Vladimir Lenin

The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky

The Soviet Constitution

As I have already pointed out, the disfranchisement of the bourgeoisie is not a necessary and indispensable feature of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And in Russia, the Bolsheviks, who long before October put forward the slogan of proletarian dictatorship, did not say anything in advance about disfranchising the exploiters. This aspect of the dictatorship did not make its appearance “according to the plan” of any particular party; it emerged of itself in the course of the struggle. Of course, Kautsky the historian failed to notice this. He failed to understand that even when the Mensheviks (who compromised with the bourgeoisie) still ruled the Soviets, the bourgeoisie cut themselves off from the Soviets of their own accord, boycotted them, put themselves up in opposition to them and intrigued against them. The Soviets arose without any constitution and existed without one for more than a year (from the spring of 1917 to the summer of 1918). The fury of the bourgeoisie against this independent and omnipotent (because it was all-embracing) organisation of the oppressed; the fight, the unscrupulous, self-seeking and sordid fight, the bourgeoisie waged against the Soviets; and, lastly, the overt participation of the bourgeoisie (from the Cadets to the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries, from Milyukov to Kerensky) in the Kornilov mutiny[23]—all this paved the way for the formal exclusion of the bourgeoisie from the Soviets.

Kautsky has heard about the Kornilov mutiny, but he majestically scorns historical facts and the course and forms of the struggle which determine the forms of the dictatorship. Indeed, who should care about facts where “pure” democracy is involved? That is why Kautsky’s “criticism” of the disfranchisement of the bourgeoisie is distinguished by such . . . sweet naïveté, which would be touching in a child but is repulsive in a person who has not yet been officially certified as feeble-minded.

“. . . If the capitalists found themselves in an insignificant minority under universal suffrage they would more readily become reconciled to their fate” (p. 33). . . . Charming, isn’t it? Clever Kautsky has seen many cases in history, and, generally, knows perfectly well from his own observations of life of landowners and capitalists reckoning with the will of the majority of the oppressed. Clever Kautsky firmly advocates an “opposition”, i.e., parliamentary struggle. That is literally what he says: “opposition” (p. 34 and elsewhere).

My dear learned historian and politician! It would not harm you to know that “opposition” is a concept that belongs to the peaceful and only to the parliamentary struggle, i.e., a concept that corresponds to a non-revolutionary situation, a concept that corresponds to an absence of revolution. During revolution we have to deal with a ruthless enemy in civil war; and no reactionary jeremiads of a petty bourgeois who fears such a war, as Kautsky does, will alter the fact. To examine the problems of ruthless civil war from the point of view of “opposition” at a time when the bourgeoisie are prepared to commit any crime—the example of the Versailles men and their deals with Bismarck must mean something to every person who does not treat history like Gogol’s Petrushka[24]—when the bourgeoisie are summoning foreign states to their aid and intriguing with them against the revolution, is simply comical. The revolutionary proletariat is to put on a nightcap, like “Muddle-headed Counsellor” Kautsky, and regard the bourgeoisie, who are organising Dutov, Krasnov and Czech counter-revolutionary insurrections and are paying millions to saboteurs, as a legal “opposition”. Oh, what profundity!

Kautsky is exclusively interested in the formal, legal aspect of the question, and, reading his disquisitions on the Soviet Constitution, one involuntarily recalls Bebel’s words: Lawyers are thoroughbred reactionaries. “In reality,” Kautsky writes, “the capitalists alone cannot be disfranchised. What is a capitalist in the legal sense of the term? A property-owner? Even in a country which has advanced so far along the path of economic progress as Germany, where the proletariat is so numerous, the establishment of a Soviet republic would disfranchise a large mass of people. In 1907, the number of persons in the German Empire engaged in the three great occupational groups—agriculture, industry and commerce—together with their families amounted roughly to thirty-five million in the wage-earners’ and salaried employees’ group, and seventeen million in the independent group. Hence, a party might well form a majority among the wage-workers but a minority among the population as a whole” (p. 33).

That is an example of Kautsky’s mode of argument. Isn’t it the counter-revolutionary whining of a bourgeois? Why, Mr. Kautsky, have you relegated all the “independents” to the category of the disfranchised, when you know very well that the overwhelming majority of the Russian peasants do not employ hired labour, and do not, therefore, lose their franchise? Isn’t this falsification?

Why, learned economist, did you not quote the facts with which you are perfectly familiar and which are to be found in those same German statistical returns for 1907 relating to hired labour in agriculture according to size of farms? Why did you not quote these facts to enable the German workers, the readers of your pamphlet, to see how many exploiters there are, and how few they are compared with the total number of “farmers” who figure in German statistics?

You did not because your apostasy has made you a mere sycophant of the bourgeoisie.

The term capitalist, Kautsky argues, is legally a vague concept, and on several pages he thunders against the “arbitrariness” of the Soviet Constitution. This “serious scholar” has no objection to the British bourgeoisie taking several centuries to work out and develop a new (new for the Middle Ages) bourgeois constitution, but, representative of lackey’s science that he is, he will allow no time to us, the workers and peasants of Russia. He expects us to have a constitution all worked out to the very last letter in a few months.

“Arbitrariness!” Just imagine what a depth of vile subservience to the bourgeoisie and most inept pedantry is contained in such a reproach. When thoroughly bourgeois and for the most part reactionary lawyers in the capitalist countries have for centuries or decades been drawing up most detailed rules and regulations and writing scores and hundreds of volumes of laws and interpretations of laws to oppress the workers, to bind the poor man hand and foot and to place thousands of hindrances and obstacles in the way of any of the common labouring people—there the bourgeois liberals and Mr. Kautsky see no “arbitrariness”! That is “law” and “order”! The ways in which the poor are to be “kept down” have all been thought out and written down. There are thousands of bourgeois lawyers and bureaucrats (about them Kautsky says nothing at all, probably just because Marx attached enormous significance to smashing the bureaucratic machine . . . )—lawyers and bureaucrats who know how to interpret the laws in such a way that the worker and the average peasant can never break through the barbed-wire entanglements of these laws. This is not “arbitrariness” on the part of the bourgeoisie, it is not the dictatorship of the sordid and self-seeking exploiters who are sucking the blood of the people. Nothing of the kind! It is “pure democracy”, which is becoming purer and purer every day.

But now that the toiling and exploited classes, while cut off by the imperialist war from their brothers across the border, have for the first time in history set up their own Soviets, have called to the work of political construction those people whom the bourgeoisie used to oppress, grind down and stupefy, and have begun themselves to build a new, proletarian state, have begun in the heat of furious struggle, in the fire of civil war, to sketch the fundamental principles of a state without exploiters—all the bourgeois scoundrels, the whole gang of bloodsuckers, with Kautsky echoing them, howl about “arbitrariness”! Indeed, how will these ignorant people, these workers and peasants, this “mob”, be able to interpret their laws? How can these common labourers acquire a sense of justice without the counsel of educated lawyers, of bourgeois writers, of the Kautskys and the wise old bureaucrats?

Mr. Kautsky quotes from my speech of April 28, 1918, the words: “The people themselves determine the procedure and the time of elections.” And Kautsky, the “pure democrat”, infers from this:

”. . . Hence, it would mean that every assembly of electors may determine the procedure of elections at their own discretion. Arbitrariness and the opportunity of getting rid of undesirable opposition in the ranks of the proletariat itself would thus be carried to the extreme” (p. 37).

Well, how does this differ from the talk of a hack hired by capitalists, who howls about the people oppressing industrious workers who are “willing to work” during a strike? Why is the bourgeois bureaucratic method of determining electoral procedure under “pure” bourgeois democracy not arbitrariness? Why should the sense of justice among the masses who have risen to fight their age-old exploiters and who are being educated and steeled in this desperate struggle be less than that of a handful of bureaucrats, intellectuals and lawyers brought up in bourgeois prejudices?

Kautsky is a true socialist. Don’t dare suspect the sincerity of this very respectable father of a family, of this very honest citizen. He is an ardent and convinced supporter of the victory of the workers, of the proletarian revolution. All he wants is that the honey-mouthed, petty-bourgeois intellectuals and philistines in nightcaps should first—before the masses begin to move, before they start a furious battle with the exploiters, and certainly without civil war—draw up a moderate and precise set of rules for the development of the revolution. . . .

Burning with profound moral indignation, our most learned Judas Golovlyov[25] tells the German workers that on June 14, 1918, the All-Russia Central Executive Committee of Soviets resolved to expel the representatives of the Right Socialist-Revolutionary Party and the Mensheviks from the Soviets. “This measure,” writes Judas Kautsky, all afire with noble indignation, “is not directed against definite persons guilty of definite punishable offences. . . . The Constitution of the Soviet Republic does not contain a single word about the immunity of Soviet deputies. It is not definite persons, but definite parties that are expelled from the Soviets” (p. 37).

Yes, that is really awful, an intolerable departure from pure democracy, according to the rules of which our revolutionary Judas Kautsky will make the revolution. We Russian Bolsheviks should first have guaranteed immunity to the Savinkovs and Co., to the Lieberdans,[26] Potresovs (“activists”[27]) and Co., then drawn up a criminal code proclaiming participation in the Czech counter-revolutionary war, or in the alliance with the German imperialists in the Ukraine or in Georgia against the workers of one’s own country, to be “punishable offences”, and only then, on the basis of this criminal code, would we be entitled, in accordance with the principles of “pure democracy”, to expel “definite persons” from the Soviets. It goes without saying that the Czechs, who are subsidised by the British and French capitalists through the medium (or thanks to the agitation) of the Savinkovs, Potresovs and Lieberdans, and the Krasnovs who receive ammunition from the Germans through the medium of the Ukrainian and Tiflis Mensheviks, would have sat quietly waiting until we were ready with our proper criminal code, and, like the purest democrats they are, would have confined themselves to the role of an “opposition”. . . .

No less profound moral indignation is aroused in Kautsky’s breast by the fact that the Soviet Constitution disfranchises all those who “employ hired labour with a view to profit”. “A home-worker, or a small master employing only one journeyman,” Kautsky writes, “may live and feel quite like a proletarian, but he has no vote” (p. 36).

What a departure from “pure democracy”! What an injustice! True, up to now all Marxists have thought—and thousands of facts have proved it—that the small masters were the most unscrupulous and grasping exploiters of hired labour, but our Judas Kautsky takes the small masters not as a class (who invented that pernicious theory of the class struggle?) but as single individuals, exploiters who “live and feel quite like proletarians”. The famous “thrifty Agnes”, who was considered dead and buried long ago, has come to life again under Kautsky’s pen. This “thrifty Agnes” was invented and launched into German literature some decades ago by that “pure” democrat, the bourgeois Eugen Richter. He predicted untold calamities that would follow the dictatorship of the proletariat, the confiscation of the capital of the exploiters, and asked with an innocent air: What is a capitalist in the legal sense of the term? He took as an example a poor, thrifty seamstress (“thrifty Agnes”), whom the wicked “proletarian dictators” rob of her last farthing. There was a time when all German Social-Democrats used to poke fun at this “thrifty Agnes” of the pure democrat, Eugen Richter. But that was a long, long time ago, when Bebel, who was quite frank and open about there being many national-liberals[28] in his party, was still alive; that was very long ago, when Kautsky was not yet a renegade.

Now “thrifty Agnes” has come to life again in the person of the “small master who employs only one journeyman and who lives and feels quite like a proletarian”. The wicked Bolsheviks are wronging him, depriving him of his vote. It is true that “every assembly of electors” in the Soviet Republic, as Kautsky tells us, may admit into its midst a poor little master who, for instance, may be connected with this or that factory, if, by way of an exception, he is not an exploiter, and if he really “lives and feels quite like a proletarian”. But can one rely on the knowledge of life, on the sense of justice of an irregular factory meeting of common workers acting (how awful!) without a written code? Would it not clearly be better to grant the vote to all exploiters, to all who employ hired labour, rather than risk the possibility of “thrifty Agnes” and the “small master who lives and feels quite like a proletarian” being wronged by the workers?

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Let the contemptible renegade scoundrels, amidst the applause of the bourgeoisie and the social-chauvinists,[29] abuse our Soviet Constitution for disfranchising the exploiters! That’s fine because it will accelerate and widen the split between the revolutionary workers of Europe and the Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Renaudels and Longuets, the Hendersons and Ramsay MacDonalds, the old leaders and old betrayers of socialism.

The mass of the oppressed classes, the class-conscious and honest revolutionary proletarian leaders will be on our side. It will be enough to acquaint such proletarians and such people with our Soviet Constitution for them to say at once: “These are really our people, this is a real workers’ party, this is a real workers’ government, for it does not deceive the workers by talking about reforms in the way all the above-mentioned leaders have done, but is fighting the exploiters in real earnest, making a revolution in real earnest and actually fighting for the complete emancipation of the workers.”

The fact that after a year’s “experience” the Soviets have deprived the exploiters of the franchise shows that the Soviets are really organisations of the oppressed and not of social-imperialists and social-pacifists who have sold themselves to the bourgeoisie. The fact that the Soviets have disfranchised the exploiters shows they are not organs of petty-bourgeois compromise with the capitalists, not organs of parliamentary chatter (on the part of the Kautskys, the Longuets and the MacDonalds), but organs of the genuinely revolutionary proletariat which is waging a life-and-death struggle against the exploiters.

“Kautsky’s book is almost unknown here,” a well-informed comrade wrote to me from Berlin a few days ago (today is October 30). I would advise our ambassadors in Germany and Switzerland not to stint thousands in buying up this book and distributing it gratis amon the class-conscious workers so as to trample in the mud this “European”—read: imperialist and reformist—Social-Democracy, which has long been a “stinking corpse”.

*     *

At the end of his book, on pages 61 and 63, Mr. Kautsky bitterly laments the fact that the “new theory” (as he calls Bolshevism, fearing to touch Marx’s and Engels’s analysis of the Paris Commune) “finds supporters even in old democracies like Switzerland, for instance”. “It is incomprehensible” to Kautsky “how this theory can be adopted by German Social-Democrats”.

No, it is quite comprehensible; for after the serious lessons of the war the revolutionary masses are becoming sick and tired of the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys.

”We” have always been in favour of democracy, Kautsky writes, yet we are supposed suddenly to renounce it!

”We”, the opportunists of Social-Democracy, have always been opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and Kolb and Co. proclaimed this long ago. Kautsky knows this and vainly expects that he will be able to conceal from his readers the obvious fact that he has “returned to the fold” of the Bernsteins and Kolbs.

“We”, the revolutionary Marxists, have never made a fetish of “pure” (bourgeois) democracy. As is known, in 1903 Plekhanov was a revolutionary Marxist (later his unfortunate turn brought him to the position of a Russian Scheidemann). And in that year Plekhanov declared at our Party Congress, which was then adopting its programme, that in the revolution the proletariat would, if necessary, disfranchise the capitalists and disperse any parliament that was found to be counter-revolutionary. That this is the only view that corresponds to Marxism will be clear to anybody even from the statements of Marx and Engels which I have quoted above; it patently follows from all the fundamental principles of Marxism.

“We”, the revolutionary Marxists, never made speeches to the people that the Kautskyites of all nations love to make, cringing before the bourgeoisie, adapting themselves to the bourgeois parliamentary system, keeping silent about the bourgeois character of modern democracy and demanding only its extension, only that it be carried to its logical conclusion.

“We” said to the bourgeoisie: You, exploiters and hypocrites, talk about democracy, while at every step you erect thousands of barriers to prevent the oppressed people from taking part in politics. We take you at your word and, in the interests of these people, demand the extension of your bourgeois democracy in order to prepare the people for revolution for the purpose of overthrowing you, the exploiters. And if you exploiters attempt to offer resistance to our proletarian revolution we shall ruthlessly suppress you; we shall deprive you of all rights; more than that, we shall not give you any bread, for in our proletarian republic the exploiters will have no rights, they will be deprived of fire and water, for we are socialists in real earnest, and not in the Scheidemann or Kautsky fashion.

That is what “we”, the revolutionary Marxists, said, and will say—and that is why the oppressed people will support us and be with us, while the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys will be swept into the renegades’ cesspool.


[23] This refers to a counter-revolutionary conspiracy of the Russian bourgeoisie in August 1917. Tsarist General Kornilov led the conspirators. Relying on the top army officers, they planned to use officer cadet and Cossack units to seize Petrograd, crush the Bolshevik Party, dissolve the Soviets and establish military dictatorship in the country. The workers of Petrograd and revolutionary soldiers and sailors rose up in response to the appeal of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and crushed the Kornilov revolt. Popular pressure compelled the Provisional Government to order the arrest of Kornilov and his associates and bring them to court. Thus the attempt of the bourgeoisie and landowners to crush the revolution fell through. After the defeat of the Kornilov revolt the Bolsheviks gained more influence among the people. Bolshevisation of the Soviets began. The Bolsheviks again advanced the slogan “All Power to the Soviets!”

[24] Petrushka—a serf servant in Gogol’s novel The Dead Souls. He could read only by syllables and enjoyed the process of reading, never pausing to think over the contents of a book.

[25] Judas Golovlyov—a hypocritical and sanctimonious feudal landowner in Saltykov-Shchedrin’s novel The Golovlyov Family.

[26] Lieberdans—nickname for the Menshevik leaders Lieber and Dan and their supporters, which stuck to them after the Moscow Bolshevik newspaper Sotsial-Demokrat had published in its issue No. 141 on August 25 (September 7), 1917, Demyan Bedny’s feuilleton entitled “Lieberdan”.

[27] Activists—a group of Mensheviks who resorted to armed struggle against Soviet power and the Bolshevik Party after the October Revolution. They joined various counter-revolutionary conspiratorial organisations, supported Kornilov, Kaledin and the bourgeois nationalist Ukrainian Rada, actively participated in the whiteguard Czech revolt and made common front with the foreign interventionists. In 1918, under the pretext of discussing the food situation, the “activists”, supported by the Menshevik Party, held a number of conferences of “workers” and their delegates which actually demanded the dissolution of the Soviets.

[28] August Bebel spoke about this at the Magdeburg Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany on September 20, 1910. Lenin mentions the Congress in his article “Two Worlds” (LCW, Volume 16, pages 305–313).

[29] I have just read a leading article in Frankfurter Zeitung (No. 293, October 22, 1918), giving an enthusiastic summary of Kautsky’s pamphlet. This organ of the stock exchange is satisfied. And no wonder! And a comrade writes to me from Berlin that Vorwärts, the organ of the Scheidemanns, has declared in a special article that it subscribes to almost every line Kautsky has written. Hearty congratulations!