V. I. Lenin

A Contribution To The History Of

The Question Of The Dictatorship[1]

A Note

Written: 20 October, 1920
First Published: 1920; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 340-361
Translated: Julius Katzer
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

The question of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the fundamental question of the modern working-class movement in all capitalist countries without exception. To elucidate this question fully, a knowledge of its history is required. On an international scale, the history of the doctrine of revolutionary dictatorship in general, and of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular, coincides with the history of revolutionary socialism, and especially with the history of Marxism. Moreover—and this, of course, is the most important thing of all—the history of all revolutions by the oppressed and exploited classes, against the exploiters, provides the basic material and source of our knowledge on the question of dictatorship. Whoever has failed to understand that dictatorship is essential to the victory of any revolutionary class has no understanding of the history of revolutions, or else does not want to know anything in this field.

With reference to Russia, special importance attaches, as far as theory is concerned, to the Programme of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party as drafted in 1902-03 by the editorial board of Zarya and Iskra, or, more exactly, drafted by G. Plekhanov, and edited, amended and endorsed by that editorial board. In this Programme, the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat is stated in clear and defnite terms, and, moreover, is linked up with the struggle against Bernstein, against opportunism. Most important of all, however, is of couse the experience of revolution, i.e., in the case of Russia, the experience of the year 1905.

The last three months of that year—October, November and December—were a period of a remarkably vigorous and broad mass revolutionary struggle, a period that saw a combination of the two most powerful methods of that struggle: the mass political strike and an armed uprising. (Let us note parenthetically that as far back as May 1905 the Bolshevik congress, the “Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party”, declared that “the task of organising the proletariat for direct struggle against the autocracy by means of the armed uprising” was “one of the major and most urgent tasks of the Party”, and instructedall Party organisations to “explain the role of mass political strikes, which may be of great importance at the beginning and during the progress of the uprising’’.[2])

For the first time in world history, the revolutionary struggle attained such a high stage of development and such an impetus that an armed uprising was combined with that specifically proletarian weapon—the mass strike. This experience is clearly of world significance to all proletarian revolutions. It was studied by the Bolsheviks with the greatest attention and diligence in both its political and its economic aspects. I shall mention an analysis of the month-by-month statistics of economic and political strikes in 1905, of the relations between them, and the level of development achieved by the strike struggle for the first time in world history. This analysis was published by me in 1910 and 1911 in the Prosveshcheniye journal, a summary of it being given in Bolshevik periodicals brought out abroad at the time.[3]

The mass strikes and the armed uprisings raised, as a matter of course, the question of the revolutionary power and dictatorship, for these forms of struggle inevitably led—initially on a local scale—to the ejection of the old ruling authorities, to the seizure of power by the proletariat and the other revolutionary classes, to the expulsion of the landowners, sometimes to the seizure of factories, and so on and so forth. The revolutionary mass struggle of the time gave rise to organisations previously unknown in world history, such as the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, followed by the Soviets of Soldiers’ Deputies, Peasants’ Committees, and the like. Thus the fundamental questions (Soviet power and the dictatorship of the proletariat) that are now engaging the minds of class-conscious workers all over the world were posed in a practical form at the end of 1905. While such outstanding representatives of the revolutionary proletariat and of unfalsified Marxism as Rosa Luxemburg, immediately realised the significance of this practical experience and made a critical analysis of it at meetings and in the press, the vast majority of the official representatives of the official Social-Democratic and socialist parties including both the reformists and people of the type of the future “Kautskyites”, “Longuetists”, the followers of Hillquit in America, etc.—proved absolutely incapable of grasping the significance of this experience and of performing their duty as revolutionaries, i.e., of setting to work to study and propagate the lessons of this experience.

In Russia, immediately after the defeat of the armed uprising of December 1905, both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks set to work to sum up this experience. This work was especially expedited by what was called the Unity Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, held in Stockholm in April 1906, where both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were represented, and formally united. The most energetic preparations for this Congress were made by both these groups. Early in 1906, prior to the Congress, both groups published drafts of their resolutions on all the most important questions. These draft resolutions—reprinted in my pamphlet, Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (A Letter to the St. Petersburg Workers ), Moscow, 1906 (110 pages, nearly half of which are taken up with the draft resolutions of both groups and with the resolutions finally adopted by the Congress)—provide the most important material for a study of the question as it stood at the time.

By that time, the disputes as to the significance of the Soviets were already linked up with the question of dictatorship. The Bolsheviks had raised the question of the dictatorship even prior to the revolution of October 1905 (see my pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Geneva, July 1905; reprinted in a volume of collected articles entitled Twelve Years ). The Mensheviks took a negative stand with regard to the “dicta- torship” slogan; the Bolsheviks emphasised that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were “actually an embryo of a new revolutionary power ”, as was literally said in the draft of the Bolshevik resolution (p. 92 of my Report ). The Mensheviks acknowledged the importance of the Soviets; they were in favour of “helping to organise” them, etc., but they did not regard them as embryos of revolutionary power, did not in general say anything about a “new revolutionary power” of this or some similar type, and flatly rejected the slogan of dictatorship. It will easily be seen that this attitude to the question already contained the seeds of all the present disagreements with the Mensheviks. It will also be easily seen that, in their attitude to this question, the Mensheviks (both Russian and non-Russian, such as the Kautskyites, Longuetists and the like) have been behaving like reformists or opportunists, who recognise the proletarian revolution in word, but in deed reject what is most essential and fundamental in the concept ofrevolution ”.

Even before the revolution of 1905, I analysed, in the afore-mentioned pamphlet, Two Tactics, the arguments of the Mensheviks, who accused me of having “imperceptibly substituted ‘dictatorship’ for ‘revolution’ (Twelve Years, p. 459). I showed in detail that, by this very accusation, the Mensheviks revealed their opportunism, their true political nature, as toadies to the liberal bourgeoisie and conductors of its influence in the ranks of the proletariat. When the revolution becomes an unquestioned force, I said, even its opponents begin to “recognise the revolution"; and I pointed (in the summer of 1905) to the example of the Russian liberals, who remained constitutional monarchists. At present, in 1920, one might add that in Germany and Italy the liberal bourgeois—or at least the most educated and adroit of them—are ready to “recognise the revolution”. But by “recognising” the revolution, and at the same time refusing to recognise the dictatorship of a definite class (or of definite classes), the Russian liberals and the Mensheviks of that time, and the present-day German and Italian liberals, Turatists and Kautskyites, have revealed their reformism, their absolute unfitness to be revolutionaries.

Indeed, when the revolution has already become an unquestioned force, when even the liberals “recognise” it, and when the ruling classes not only see but also feel the invincible might of the oppressed masses, then the entire question—both to the theoreticians and the leaders of practical policy—reduces itself to an exact class definition of the revolution. However, without the concept of “dictatorship”, this precise class definition cannot be given. One cannot be a revolutionary in fact unless one prepares for dictatorship. This truth was not understood in 1905 by the Mensheviks, and it is not understood in 1920 by the Italian, German, French and other socialists, who are afraid of the severe “conditions” of the Communist International; this truth is feared by people who are capable of recognising the dictatorship in word, but are incapable of preparing for it in deed. It will therefore not be irrelevant to quote at length the explanation of Marx’s views, which I published in July 1905 in opposition to the Russian Mensheviks, but is equally applicable to the West-European Mensheviks of 1920. (Instead of giving titles of newspapers, etc., I shall merely indicate whether Mensheviks or Bolsheviks are referred to.)

“In his notes to Marx’s articles in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung of 1848, Mehring tells us that one of the reproaches levelled at this newspaper by bourgeois publications was that it had allegedly demanded ‘the immediate introduction of a dictatorship as the sole means of achieving democracy’ (Marx, Nachlass, Vol. III, p. 53). From the vulgar bourgeois standpoint the terms of dictatoship and democracy are mutually exclusive. Failing to understand the theory of class struggle and accustomed to seeing in the political arena the petty squabbling of the various bourgeois circles and coteries, the bourgeois understands by dictatorship the annulment of all liberties and guarantees of democracy, arbitrariness of every kind, and every sort of abuse of power, in a dictator’s personal interests. In fact, it is precisely this vulgar bourgeois view that is to be observed among our Mensheviks, who attribute the partiality of the Bolsheviks for the slogan of ‘dictatorship’ to Lenin’s passionate desire to try his luck’ (Iskra No. 103, p. 3, column 2). In order to explain to the Mensheviks the mean- ing of the term class dictatorship as distinct from a personal dictatorship, and the tasks of ademocratic dictatorship as distinct from a socialist dictatorship, it would not be amiss to dwell on the views of Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung.[4]

“’After a revolution,’ Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung wrote on September 14, 1848, ‘every provisional organisation of the state requires a dictatorship, and an energetic dictatorship at that. From the very beginning we have reproached Camphausen [the head of the Ministry after March 18, 1848] for not acting dictatorially, for not having immediately smashed up and eliminated the remnants of the old institutions. And while Herr Camphausen was lulling himself with constitutional illusions, the defeated party [i.e., the party of reaction] strengthened its positions in the bureaucracy and in the army, and here and there even began to venture upon open struggle.’[5]

“These words, Mehring justly remarks, sum up in a few propositions all that was propounded in detail in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung in long articles on the Camphausen Ministry. What do these words of Marx tell us? That a provisional revolutionary government must act dictatorially (a proposition which the Mensheviks were totally unable to grasp since they were fighting shy of the slogan of dictatorship), and that the task of such a dictatorship is to destroy the remnants of the old institutions (which is precisely what was clearly stated in the resolution of the Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party [Bolsheviks] on the struggle against counter-revolution, and was omitted in the Mensheviks’ resolution as shown above). Third, and last, it follows from these words that Marx castigated the bourgeois democrats for entertainrng ‘constitutional illusions’ in a period of revolution and open civil war. The meaning of these words becomes particularly obvious from the article in Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung of June 6, 1848.

“’A Constituent National Assembly’, Marx wrote, ‘must first of all be an active, revolutionary active assembly. The Frankfurt Assembly[6] however, is busying itself with school exercises in parliamentarianism while allowing the government to act. Let us assume that this learned assembly succeeds, after mature consideration, in evolving the best possible agenda and the best constitution, but what is the use of the best possible agenda and of thebest possible constitution, if the German governments have in the meantime placed the bayonet on the agenda?’[7]

“That is the meaning of the slogan: dictatorship. . . .

“Major questions in the life of nations are settled only by force. The reactionary classes themselves are usually the first to resort to violence, to civil war; they are the first to ‘place the bayonet on the agenda’, as the Russian autocracy has systematically and unswervingly been doing everywhere ever since January 9.[8] And since such a situation has arisen, since the bayonet has really become the main point on the political agenda, since insurrection has proved imperative and urgent—the constitutional illusions and school exercises in parliamentarianism become merely a screen for the bourgeois betrayal of the revolution, a screen to conceal the fact that the bourgeoisie is ‘recoiling’ from the revolution. It is precisely the slogan of dictatorship that the genuinely revolutionary class must advance, in that case.” [9]

That was how the Bolsheviks reasoned on the dictatorship before the revolution of October 1905.

After the experience of this revolution, I made a detailed study of the question of dictatorship in the pamphlet, The Victory of the Cadets and the Tasks of the Workers’ Party, St. Petersburg, 1906 (the pamphlet is dated March 28,1906). I shall quote the most important arguments from this pamphlet, only substituting for a number of proper names a simple indication as to whether the reference is to the Cadets or to the Mensheviks. Generally speaking, this pamphlet was directed against the Cadets, and partly also against the non-party liberals, the semi-Cadets, and the semi-Mensheviks. But, actually speaking, everything said therein about dictatorship applies in fact to the Mensheviks, who were constantly sliding to the Cadets’ position on this question.

“At the moment when the firing in Moscow was subsiding, and when the military and police dictatorship was indulging in its savage orgies, when repressions and mass torture were raging all over Russia, voices were raised in the Cadet press against the use of force by the Left, and against the strike committees organised by the revolutionary parties. The Cadet professors on the Dubasovs’ payroll, who are peddling their science, went to the length of translating the word ‘dictatorship’ by the words ‘reinforced security’. These ‘men of science’ even distorted their high-school Latin in order to discredit the revolutionary struggle. Please note once and for all, you Cadet gentlemen, that dictatorship means unlimited power, based on force, and not on law. In civil war, any victorious power can only be a dictatorship. The point is, however, that there is the dictatorship of a minority over the majority, the dictatorship of a handful of police officials over the people; and there is the dictatorship of the overwhelming majority of the people over a handful of tyrants, robbers and usurpers of the people’s power. By their vulgar distortion of the scientific concept ‘dictatorship’, by their outcries against the violence of the Left at a time when the Right are resorting to the most lawless and outrageous violence the Cadet gentlemen have given striking evidence of the position the ‘compromisers’ take in the intense revolutionary struggle. When the struggle flares up, the ‘compromiser’ cravenly runs for cover. When the revolutionary people are victorious (October 17), the ‘compromiser’ creeps out of his hiding place, boastfully preens himself, shouting and raving until he is hoarse: ‘That was a “glorious” political strike!’ But when victory goes to the counter-revolution, the ‘compromiser’ begins to heap hypocritical admonitions and edifying counsel on the vanquished. The successful strike was ‘glorious’. The defeated strikes were criminal, mad, senseless, and anarchistic. The defeated insurrection was folly, a riot of surging elements, barbarity and stupidity. In short, his political conscience and political wisdom prompt the ‘compromiser’ to cringe before the side that for the moment is the strongest, to get in the way of the combatants, hindering first one side and then the other, to tone down the struggleand to blunt the revolutionary consciousness of the people who are waging a desperate struggle for freedom.’’[10]

To proceed. It would be highly opportune at this point to quote the explanations on the question of dictatorship, directed against Mr. R. Blank. In 1906, this R. Blank, in a newspaper actually Menshevik though formally non-partisan,[11] set forth the Mensheviks’ views and extolled their efforts “to direct the Russian Social-Democratic movement along the path that is being followed by the whole of the international Social-Democratic movement, led by the great Social-Democratic Party of Germany”.

In other words, like the Cadets, R. Blank contraposed the Bolsheviks, as unreasonable, non-Marxist, rebel, etc., revolutionaries, to the “reasonable” Mensheviks, and presented the German Social-Democratic Party as a Menshevik party as well. This is the usual method of the international trend of social-liberals, pacifists, etc., who in all countries extol the reformists and opportunists, the Kautskyites and the Longuetists, as “reasonable” socialists in contrast with the “madness” of the Bolsheviks.

This is how I answered Mr. R. Blank in the above mentioned pamphlet of 1906:

“Mr. Blank compares two periods of the Russian revolution. The first period covers approximately October-December 1905. This is the period of the revolutionary whirlwind. The second is the present period, which, of course, we have a right to call the period of Cadet victories in the Duma elections, or, perhaps, if we take the risk of running ahead somewhat, the period of a Cadet Duma.

“Regarding this period, Mr. Blank says that the turn of intellect and reason has come again, and it is possible to resume deliberate, methodical and systematic activities. On the other hand, Mr. Blank describes the first period as a period in which theory diverged from practice. All Social-Democratic principles and ideas vanished; the tactics that had always been advocated by the founders af Russian Social-Democracy were forgotten, and even the very pillars of the Social-Democratic world outlook were uprooted.

“Mr. Blank ‘s main assertion is merely a statement of fact: the whole theory of Marxism diverged from ‘practice’ in the period of the revolutionary whirlwind.

“Is that true? What is the first and main ‘pillar’ of Marxist theory? It is that the only thoroughly revolutionary class in modern society, and therefore, the advanced class in every revolution, is the proletariat. The question is then: has the revolutionary whirlwind uprooted this ‘pillar’ of the Social-Democratic world outlook? On the contrary, the whirlwind has vindicated it in the most brilliant fashion. It was the proletariat that was the main and, at first, almost the only fighter in this period. For the first time in history, perhaps, a bourgeois revolution was marked by the employment of a purely proletarian weapon, i.e., the mass political strike, on a scale unprecedented even in the most developed capitalist countries. The proletariat marched into battle that was definitely revolutionary, at a time when the Struves and the Blanks were calling for participation in the Bulygin Duma and when the Cadet professors were exhorting the students to keep to their studies. With its proletarian weapon, the proletariat won for Russia the whole of that so-called ‘constitution’, which since then has only been mutilated, chopped about and curtailed. The proletariat in October 1905 employed those tactics of struggle that six months before had been laid down in the resolution of the Bolshevik Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, which had strongly emphasised the necessity of combining the mass political strike with insurrection; and it is this combination that characterises the whole period of the ‘revolutionary whirl wind’, the whole of the last quarter of 1905. Thus our ideologist of petty bourgeoisie has distorted reality in the most brazen and glaring manner. He has not cited a single fact to prove that Marxist theory diverged from practical experience in the period of the ‘revolutionary whirlwind’; he has tried to obscure the main feature of this whirlwind, which most brilliantly confirmed the correctness of ‘all Social-Democratic principles and ideas’, of ‘all the pillars of the Social-Democratic world outlook’.

“But what was the real reason that induced Mr. Blank to come to the monstrously wrong conclusion that all Marxist principles and ideas vanished in the period of the ‘whirlwind’? It is very interesting to examine this circumstance; it still further exposes the real nature of philistinism in politics.

“What is it that mainly distinguished the period of the ‘revolutionary whirlwind’ from the present ‘Cadet’ period, as regards the various forms of political activity and the various methods by which the people make history? First and mainly it is that during the period of the ‘whirlwind’ certain special method~ of making history were employed which are foreign to other periods of political life. The following were the most important of these methods: 1) the ’seizure’ by the people of political liberty—its exercise without any rights and laws, and without any limitations (freedom of assembly, even if only in the universities, freedom of the press, freedom of association, the holding of congresses, etc.); 2) the creation of new organs of revolutionary authority—Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Railwaymen’s and Peasants’ Deputies, new rural and urban authorities, and so on, and so forth. These bodies were set up exclusively by the revolutionary sections of the people, they were formed irrespective of all laws and regulations, entirely in a revolutionary way , as a product of the native genius of the people, as a manifestation of the independent activity of the people which had rid itself, or was ridding itself, of its old police fetters. Lastly, they were indeed organs of authority, for all their rudimentary, spontaneous, amorphous and diffuse character, in composition and in activity. They acted as a government, when, for example, they seized printing plants (in St. Petersburg), and arrested police officials who were preventing the revolutionary people from exercising their rights (such cases also occurred in St. Petersburg, where the new organ of authority concerned was weakest, and where the old government was strongest). They acted as a government when they appealed to the whole people to withhold money from the old government. They confiscated the old government’s funds (the railway strike committees in the South) and used them for the needs of the new, the people’s government. Yes, these were undoubtedly the embryos of a new, people’s, or, if you will, revolutionary government. In their social and political character, they were the rudiments of the dictatorship of the revolutionary elements of the people. This surprises you, Mr. Blank and Mr. Kiesewetter! You do not see here the ‘reinforced security’, which for the bourgeois is tantamount to dictatorship? We have already told you that you have not the faintest notion of the scientific concept ‘dictatorship’. We will expIain it to you in a moment; but first we will deal with the third ‘method’ of activity in the period of the ‘revolutionary whirlwind’: the use by the people of force against those who used force against the people.

“The organs of authority that we have described represented a dictatorship in embryo, for they recognised no other authority, no law and no standards, no matter by whom established. Authority—unlimited, outside the law, and based on force in the most direct sense of the word—is dictatorship. But the force on which this new authority was based, and sought to base itself, was not the force of bayonets usurped by a handful of militarists, not the power of the ‘police force’, not the power of money, nor the power of any previously established institutions. It was nothing of the kind. The new organs of authority possessed neither arms, nor money, nor old institutions. Their power—can you imagine it, Mr. Blank and Mr. Kiesewetter?—had nothing in common with the old instruments of power, nothing in common with ‘reinforced security’, if we do not have in mind the reinforced security established to protect the people from the tyranny of the police and of the other organs of the old regime.

“What was the power based on, then? It was based on the mass of the people. That is the main feature that distinguished this new authority from all preceding organs of the old regime. The latter were the instruments of the rule of the minority over the people, over the masses of workers and peasants. The former was an instrument of the rule of the people, of the workers and peasants, over the minority, over a handful of police bullies, over a handful of privileged nobles and government officials. That is the difference between dictatorship over the people and dictatorship of the revolutionary people: mark this well, Mr. Blank and Mr. Kiesewetter! As the dictatorship of a minority, the old regime was able to maintain itself solely with the aid of police devices, solely by preventing the masses of the people from taking part in the government, and from supervising the government. The old authority persistently distrusted the masses, feared the light, maintained itself by deception. As the dictatorship of the overwhelming majority, the new authority maintained itself and could maintain itself solely because it enjoyed the confidence of the vast masses, solely because it, in the freest, widest, and most resolute manner, enlisted all the masses in the task of government. It concealed nothing, it had no secrets, no regulations, no formalities. It said, in effect: are you a working man? Do you want to fight to rid Russia of the gang of police bullies? You are our comrade. Elect your deputy. Elect him at once, immediately, whichever way you think best. We will willingly and gladly accept him as a full member of our Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, Peasant Committee, Soviet of Soldiers’ Deputies, and so forth. It was an authority open to all, it carried out. all its functions before the eyes of the masses, was accessible to the masses, sprang directly from the masses; and was a direct and immediate instrument of the popular masses, of their will. Such was the new authority, or, to be exact, its embryo, for the victory of the old authority trampled down the shoots of this young plant very soon.

“Perhaps, Mr. Blank or Mr. Kiesewetter, you will ask: why ‘dictatorship’, why ‘force’? Is it necessary for a vast mass to use force against a handful? Can tens and hundreds of millions be dictators over a thousand or ten thousand?

“That question is usually put by people who for the first time hear the term ‘dictatorship’ used in what to them is a new connotation. People are accustomed to see only a police authority and only a police dictatorship. The idea that there can be government without any police, or that dictatorship need not be a police dictatorship, seems strange to them. You say that millions need not resort to force against thousands? You are mistaken; and your mistake arises from the fact that you do not regard a phenomenon in its process of development. You forget that the new authority does not drop from the skies, but grows up, arises parallel with, and in opposition to the old authority, in struggle against it. Unless force is used against tyrants armed with the weapons and instruments of power, the people cannot be liberated from tyrants.

“Here is a very simple analogy, Mr. Blank and Mr. Kiesewetter, which will help you to grasp this idea, which seems so remote and ‘fantastic’ to the Cadet mind. Let us suppose that Avramov is injuring and torturing Spiridonova. On Spiridonova’s side, let us say, are tens and hundreds of unarmed people. On Avramov’s side there is a handful of Cossacks. What would the people do if Spiridonova were being tortured, not in a dungeon but in public? They would resort to force against Avramov and his body-guard. Perhaps they would sacrifice a few of their comrades, shot down by Avramov; but in the long run they would forcibly disarm Avramov and his Cossacks, and in all probability would kill on the spot some of these brutes in human form; they would clap the rest into some gaol to prevent them from committing any more outrages and to bring them to judgement before the people.

“So you see, Mr. Blank and Mr. Kiesewetter, when Avramov and his Cossacks torture Spiridonova, that is military and police dictatorship over the people. When a revolutionary people (that is to say, a people capable of fighting the tyrants, and not only of exhorting, admonishing, regretting, condemning, whining and whimpering; not a philistine narrow-minded, but a revolutionary people) resorts to force against Avramov and the Avramovs, that is a dictatorship of the revolutionary people. It is a dictatorship, because it is the authority of the people over Avramov, an authority unrestricted by any laws (the philistines, perhaps, would be opposed to rescuing Spiridonova from Avramov by force, thinking it to be against the ‘law’. They would no doubt ask: Is there a ‘law’ that permits the killing of Avramov? Have not some philistine ideologists built up the ‘resist not evil’ theory?). The scientific term ‘dictatorship’ means nothing more nor less than authority untrammeled by any laws, absolutely unrestricted by any rules whatever, and based directly on force. The term ‘dictatorship’ has no other meaning but this—mark this well, Cadet gentlemen. Again, in the analogy we have drawn, we see the dictatorship of the people, because the people, the mass of the population, unorganised, ‘casually’ assembled at the given spot, itself appears on the scene, exercises justice and metes out punishment, exercises power and creates a new, revolutionary law. Lastly, it is the dictatorship of the revolutionary people. Why only of the revolutionary, and not of the whole people? Because among the whole people, constantly suffering, and most cruelly, from the brutalities of the Avramovs, there are some who are physically cowed and terrified; there are some who are morally degraded by the ‘resist not evil’ theory, for example, or simply degraded not by theory, but by prejudice, habit, routine; and there are indifferent people, whom we call philistines, petty-bourgeois people who are more inclined to hold aloof from intense struggle, to pass by or even to hide themselves (for fear of getting mixed up in the fight and getting hurt). That is why the dictatorship is exercised, not by the whole people, but by the revolutionary people who, however, do not shun the whole people, who explain to all the people the motives of their actions in all their details, and who willingly enlist the whole people not only in ‘administering’ the state, but in governing it too, and indeed in organising the state.

“Thus our simple analogy contains all the elements of the scientific concept ‘dictatorship of the revolutionary people’, and also of the concept ‘military and police dictatorship’. We can now pass from this simple analogy, which even a learned Cadet professor can grasp, to the more complex developments of social life.

“Revolution, in the strict and direct sense of the word, is a period in the life of a people when the anger accumulated during centuries of Avramov brutalities breaks forth into actions, not merely into words; and into the actions of millions of the people, not merely of individuals. The people awaken and rise up to rid themselves of the Avramovs. The people rescue the countless numbers of Spiridonovas in Russian life from the Avramovs, use force against the Avramovs, and establish their authority over the Avramovs. Of course, this does not take place so easily, and not ‘all at once’, as it did in our analogy, simplified for Professor Kiesewetter. This struggle of the people against the Avramovs, a struggle in the strict and direct sense of the word, this act of the people in throwing the Avramovs off their backs, stretches over months and years of ‘revolutionary whirlwind’. This act of the people in throwing the Avramovs off their backs is the real content of what is called the great Russian revolution. This act, regarded from the standpoint of the methods of making history, takes place in the forms we have just described in discussing the revolutionary whirlwind, namely: the people seize political freedom, that is, the freedom which the Avramovs had prevented them from exercising; the people create a new, revolutionary authority, authority over the Avrarmovs, over the tyrants of the old police regime; the people use force against the Avramovs in order to remove, disarm and make harmless these wild dogs, all the Avramovs, Durnovos, Dubasovs, Mins, etc., etc.

“Is it good that the people should apply such unlawful, irregular, unmethodical and unsystematic methods of struggle as seizing their liberty and creating a new, formally unrecognised and revolutionary authority, that it should use force against the oppressors of the people? Yes, it is very good. It is the supreme manifestation of the people’s struggle for liberty. It marks that great period when the dreams of liberty cherished by the best men and women of Russia come true, when liberty becomes the cause of the masses of the people, and not merely of individual heroes. It is as good as the rescue by the crowd (in our analogy) of Spiridonova from Avramov, and the forcible disarming of Avramov and making him harmless.

“But this brings us to the very pivot of the Cadets’ hidden thoughts and apprehensions. A Cadet is the ideologist of the philistines precisely because he looks at politics, at the liberation of the whole people, at revolution, through the spectacles of that same philistine who, in our analogy of the torture of Spiridonova by Avramov, would try to restrain the crowd, advise it not to break the law, not to hasten to rescue the victim from the hands of the torturer, since he is acting in the name of the law. In our analogy, of course, that philistine would be morally a monster; but in social life as a whole, we repeat, the philistine monster is not an individual, but a social phenomenon, conditioned, perhaps, by the deep-rooted prejudices of the bourgeois philistine theory of law.

“Why does Mr. Blank hold it as self-evident that all Marxist principles were forgotten during the period of ‘whirlwind’? Because he distorts Marxism into Brentanoism,[12] and thinks that such ‘principles’ as the seizure of liberty, the establishment of revolutionary authority and the use of force by the people are not Marxist. This idea runs through the whole of Mr. Blank’s article; and not only Mr. Blank’s, but the articles of all the Cadets, and of all the writers in the liberal and radical camp who, today, are praising Plekhanov for his love of the Cadets; all of them, right up to the Bernsteinians of Bez Zaglaviya,[13] the Prokopoviches, Kuskovas and tutti quanti.

“Let us see how this opinion arose and why it was bound to arise.

“It arose directly out of the Bernsteinian or, to put it more broadly, the opportunist concepts of the West-European Social-Democrats. The fallacies of these concepts, which the ‘orthodox’ Marxists in Western Europe have been systematically exposing all along the line, are now being smuggled into Russia ‘on the sly’, in a different dressing and on a different occasion. The Bernsteinians accepted and accept Marxism minus its directly revolutionary aspect. They do not regard the parliamentary struggle as one of the weapons particularly suitable for definite historical periods, but as the main and almost the sole form of struggle making ‘force’, ‘seizure’, ‘dictatorship’ unnecessary. It is this vulgar philistine distortion of Marxism that the Blanks and other liberal eulogisers of Plekhanov are now smuggling into Russia. They have become so accustomed to this distortion that they do not even think it necessary to prove that Marxist principles and ideas were forgotten in the period of the revolutionary whirlwind.

“Why was such an opinion bound to arise? Because it accords very well with the class standing and interests of the petty bourgeoisie. The ideologists of ‘purified’ bourgeois society agree with all the methods used by the Social Democrats in their struggle except those to which the revolutionary people resort in the period of a ‘whirlwind’, and which revolutionary Social-Democrats approve of and help in using. The interests of the bourgeoisie demand that the proletariat should take part in the struggle against the autocracy, but only in a way that does not lead to the supremacy of the proletariat and the peasantry, and does not completely eliminate the old, feudal-autocratic and police organs of state power. The bourgeoisie wants to preserve these organs, only establishing its direct control over them. It needs them against the proletariat, whose struggle would be too greatly facilitated if they were completely abolished. That is why the interests of the bourgeoisie as a class require both a monarchy and an Upper Chamber, and the prevention of the dictatorship of the revolutionary people. Fight the autocracy, the bourgeoisie says to the proletariat, but do not touch the old organs of state power, for I need them. Fight in a ‘parliamentary’ way, that is, within the limits that we will prescribe by agreement with the monarchy. Fight with the aid of organisations, only not organisations like general strike committees, Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers ‘ Deputies, etc., but organisations that are recognised, restricted and made safe for capital by a law that we shall pass by agreement with the monarchy.

“It is clear, therefore, why the bourgeoisie speaks with disdain, contempt, anger and hatred about the period of the ‘whirlwind’, and with rapture, ecstasy and boundless philistine infatuation for . . . reaction, about the period of constitutionalism as protected by Dubasov. It is once again that constant, invariable quality of the Cadets: seeking to lean on the people and at the same time dreading their revolutionary initiative.

“It is also clear why the bourgeoisie is in such mortal fear of a repetition of the ‘whirlwind’, why it ignores and obscures the elements of the new revolutionary crisis, why it fosters constitutional illusions and spreads them among the people.

“Now we have fully explained why Mr. Blank and his like declare that in the period of the ‘whirlwind’ all Marxist principles and ideas were forgotten. Like all philistines, Mr. Blank accepts Marxism minus its revolutionary aspect; he accepts Social-Democratic methods of struggle minus the most revolutionary and directly revolutionary methods.

“Mr. Blank’s attitude towards the period of ‘whirlwind’ is extremely characteristic as an illustration of bourgeois failure to understand proletarian movements, bourgeois horror of acute and resolute struggle, bourgeois hatred for every manifestation of a radical and directly revolutionary method of solving social historical problems, a method that breaks up old institutions. Mr. Blank has betrayed himself and all his bourgeois narrow-mindedness. Somewhere he heard and read that during the period of whirlwind the Social-Democrats made ‘mistakes’—and he had hastened to conclude, and to declare with self-assurance, in tones that brook no contradiction and require no proof, that all the ‘principles’ of Marxism (of which he has not the least notion!) were forgotten. As for these ‘mistakes’, we will remark: Has there been a period in the development of the working-class movement, in the development of Social- Democracy, when no mistakes were made, when there was no deviation to the right or the left? Is not the history of the parliamentary period of the struggle waged by the German Social-Democratic Party—the period which all narrow-minded bourgeois all over the world regard as the utmost limit—filled with such mistakes? If Mr. Blank were not an utter ignoramus on problems of socialism,he would easily call to mind Mulberger, Dühring, the Dampfersubvention[14] question, the ‘Youth’,[15] and Bernsteiniad and many, many more. But Mr. Blank is not interested in studying the actual course of development of the Social-Democratic movement; all he wants is to minimise the scope of the proletarian struggle in order to exalt the bourgeois paltriness of his Cadet Party.

“Indeed, if we examine the question in the light of the deviations that the Social-Democratic movement has made from its ordinary, ‘normal’ course, we shall see that even in this respect there was more and not less solidarity and ideological integrity among the Social-Democrats in the period of ‘revolutionary whirlwind’ than there was before it. The tactics adopted in the period of ‘whirlwind’ did not further estrange the two wings of the Social-Democratic Party, but brought them closer together. Former disagreements gave way to unity of opinion on the question of armed uprising. Social-Democrats of both factions were active in the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, these peculiar instruments of embryonic revolutionary authority; they drew the soldiers and peasants into these Soviets, they issued revolutionary manifestos jointly with the petty-bourgeois revolutionary parties. Old controversies of the pre-revolutionary period gave way to unanimity on practical questions. The upsurge of the revolutionary tide pushed aside disagreements, compelling Social-Democrats to adopt militant tactics; it swept the question of the Duma into the background and put the question of insurrection on the order of the day; and it brought closer together the Social-Democrats and revolutionary bourgeois democrats in carrying out immediate tasks. In Severny Golos,[16] the Mensheviks, jointly with the Bolsheviks, called for a general strike and insurrection; and they called upon the workers to continue this struggle until they had captured power. The revolutionary situation itself suggested practical slogans. There were arguments only over matters of detail in theappraisal of events: for example, Nachalo[17] regarded the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies as organs of revolutionary local self-government, while Novaya Zhizn [18] regarded them as embryonic organs of revolutionary state power that united the proletariat with the revolutionary democrats. Nachalo inclined towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. Novaya Zhizn advocated the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. But have not disagreements of this kind been observed at every stage of development of every socialist party in Europe?

“Mr. Blank’s misrepresentation of the facts and his gross distortion of recent history are nothing more nor less than a sample of the smug bourgeois banality, for which periods of revolutionary whirlwind seem folly (’all principles are forgotten’, ‘even intellect and reason almost vanish’), while periods of suppression of revolution and philistine ‘progress’ (protected by the Dubasovs) seem to be periods of reasonable, deliberate and methodical activity. This comparative appraisal of two periods (the period of ‘whirlwind’ and the Cadet period) runs through the whole of Mr. Blank’s article. When human history rushes forward with the speed of a locomotive, he calls it a ‘whirlwind’, a ‘torrent’, the ‘vanishing’ of all ‘principles and ideas’. When history plods along at dray-horse pace, it becomes the very symbol of reason and method. When the masses of the people themselves, with all their virgin primitiveness and simple, rough determination begin to make history, begin to put ‘principles and theories’ immediately and directly into practice, the bourgeois is terrified and howls that ‘intellect is retreating into the background’ (is not the contrary the case, heroes of philistinism? Is it not the intellect of the masses, and not of individuals, that invades the sphere of history at such moments? Does not mass intellect at such a time become a verile, effective, and not an armchair force?). When the direct movement of the masses has been crushed by shootings, repressive measures, floggings, unemployment and starvation, when all the parasites of professorial science financed by Dubasov come crawling out of their crevices and begin to administer affairs on behalf of the people, in the name of the masses, selling and betraying their interests to a privileged few—then the knights of philistinism think that an era of calm and peaceful progress has set in and that ‘the turn of intellect and reason has come’.The bourgeois always and everywhere remains true to himself: whether you take Polyarnaya Zvezda or Nasha Zhizn,[19] whether you read Struve or Blank, you will always find this same narrow-minded, professorially pedantic and bureaucratically lifeless appraisal of periods of revolution and periods of reform. The former are periods of madness, tolle Jahre, the disappearance of intellect and reason. The latter are periods of ‘deliberate and systematic’ activities.

“Do not misinterpret what I am saying. I am not arguing that the Blanks prefer some periods to others. It is not a matter of preference; our subjective preferences do not determine the changes in historical periods. The thing is that in analysing the characteristics of this or that period (quite apart from our preferences or sympathies), the Blanks shamelessly distort the truth. The thing is that it is just the revolutionary periods which are distinguished by wider, richer, more deliberate, more methodical, more systematic, more courageous and more vivid making of history than periods of philistine, Cadet, reformist progress. But the Blanks turn the truth inside out! They palm off paltriness as magnificent making of history. They regard the inactivity of the oppressed or downtrodden masses as the triumph of ‘system’ in the work of bureaucrats and bourgeois. They shout about the disappearance of intellect and reason when, instead of the picking of draft laws to pieces by petty bureaucrats and liberal penny-a-liner [In the original these words are in English.—Editor.] journalists, there begins a period of direct political activity of the ‘common people’, who simply set to work without more ado to smash all the instruments for oppressing the people, seize power and take what was regarded as belonging to all kinds of robbers of the people—in short, when the intellect and reason of millions of downtrodden people awaken not only to read books, but for action, vital human action, to make history.” [20]

Such was the controversy that was waged in Russia in the years 1905 and 1906 on the question of the dictatorship.

Actually, the Dittmanns, Kautskys, Crispiens, and Hilferdings in Germany, Longuet and Co. in France, Turati and his friends in Italy, the MacDonalds and Snowdens in Britain, etc., argue about the dictatorship exactly as Mr. R. Blank and the Cadets did in Russia in 1905. They do not understand what dictatorship means, do not know how to prepare for it, and are incapable of understanding it and implementing it.



[1] Lenin sent the manuscript of this article to the editors of the journal The Communist International in Petrograd. On the next day he informed the editors that he had sent the article, and requested them to register, check up and set the material (everything to be returned to me)” (Central Party Archives at the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the C.C. C.P.S.U.). He himself read and made a number of corrections in the proofs, which he had received from Petrograd. A large part of the article was taken by Lenin from his pamphlet The Victory of the Cadets and the Tasks of the Workers’ Party which he wrote in 1906 (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 199-276). He used Chapter V of the pamphlet entitled “A Sample of Cadet Smugness”.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 373-74.

[3]See present edition, Vol. 16, pp. 374-92 and 393-421.

[4] Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung was a daily published in Cologne under the editorship of Marx, from June 1, 1848 to May 19, 1849. The editorial board consisted of Frederick Engels, Wilhelm Wolff, Georg Weerth, Ferdinand Wolff, Ernst Dronke, Ferdinand Freiligrath and Heinrich Burgers. This militant organ of the proletarian wing of democracy did much to educate the masses and rouse them for struggle against the counter-revolution. Most of the leading articles defining the newspaper’s stand on the key problems of the German and European revolution were written by Marx and Engels.

Despite police persecution, the newspaper boldly championed the interests of revolutionary democracy and the proletariat. Publication of the newspaper was discontinued following Marx’s deportation from Prussia in May 1849 and reprisals against other editors.

[5] Karl Marx, “Die Krisis und die Konterrevolution” (see Marx/Engels, Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1959, Bd. 5, S. 402).

[6] This refers to the All-Germany National Agsembly convened after the March 1848 revolution in Germany in Frankfort-on-the-Main in May of the same year. The Assembly faced the task of putting an end to the political fragmentation of Germany and of drawing up a constitution for all Germany. Due to the cowardice and the vacillation of its Liberal majority, and the irresoluteness and inconsistency of the petty-bourgeois Left wing, the Assembly did not dare to assume supreme power in the country and failed to take a resolute stand on the major questions of the German revolution of 1848-49. It did nothing to alleviate the position of the workers and peasants and did not support the national liberation movement in Poland and Bohemia, but approved the policy of oppression of subject peoples pursued by Austria and Prussia. The deputies did not have the courage to mobilise the people for the defeat of the counter-revolutionary offensive and the defence of the Imperial Constitution which they had framed in March 1849.

Shortly afterwards the Austrian and then the Prussian governments recalled their deputies, and the Liberal deputies of other German states followed suit. The remaining deputies,who belonged to the petty-bourgeois Left wing, had the Assembly moved to Stuttgart. In June 1849 the Assembly was disbanded by the troops of the Württemberg Government.

[7] See Marx/Engels, Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1959, Bd. 5, S 40.

[8]On January 9, 1905, over 140,000 St. Petersburg workers carrying gonfalons and icons, marched to the Winter Palace to submit a petition to the tsar. The march was staged by the priest Gapon, an agent of the secret police, at a time when the strike of the Putilov workers, which began on January 3 (16), had already spread to the other factories in the city. The Bolsheviks exposed Gapon’s venture, warning the workers that the tsar might unieash a massacre. The Bolsheviks were right. On orders from the tsar, the troops met the demonstrating workers, their wives and children with rifle shots, sabres and Cossack whips. More than a thousand workers were killed and five thousand wounded. January 9, or Bloody Sunday as it came to be known, sparked off the 1905 Revolution.

[9] See present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 131-32.

[10] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 216-17.

[11] Lenin is referring to the daily newspaper Nasha Zhizn (Our Life ) which was published at intervals in St. Petersburg, from November 6 (19), 1904 to July 11 (24), 1906.

[12] Brentanoism—a political trend originated by the German bourgeois economist Lujo Brentano (1844-1931), who preached “class peace” in capitalist society and maintained that it was possible to eliminate social contradictions without the class struggle and that the labour question could be settled and the interests of the workers and the capitalists reconciled through the establishment of reformist trade unions, and factory legislation.

[13] Bez Zaglaviya (Without a Title )—political weekly published in St. Petersburg from January 24 (February 6) to May 14 (27), 1906. It was edited by Prokopovich, who worked in close co-operation with Kuskova, Bogucharsky, Khizhnyakov and others. Bez Zaglaviya supporters formed a semi-Cadet, semi-Menshevik group of Russian bourgeois intellectuals who, under the guise of non-partisanship, propagated the ideas of bourgeois liberalism and opportunism, and supported revisionists in tho Russian and international Social-Democratic movement.

[14]Lenin is referring to the disagreements in the Social-Democrat group of the German Reichstag over the shipping subsidies (Dampfersubvention ). Late in 1884 Bismarck, in pursuance of the expansionist colonial policy, demanded from the Reichstag that it approve subsidies to shipping companies for establishing regular shipping routes to East Asia, Australia and Africa. The Left wing of the Social-Democratic group led by Bebel and Liebknecht rejected the subsidies, but the Right wing, under Auer, Dietz and others, which constituted the majority, declared themselves in favour of granting subsidies, even before the official debate on the question. During the Reichstag debate in March 1885, the Social-Democratic Right wing voted for subsidies for shipping lines to East Asia and Australia, making a number of reservations, in particular that the ships for the new lines should be built at German shipyards. Only after the Reichstag declined this demand did the whole group unanimously come out against the government bill. The behaviour of the majority of the group came in for criticism from the newspaper Sozialdemokrat and Social-Democratic organisations. At one time the disagreements within the group were so acute that they threatened to lead to a split in the Party. Engels sharply criticised the opportunist stand taken by the group’s Right wing (see Marx/Engels, Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, Bd. 36).

[15] The "Youth ” group in the German Social-Democratic Party, a petty-bourgeois, semi-anarchist opposition which took shape in 1890. The nucleus of the opposition was made up of young writers and students, who posed as Party theoreticians and leaders. Blind to the changes brought about by the abrogation of the Anti-Socialist Law in 1878, they denied the need for the Party to make use of legal forms of struggle, opposed the participation of Social-Democrats in parliament, and accused the Party of opportunism and defending the interests of the petty bourgeoisie. Engels wrote that the theoretical views and tactics of the opposition were “’Marxism’ distorted beyond recognition”. Their unrealistic and adventurist tactics, he said, might “ruin even the strongest party numbering millions of members” (see Marx/Engels, Werke, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1963, Bd. 22, S. 69). Some leaders of the “Left” opposition were expelled from the Party at the Erfurt Congress in October 1891.

[16] Severny Golos (Voice of the North )—a legal daily newspaper, organ of the R.S.D.L.P., which appeared in St. Petersburg from December 6 (19), 1905 and was edited jointly by the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. It was closed down after its third issue had appeared, on December 8 (21), 1905.

[17] Nachalo (The Beginning )—a legal daily Menshevik newspaper, published in St. Petersburg from November to December 1905.

[18] Novaya Zhizn (New Life )—the first legal Bolshevik newspaper published daily in St. Petersburg from October 27 (November 9) to December 3 (16), 1905. From the beginning of November, after Lenin’s return to St. Petersburg from abroad, it was published under his direct guidance. The paper was actually the Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P.

[19] Polyarnaya Zvezda (The Pole Star )—a weekly journal, mouthpiece of the Right wing of the Constitutional-Democratic Party. It was edited by P. B. Struve and appeared in St. Petersburg in 1905-06.

Nasha Zhizn (Our Life )—a daily newspaper that was close to the Left wing of the Constitutional-Democratic Party; appeared in St. Petersburg at intervals, from 1904 to 1906.

[20] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 241-54.