke the Constituent Assembly at the appointed time, the Bureau of the Central Executive Committee promptly brushed aside all “doubts” expressed even by Dan (even by Dan!) and sent Bramson and Bronzov, two lackeys of that bureau of lackeys, to the Provisional Government with a report “on the need to postpone elections to the Constituent Assembly until October 28-29”. A splendid prelude to the coronation of the Bonapartists by a Zemsky Sobor in Moscow. Whoever has not stooped to complete infamy must rally to the party of the revolutionary proletariat. Without the victory of the revolutionary proletariat there can be no peace for the people, land for the peasants nor bread for the workers and all working people.


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