V. I. Lenin

From A Publicist's Diary

The Mistakes Of Our Party

Written: September 22-24, 1917
First Published:Proletarskaya RevolutsiaNo. 3 (26), 1924
Source:Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 26, 1972, pp. 52-58
Translated: Yuri Sdobnikov and George Hanna, Edited by George Hanna
Transcription & HTML Markup: Charles Farrell and David Walters
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive November, 2000


Friday, September 22, 1917.

The more one reflects on the meaning of the so-called Democratic Conference, and the more attentively one observes from outside— and it is said that the bystander sees most—the more firmly convinced one becomes that our Party committed a mistake by participating in it. We should have boycotted it. One may ask if there is any use in analysing such a question since the past cannot be remedied. Such an objection to criticising the tactics of yesterday, however, would be clearly unfounded. We have always condemned, and as Marxists we must condemn, the tactics of those who live "from hand to mouth". Momentary success is not enough for us. In general, plans calculated for a minute or a day are not enough for us. We must constantly test ourselves by a study of the chain of political events in their entirety, in their causal connection, in their results. By analysing the errors of yesterday, we learn to avoid errors today and tomorrow.

A new revolution is obviously maturing in the country, a revolution of other classes (other than those that carried out the revolution against tsarism). At that time it was a revolution of the proletariat, the peasantry and the bourgeoisie in alliance with Anglo-French finance capital against tsarism.

The revolution now maturing is one of the proletariat and the majority of the peasants, more specifically, of the poor peasants, against the bourgeoisie, against its ally, Anglo-French finance capital and against its government apparatus headed by the Bonapartist Kerensky.

At the moment we shall not dwell on the facts testifying to the rise of a new revolution, since, judging by the articles in Rabochy Put, our Central Organ, the Party has already made clear its views on this point. The new revolutionary upsurge seems to be a phenomenon commonly recognised by the Party. Data on this process of maturing, of course, still have to be summarised, but they must form the subject of other articles.

At the present moment it is more important to call the closest attention to the class differences between the old revolution and the new, to weigh up the political situation and our tasks from the point of view of this basic fact, class relations. At the time of the first revolution the vanguard was formed by the workers and soldiers, i.e., by the proletariat and the advanced sections of the peasantry.

This vanguard carried along not only many of the worst vacillating elements of the petty bourgeoisie (remember the indecision of the Mensheviks and Trudoviks on the question of a republic), but also the monarchist party of the Cadets, the liberal bourgeoisie, thereby making it a republican party. Why was such a change possible?

Because economic domination is everything to the bourgeoisie, and the form of political domination is of very little importance; the bourgeoisie can rule just as well under a republic, its domination is even more certain under a republic, in the sense that under a republican political order, no changes in the composition of the government or in the composition and the grouping of the ruling parties affect the bourgeoisie.

Of course, the bourgeoisie stood for and will stand for a monarchy, because the cruder armed protection of capital by monarchist institutions is more obvious and "closer" to all the capitalists and landowners. However, under a strong pressure "from below", the bourgeoisie has always and everywhere "reconciled" itself to a republic, as long as it could maintain its economic domination.

The relation of the proletariat and the poor peasantry, i.e., the majority of the people, in respect of the bourgeoisie and Allied (and world) imperialism is such that it is impossible for them to "carry " the bourgeoisie with them. Moreover, the upper strata of the petty bourgeoisie and the more well-to-do strata of the democratic petty bourgeoisie are patently against a new revolution. This fact is so obvious that there is no need to dwell on it here. The Lieberdans, Tseretelis and Chernovs illustrate this most clearly.

The class relations have changed. This is the crux of the matter.

Different classes now stand "on the one and the other side of the barricade".

That is the main thing.

That, and that alone, is the scientific reason for speaking of a new revolution which—arguing purely theoretically, taking the question in the abstract—could be accomplished legally if, for instance, the Constituent Assembly, convoked by the bourgeoisie, produced a majority opposed to the bourgeoisie, if the majority belonged to the parties of the workers and poor peasants.

The objective relations of the classes, their role (economic and political) outside and inside representative institutions of the given type; the rise or decline of the revolution; the relation of extra-parliamentary to parliamentary means of struggle—these are the chief, the basic objective facts which must be considered if the tactics of boycott or participation are to be deduced in a Marxist way and not arbitrarily, according to our "sympathies".

The experience of our revolution clearly demonstrates how to approach the boycott question in a Marxist way.

Why did the boycott of the Bulygin Duma[1] prove correct tactics?

Because it was in accordance with the objective alignment of social forces in their development. It provided the maturing revolution with a slogan for the overthrow of an old order which, to distract the people from the revolution, was convoking a clumsily fabricated compromise institution (the Bulygin Duma) which did not show promise of any earnest "anchoring" in parliamentarism. The extra-parliamentary means of struggle of the proletariat and the peasantry were stronger. These are the elements that went into shaping the correct tactics of boycotting the Bulygin Duma, tactics which took account of the objective situation.

Why did the tactics of boycotting the Third Duma prove incorrect?

Because they were based only on the "catchiness" of the boycott slogan and on the revulsion felt towards the brutal reaction of the June Third "pigsty".[2] The objective situation, however, was such that on the one hand the revolution was in a state of collapse and declining fast. For the upsurge of the revolution a parliamentary base (even inside a "pigsty") was of tremendous political importance, since extra-parliamentary means of propaganda, agitation and organisation were almost nonexistent or extremely weak. On the other hand, the most openly reactionary nature of the Third Duma did not prevent it from being an organ reflecting real class relations, namely, the Stolypin combination of the monarchy and the bourgeoisie. This new relation of classes was something the country had to get rid of.

These very elements shaped the tactics of participation in the Third Duma that took proper account of the objective situation.

It is sufficient to give thought to these lessons gained from experience and the conditions required by a Marxist approach to the question of boycott or participation, to realise that participation in the Democratic Conference, the Democratic Council or the Pre-parliament would be wrong tactics.

On the one hand, a new revolution is maturing. The war is on the upgrade. The extra-parliamentary means of propaganda, agitation and organisation are tremendous. The "parliamentary" tribune in the given Pre-parliament is insignificant. On the other hand, this Pre-parliament neither reflects nor serves a new relation of classes; for instance, the peasantry is here more poorly represented than in the already existing organs (Soviets of Peasants' Deputies). The Pre-parliament is in substance a Bonapartist fraud, not only because the filthy gang of the Lieberdans, Tseretelis and Chernovs, together with Kerensky and Co. have given this Tsereteli-Bulygin Duma a fake, hand-picked composition, but also more profoundly because the only aim of the Pre-parliament is to trick the masses, to deceive the workers and peasants, to distract them from the new upsurge of the revolution, to dazzle the eyes of the oppressed classes by a new dress for the old, long tried-out, bedraggled, threadbare "coalition" with the bourgeoisie (i.e., the bourgeoisie's transformation of Tsereteli and Co. into jesters helping to subordinate the people to imperialism and the imperialist war).

"We are weak now," said the tsar in August 1905 to his feudal landowners. "Our power is wavering. The tide of the workers' and peasants' revolution is rising. We must trick the 'plain man', we must dangle something before his eyes. . . ."

"We are weak now," says the present "tsar", the Bonapartist Kerensky, to the Cadets, the non-party Tit Tityches,[3] Plekhanovs, Breshkovskayas and Co. "Our power is tottering. A wave of workers' and peasants' revolution against the bourgeoisie is rising. We must hoodwink the democrats by dying in new colours that jester's costume which the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik 'leaders of revolutionary democracy', our dear friends the Tseretelis and Chernovs, have been wearing to fool the people since May 6, 1917.[4] We can easily dangle a 'Pre-parliament' before their eyes."

"We are strong now," said the tsar to his feudal landowners in June 1907. "The wave of workers' and peasants' revolution is receding, but we cannot maintain ourselves as of old; deception alone will not suffice. We must have a new policy in the village, we must have a new economic and political bloc with the Guchkovs and Milyukovs, with the bourgeoisie."

It is in this way that the three situations, August 1905, September 1917, and June 1907, may be presented to illustrate most vividly the objective basis for the boycott tactics and its connection with class relations. The oppressed classes are always being deceived by the oppressors, but the meaning of this deception differs at different moments in history. Tactics cannot be based on the bare fact that the oppressors deceive the people; tactics must be shaped after analysing class relations in their entirety and the development of both extra-parliamentary and parliamentary struggle.

Participation in the Pre-parliament is incorrect tactics that does not correspond to the objective relations of classes, to the objective conditions of the moment.

We should have boycotted the Democratic Conference; we all erred by not doing so, but mistakes are no crime. We shall correct the mistake only if we have a sincere desire to support the revolutionary struggle of the masses, only if we give earnest thought to the objective foundations of our tactics.

We must boycott the Pre-parliament. We must leave it and go to the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, to the trade unions, to the masses in general. We must call on them to struggle. We must give them a correct and clear slogan: disperse the Bonapartist gang of Kerensky and his fake Pre-parliament, with this Tsereteli-Bulygin Duma. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, even after the Kornilov revolt, refused to accept our compromise of peacefully transferring the power to the Soviets (in which we then had no majority); they have again sunk into the morass of filthy and mean bargaining with the Cadets. Down with the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries! Struggle against them ruthlessly. Expel them ruthlessly from all revolutionary organisations. No negotiations, no communication with those friends of the Kishkins, the friends of the Kornilovite landowners and capitalists.

Saturday, September 23.

Trotsky was for the boycott. Bravo, Comrade Trotsky!

Boycottism was defeated in the Bolshevik group at the Democratic Conference.

Long live the boycott!

We cannot and must not under any circumstances reconcile ourselves to participation. A group at one of the conferences is not the highest organ of the party and even the decisions of the highest organs are subject to revision on the basis of experience.

We must at all costs strive to have the boycott question solved both at a plenary meeting of the Executive Committee and at an extraordinary Party congress. The boycott question must now be made the platform for elections to the Congress and for all elections inside the Party. We must draw the masses into the discussion of this question. Class-conscious workers must take the matter into their own hands, organise the discussion, and exert pressure on "those at the top".

There is not the slightest doubt that at the "top" of our Party there are noticeable vacillations that may become ruinous, because the struggle is developing; under certain conditions, at a certain moment, vacillations may ruin the cause. We must put all our forces into the struggle, we must uphold the correct line of the party of the revolutionary proletariat before it is too late.

Not all is well with the "parliamentary" leaders of our Party; greater attention must be paid to them, there must be greater workers' supervision over them; the competency of parliamentary groups must be more clearly defined.

Our Party's mistake is obvious. The fighting party of the advanced class need not fear mistakes. What it should fear is persistence in a mistake, refusal to admit and correct a mistake out of a false sense of shame.

Sunday, September 24.

The Congress of Soviets has been postponed till October 20. The tempo of Russian life is such that this almost means postponing it to the Greek Calends. The farce staged by the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks after April 20-21 is being repeated for the second time.


[1] Bulygin Duma—a consultative "representative institution", which the tsarist government promised to convene in 1905. The draft law on the institution of a consultative Duma and the election law were worked out by a commission chaired by the Minister of the Interior Bulygin, and published on August 6 (19), 1905. The Bolsheviks boycotted the Duma which the Government failed to convoke: it was swept away by the general political strike in October.

[2] On June 3 (16), 1907, the tsar issued a manifesto dissolving the Second State Duma and amending the electoral law. The landowners, industrialists and merchants were given many more seats in the Duma, and the workers and peasants many less. This was a gross violation of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, and the Fundamental Law of 1906, which made all Government decrees subject to Duma approval. The Third Duma, which was elected under the new law and met on November 1 (14), 1907, was out-and-out reactionary.

[3] Tit Titych—a merchant from Ostrovsky's comedy Shouldering Another's Troubles, personifying the petty tyranny of the rich.

[4] May 6 : announcement of the first coalition Provisional Government; August 31: the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies passed a Bolshevik resolution calling for the establishment of a Soviet Government; September 12: the date set by the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and the Executive Committee of the All-Russia Soviet of Peasants' Deputies, both dominated by Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, for the convocation of a Democratic Conference. The Democratic Conference took place in Petrograd September 14-22 (September 27-October 5), 1917. For details click here.