Julius Martov

The World's Social Revolution and the Aims of Social Democracy

Source: British Labour Delegation to Russia, 1920: Report, July 1920.
Transcribed and marked up by: Adam Buick.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

Theses approved by the Pan-Russian Conference of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Mensheviks) on April 10 1920.


1.   The development of the world's Imperialism, which has brought about the catastrophe of the world war, the destruction of empires, the removal of old frontiers, the devastation of Europe and regrouping of masses of the people, creates great possibilities of Social Revolution on an International scale and it will end the era of Capitalism, and introduce the advent of Socialism.

2.   These possibilities of Social Revolution have been growing out of existing economical, social and political conditions of life. There is no chance of reconstructing the economic life, utterly shaken by the war, if we try to maintain the form of production, distribution, international exchange and inter- national credit, based on the competition of private capital. It is equally impossible for a capitalistic state to put a stop to such competition and bring about certain regulations of economic life against the interests of the capitalistic classes. Socially, the chance of Social Revolution lies in the fact that the universal war with its consequences has revolutionised the working masses to such an extent that their demands cannot be satisfied otherwise than by means of the most thorough encroachment upon the profits of the capitalists, and by making the capitalists bear the burden of the greater part of the expenditure caused by the war, but so far as the State power belongs to the capitalist class, such a course of action would meet with the greatest possible opposition. Politically, possibilities of the world's Social Revolution lie in such a state of things as was demonstrated during the universal war, when capitalistic States showed a complete inability to establish international relations on the basis of a reliable peace. Capitalistic States could not make these international relations sound in any way or give a guarantee that they would put an end to the unproductive expenditure connected with the preparations for new wars so detrimental to the sound development of the countries concerned.

3.   The universal Social Revolution appears to be a very natural outcome of the historical development of the countries economically most advanced and most strikingly embodying the tendencies of present-day Capitalism. The objective possibilities of Social Revolution, as well as the technical, material, and social factors essential for the realisation of the task which lies before the Social Revolution, have been quite mature in those countries. But in the course of the development of Capitalism different countries of the civilised world have become dependent on one another economically and politically. These truths were demonstrated in the international character of the last military conflict, which was brought about by a competitive economic war among the capitalists. Thanks to this dependency of different countries on one another, the revolutionary crisis has also taken place in the countries economically backward, and even in the countries where development was such that the inner inconsistencies of the capitalistic regime have not yet reached their climax, and where Capitalism itself has not yet outlived all possibilities of further advance.

4.   In such backward countries the immediate cause of revolutionary crisis is to be found in the destitution and the fall in productive power, caused by the war, and also in the utter disorganisation of the Class-State machine. The revolutionary crisis which has started in backward countries, just because these countries depended on the capitalistic development of the world as a whole, could not be stopped simply by the removal of factors hindering economic progress within the bounds of capitalistic production. Capitalist production is going through a world crisis. This makes the bourgeoisie of backward countries utterly incapable of reconstructing economic life as shaken by the war. But the advance of the Social Revolution in fully-developed countries will have a great influence on the backward countries and will give the working-class of these countries an opportunity of quickening the process of their own socialistic development, so that as they can profit by the greater resources and organising power of the socialistic organisation of the economic life of the most advanced countries. In view thereof, all reforms possible in backward countries, reforms which are the outcome of economic necessity and limit the sphere of the reign of Capitalism (socialisation, municipalisation, regulation of production and commerce by the State, State monopoly, compulsory labour, etc.) may become, provided that the State power is in the hands of the working class, the starting point for the development of social (public) forms, representing transitory forms between Capitalism and Socialism.

5.   The universal Social Revolution — i.e., the reconstruction of Society on a new social and economic basis by a new class which has taken the State power into its own hands, cannot be looked upon as a kind of historical event occurring during a short period of a few months or a few years, and sweeping away, like a catastrophe, one form of economic life in order to replace it by an absolutely different one. Such an idea of Social Revolution completely contradicts the very theory of scientific Socialism. The Social Revolution is a complicated and continuous process of gradual socialisation of the economic factors of a country and setting in the place of capitalistic and semi-capitalistic forms of production and exchange some higher form of collectivism, which would guarantee the most complete development of the productive forces. Neither would the different phases of this Revolution nor the rapidity of its progress be the same in different countries, because all countries differ very much in the degree of their capitalistic development, in the correlation with public forces of the general culture of the population, and in many other essential details. Neither must the transition from the economic crisis caused by the war to the revolutionary changes which are the characteristic features of the Social Revolution be considered as a kind of uniform process in all countries included in the historical process of Revolution. Therefore, the usual formula that "an imperialistic war changes directly into civil war" as applying to all countries must be rejected. On the contrary, the scientific conception of the Social Revolution allows for those countries most advanced economically a certain period of economic boom after the disorganisation caused by the war. It would only be after this boom that the inner fundamental inconsistencies, which lead to Social Revolution, would reach the necessary climax and civil war will break out in these countries also.

6.   But whatever may be the conditions which give various forms to the process of Social Revolution, its decisive moment, the evidence of its arrival, and its lever lies in the fundamental interchange of position of social classes, in the downfall of the political power of the capitalists, and in the seizure of the State power by the labouring classes, headed by the great industrial proletariat — i.e. in a Political Revolution.


7.   This Political Revolution cannot be accomplished by means of a legal struggle of the proletariat within the bounds of the capitalist institutions in society. So far as the military and material forces of the State remain in possession of the ruling minority of capitalists, this minority will fight against the legal transfer of the political power into the hands of the labouring classes; so the desire and ability of the powerless majority to throw off the ruling minority by force appears to be a most necessary condition of the Social Revolution.

8.   In economically advanced countries where the majority of the population belong to the classes of the proletariat and the remainder of the labouring people are socially united with the proletariat — the result of the Social Revolution will be a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, i.e., concentration of the State power in the hands of the Proletariat. So far as the backward countries are concerned, Revolution will come because the capitalist class is not capable either of reconstructing economic life after the devastation of the war or of stabilising the State; but in such countries the outcome will be the division of State power between the proletariat and the other labouring classes (especially the small peasantry, like farmers and the half- farming labourers). Of course, the Proletariat will be the leaders of this combination as a class with higher culture, which, by the concentration of its members in large industrial centres,is bound to raise the development of the productive forces of the whole country.

This division of the State power is characteristic of the transitory period of Revolution in these backward countries, but here, too, a further economic development on the international scale will bring about new possibilities, which would lead to the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

9.   The Class Dictatorship of the Proletariat is aimed at the social liberation of the governed and oppressed classes and is directed only against the parasitic public groups possessing the monopoly of the means of production. The Class Dictatorship represents a force organised by the State in order to crush the efforts of the minority to oppose the Social Revolution. The forms and the degree of violence directed against the class of present-day oppressors is entirely dependent on their own strength and the real power of their opposition. But in no case may the Class Dictatorship of the Proletariat be used against other labouring classes whose active and voluntary assistance in the process of social re-organisation is absolutely indispensable for the Proletariat and which alone can secure for the Proletariat a real solution of the problem of the reconstruction of economic life on the basis of a further development of the productive forces. To such classes belong the intellectual proletariat and the whole number of the technical staff of present-day industries, as well as small owners in town and country. Socialistic Dictatorship of the Proletariat, based on the real interests of the great majority of the working masses and the growing understanding by the majority of their own interests, does not attempt to impose its will on the majority of the people; on the contrary, the Proletariat as the revolutionary vanguard of Labour endeavours to realise the highest aspirations of the majority of the labouring classes.

10.   The conception of the Class Dictatorship of the Proletariat has nothing in common, but its name, with the dictatorship of a single person or an oligarchy, nor with the dictatorship of the class-conscious revolutionary minority, when this minority is attempting to rule over the majority of the people even in the interests of these people. Revolutionary Social Democracy protests most decisively against the principle of the Dictatorship of a Minority, which contradicts the most fundamental truths of Socialism, that the liberation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. The principle of the Dictatorship of a Minority in the opinion of the Revolutionary Social Democracy,is degrading to the working masses as an object of social experiment. In every attempt to bring about the Dictatorship of a Minority in open or veiled form Social Democracy perceives the greatest danger to the revolutionary development of the working class and to the success of the Social Revolution. Therefore, Social Democracy renounces any policy of terrorism as a method of Revolutionary Dictatorship, by means of which a minority of the Proletariat endeavours to retain in its own hands the power already denied to them by the majority of the working masses.


11.   Dictatorship of the Proletariat does not contradict the principles of Democracy; on the contrary, it creates the best possibilities for a full and complete realisation of these principles. For the realisation of the functions of Dictatorship by the Proletariat as a class (and not by the individual dictators put above the class) is only possible if the will of this class is formed by the process of free expression of the will of all concerned: that could not take place in capitalistic democracies where so many factors have helped to crush the free will and self-assertion of the working masses. On the contrary, the conception of the Socialistic Dictatorship of the Working Class is bound up with the fundamental principles of democracy, such as real and consistent democratic government, a minimum of privileges for officials, their general election, their responsibilities before the electors, the utmost development of self-government with as few as possible professional bureaucrats in comparison with the actual producers, and the most unlimited freedom of propaganda and agitation.

12.   Historically, every democracy is the democracy of definite social groups and its democratic principles are workable within these groups. So democracy of the bourgeoisie exists as a democracy of the private owners of the means of production, possessing equal political rights with the bourgeoisie and sometimes yielding those rights to another class, the class of the Proletariat, under the revolutionary pressure of the latter. The free Republic of America was created as a republic of white races. Similarly, the new Labour Democracy is the democracy of those who take part in public productive labour. Therefore, the complete or partial forfeiture of civil rights by social groups outside this Labour Democracy [i.e., outside public productive labour) does not violate the democratic principles of Class Dictatorship. Consequently, the assertion that the working masses have no right to limit or make forfeit the civil rights of other classes and the appeal to absolute democratic ideals, has not much basis and can be disregarded. The Socialistic Proletariat in the question of the establishment of certain limits for a newly-organised Labour Democracy, must be guided by the aim of the Social Revolution, which demands the organisation of Society as a whole for collective work. For the realisation of such an aim, the unproductive classes of the old regime must be neither destroyed nor turned into an oppressed class, as it has happened in some of the Revolutions of the past, but rather made to join the new association of workers. Therefore, the Labour Democracy does not aim at the forfeiture of civil and political rights of the defeated class ; but, on the contrary tries to establish the reign of a Universal Democracy such as could not exist when the State power was in the hands of the capitalists.

13.   During the period of civil war from the first moment of the seizure of State power, the Proletariat may be obliged to interfere with democratic rights and limit the civil rights of unproductive groups of the population in the sphere of the elective franchise, the liberty of the Press, etc. This must be regarded as a temporary measure of revolutionary self-defence and not as a historically or logically inevitable part of the Socialistic Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Such measures always prove a certain weakness and a want of confidence on the part of the Class Dictatorship, and show that this Dictatorship has evidently not yet been recognised by the majority of the people as their own. The more often the situation created by civil war urges the Socialistic Proletariat to have recourse to such measures, the more is it evident that either the social and economic conditions of the country have not been developed enough for fundamental socialistic reorganisation, or that the working masses themselves have not yet grasped the historical aim of their own Revolutionary Movement. This very fact, that at a transitory period the Socialistic Proletariat is forced to defend itself by measures involving the limitation of democratic rights, shows very clearly that the destruction of the old social forms and the creation of new ones must be accomplished in a very gradual and careful way.

14.   On the contrary, every effort on the part of the Proletariat to limit democratic rights in order to force the process of socialisation and to conquer the obstacles put in the way of such a process leave economic conditions so undeveloped that they may lead to reaction among the rank and file of the Proletariat, to a degeneration of the Class Dictatorship into the Dictatorship of a dwindling Minority, and to a split in the midst of the working class itself. In general, the limitation of democratic rights, applauded by the class enemies of the Proletariat in the period of the civil war, has so far not led to the degeneration and the splitting of the working class, as the reign of real democracy and liberty for the majority of labouring masses still exists. Such a state of things may strengthen the Class Dictatorship and save it from the necessity of applying to some part of society certain exclusive measures which, under all circumstances, would be rather risky.


15.   In its historical aims and aspirations the Labour Democracy differs greatly from the Capitalist Democracy. Naturally, the former cannot simply copy the forms of State management and the public institutions of the latter. For the complete realisation of democratic principles, for real and free manifestation in action of the will of the people's majority, the Labour Democracy is in need of new and different institutions adapted to the fulfilment of the task of socialist reconstruction and to the concentration of the revolutionary energy of the working masses. To such institutions belong Workers' and Peasants' Soviets, the Factory Committees, and also class organisations created in the pre-revolutionary period, so far as they, too, are imbued with the new spirit of Revolution. But inevitable variations in the historical setting which in every country form the definite conditions for Social Revolution, such as the degree of degeneration of the State forms of capitalistic democracy, the position of the working class, its relation to other classes, etc., make it absolutely impossible to foretell which part each one of the aforesaid institutions will play in the organisation of the new democracy, so it would be purely Utopian to prescribe for the historical process of development any uniform plan of organisation of the Proletarian State, independent of any circumstances which may arise.

16.   Therefore, the formula that "the Proletarian Dictatorship must be organised on the basis of the Soviet system," now regarded as the only means, has to be rejected. On the contrary, the Revolutionary Social Democracy must acknowledge that in the organisation of the Socialist State, together with the organs representing productive groups, significant through their connection with industries, a definite part may also be played by institutions of representatives elected by citizens grouped together on certain territory, as also by institutions created during the period of the highest development of bourgeois democracy, such as the referendum, etc.

17.   The idea of the "Soviet System" of democracy and efforts to secure Social Revolution by way of dictatorship on the basis of this system have been nourished among the working classes of different countries by syndicalistic traditions attempting to fill the transitory period from Capitalism to Socialism. All forms of State organisation by Unions of workers in the processes of production may only be possible in a well-organised and long-established Socialist Society. A preference for the "Soviet System" is the natural outcome of great disappointment with democratic institutions, a disappointment caused partly by the strange behaviour of many Socialist Parties during the war and partly by the miserable part played by democratic institutions born during the Revolution. The miserable position of the democratic organs of power and the reactionary and powerless Constituent Assemblies and other democratic institutions, and the possibilities for the counter revolutionary forces to make use of the agitation in favour of these institutions in their struggle against the aspirations of the Proletariat for social liberation, all appear to be the results of the inner weakness of the Proletariat, and of the fact that its inner differences are still alive and hinder the formation of a united front against the capitalist classes by the attraction to the Proletariat of the whole mass of the labouring classes. Therefore, when some of the revolutionary groups of the Proletariat try to establish the Dictatorship of a Minority under the banner of "Dictatorship, based on the Soviet System," it cannot be considered as anything else than an attempt by one part of the Proletariat to solve by its own efforts the problem for which the Proletariat as a whole in the present state of the revolutionary process is not ready.


18.   The internationally-organised Proletariat is split and suffers from a crisis; some groups of the Proletariat are under the influence of opportunist and national ideas; others are inclined to take the course of anarcho-syndicalists and rebels. A complete sinking of these differences is the only way to create the possibility for the realisation of the real Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and such unity is as essential as the objective factors in the maturity of capitalist production and the continued degeneration of the Capitalist State.

The Revolutionary Marxian Social-Democracy being convinced of these things is making every possible effort to overcome these differences among the workers and to bring about the unity of the Proletariat for the struggle for State power, leading to the realisation of Socialism. Social-Democracy is trying to tear away from the bourgeoisie those groups of labouring people who still remain with the capitalists, and to mobilise the proletarian masses for revolutionary struggle on a national and international scale.

19.   So, if in the process of revolutionary struggle State power falls into the hands of an active minority of the working class, and the latter, being unable to manage the unconquerable objective inconsistencies of its own position, wanders between an economic Utopia and political terrorism, the Revolutionary Marxian Social-Democracy supports this minority in its contest against the forces of Counter-Revolution, in its efforts to retain State power in the hands of the working class, and to bring about the Socialist organisation of production; but at the same time, the Social-Democracy tries in every possible way, by means of changing economic policy according to the level of the social development of the country, by the democratisation of the forms of State power created by the Revolution and by the abolition of terroristic methods of government, to save the Proletariat of the given country and the World International Labour Movement from severe defeat, and to secure the development of the Revolutionary Dictatorship of this Minority with its Utopian and Dictatorship of a real Majority of working people.

20.   At the same time, the Revolutionary Social Democracy renounces as detrimental to the cause of the liberation of the proletariat and degrading to the masses, such political movements, which, from consideration of non-Socialistic character, and with the object of securing a political majority, try to unite a part of the Proletariat with certain groups of the bourgeoisie for the sake of democratic principles, and to set up the will of this union as the will of the people against the aspirations of an active part of the Proletariat fighting for the realisation of the Socialist reconstruction of the world.