Leon Trotsky




The Party of the Proletariat and the Bourgeois Parties in the Revolution [1]

* * *

You know, comrades, that I radically disagree with what our party’s official view was during the period of our revolution now ending and with the role played in it by the bourgeois parties.

To the Menshevik comrades their own views appear extraordinarily complex. I have often heard them accuse me of having an over-simplified idea of the Russian revolution. And yet, despite extreme formlessness which is disguised as complexity – or, perhaps, precisely because of this formlessness – the Mensheviks’ views boil down to a very simple formula, which even Mr. Milyukov could understand. In his postscript to a recently published book, The Elections to the Second State Duma, the ideological leader of the Kadet party writes:

As for the left-wing groups in the narrow sense, that is, the socialist and revolutionary groups, it will he more difficult to reach an understanding with them. But here again, although there may not be any definite positive factors, there exist very strong negative ones which will, to some extent, assist a rapprochement between us. Their aim is to criticize and discredit us, and for this purpose, if for no other, we have to exist and be active. We know that for all socialists, not only in Russia but throughout the world, the revolution now taking place is a bourgeois revolution, not a socialist revolution, and has to be carried out by a democratic bourgeoisie. No socialists anywhere in the world. . . would be prepared to run for such a democracy, and if the people returned them to the Duma in large numbers, it was surely not to establish socialism today or for them to carry through any preparatory “bourgeois” reforms ... Therefore it will be far more advantageous to them to concede the role of parliamentarians to us rather than compromise themselves by playing that role.

As you see, Milyukov goes straight to the heart of the matter. The passage I have just quoted contains all the principal elements of the Mensheviks’ view of the revolution and of the relationship between bourgeois and social democracy. “The revolution now taking place is a bourgeois, not a socialist one.” That is the first point. The bourgeois revolution has to be made “by democratic bourgeoisie.” That’s the second point. Social democracy cannot carry through bourgeois reforms with its own hands; its role is purely oppositional, and consists of “criticizing and discrediting.” Lastly and fourthly, to enable the socialists to remain in opposition, “we (that is, the democratic bourgeoisie) have to be in existence and active.”

And what if “we” are not in existence? What if there is no bourgeois democracy capable of marching at the head of the bourgeois revolution? Then it has got to be invented. And that is precisely what the Mensheviks are doing. They are constructing a bourgeois democracy, its qualities and its history, out of the rich fund of their own imagination.

As materialists, we must first of all ask ourselves the question of the social foundations of a bourgeois democracy. In what classes, what strata of the population, can it find support? We are all agreed that the capitalist bourgeoisie is simply not in question as a revolutionary force. Certain industrialists in Lyons played a counter-revolutionary role even at the time of the great French Revolution, which was a national revolution in the broadest sense of the word. But we are always being told about the middle, and especially the petty bourgeoisie, as the guiding force of the bourgeois revolution. What exactly does this petty bourgeoisie represent?

The Jacobins were supported by an urban bourgeoisie which had come out of craft workshops. Small craftsmen, apprentices, the whole petty urban population closely connected with them, formed the army of the revolutionary sans-culottes, the principal support of the leading party of the Montagnards. This compact mass of the urban population, which had gone through the long historical school of artisanal trade, carried the revolution forward. The objective result of the revolution was the creation of “normal” conditions for capitalist exploitation. But the social mechanism of the historical process decreed that these conditions for the bourgeoisie’s rule must be created by the mob, the democracy of the streets, the sans-culottes. It was their dictatorship of terror that cleansed bourgeois society of the useless rubbish that encumbered it, after which the bourgeoisie achieved domination by overthrowing the dictatorship of the petty-bourgeois democracy.

I ask – alas, not for the first time: where is the social class in Russia that could raise up a revolutionary bourgeoisie on its shoulders, could put it in power and give it the possibility of performing such a tremendous task in opposition to the proletariat? That is the central question, and once more I put it to the Mensheviks.

It is true that we have enormous masses of revolutionary peasantry. But the comrades from the Minority know as well as I that the peasantry, however revolutionary it may be, is not capable of playing an independent, still less a leading, political role. Undoubtedly the peasantry can prove to be a tremendous force in the service of the revolution, but it would be unworthy of a Marxist to believe that a party of muzhiks can place itself at the head of a bourgeois revolution and, by its own initiative, liberate the nation’s productive forces from their archaic shackles. The town leads in modern society, and it alone is capable of leading a bourgeois revolution. Where then, is our urban bourgeoisie which might be capable of leading the nation?

Comrade Martynov has searched for it many a time, magnifying glass in hand. He has found schoolteachers in Saratov, lawyers in Petersburg, and statisticians in Moscow. He and all those who think like him, refuse to admit that in the Russian revolution it is the industrial proletariat which occupies the position once occupied by the artisanal semi-proletarian bourgeoisie of the sans-culottes at the end of the eighteenth century. I want to draw your attention, comrades, to this fundamental fact.

Our large industry did not grow naturally out of artisanal trade. The economic history of our towns never went through a craft period. In Russia, capitalist industry came into being under direct and immediate pressure from European capital. It took possession of what was, in essence, primitive virgin soil without encountering any resistance from artisanal culture. Foreign capital flowed into Russia through the channel of state loans and the pipeline of private enterprise. It gathered around itself an army of the industrial proletariat without allowing artisanal trade to develop, nor even to come into being. As a result of this process, the principal force in our towns at the moment of bourgeois revolution consisted of an industrial proletariat of an extremely highly developed social type. That is a fact which cannot be refuted and which must be placed at the very foundation of all our conclusions concerning the tactics of revolution.

If the comrades from the Minority believe in the victory of the revolution, or even if they merely admit the possibility of such a victory, they will not be able to deny that, apart from the proletariat, we can have no claim to revolutionary power. Just as the petty-bourgeois urban democracy of the French Revolution placed itself at the head of the revolutionary nation, so the proletariat, that sole revolutionary democracy of our towns, must seek support among the peasant masses and must take power if the revolution is to be victorious. A government supported directly by the proletariat and, through it, by the revolutionary peasantry does not yet mean a socialist dictatorship. I am not now touching upon the further prospects for a proletarian government. Perhaps the proletariat is destined to fall, as the Jacobin democracy fell, to clear a space for the rule of the bourgeoisie. I want to establish only one thing: if, as Plekhanov predicted, the revolutionary movement in Russia triumphs as a workers’ movement, then the victory of the proletariat in Russia is possible only as a revolutionary victory of the proletariat – or else it is not possible at all.

On this conclusion I insist most adamantly. If we are forced to admit that the social contradictions between the proletariat and the peasant masses will not allow the proletariat to become the leader of the peasantry, and that the proletariat itself is not strong enough for victory, then we must reach the conclusion that our revolution is not destined to win at all. If that is so, then the natural finale of the revolution must be a deal between the liberal bourgeoisie and the old power. We must certainly face the possibility of such an outcome. But that way lies the defeat of the revolution, a defeat due to its internal weakness.

In essence, the Mensheviks’ analysis – and, first and foremost, their evaluation of the proletariat and its possible relations with the peasantry – leads them inexorably towards revolutionary pessimism. Yet they persist in ignoring this logic and, instead, base their revolutionary optimism on ... bourgeois democracy. Hence their attitude towards the Kadets. For them the Kadets are the symbol of bourgeois democracy, and bourgeois democracy is the natural claimant to revolutionary power.

From this viewpoint Comrade Martynov has constructed a whole philosophy of the history of the constitutional-democratic party. The Kadets, he explains, swing to the right in periods of revolutionary lull and to the left in periods of revolutionary ascendancy; and therefore they will inherit the revolutionary future. I must point out, however, that here the history of the Kadets is tendentiously made to fit a preconceived notion. Martynov reminds us that in October 1905 the Kadets declared their sympathy for the strikes. That is an incontrovertible fact. But what lay hidden behind their platonic sympathy? The most vulgar bourgeois fear of street terror. As soon as the revolutionary movement grew stronger, the Kadets disappeared completely from the political arena. Milyukov explains the reasons for this disappearance with utter frankness in the brochure I have already quoted:

’When, after October 17, free political assemblies first appeared in Russia, their mood was unquestionably left-wing ... During the last months of 1905 it was absolutely impossible to resist this trend, even for a party like the Kadets, which was then in the first months of its existence and was preparing for parliamentary struggle. Those who now reproach the Kadets with failure to protest at that time, by organizing meetings, against the “revolutionary illusions” of Trotskyism and the relapse into Blanquism, simply do not understand – or have forgotten – the mood of the democratic public at meetings during that period. (The Elections to the Second State Duma, pp.91 and 92.)

As you see, Mr. Milyukov does me too much honor by connecting my name with the period when the revolution reached its highest point. But that is not why the quotation is interesting. The important point for us is that in October and November the only work that the Kadets might have done would have consisted in fighting revolutionary “illusions,” that is to say, in substance, opposing the revolutionary movement of the masses – and the only reason why they failed to do that work was that they were afraid of the democratic public which attended popular meetings at the time. And this in the very honeymoon of their existence! This at the climax of our revolution!

Comrade Martynov remembers the Kadets’ platonic greetings to the strikers. But, being the tendentious historian that he is, he forgets to mention the November congress of the zemtsy, at the head of which stood the Kadets. Did the congress discuss the question of its participation in the popular movement? No, it discussed the terms of its deal with Witte’s ministry. When news came of the Sevastopol rising, the congress immediately and decisively swung to the right – the right, not the left. And only Mr. Milyukov’s speech which boiled down to saying that, thank heaven, the rising had already been suppressed – only this speech succeeded in putting the Kadet zemtsy back on the constitutional track. You see that Martynov’s general thesis is open to very serious reservations.

Next we come to the Kadets in the first Duma. Without doubt that is the most “brilliant” page in the history of the liberal party. But what explained this temporary success? We can differ in our evaluations of the boycott tactic. But we must all agree that it was this tactic which, artificially and for that reason only temporarily, propelled large democratic strata towards the Kadets, forced many radicals to consider themselves represented by the Kadet party, and thus transformed the Kadets into the organ of “national” opposition; it was this exceptional situation that drove the Kadets to issue the Vyborg declaration, which Comrade Martynov has also mentioned. But by the time of the elections to the second Duma the Kadets were already back in their more natural position of fighting “revolutionary illusions.” Mr. Alexey Smirnov, the historiographer of the Kadet party, has this to say about the election campaign in the towns where the Kadets’ influence was at its greatest: “No supporters of the government were found among the urban voters ... The focal point of the struggle at election meetings therefore shifted ... to the debate between the People’s Freedom party and the left socialist parties” (The Elections to the Second State Duma, p.90).

The oppositional chaos of the first election was replaced, in the second campaign, by a fight over the issue of revolutionary democracy. The Kadets mobilized their voters against the slogans of democracy, revolution, and the proletariat. That is a cardinal fact. The Kadets’ social basis became narrower and less democratic. And this was not a temporary, accidental, transitory circumstance. It indicated a truly serious division between liberalism and revolutionary democracy. Milyukov has no illusions concerning this result of the second election. After pointing out that in the first Duma the Kadets had a majority – “perhaps because they had no competitors” – and that in the second election they lost that majority, the leader of the Kadet party says: “But instead we have the support of a considerable part of the country which has declared itself in favor of our tactics against the tactics of revolution.” (Ibid., p.286.)

We cannot but wish that those of our comrades who constitute the Minority were equally clear-sighted and definite in their assessment of events. Do you believe that things will happen differently in the future? That the Kadets will once more inscribe democracy on their banners, and become more revolutionary? Or do you think that, on the contrary, the further development of the revolution will lead to a final break between the democrats and the liberals, and will throw the latter back into the camp of reaction? Are not the tactics of the Kadets in the second Duma leading to that? Do not your own tactics lead to that? Your speeches in the Duma? Your accusations at public meetings and in the press? On what, then, do you base your belief that the Kadets will see the light, will change their ways? On the facts of political development? No, on your own schema. To “carry the revolution to its conclusion” you need an urban bourgeoisie. You look for it everywhere, and you can find nothing but the Kadets. And so you wax wonderfully optimistic about them, you dress them up, you want to force them to play a historical role which they cannot, will not, do not want to play.

I have not had an answer to my central question, though I have asked it many times. You have no prognosis for revolution. Your policy lacks perspective.

And that is why your attitude towards the bourgeois parties is formulated in words which the congress would do well to remember: “As each case arises.” The proletariat, according to you, does not conduct a systematic struggle to gain influence over the popular masses; it does not check every one of its tactical steps from the viewpoint of a single guiding idea: that of rallying the oppressed working people, of becoming their herald and their leader; no, it conducts its policy “as each case arises.” It loses the possibility of giving up temporary gains for the sake of more profound victories; it weighs and measures everything empirically, it plans all its political actions “as each case arises.” Why must I prefer blondes to brunettes? Comrade Plekhanov has asked. Well, I must admit that if we are talking about blondes and brunettes, that’s a matter of what the Germans call Privatsache, of free personal choice. I do not suppose that even Aleksinsky, well known as he is for his high principles, will insist that the congress must arrive at a “unity of ideas” about the color of their hair, as a precondition for unity of action. (Applause). [2]



1. From a speech made at the London congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Revolutionary Party, 12-25 May 1907.

2. The London Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Revolutionary Party. Full text of the debates. Published by the Central Committee, 1909, p.295.

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Last updated on: 27.11.2006