First published in Rabochy No. 10 September 14 (1), 1917.
Signed: N. Lenin.
Published according to the Rabochy text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 294-304.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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Everyone will probably agree that the writer N. Sukhanov of Novaya Zhizn is one of the best rather than worst representatives of petty-bourgeois democracy. He sincerely leans towards internationalism, which he has proved in the hardest times, at the height of tsarist reaction and chauvinism. He has knowledge and a desire to work out serious problems independently, which he has proved by his long evolution from Socialist-Revolutionism towards revolutionary Marxism.
It is all the more characteristic that even such people are apt, when dealing with the fundamental issues of the revolution in its crucial periods, to treat their readers to arguments as thoughtless as the following:
“No matter how many revolutionary gains we have lost in the past few weeks, one, and perhaps the most important of all, is still there: the government and its policies can only he maintained by the grace of the Soviet majority. The revolutionary democrats have of their own accord given up all the influence they commanded; the democratic organs can still regain it very easily and, given proper understanding of the requirements of the moment, can without difficulty direct the policies of the Provisional Government into the proper channel” (Novaya Zhizn No. 106, August 20).
These words contain the most thoughtless, the most monstrous untruth concerning the most important Issue of the revolution, an untruth, moreover, which has most often been put about, in vastly differing countries, among the petty-bourgeois democrats and has ruined the greatest number of revolutions.
When you think over the sum total of petty-bourgeois illusions contained in the argument quoted above, you cannot help thinking that it is no accident the Novaya Zhizn people sit at the “unity” congress together with Ministers, with socialists eligible for the cabinet, with the Tseretelis and Skobelevs, with cabinet members who are comrades of Kerensky, Kornilov and Co. No accident at all. They actually have a common ideological foundation,namely, unreasoning philistine gullibility, uncritically borrowed from the petty-bourgeois environment, in good intentions. For this gullibility pervades all of Sukhanov’s argument, as well as all the activities of those defencist Mensheviks who act in good faith. This petty-bourgeois gullibility is the root of the evil in our revolution.
Sukhanov would probably hasten to subscribe to what Marxism demands of all serious policy, namely, that it be based on and grounded in facts capable of exact and objective verification. Let us try to approach the assertion which Sukhanov makes in the passage above from the point of view of this demand.
What are the facts underlying this assertion? How could Sukhanov prove that the government “can only be maintained by the grace” of the Soviets, that they could “very easily” “regain their influence”, or that they could “without difficulty” change the policies of the Provisional Government?
Sukhanov could have referred, first, to his general impression, to the “obvious” strength of the Soviets, to the fact that Kerensky came to the Soviet, to the amiable words of this or that minister, etc. This would certainly have been very poor proof—rather an admission of the complete lack of proof and objective facts.
Sukhanov could have referred, secondly, to the objective fact that by far most of the resolutions passed 1y workers, soldiers and peasants declare emphatically for the Soviets and in favour of supporting them. These resolutions, he might have said, demonstrate the will of the majority of the people.
This kind of reasoning is as common among philistines as the first kind. But it is absolutely untenable.
In all revolutions, the will of the majority of the workers and peasants, i.e., undoubtedly, the will of the majority of the population, has been for democracy. Nevertheless, the great majority of revolutions have ended with the defeat of democracy.
In view of the experience of the majority of revolutions, particularly that of 1848 (which resembles our present revolution most), Marx mercilessly ridiculed the petty-bourgeois democrats who wished to win through resolutions and references to the will of the majority of the people.
Our own experience proves this even better. In the spring of 1906 most of the resolutions passed by workers and peasants were undoubtedly in favour of the First Duma. The majority of the people undoubtedly stood for it. Nevertheless, the tsar succeeded in dissolving it because the upswing of the revolutionary classes (workers’ strikes and peasant unrest in the spring of 1906) proved too weak for a new revolution.
Think over the,experience of the present revolution. Both from March to April and from July to August 1917, most resolutions were for the Soviets, the majority of the people were for the Soviets. Yet everyone sees, knows and feels that from March to April the revolution was moving forward, whereas from July to August it was moving backwards. Consequently, reference to the majority of the people decides nothing as far as the specific issues of a revolution are concerned.
This reference, made by way of proof, is in itself a specimen of petty-bourgeois illusion. It shows unwillingness to admit that in a revolution the enemy classes must be defeated, the state power that defends them must be overthrown and that the “will of the majority of the people” is insufficient to bring this about. What is needed is the strength of the revolutionary classes that will and can fight, a strength which at the decisive moment and place will crush the enemy’s strength.
How often has it happened during revolutions that the small but well-organised, armed and centralised power of the ruling classes, the landowners and the bourgeoisie, has crushed piecemeal the power of the “majority of the people”, who were poorly organised, poorly armed and lacked unity.
To make “general” references to the “will of the people” instead of considering specific issues of the class struggle at a time when it has been particularly sharpened by the revolution is worthy only of the most stupid petty bourgeois.
Thirdly, in the comment quoted above, Sukhanov advances another “argument” that is likewise fairly common among philistines. He says “the revolutionary democrats have of their own accord given up all the influence they commanded”. From this he infers that what was given up “of their own accord” can be taken back easily.
An utterly worthless argument. First of all, the return of what was voluntarily ceded presupposes the “voluntary consent” of the beneficiary of the concession. It follows that this voluntary consent is there. Who has received the “concession”? Who has profited from the “influence” given up by the “revolutionary democrats”?
It is quite typical that this question, fundamental to all but a headless politician, is completely ignored by Sukhanov. For the crux of the matter is precisely in whose hands is, in practice, that which the “revolutionary [pardon the expression I democrats” have “given up of their own accord”.
Sukhanov ignores the crux of the matter, as do all Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, all petty-bourgeois democrats in general.
Moreover, it may be that in a child’s “give-and-take” game it is easy to take something back: if Katya freely lets Masha have her ball, it may be “very easy” to take it back. But there are not many, apart from Russian intellectuals, who would venture to extend such conceptions to politics, to the class struggle.
In politics, ceding “influence” of one’s own free will proves such impotence on the part of the one who does the ceding, such flabbiness, such lack of character, such meekness, that, generally speaking, the only thing one can infer is that whoever gives up his influence of his own accord “deserves” to be deprived of his right to exist as well as his influence. In other words, the fact of voluntarily giving up one’s influence “proves” in itself only this, that the beneficiary of the voluntarily ceded influence will inevitably deprive the one who has ceded it even of his rights.
If the “revolutionary democrats” have voluntarily ceded their influence, they are therefore not revolutionary but vile, philistine, cowardly democrats still bound by servility, democrats whom (after such a surrender) their enemies can either disperse or simply reduce to naught, allowing them to die as much “of their own accord” as they ceded their influence.
To regard the actions of political parties as whims means renouncing all study of politics. There must by an explanation for an action like the “giving up of their influence of their own accord” by two huge parties which, according to all available information and reports and to objective election figures, sway the majority of the people. It cannot be accidental. It must be due to a definite economic position of some large class of the people. It must be linked up with the history of the development of those parties.
Sukhanov’s argument is highly typical of thousands upon thousands of similar philistine arguments because it is in effect based on the conception of good will (“their own accord”) and ignores the history of the parties under consideration. Sukhanov has simply left their history out of his examination, forgetting that voluntary surrender of influence began, strictly speaking, on February 28, when the Soviet expressed confidence in Kerensky and approved the “agreement” with the Provisional Government. And May 6 was a surrender of influence on a truly gigantic scale. Taken as a whole, it is all as clear as can be: the S.R. and Menshevik parties placed themselves on an inclined plane from the very first, and rolled down faster and faster. After July 3-5, they reached rock bottom.
Isn’t it perfectly thoughtless to say now that the surrender was voluntary, that it is “very easy” to make great political parties face about, that they can “without difficulty” be induced to take the opposite direction to the one they have been following for years (and for months during the revolution), and that it is “very easy” to scramble out of the pit and climb up the inclined plane to the top?
Fourthly and lastly, Sukhanov could in defence of his opinion have referred to the fact that the workers and soldiers, who express confidence in the Soviet, are armed and therefore could “very easily” regain their influence. But it is on this, perhaps the most important, point that the philistine comment of the writer of Novaya Zhizn is particularly lame.
To be as specific as possible, let us compare April 20–21 with July 3–5.
On April 20 popular indignation against the government burst out. An armed regiment came on to the streets of Petrograd intending to arrest the government. There was no arrest. The government, however, saw clearly that it had nobody to rely on. No troops were for it. Such a government was indeed “very easy” to overthrow, and the government confronted the Soviet with an ultimatum: either you back me, or I go.
On July 4, a similar outburst of popular indignation, an outburst which all parties tried to restrain but which broke out in spite of all the restraining. As before, there was an armed anti-government demonstration. But the enormous difference was that the S.R. and Menshevik leaders, who had isolated themselves from the people and were confused, agreed with the bourgeoisie as early as July 3 to call Kaledin’s troops to Petrograd. There is the crux of the matter!
With a soldier’s frankness, Kaledin said so at the Moscow meeting: “After all, it was you socialist Ministers who called us to your aid on July 3!” Nobody dared refute Kaledin at the Moscow meeting because he spoke the truth. Kaledin mocked the Mensheviks and S.R.s, who were compelled to keep silent. The Cossack general spat in their faces, but they merely wiped it off and said: “Divine dew!”
The bourgeois papers reported Kaledin’s words but the Menshevik Rabochaya Gazeta and the S.R. “Dyelo Naroda” concealed that political statement from their readers, the most important statement made at the Moscow meeting.
What happened was that for the first time the government resorted expressly to Kaledin’s troops, while the determined, truly revolutionary troops and the workers were disarmed. This is the fundamental fact which Sukhanov has “very easily” evaded and forgotten. It remains a fact nevertheless. It is a decisive fact as far as the present period of the revolution, the first revolution, is concerned.
Power in a decisive place at the front, and then in the army, has passed into the hands of the Kaledins. This is a fact. The most active of the troops hostile to them have been disarmed. The fact that the Kaledins do not use their power immediately to establish their complete dictatorship does not at all disprove that they hold power. Wasn’t the tsar in power after December 1905? And didn’t circumstances compel him to use it so prudently that he had two Dumas convened before he took all power, i.e., before he made a coup d’état?
Power should be judged by actions instead of words. The actions of the government since July 5 have shown that power is in the hands of the Kaledins, who are making slow but steady headway, daily securing “concessions”, large and small. Today it is the impunity with which military cadets raid the Pravda offices and kill its staff members, and make arbitrary arrests; then comes a law closing down newspapers, and laws banning meetings and conferences, throwing citizens out of the country without trial, imposing prison sentences for insulting “the ambassadors of friendly countries”, meting out penal servitude for assailing the government, introducing capital punishment at the front, and so on, and so forth.
The Kaledins are no fools. Why should they go right through, forcing their way and risking defeat, when they receive the things they need bit by bit, every day? Meanwhile, the foolish Skobelevs and Tseretelis, Chernovs and (Avksentyevs, Dans and Liebers shout “Triumph for democracy! Victory!” at every step of the Kaledins forward, seeing as “victory” the fact that the Kaledins, Kornilovs and Kerenskys do not swallow them at once!!
The root of the evil is that their very economic position makes the petty-bourgeois masses amazingly credulous and ignorant, and that they are still half asleep and mumble drowsily, “It is ‘very easy’ to take back what we have given up of our own free will!” Try and get the Kaledins and Kornilovs to give back anything of their own free will!
The root of the evil is that “democratic” journalism maintains this drowsy, philistine, stupid, slavish illusion, instead of fighting it.
If we look at things the way a political historian in general and a Marxist in particular should, i. e., if we consider them as a whole, it is perfectly clear that a decisive turn at present, far from being “easy”, is, on the contrary, absolutely impossible without a new revolution.
I do not at all touch here on the question of whether this revolution is desirable. I do not at all examine the question of whether it can take place peacefully and legally (generally speaking, there have been examples of peaceful and legal revolutions in history). I merely state that it is historically impossible to bring about a decisive turn without a new revolution. For power is already in other hands. It is no longer held by the “revolutionary democrats”. It has already been seized and consolidated. The conduct of the S. B. and Menshevik parties is no accident; it is a product of the economic status of the petty bourgeoisie, and the result of a long series of political events—from February 28 to May 6, from May 6 to June 9, from June 9 to June 18 and 19 (the offensive), etc. There is a need for changes in the situation of power, in its composition, in the conditions of activity of the major parties, in the “aspirations” of the class which sustains them. These changes are historically unthinkable without a new revolution.
Instead of explaining to the people all the main historical conditions of the new revolution, its economic and political prerequisites, its political aims, the interrelation of classes that corresponds to it, etc., Sukhanov and a host of petty-bourgeois democrats are lulling the people to sleep by trifling away their time, by asserting self-complacently that “we shall regain everything without difficulty”, “very easily”, that our “most important” revolutionary gain “is still there”, and similar thoughtless, ignorant, downright criminal nonsense.
There are signs of a radical social change. They clearly indicate the direction of the work to be done. The influence of the S.R.s and Mensheviks is plainly dwindling among the proletariat, while the influence of the Bolsheviks is plainly growing. Incidentally, even tile elections of August 20, compared with the June elections to the district councils of Petrograd, showed an increase in favour of the Bolsheviks, and this despite the bringing of “Kaledin’s troops to Petrograd!”
Among the petty-bourgeois democrats, who cannot help wavering between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the turn is objectively evident from the strengthening, consolidation and development of revolutionary internationalist trends: Martov and others among the Mensheviks, Spiridonova, Kamkov and others among the S.R.s. Needless to say, the approaching famine, economic dislocation and military reverses may very greatly hasten this turn towards the transfer of vower to the proletariat supported by the peasant poor.
The bitterest enemies of socialism sometimes do it a service by the excessive zeal of their “exposures”. They bear down on the very things that deserve sympathy and emulation. They open the people’s eyes to the infamy of the bourgeoisie by the very nature of their attacks.
That is what happened to one of the most infamous bourgeois newspapers, Russkaya Volya, which on August 20 published a report from Yekaterinburg entitled “Corvée”. Here is what it had to say:
“The Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies has introduced in our city a service in kind by horse-owners, who must take it in turns to put their horses at the disposal of the Soviet for the daily business trips of its members.
“A special schedule has been drawn up and every ‘citizen with a horse’ is punctually notified in writing when and where, and at what precise hour, be must arrive for duty with his horse.
“To make things clearer, the ‘order’ adds: ‘In the event of noncompliance with this demand, the Soviet will hire cabmen at your expense to the amount of 25 rubles’.”
The defender of the capitalists is indignant, of course. The capitalists watch with perfect equanimity how the vast majority of the people suffer want all their lives—not only those doing “corvée”, but also those doing back-breaking work in a factory, mine, or some other job, often starving because they have no work at all. And the capitalists look on with equanimity.
But now that the workers and soldiers have introduced just one little public duty for the capitalists, the exploiters are howling, “Corvée!”
Ask any worker or peasant whether it would be bad if the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were the only power in the state and introduced everywhere some public duty for the rich, such as a compulsory duty with horses, motor vehicles or bicycles, compulsory daily clerical work to keep a record of products or of the needy, and so on, and so forth.
Any worker, any peasant, except perhaps the kulaks, will say it would be a good thing.
And this is true. It is not socialism as yet—only one of the first steps towards socialism, but it is just what the poor need urgently and immediately. Without such measures, the people cannot be saved from famine and ruin.
Why, then, does the Yekaterinburg Soviet remain a rare exception? Why have similar measures not been taken all over Russia long ago? Why are they not being developed into a whole system of measures of precisely this kind?
Why, after the introduction of a public duty for the rich to lend their horses, is a similar public duty for the rich not introduced to present full accounts of their financial operations, especially by the terms of government contracts, under a similar control of the Soviets, with “punctual notification in writing” as to when and where the accounts should be presented, when and where taxes should be paid, and to what amount?
Because by far most of the Soviets are controlled by S. R. (“Socialist-Revolutionary”) and Menshevik leaders who have in fact deserted to the bourgeoisie, have entered the bourgeois cabinet and pledged themselves to support it, betraying not only socialism but democracy as well. Those leaders are making agreements with the bourgeoisie, who, far from allowing the imposition of a public duty on the rich—as in Petrograd, for example—have for months been holding up much more moderate reforms.
Those leaders deceive themselves and the people by saying that “Russia is not yet ripe for the introduction of socialism”.
Why must we treat such assertions as deception?
Because, through such assertions, the situation is misrepresented to make believe that it is a question of unprecedentedly complicated and difficult changes, such as are bound to break up the normal way of life of millions of people. The situation is misrepresented to make believe that some want to “introduce” socialism in Russia by decree, without considering the existing technical level, the great number of small undertakings, or the habits and wishes of the majority of the population.
That is a lie from beginning to end. Nobody has ever proposed anything of the kind. No party or individual has had any intention of “introducing socialism” by decree. It is, and has been, a question solely of measures which, like the public duty imposed on the rich in Yekaterinburg, have the full approval of the mass of the poor, i.e., the majority of the population, measures which are perfectly ripe, technically and culturally, will bring immediate relief to the poor and make it possible to ease the hardships of the war and distribute them more evenly.
Almost six months of revolution have passed, but the S. R. and Menshevik leaders still obstruct all these measures, betraying the interests of the people in favour of compromise with the bourgeoisie.
Until the workers and peasants realise that those leaders are traitors who must be driven out, must be removed from their posts, they will inevitably remain under the thumb of the bourgeoisie.
 The Mensheviks’ unity congress in Petrograd from August 19–26 (September 1–8), 1917. Its aim was to unite the isolated Menshevik groups in a single party. The congress was attended by defencists (those supporting Plekhanov and Potresov), internationalists (Martov’s followers) and representatives of Novaya Zhizn, which had taken an active part in convening the congress. The congress passed a resolution in favour of continuing the war “to a victorious conclusion”. Another resolution approved of the fact that socialists were members of the Provisional Government, and expressed confidence in the government. The Central Committee elected at the congress included P. B. Axelrod, F. I. Dan, L. Martov, I. G. Tsereteli and N. S. Chkheidze. While the congress was in session, however, the delegates turned out to differ strongly among themselves, with the result that the attempt to unify the Mensheviks virtually failed.
 Reference is to the June 3 coup d’état, which ushered in the period of the Stolypin reaction.
On June 3 (16), 1907, the tsar issued a manifesto dissolving the Second Duma and revising the Duma election law. The new law greatly increased the Duma representation of the landowners and the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie, and drastically reduced the already small proportion of peasants’ and workers’ deputies. It was a gross violation of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, and the Fundamental Law of 1906, both of which made legislation subject to approval by the Duma. The Third Duma, elected under the new law, convened on November 1 (14), 1907. It was made up mostly of Black Hundreds and Octobrists.
 In the elections to the district councils in Petrograd, held late in May and early in June 1917, the Bolsheviks polled 20 per cent of the votes. The elections to the Petrograd City Council on August 20 (September 2) brought the Bolsheviks 33 per cent of the votes.