Written: Early 30's
Published: For the first time in English as a series of articles in 1937 and 1938 in the International Review produced in New York by "Integer" (Herman Jenson) and later, in 1939, as a separate pamphlet.
Transcription: Adam Buick
HTML-markup: Jonas Holmgren
The historic premises of the Russian Revolution were: the growth of industry, the quickened political activity of the working class, the unbearable situation of the peasants. The immediate possibility to carry out the revolution and shatter the Tsarist system was supplied by the following conditions: the great demands made on the national economy and the population during the World War, the general organization of the peasants in the war-time army, the arming of the workers. The revolution was carried out by peasant and proletarian numbers, unaided by the Russian bourgeoisie, which could no longer part ways with Tsarism.
“For us, the victory of the bourgeois revolution as a victory of the bourgeoisie is impossible,” observed Lenin in 1908. He had in mind the preponderance of the peasant population, the semi-feudal oppression under which the peasants lived and the strength and self-consciousness of the Russian proletariat. Though he stressed the peculiar character of the coming revolution, he took care to add the very explicit: “This trait does not remove the bourgeois character of our revolution.” (Collected Works, Vol. XII, page 252.)
The Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie. But notwithstanding its fundamentally peasant-bourgeois tendencies, it cannot be likened to the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries. For while the classes to the rear of the Russian bourgeoisie pushed spontaneously forward, the Russian bourgeoisie itself slipped into the limbo that swallowed the Tsarist State. The efforts of the Russian peasants and the Russian workers, on the other hand, fused at the given historic moment, combining into one act the elements of two revolutions: bourgeois and proletarian.
In an apt characterization of this situation, Trotsky wrote:
“In order to create the Soviet State, it was necessary to have come together and interpenetrate two factors of rather antagonistic historic nature: the peasant war, representing a movement that is typical of the dawn of bourgeois development, and the proletarian revolt, already announcing the decline of bourgeois society.” (The February Revolution, page 60.)
So that as a result of the coexistence of the feudal and capitalist economic modes in the country, the antagonistic forms of two revolutions were united in a single social movement, resulting in a new, historically distinctive type: the revolution of Russian society, which, sprawling over two continents, joined in itself the social movement of two continents.
This union was full of contradictions: The peasants contended for private property. They had the political outlook of the petty bourgeois. In their struggle against the existing political and social system, they developed a new property ideology. The action of the workers, on the other hand, moved in the direction of the abolition of capitalist private property; they developed in their struggle the elements of socialist class behavior. The peasant could not hold down the workers to the level of a bourgeois agrarian revolution; while the workers could not raise the peasants to the level of a socialist revolution. In the Russian Revolution, the peasants' desire of private property and the movement of the proletariat toward its abolition met. Neither of these classes could succeed acting by itself. The revolution led to a conclusion that was different from that sought by either class.
To have the revolt of the Russian masses meet with victory, there had to be built a bridge between the peasantry and the proletariat, by the way of which the interests of the two classes would find an adjustment. Because their aims were contradictory, they threatened to tear Russia apart immediately after the Tsarist vise that had held the country together was shattered. A struggle between the peasantry and the workers could have only one end: the defeat of the revolution. The revolution needed a new clamp by which the two antagonistic elements that were making it could be held together. Tsarism rested on two classes. To solve its historic tasks—which had been slighted by the Russian bourgeoisie but could not be accomplished by the proletariat—the revolution had to bring forth a new political regime, also basing itself on two classes.
Who could create this instrument of cohesion? Who could join and hold together the working class and the peasantry of Russia in spite of their economic antagonism? A peasant party could not do that; a peasant party cannot solve such tasks. Neither could it be accomplished by a proletarian party. The party that created this clamp ceased thereby to be a socialist party, since this clamp could only be formed through a compromise between the interests of the proletariat and the interests of private property.
A victorious proletarian class could only come to an understanding with middle social layers, like the Russian peasantry, under a revolutionary class dictatorship that would assure the socialist direction of the revolution. The conditions for such a revolutionary class dictatorship were missing in Russia. The proletariat was not in the position to take the peasantry in tow. A dictatorship of the workers over the peasants was impossible in Russia. Possible was only a compromise between the interests of the two classes. The embattled Russian workers did not enter into this compromise voluntarily. They were pushed into it by circumstances. The forces that mastered these circumstances politically could not be proletarian. They had to be forces that could take a general (non-class) view of the social tasks to their ultimate consequence.
Such forces were found in Russia. They came from the ranks of the intelligentsia, the intellectuals, who, as a social layer, were oppressed politically while the workers and peasants reacted to economic oppression. Only from among the intellectuals of Russia could spring the forces that, rising high above the level of their class, comprehended the needs of the Russian Revolution and swung themselves to its command.
Nothing less than the common effort of a bloc of the peasantry, workers and intellectuals could assure the victory of the revolution. The function of commanding this bloc could only fall to the most consistent and revolutionary wing of the intelligentsia, the parties which fought among themselves for the hegemony of the revolution. No other elements were in the position to master politically and direct its blindly moving mass forces. The sharpest weapon of the Russian Revolution was the working class of Russia. However the mass basis of the victorious revolution was supplied by the peasantry, which by rising pulled the ground—their social base—from under Tsarist absolutism and the landed nobility.
Leadership: the intellectuals. Weapon of attack: the proletariat. Mass basis: the peasantry. Within this triangle the Russian Revolution unrolled. Without the understanding of this grouping of forces there can be no understanding of the nature, course and results of the Russian Revolution.
The party which leaped to the head of the Russian Revolution and clamped together the peasant revolt with the rising of the workers was Lenin’s party, the party of the Bolsheviki. Bolshevism was the political expression of those revolutionary intellectuals of Russia who understood the tasks of the moment and, with indomitable energy and ruthless consistence, set themselves to carry them out.
In so far as they were composed of intellectuals, the Russian Social Democrats did not differ from the old Narodniki or the Social Revolutionaries. In view of the bitter opposition that existed between the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries, neither of these trends could be talked of as the direct extension of the older revolutionary movement of the Russian intelligentsia.
The Social Revolutionaries could say about themselves that they had taken over the methods of struggle, the conceptions of development and the peasant perspective of the populists (the Narodniki). On the other hand, the early Social Democrats, as Marxists, fought against the Narodniki; and the Bolsheviki felt that they were the guardians and renovators of the original Marxist theory. They referred to their own ideology as the finally perfected and developed form of Marxism. They described themselves as the only genuine heirs of Marx and Engels.
If these claims were well grounded, the Bolshevik Party was the direct and sole continuator of the political and theoretic movement that has its starting point in the work of the two founders of scientific socialism. Could Bolshevism really lay claim to this role?
The question is of great significance to the workers of the world. It can only be answered by clearing up another matter: “To what extent was the social character of Bolshevism determined by its origin in the revolutionary intelligentsia of Russia? Was Bolshevism the continuation of the international Marxist movement of the working class, or was it merely the continuation of a national Russian movement of the revolutionary intellectuals of that country?”
Bolshevism will contest the right even to pose such a question. It will point to its Marxist orthodoxy. But the social significance of a revolutionary movement does not depend merely on its ideology. It depends on the social content hiding behind this ideology. The essential marks of Bolshevism are not its Marxist formulas. The essential marks of Bolshevism are: the social facts found behind and near its principles, and the policies springing from those social facts. Only if the principles and the given social facts agree, can the Bolshevist claim to a position at the peak of the development of Marxism be justified.
The old Narodniki movement ended in a blind alley. Its terrorist wing, the Narodnaya Volia, was destroyed without succeeding in releasing a peasant revolt. Then its propagandist wing, the Cherny Perediel, appeared on the scene, and experienced the bankruptcy of its program of “going-to-the-people.” The peasants were unaffected by its propaganda. As a result, a section of the populist intelligentsia began to revise their tactics.
The Russian revolutionists knew that as intellectuals they could not themselves start and carry through a revolution. They felt themselves to be no more than the predestined guides and inspirers of a revolt, in which they would have the function of expressing the aim of the struggle and occupying the positions of command. They considered themselves to be the general staff of the Russian revolution, the regiments of which would be composed of the broad popular masses. By “going-to- the-people,” they were going to enlist and organize these regiments.
This outlook had already been developed in great detail by Bakunin, whose disciples helped to form the first ranks of the Narodnik movement. Bakunin did not consider it important to educate the people for revolution. He thought that “stirring up” the peasant masses was enough to win them over to a revolutionary offensive. Up to then, the same masses had rebelled badly and unsuccessfully. It was necessary, said Bakunin, to bring order, plan, organization to the otherwise disorganized rebellion. This was the task of “devoted, energetic, intellectual personalities,” who had to be “genuine friends of the people” and “individuals with the devil in them.” By their boldness, these persons were to lead the people in action and serve as “intermediaries between the revolutionary idea and the people.” These born revolutionists, so to say, “were not going to compose the army of the revolution. The people itself must make up the revolutionary army. The revolutionary intellectuals would act as a sort of general staff.” The “commanding staff of the revolution would emerge from the “educated world of the bold youth,” that is, from among the daring students. Under this staff, Bakunin wanted to organize the masses. “The laboring people are numerous. But the mass means nothing if it is not organized,” he wrote.
In 1869, the Bakuninists, under the leadership of Nechaiev, drafted a general and very definite plan for an uprising. First, circles of revolutionary students were to be built, thus creating an officers' corps. Then the revolutionists were going to turn to the “have-nots” of Russian society, to the declassed elements of the cities and provincial towns, and send them, in the capacity of “propagandists of the deed,” into the villages. The expectation was that early in 1870 a general mass revolt would break forth bringing destruction to Tsarism and liberty to the people.
By the “people,” the Bakuninists and Narodniki meant the peasants. They saw no other army for their revolution. Already in 1851, Herzen prophesied: “should autocracy triumph over civilization, a peasant revolt, a colossal insurrection, would unroll before its eyes.” He explained that in Russia the muzhik would be the personage of the future, just as in France the worker.
He thus gave expression to the basic dogma of the Narodnik kind of socialism. “In Russia, there is no capitalist development. Therefore, the Russian socialist movement must spring directly from the peasantry, which is uninfluenced either by the high development or decomposition of Western civilization.”
The Social Democratic intellectuals drew new conclusions from the old reliance of the Narodniki on a typically Russian “revolutionary army.” The Narodniki saw only the peasants and they exhausted themselves in fruitless attempts to revolutionize the latter. In the end, they found themselves alone. The passivity of the peasant masses seemed unconquerable. The result of the terrorists’ duel with Tsarism proved that a struggle limited to a handful of intellectuals was impossible. The intelligentsia could lead a revolution, but could not make it. If their revolution did not find support in the peasantry, the intellectuals had to turn perforce to the workers, who then began to bestir themselves in strike activity.
The Social Democratic intellectuals caught sight of the growing contingent of Russian workers, who were up to then struggling independently. The Social Democratic intellectuals started to make efforts to win a mass following for themselves in the new field. Axelrod wrote in the Iskra of 1903:
“In order to arouse the masses out of their historic sleep, in order to lead them into the political arena, it was necessary to encourage in the masses a systematically revolutionary outlook and activity. It was especially necessary to encourage their understanding of their own difficult condition and its causes. The solution of this historic task was attempted in its way by the ‘Narodnik’ movement in the 70’s of the past century. That movement did not succeed in solving this task because it did not recognize the historic significance of the class of industrial workers, a class that was entirely new in the Russia of that day. Only Marxism could find the key. Only Marxism could show the means and the way to the solution of the basic, generally democratic, problems of the Russian revolutionary movement. Here lies the root of the strength of our party, the reason for its final victory over all other revolutionary factions and its present unshakable position.”
In other words, the class movement of the Russian proletariat was to be subordinated to the Russian intelligentsia. Nachimson, referring to the proletarian strike movement of his time in his comment on Pashitnov’s The Condition of the Working Class in Russia, wrote:
“For the democratic intelligentsia these strikes were especially important because since 1896 it sought to reach the proletariat, having recognized in the workers a stronger fighter against Tsarism.” (Page 274.)
An idea similar to Axelrod's was expressed by Cherevanin in his pamphlet The Proletariat and the Russian Revolution. Finally, the delegation of the Russian Social Democracy declared in its report to the International Socialist Congress in 1904:
“... The Russian Social Democracy came into being primarily as an organization of revolutionary intellectuals who were disappointed with the previous methods used in their fight for liberty and who arrived at the understanding that in the capitalistically developing Russia only the proletariat could offer them a sure support in their struggle against Tsarism.” (Page 41.)
The Russian Social Democracy discovered the proletariat as the only mass force of the Russian revolution that was capable of action. The change that came with this discovery was unprecedented in Russia. As a result the beached anti-Tsarist movement could again be set in motion. But so long as the turn did not mean the abandonment, either in theory or practice, of the old Bakunist-Narodnik thesis of a general staff, formed of intellectuals, commanding a people’s revolutionary army, subjected to that general staff, it was merely a tactical turn.
Anything else was impossible as long as the revolutionary intelligentsia were the commanding staff of the Social Democratic circles. And at the time of the formation of the Russian Social Democracy, there was hardly a suspicion of the decisive character of this question. The Social Democrats asserted that it was necessary and unavoidable for the “revolutionaries” to win the peasant and proletarian masses, which were to be led into revolution by the “revolutionaries.” Therefore, they made no fundamental differentiation between activity among the peasants and among the workers. Plekhanov, for example, wrote in 1884, in his book Our Differences of Opinion, which marks his complete transition to the Social Democratic ideology, that the antagonisms between the propagandists working in the villages and the terrorists active in the cities could be overcome precisely through the formation of a “Labor Party.” The strife between the village and city revolutionists would disappear as the political struggle in the cities took on a worker character. Then the two groups would differ only according to their place of activity and not according to the nature of their activity. They would be two representative forms of one popular movement.
The formation of a “Labor Party” was expected to bring political strength to the intelligentsia and move them in one line. According to this line, the work among the city proletariat would be no more than a branch of the general movement. The representation, the leadership, of this movement was to remain the task of the intellectuals, who, also in Plekhanov’s original conception, were going to compose the commanding staff of the revolution.
Axelrod expressed the same idea in his discussion of the political tasks of the Russian intelligentsia in the Neue Zeit of 1898. He declared that the “ideological elements of our upper classes” could not stop at mere propaganda activity but had to direct the aroused revolutionary energies of the “popular masses” towards political action.
“Predestined, so to speak, for this historic task are the proletarianized strata of the intelligentsia, the student youth, as well as the great majority of the spirited and democratic representatives of our intelligent citizenry.”
He stressed the leadership of the popular masses by intellectuals, and presented at the same time the significance of the proletariat for the purposes of the intelligentsia:
“Naked reality points for the revolutionary intellectuals to the industrial proletariat as the class in which the organization of a revolutionary people’s movement has the best chance of success.”
Lenin also, in his 1897 treatise on The Task of the Russian Social Democracy, placed the proletariat in a central position only “because the latter shows the greatest susceptibility to Social Democratic ideas, the highest intellectual and political maturity, and, thanks to its numbers and concentration in the largest focal centers of our country, decides the outcome of the battle.” (Collected Works, Vol. I, page 363.)
At the same time he explained that the Social Democracy had to support the propaganda activity of other forces in the villages, since it could not, by reason of its numerical weakness, undertake this itself. The Social Democratic circles continued the old going-to-the-people. But they turned mostly to the workers instead of the peasants. Their activity was, more than anything else, the contemporary continuation of the work of the Narodniki. The Marxist theory adopted by them was nothing more than an ideological garb for this task, a covering that helped to tide the revolutionary intelligentsia over a period that they themselves could not cope with. Otherwise, the Russian Social Democracy, and especially Bolshevism, moved straight along the political line set by the Narodnik movement.
The idea of the revolutionary general staff was first expressed by Bakunin, who should be described by Lenin's disciples as the “grandfather of Bolshevism.”
Pokrovsky remarks in his History of Russia:
“Certain features of revolutionary organization, which later found a definite form in the Bolshevik Party, were already noticeable in the sixties, when we can already observe the conspiratorial relationship, the systematic program of activity and the choice of insurrection as a method of action.” (Page 206.)
Pokrovsky considers as especially Bolshevik Nechayev’s scheme of insurrection, which was going to be realized with the aid of a strictly professional-revolutionary organization. Pokrovsky writes that in the Russian revolutionary circles of the sixties there was formulated a plan, “later derided by the Mensheviki, but which was actually applied on November 7, 1917. It was literally the plan of the finally realized Revolution.” (Page 205.)
Such a centralized, conspiratorial organisation was, however, never attained by the Bakuninists. Supporting himself on the moralistic injunctions found in Bakunin's revolutionary catechism, Nechayev, juggled before his master and his comrades the blueprint of a nonexistent organization. The Narodniki were, in fact, the first to apply Bakunin’s plan. But ten years before the birth of the populists’ terrorist organization, Bakunin formulated the viewpoint calling for the total subordination of the revolutionaries to the central leadership of their party. In the Oath of the Active Brothers of his secret Alliance, we read:
“I swear by my honor and life that I agree fully with all the philosophic, economic and social, theoretic and practical, principles of your revolutionary catechism. I submit myself, without exception, to all orders contained in your manual of regulations. I reserve my duty and right to oppose in discussion at the next assembly all secondary points on which I hold a different opinion, but I accept beforehand the definite and supreme decision of the organization.
“From now on I subordinate my entire activity, public and private, political, professional and social, to the supreme guidance I shall receive from the Councils of this Society.”
At first, such “Bolshevist” ideas of discipline had as little influence on the political movement of the Russian intelligentsia as the injunctions of absolute scrupulousness contained in Bakunin’s “revolutionary catechism.” The radical intellectuals turned to the ideas of Lavrov, who proposed peaceful propaganda. But soon Tkachev arose to oppose Lavrov with Jacobinical and Blanquist projects. The State power was to be seized by a determined revolutionary minority. To attain this aim, this revolutionary minority was going to organize itself illegally, subjecting its members to strict discipline, without initiating all of them in the secrets of the organization. After such preparation, the organization would finally set loose a general terror.
For Tkachev, the revolutionary intelligentsia played a decisive role:
“Neither now nor in the future is the people, left to itself, capable of accomplishing the social revolution. Only we, the revolutionary minority, can and must accomplish the revolution, and as soon as possible...The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its true needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution...This role and mission belong, unquestionably, to the revolutionary minority.”
The position presented by Tkachev was going to serve as a guide line for the Narodniki terrorists and, after them, the Bolsheviki. It did not find an immediate echo in Lavrov’s propagandist circles. At that moment, Michailov and Nathanson were organizing the “going-to-the-people.” But the repressive measures of the Tsarist government drove the revolutionaries to terrorism. After a few years, Tkachev’s ideas were translated into action. A terrorist executive committee was formed in the spring of 1879. It consisted of adherents of several revolutionary bodies. The latter were organized in three circles, one concentrically opening into the other. The innermost circle formed the executive committee. It drew its co-workers out of the lower bodies. Only individuals who were in the position to participate directly in the revolutionary work were taken into this conspiratorial scheme.
The activity of the executive committee led the following winter to the formation of the People’s Will Party (Narodnaya Volya). Shelyabov, who had worked in the old executive committee, was the head of the new organization. Members were recruited by the individual circles. The executive committee was chosen by a free vote of its membership and the representatives of the lower groups. The latter had in their province the general work of preparing for the uprising, such as propaganda for a Constituent Assembly, drafting demands in behalf of the peasants and raising funds. Special groups took charge of propaganda in the army, among the students and workers, or ran presses, organized the sale of newspapers and the placing of bombs. Each body remained independent in its particular branch of activity. However, the executive committee gave “political leadership” to the total organization. It controlled the execution of the entire revolutionary program, regulated connections among the various groups and issued the party press. In its hands was concentrated the armed struggle against the government. Under its immediate command stood the combatant bands, each consisting of about ten men, and formed independently of other sections of the total organization. In the execution of its particular task, each terrorist band acted independently. It was formed and recruited by its own vote. However, the executive committee could veto the admission of any candidate. Once a terrorist band was in action, it chose a leader, who then received dictatorial powers of command.
This was the organization of the terrorist Narodniki. Their executive committee and combatant groups were classic organisms of professional revolutionaries, requiring from their members complete devotion to their revolutionary work, renunciation of their civil activity and private life, and submission to an iron discipline.
The organization of the terrorist Narodniki was quite suited to their political aim. The People's Will Party consisted of about 500 members; around them gathered several thousand sympathizers. The terrorist bands themselves were limited to several dozen individuals.
During the three years of their activity, the terrorist Narodniki executed six attempts on the lives of very high officials and four attempts on the lives of chiefs of police. They also carried out the death sentence imposed by their Executive Committee on Tsar Alexander II. Besides, nine spies and traitors were put to death.
The Bolsheviki liked to attach themselves historically to the prototype offered by the organization of the terrorist Narodniki. They recognized in it all the features they considered essential in their own organization: the total power of the central leadership, the professional—revolutionary composition, absolute centralization, military discipline. If in spite of their meager forces, the Narodnik terrorists could accomplish a great deal by means of this organizational principle—what could be done by an organization that was much larger and hoped to find support in the mass power of the proletariat! Why, that way Russia could really be “taken off its hinges.”
Lenin wanted an organization that would unite in itself: “socialist science and the revolutionary experience that the lessons of many decades, have instilled in the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia.” (Collected Works, Vol. IV, section I, page 45.)
By uniting the formal principle of “democratic centralism” with the Narodnik principle of a professional-revolutionary organization, the Bolsheviki created their particular, typically Russian, type of political organism.
The first bourgeois revolutionary movement in Russia was that of the Decembrists, whose radical wing was exterminated by the Romanovs. The Decembrists wanted to win a democratic constitution for Russia. This was also the goal of the revolutionary trends that arose in the following decades, for example, the students’ circle to which Chernishevsky belonged. “To Young Russia,” the manifesto issued by Chernishevsky's group, called for a “bloody and pitiless revolution” to do away with “all the bases of contemporary society and all the supporters of the existing social order.” It contained a number of democratic demands and culminated with the expression of its belief in the “social and democratic republic.” While Bakunin’s revolutionary program stood for the destruction of Tsarism and the suppression of all “exploiters”—the landed nobility and the merchant and industrial capitalist classes,—the Narodniki terrorists set for themselves a more definitely bourgeois task. After the fall of Tsarism, they were going to convoke a constituent assembly. The 1880 program of Narodnaya Volya included demands for a representative assembly, provincial and municipal autonomy, freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly, universal franchise, a territorial militia, the nationalization of the soil, and sanctions providing for the transfer of the ownership of factories to workers. All of this was going to be applied by the provisional revolutionary government that would arise upon the fall of the autocracy. This provisional revolutionary government was going to assure the completion of the countrywide transformation and guarantee the democratic elections to the constituent assembly. In other words, the program of the Narodniki already contained much of the Jacobin idea of a transitional dictatorship.
The aim of the Russian Revolution had been recognized and discussed for some time before the appearance of a Social Democratic movement in Russia. The Social Democracy had merely taken it over and called it its own. Its program of 1903 recognized as the first task of the party’s revolutionary activity: “the defeat of Tsarism and the establishment of a democratic republic.” One year before, Lenin took the trouble to explain that the Russian Social Democrats could not throw overboard the whole of populism but “had to lay hold of its revolutionary, general-democratic principles and recognize them as their own.” (Collected Works, Vol. V, page 156.)
The Bolsheviki continued The Tine of the preceding bourgeois-revolutionary movement not only organizationally but also politically. While Zinoviev designated the Decembrists as “revolutionists who were without question bourgeois,” he added emphatically: “Our generation, does not spurn even this heritage,” and went on to say that:
“We (the Bolsheviki) are the sole and true continuators of all that was excellent in the movement of the revolutionary intellectuals of the 80’s, 70’s, 60’s and even before then.” (On the Development of Our Party, page 3.)
Also Pokrovsky found it important to stress the traditional tie up between the old revolutionary movement and the Bolsheviki. He thus designates Spechnev, an outstanding member of a revolutionary circle in the 40’s, as a Communist—because Spechnev “propagated the idea of the armed insurrection.” Tkachev is for him “the first Russian Marxist,” because the latter stood at the head of a movement “which called for the formation of a strong conspiratorial organization for the purpose of seizing power, though by means of old, petty-bourgeois, Blanquist forms.” And the first terrorist attentat by the Narodniki is recognized by Pokrovsky as “the first social revolutionary heroic act, the first gesture of the Russian revolution”—just as the proclamation “To Young Russia” is “the first monument of our revolutionary socialism.” The Narodnik terrorist was for Lenin’s disciple a sort of Bolshevik, who resorted to terror because he could not as yet find support in the labor movement. Writing about the great leader of the terrorists, Zinoviev observed: “If he had bound himself to the working class and taken up the question of the social revolution, Shelyabov could have been considered a real Bolshevik and Communist.”
The Russian Social Democracy was going to carry forward the movement that was begun by the old revolutionary intelligentsia.
The Narodniki posed the task. The Social Democracy made it its own. The principal content of the activity of the Bolsheviki up to 1917 was the deepening and concretization of this task.
The aim of every bourgeois revolution is the creation of a modern national state, in the framework of which may be realized the rule of the bourgeoisie. This was first accomplished with the aid of the radical democratic movement. Everywhere, during the period of preparation for the bourgeois revolution, the ideas of nation and nationalism became a part of the revolutionary ideology.
The old Russian revolutionists were also nationalists. They considered their socialism to be a particular Russian socialism, which would emerge from the mir. The struggle against autocracy was for the Narodniki not only a struggle for the liberation of the people but also a struggle for the liberation of “Mother Russia.” Herzen denied that Tsarism was a Russian phenomenon. He said it was “Prussian-Tartar”—a foreign body within the desecrated Russian nation.
In contrast to the national Socialism of the Narodniki, the Russian Social Democracy began its activity with the avowal of internationalism. The truth of the matter, however, is that the element of revolutionary nationalism now expressed in Stalinism already existed in the old Bolshevism. In the midst of the struggle against the social chauvinism of the Western Social Democracy, Lenin wrote under the title The National Pride of the Great Russians:
“Is then the sentiment of national pride alien to us Great Russian class-conscious proletarians? Of course not. We love our language and our fatherland, and strive to raise its toiling masses to a conscious democratic and socialistic life. We suffer seeing our beautiful native land subjected to acts of violence and oppression, to a grievous yoke by the Tsarist officials, by the landowners and the capitalists. We are proud to witness that these acts of violence have evoked opposition in our midst, in the camp of the Great Russians. We are proud that out of this camp have come forward Radischev, the Decembrists, the Rasnochintsy revolutionists of the 70’s. We are proud that in the year 1905 the Great Russian working class created a powerful revolutionary mass party and that the Great Russian muzhik is becoming democratic and is beginning to chase out the priests and the land owners.” (Collected Works, Vol. XVIII, page 104.)
And Lenin continues with the utmost of patriotic self-esteem:
“We, the Great Russian workers, full of the sentiment of national pride, desire, at any price, a free, independent, self-reliant, democratic, republican, proud Great Russia ...” (Collected Works, Vol. XVIII, page 105.)
Lenin puts this national pride side by side with socialism, expressing very clearly the outlook of the socialism of the Narodniki:
“The interests of the (not slavishly constituted) national pride of the Great Russian fits in with the socialist interests of the Great Russian (and all other) proletarians.” (Volume XVIII, page 107.)
These remarks bring to the surface the emotional current that offered motive power to the Bolshevist intelligentsia. The task they recognized as theirs was that of freeing the nation from the yoke of autocracy. In other words, they continued, with the aid of superior social discernment and more effective political methods, the work that was begun by the Narodniki, who were hampered in their time by their peculiar illusions and inadequate political methods. Together with this bourgeois-revolutionary task, Bolshevism took over certain elements of the national-revolutionary ideology of the populists. This ideology was quiescent during certain periods of the struggle, but came to the fore when the Bolsheviks had won political power. In Stalin’s phrase: “Socialism in one country,” we have Lenin’s “national pride of the Great Russians” and the final realization of the Narodnik concept of a special kind of Russian “socialism.”
Lenin not only recognized the connection between the Bolsheviki and the earlier revolutionary movements of his country. He also sought to tie up the position of his party with the general tradition of classic bourgeois revolutionarism. When the Mensheviks, after the 1903 congress of the Russian Social Democracy, reproached him with resorting to Jacobin methods, he immediately picked up the epithet and declared:
“The Jacobin, inseparably bound to the proletarian organization of the proletariat, aware of its class interests, that precisely is the revolutionary Social Democrat.” (Collected Works, Vol. VI, page 402.)
Lenin branded the Mensheviks as the “Gironde,” the “vacillating, petty-bourgeois wing” of the Russian Revolution. This comparison was borrowed from Plekhanov, who attacking “reformism” and “economism” in the Iskra of 1900, wrote:
“Two different trends are already apparent in the general socialist movement, and the revolutionary struggle of the 20th century is possibly moving toward a split, which can be described as the separation of the Social Democratic ‘Mountain’ from the Social Democratic ‘Gironde.’ ” (Works, Vol. XII, page 65, Russian ed.)
In 1905 Lenin called Engels a “true Jacobin of the Social Democracy.” He reverted again and again to this comparison with Jacobinism. The term was later applied by Lenin's disciples to Lenin himself. Thus Zinoviev called Lenin a “Marat, joined to the urban and agrarian proletariat.”
Bolshevism has been likened to Blanquism. But Engels has well explained what ought to be understood as Blanquism:
“That a relatively small number of resolute, well-organized men would be able, at a given favorable moment, not only to seize the helm of the State but also to keep power, by energetic and unrelenting action, until they had succeeded in drawing the mass of the people into the revolution by marshalling them around the small band of leaders.” (Introduction to Civil War in France.)
Judged in this sense, the Bolsheviks were not Blanquists. They, as a well organized minority, did not plan to seize power by means of a putschist attack, say, as the Narodniki hoped to arrive at power by means of their terrorist attentats. The Bolsheviks aimed rather to organize and lead the revolutionary mass process. Historically, the role of the Bolsheviki is most like that of the Jacobins. Both movements expected to attain their dictatorial power in the course of the process, solving the tasks of a radical bourgeois revolution. But Bolshevism is also akin to Jacobinism because of the similar organizational methods and techniques of procedure used by the two chronologically separate movements. Both represented “leader” (vanguard) organizations of professional revolutionaries, themselves directed “from top to bottom.” Both movements stressed the belief in omnipotence of their organizations in determining, with an iron hand, the course of the revolutionary process. Both pursued their aims with inflexible determination and sought to attain their goal by all means at hand. And finally, the two movements found themselves in a similar relation to the bourgeoisie of their countries, “... the Jacobins made the bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie.” (Trotsky, The Nature of the Russian Revolution, page 43.) And so did the Bolsheviks.
In all these ways Bolshevism was true Jacobinism. The social content of the Russian Revolution differed from the French Revolution of 1789-93 in the same manner that the Russia lorded over by Tsarist absolutism, with its developed industrial capitalism, differed from the absolutist society of 18th century France, disturbed by the then awakening capitalist production. But the general line of relation between Bolshevism and Jacobinism is that of the bourgeois revolution, which destroyed absolutism and could be advanced only by the most radical means at hand. Avowing Jacobinism, Lenin extended the Bolshevist tradition to the French Revolution and thus provided the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia with an international “class-conscious” tradition.
The Russian Social Democracy sprang from the intelligentsia embodying the bourgeois-revolutionary movement of Russia. It took an important step forward when it discovered the possibility of a mass basis for its politics in the Russian proletariat. The Russian Social Democracy then assumed toward the Russian workers the same role that the Narodnik general staff before had taken toward the peasants. Inheriting the Narodnik tradition, the Bolsheviki, as a fraction of the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia, took over the political task of the bourgeois revolution in their country. This national tradition and these national tasks are given recognition by their leader Lenin in his acknowledgement of the “interests of the national pride of the Great Russians.” The Bolsheviks also sought to attach themselves to the international tradition of the revolutionary intelligentsia. They designated themselves as the Jacobins of the Social Democracy and resorted to political methods typical of Jacobinism.
From the beginning, the Bolsheviks considered themselves to be the shock troops of the Russian Revolution. Bolshevism adapted itself to the special conditions of the Russian Revolution and created a great revolutionary ideology and tradition, which helped the Party to face its historic tasks.
Zinoviev well described the attitude taken by the revolutionary intelligentsia of Russia toward the proletariat of their country when he observed that the student youth of 1900, seeking to find a mass power “by which to overthrow the Tsarist autocracy, convinced themselves with every step they took that the working class was the force holding the hammer that could be used to smash Tsarism.” (History of the Communist Party of Russia, page 66.)
The Russian Social Democracy arose outside of the proletariat. Lenin assigned to the Social Democratic Party the task of becoming the “ideological leader” of the proletariat, whose class struggle it was to “support.” He wrote in 1897:
“If the army of the proletariat proves itself to be consequent and it struggles, under the leadership of a strong Social Democratic organization for its economic and political liberation, then the army itself will show to the generals the methods and means of action they must use.” (Collected Works, Vol. I, page 376.) The Social Democratic generals were expected to learn some things from the proletarian army under their command, but they were, nevertheless, going to remain generals. And generals the Bolsheviki always felt themselves to be.
Lenin wrote in 1901:
“The working class is already in motion. It is prepared to follow the socialist leaders, but the General Staff has not yet succeeded in organizing a strong body of picked troops who would correctly dispose of all the existing forces of the class-conscious workers.” (Collected Works, Vol. VI, Part I, page 44.)
Expressing itself even more to the point than the “old man,” a provincial Social Democratic committee of the time declared in its table of principles, as is reported by Axelrod:
“Inasmuch as under present conditions a forcible overturn in Russia can only be accomplished with the aid of the proletariat of our large industrial centers, and the latter is ready to obey and begin the uprising, we consider our most important task to be the organization of the working class.”
In his Party history Zinoviev notes the following concerning the Revolution of 1905:
“...there was on hand a body. It was necessary to stick on it a head. The Party therefore had to mingle with this mass in order to take in tow its general movement and conduct it on the historic road of the working class.” (Page 114.)
And we finally have the utterances of Stalin himself, who discoursing on the Problems of Leninism, writes: “The Party is the General Staff of the proletariat.” (Vol. I, page 149.)
Already in 1897 Lenin noted that the role of the intelligentsia made “superfluous the presence of outstanding intellectual leaders in the (labor) movement.” He meant to say that he did not want to have the “intellectual leadership” segregated within the social democratic organizations but thought that these leaders had to make some connection with the workers.
This problem especially engrossed Lenin’s attention during the Iskra period, when his ideas on party organization took shape. He pointed out at that time that the “material elements” of a spontaneous movement had “grown enormously” but the “goal-conscious leaders,” the Social Democrats, were not quite abreast of the times.
“The spontaneous mass movement lacks ‘ideologists’ with sufficient theoretic preparation to be safe from any deviation. It lacks leaders with enough scope of vision, enough revolutionary energy and organizational talent, to create a political party that could function on the basis of the new movement.” (Vol. IV, Part I, page 99.)
And he wrote in 1902: “The movement must be led by as small as possible a number of as similar as possible groups, composed of experienced and tried professional revolutionists. There must participate in the movement as large as possible a number of, as varied and multifarious as possible, groups, representing the different strata of the proletariat.” (Vol. V, page 267.)
The “whole art of conspirative organization” consisted, according to Lenin, in “making use of each and all, in giving work to all and each,” but, at the same time, “maintaining leadership over the entire movement.” (Vol. V, page 259.)
The professional revolutionary conspiratorial organization had to maintain itself above the struggling mass and lead it. Developing this idea, in opposition to Trotsky, at the Party Congress in London, Lenin said:
“The Party must be the vanguard, the leader of the broad mass of the working class. The latter acts entirely (or almost entirely) ‘under the control and leadership’ of the Party organizations; which, however, do not at all belong, nor need to belong to the Party.” (Vol. VI, page 34.)
After the Party Congress, Lenin declared that the “entire class” must act under the leadership of the Party and be brought as close to it as possible:
“Not that the Party should envelope the conspiratorial organization...but the revolutionary class, the proletariat, must envelop the Party, which contains in itself the conspiratorial as well as the non-conspiratorial organizations.” (Vol. VI, page 265.)
The party that Lenin wanted to create was to be a conspiratorial, “leader” organization, which, with the aid of the “professional revolutionists,” would fashion a wide net of party organizations, ranging “from the narrowest and most conspiratorial kind to the broadest and least conspiratorial.” (Vol. VII, page 408.) The “masses” were to “cover up,” envelop the party.
The party center as the general staff; the local committee as officers; the party membership as the lower-rank officers; the mass of workers as the army acting under the command of this military-political apparatus. That is the organizational picture of the Bolshevik Party, a picture that discloses the peculiar relation of the Bolsheviki to the working class. Their party was a workers’ party only in the sense that it wanted to put the mass of workers under its orders.
In 1905, Lenin set himself energetically to the task of bringing workers into the Party organisations. He attacked the limited activity of the Party “committees” and warned that the Party would collapse unless new organisations were created.
The “committees” arose as a result of the peculiar manner in which the work of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was carried on. Up to 1903, there existed in the Party a definite separation between the intellectuals and workers. We read in the report of the Russian delegation to the International Socialist Congress of 1904:
“In accordance with the distinction drawn between the ‘workers’ committees’ and the ‘intellectuals’ committees,’ the first merely had the function of acting as executive organs for the latter.” (Page 46.)
In other words, the workers in the Russian Social Democratic Party were considered to be the political handy men of the revolutionary intelligentsia. It was especially because of this that the Social Democracy of Russia was not able to keep up with events in 1905. According to Martov’s testimony, the great number of Russian workers stayed away from the Social Democratic organizations because they were not allowed there to have an equal say with the intellectuals. As a result, the workers preferred their trade organizations, where they had wide opportunities for self-activity and found themselves in the current of the immediate class movement. The more obvious this became, the more Lenin stressed to his party the need of a change of method in dealing with the workers. Thus he wrote in a letter to Bogdanov and Gussev that “all those who permit themselves to argue that there is ‘nobody’ there (in the workers’ trade organizations) should be stood up against the wall.” (Vol. VII, page 145.) He demanded that the Social Democracy create a new channel for the “new currents of the social movement.” For every delay served the enemies of the Social Democracy. The new currents sought a way out. If they did not find the Social Democratic channel, they would flow into a non-Social Democratic channel. (Vol. VII, page 208-209.)
In this manner, Lenin developed the theory that there could be no conscious proletarian mass movement without the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. The mass of workers were politically blind. If the Social Democracy possessed a big enough apparatus, it could possess itself of the great current of the workers’ movement. Otherwise, the latter would be drawn away by other forces into a different channel. In any case, the workers’ mass was the object of any “leader” organization that was conscious of its goal. Only the latter, the intellectual leaders, could be conscious of a goal.
This was the significance of Lenin’s demand, in the autumn of 1905, for the “Party education of the proletariat and the union of the proletarian vanguard with an effective party.” He was quite dissatisfied with the results of the work done by the Social Democratic organizations up to then. He said there was the need of having workers in the Bolshevik organization. Why? Well, without the workers, the Bolshevik leaders could not, for conspirative and psychological reasons, come in direct contact with the masses. Lenin, intended, however, to keep strictly apart, in the new, inclusive Party organizations, the respective statuses and tasks of the intellectuals and workers.
“The intellectuals are good at solving questions ‘of principle.’ They are good at drafting plans and supervising the execution of plans... The workers busy themselves with the application of gray theory in living practice.” (Vol. VIII, pages 514-515.)
In other words, the intellectuals were to continue to be the “leaders.” The workers drawn into the party were to continue to act under the command of the intellectual leaders. This was Lenin's position on the role of the workers in his party.
In his pamphlet What Is to be Done? Lenin described the difference between political and trade union organizations as a difference between “revolutionary” organizations and “worker” organizations. He said that no distinction was to be made between workers and intellectuals. But since the Party “had to consist primarily” of persons “whose profession was revolutionary activity,” he excluded the workers as definite and direct agents of Party activity. It was ten times easier for an intellectual than for a worker to become a professional revolutionary. The worker was literally torn out of his class milieu when “chosen” by the Party. So that, in practice, Lenin tore up the unity he had emphasized in his organizational draft and allowed the workers a second-rank place in his Party. In One Step Forward, Two Backwards, Lenin classified all organizations in accordance with the following categories, ranking them by their composition and the degree of their “conspirativeness:”
“1. The revolutionaries’ organization. 2. The workers’ organizations. The latter should be as broad and varied as possible (I limit myself here to the working class, but it is understood that under certain conditions these organizations may include elements from other classes). The former categories form the Party. Farther removed are: 3. the worker organizations that stand near the Party; then, 4. those worker organizations that do not stand near the Party but submit themselves to its control and direction. And finally, 5. the unorganized elements of the working class, which submit themselves to the direction of the Social Democracy at least at important movements of the class struggle.” (Vol. VI, page 268.)
Here, too, Lenin put the “revolutionaries’ ” organization above the “workers’ ” organization. The two Party categories did not have the same value for him. By providing for such “categories” in his Party, Lenin was really expressing again his principle of the “leadership” of the intellectuals. By permitting certain workers to enter his party, Lenin wanted to lay hold, through them, of those workers who, belonging in the remaining categories of his organizational scheme, merely “submitted” themselves to the direction offered by the Social Democracy. There was no question for him of the equality of the workers and intellectuals. Such an idea is alien to Bolshevism. The provision for the mentioned five ranks in Lenin's plan shows that the workers who were included in the Bolshevik organizations (subordinated there, of course, to the professional revolutionaries) were taken in because they were technically indispensable in the business of manipulating the outside mass. They were admitted into the Party because there was a technical need for them, and not because they, as workers, were meant to determine by their membership the political physiognomy of the Party.
According to Lenin, the realization of his organizational scheme would be the realization of a “proletarian principle.” The disagreement that arose over the first paragraphs of the proposed statute on Party organization and led to the split of the Russian Social Democracy in 1903, he described as a conflict between “adherents of bourgeois-intellectual individualism” and “adherents of proletarian organization and discipline.” (Collected Works, Vol. VI, page 271.) Those are clever words. The fact is that theoretically the Mensheviks represented the organizational principle of the Western Social Democracy, while Lenin, though he played shrewdly with such terms as “proletariat” and “bourgeois-intellectual,” stood for the organizational principle that is typical of the radical bourgeoisie, the organizational principle of Jacobin revolutionarism.
The problem of “leadership” which worried Lenin’s “Labor Party” was not that of drawing the best forces of the proletarian class into political activity. The important question for Lenin and his party was (as stated in What is to Be Done?) the substitution of “good leaders” for “bad leaders.” The working class could be influential in bringing about a political decision only if it submitted itself to the “good” leaders. Therefore, the constant task of the Party was to convince the mass of the “correctness” of the Party policies. Not the development of the independent will and self-consciousness of the proletariat, but the “persuasion” of the latter, is the ideological working principle of Bolshevism, from Lenin to Stalin, from Trotsky to Brandler. The struggle over the “masses” has always been for Bolshevism a struggle against the competition of “bad,” “opportunist,” “betraying,” “social-fascist,” “Trotskyist” leaders, who have to be vanquished, so that the “leadership” might fall to the Bolshevik Party. Policy is the business of leaders and leader organizations. They do all the thinking for the mass. Bolshevism does not recognize a proletariat that is capable of developing and executing its “policy” independently.
The Bolshevik attitude of professional-revolutionary leaderism was encouraged by the low degree of self-consciousness which characterized the Russian proletariat at the turn of the century. Capitalist development in the country had not yet raised the Russian worker to a distinct political or economic class outlook. He still had one foot in the illiterate serfdom of the village. When he did begin to rebel—in an epoch of advanced world capitalism—against the conditions of his existence, he did so with the spontaneity belonging to the proletariat of early capitalism. This peculiarity of the Russian industrial workers—the fact that they possessed the social disposition of the proletarian of early capitalism in an era of advanced world capitalism—made them especially valuable for the Russian Revolution. As a class, they were in the condition to be easily led and manipulated by the revolutionary intelligentsia of their country. The Bolsheviki appreciated the industrial proletariat of Russia as an early-capitalist force, dull in self-awareness but mighty in revolt. Preobrazhensky, writing in the symposium entitled Lenin, describes the Russian proletariat as follows:
“Our working class is a young and powerful barbarian, still unspoiled by the civilization of the capitalist Rome, still free from the habit of prizing petty-bourgeois comforts, the crumbs falling from the tables of the colonial exploiters. It is a barbarian that has not yet been tamed by bourgeois law and capitalist order.”
The Bolsheviki wanted to bridle this barbarian and ride him into battle. Being afraid of sinking in this primitiveness of the Russian proletariat, they tolerated no talk of organizational democracy.
If the Bolsheviki had been representative of the working class of Russia, they would have tried by all means to overcome the low degree of class self-consciousness of the Russian workers. They would have tried to develop this force into a real worker party, having this party crystallize in the process of the class struggle, as a result of the increased class-consciousness of the Russian proletariat. Capitalism teaches the workers to labor its way. It also teaches them to think politically. The workers’ party can only arise out of this political thinking of the workers. The fighting organization of the proletariat finds its form not at the historic beginning of the class but late in its development.
Not representing the class interests of the Russian proletariat, the Bolsheviki turned its very primitiveness into a theory justifying their own Jacobinical pretensions to leadership. They refused to recognize that the cultural backwardness of the Russian laboring masses was the product of a retarded, half-feudal, half-capitalist social situation, which had to be overcome by the rising class. They preferred to see the cultural backwardness of the Russian proletariat as an immutable fact that could only be removed “from outside.” This outlook determined the stand they took toward the working class.
The theory which expressed this attitude, and provided a basis for the then commencing organizational activity of the Bolsheviki, was formulated during the Iskra period of the Party. The Iskra organization arose after the break that took place in the Russian revolutionary movement over the question of “Economism.” The Economists wanted to limit the activity of the working class to the economic field. The Iskra people, headed by Lenin, opposed the Economists with the argument that the workers’ economic struggle, a necessary consequence of their position in the process of capitalist production, could only lead to trade-union consciousness. Lenin wrote in What Is to Be Done?
“The history of all countries shows that by its own forces the working class can only arrive at a trade-union consciousness—that is, at the realization of the need of getting together in unions in order to wage a struggle against the exploiters and to demand from the government this or that law necessary for the workers, etc.” (Collected Works, Vol. IV, Part 2, page 150.)
According to Lenin, trade-union consciousness is an element of the “spontaneous” working class movement, that is, the labor movement as it may be when left to its own resources by the revolutionary intellectuals. He wrote that the basic error of the Economists lay in their belief that the political class-consciousness of the workers could develop “from the inside,” that is, as a result of the workers' struggle in the economic field. (Vol. IV, Part 2, page 216.) Trade-unionism, he held, automatically bars the workers from an independent development of their consciousness toward an understanding of the need of socialism. The “spontaneous” development of the labor movement, he wrote, leads “to their (the workers') subordination to bourgeois ideology.” It denotes the “ideologic enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie.” (Vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 222 and 235.)
If the last observation is correct, then the conception that the “spontaneous” development of the labor movement can go no further than trade unionism is obviously false. What course the “spontaneous” (that is, independent) development of the working class takes, depends finally on the social hypothesis, on the aggregate of existing social conditions. A badly organized, “spontaneously” rising mass of workers can attain a high degree of socialist consciousness in the fire of battle, in the midst of a critical situation. On the other hand, an old and well organized mass of workers may, in spite of all influence “from the outside,” remain with no more than a trade-unionist outlook, if it finds a certain satisfaction of its “reformist” interests in a relatively secure situation of capitalism. The beginnings of political organization may be developed by the working class in the “spontaneous” struggle itself. Such organizations will exert a further political influence on the class. They will tend to raise the consciousness of the class. Yet they do not constitute a force outside of the working class. They are still part and parcel of the working class. Their activity is a part of the total experience of the mass of workers living through the process of becoming aware of themselves as a class.
Considering the situation from his Jacobinical watchtower, Lenin denied that the working people could, by themselves, develop the organizational and political elements necessary for the victory over capitalism. His thesis contradicted itself.
He called himself a socialist, and repeating Marx, he declared in eloquent moments, that socialism could only be the workers’ own creation. At the same time, he took the position that the very class which was said to be destined as the historical instrument for the realization of socialism could not by itself develop an understanding of the need of socialism. This was the complementary half of the theory according to which socialism was to be the product of the “ideological development” of the intelligentsia. Thus the proletariat, spoken of flatteringly as the historic bearer of socialism, could attain no more than a bourgeois consciousness, if left to its own class resources. The only possible creators of a socialist consciousness were the intellectual strata of society, a part of the bourgeoisie. As Lenin saw the matter, socialism would be achieved by the working class, but the idea of the need of socialism, that is, socialist thought, could only be the creation of the bourgeois intelligentsia.
He wrote: “Political class consciousness can only be brought to the workers from the outside, that is, outside of the economic struggle, outside of the orbit of the relations existing between all classes and social strata and the State, that is, in the sphere of relations existing among all classes.” (Works, Vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 216-217.)
Reaching such conclusions, Lenin denied completely the political character of the economic struggle, a fundamental principle of Marxism. As seen by Marx, the productive relation between the workers and the capitalists is the basic relationship of bourgeois society. From this relation are derived all the appearances and movements characteristic of capitalism. Lenin made it quite clear that unlike Marx he did not locate the basis for the rise of socialism in the development of the productive forces.
Of all the forces of production, the working class is the most important. It is the social element that is most cruelly affected by the contradictions of capitalism, and all these contradictions have their roots in the productive process of society. The thinking of the workers cannot escape being influenced by the capitalist contradictions. This influence brings the workers to reach in time definite conclusions regarding their position in society. It leads them to act to accomplish a fundamental transformation of the existing productive relationship. In other words, socialist consciousness arises, of necessity, out of the productive process of capitalism. Within this sphere of interests, the socialist consciousness of the working people develops into a political force, moving them to socialist action.
For Lenin the movement for socialism was simply a trick of ideology. He believed that only a political force outside of itself could provide the working class with political consciousness. “From the outside” meant for Lenin not merely outside the productive process, as is suggested by the last quotation. It meant also: outside of the working class. He argued that all “spontaneous” social thinking by the workers could, “for obvious reasons,” only lead to bourgeois ideology, since bourgeois ideology “is older than socialist ideology, more fully developed, and disposes of incomparably greater means of diffusion.” (Vol. VI, Part 2, page 172.)
However, the workers’ economic struggle leads to a so-called bourgeois (opportunist and reformist) political activity on their part only in so far as the ruling class can succeed, when permitted by the condition of capitalist production, in keeping the lot of the proletariat within the bounds of toleration. Trade-unionism is the product of a certain phase of capitalist development. It is obviously not the product of bourgeois propaganda.
Lenin explained the tendency of the working class toward trade-unionist and reformist action not by social causes but by ideological influence. According to him, the proletariat is provided its social consciousness by elements outside of itself.
According to him, the proletariat receives its social outlook, in the shape of ready-made ideology, either from the bourgeoisie or from the revolutionary intelligentsia. For the proletariat is incapable of independent social thought. It cannot develop its own consciousness as a class. It will therefore always be the object of propaganda by social elements outside of itself.
Lenin wrote in 1901 that the workers’ organizations that had been formed under the auspices of the Greek Catholic Church and the monarchists were also a “necessary product of the interaction of certain relations and elements.” In this case, it was “the consciousness of the priests and the Zubatovs that participated in the interaction and not the consciousness of the socialists.” (Vol. IV, Part 2, page 98.) The proletariat attains “the level of self-consciousness” when it submits either to the priests and the Zubatovs or to the Bolshevist Social Democrats.
How did Lenin happen to arrive at this conclusion? He arrived at such a conclusion because he belonged to the special section of society whose task it is to fashion ideologies. To his “socialist” activity, he transferred something that is a special feature of class society: the separation between mental and manual labor. He mistook ideologic appearance for the substance of the thing, forgetting that also in the labor movement, an intellectual can only formulate—formulate and not create—the ideas that begin to enter the heads of the workers as a result of the experience of the class struggle. He considered himself to be the creator of a specific ideology. He was, in fact, only the “mouthpiece” of certain social forces. He called himself a “Marxist,” but he never held anything more than an idealistic view of the political tendencies of his time, which were themselves created in the material process of social development.
In Lenin’s conception of “political consciousness” there is no question of proletarian socialism. The sort of “consciousness” he had in mind was something by means of which the working class could be mobilized and assigned a task in a bourgeois revolution. Considered from the angle of the bourgeois revolution, Lenin's stand that the “political consciousness” of the working class could only be developed by a political force originating outside of the working class has a real meaning. His thesis then amounts to the following:
The political thought by which the workers were going to be mobilized for action in the complicated revolution against Tsarism could only be the creation of the Jacobinical intelligentsia.
This was true to the extent that the expected revolution presented tasks such as the peasant question, which could not be mastered on the basis of the struggle of the proletariat acting in its historic role as a force for socialism. The chief problem in this revolution was not the doing away with the capitalist productive relationship but the destruction of the vestiges of feudalism. Quite naturally the Russian working class could not develop “spontaneously”—that is, out of its position within the process of capitalist production—an insight into the needs of an anti-feudal revolution. This is the essential meaning of Lenin’s thesis on the “political consciousness” of the proletariat. We see that it does not refer to the self-awareness of a working class acting for socialism. It refers to the consciousness of a working class participating in a bourgeois revolution, for which it must be mobilized as an important auxiliary force. Lenin’s “Marxist” terminology is a disguise veiling an outlook that is typical of the Jacobinical intelligentsia.
The Bolshevik theory of class consciousness was not created by Lenin. Already in 1891 Axelrod wrote:
“The labor movement cannot leave the narrow course of pure economic conflict between the workers and the entrepreneurs. In general, it is quite devoid of a political character. In the struggle for political freedom, however, the advanced sections of the proletariat follow the revolutionary circles and the fractions of the so-called intelligentsia.”
Out of this idea of Axelrod’s, Lenin drew all possible inferences. He felt himself to be on safe ground especially because he found the same viewpoint expressed in the writings of Kautsky, the “leader of the German revolutionary Social Democrats.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. X, page 274.) Kautsky wrote in the year 1901:
“The modern socialist consciousness can only arise on the basis of profound scientific insight...The bearer of this science is, however, not the worker but the bourgeois intellectual. Modern socialism originated among members of this stratum of society, by whom it was transmitted to culturally outstanding proletarians wherever conditions permitted this diffusion. Socialist consciousness is therefore something injected into the class struggle, and is not native to it.” (Neue Zeit.)
Upon this vulgar theory of class consciousness, the Bolsheviki raised the slogan: “The intelligentsia must bring political consciousness to the proletariat.” In 1902, Lenin attacked the proposition, expressed in the principles of the Labor Alliance of the North, which considered “socialism to be in the class interest of the proletariat.” He wrote that such an outlook was “extremely inexact, ambiguous and dangerous.” And he sermonized the proletarian authors of the program to the effect that “into the class struggle of the proletariat, developing spontaneously on the basis of capitalist relations, socialism is carried by ideologists.” (Vol. V, page 174.) According to Lenin, the workers’ class interests render them susceptible to socialism, but no more than that. The conception of socialism depends on an ideology that is founded on the “entire storehouse of man’s knowledge.”
In his development of this theory of class consciousness, Lenin supported himself on the writings and authority of Plekhanov. But neither was Plekhanov without predecessors. Lavrov, one of the theorists of the old Narodnik movement, believed (in the manner of certain spokesmen of the early German socialist movement) that “critically thinking personalities, the intellectuals,” constituted the main force of social progress. Popov summarizes Lavrov’s idea in the following words:
“They were going to spread socialist knowledge among the people. They were going to lead the dark, ignorant masses to the light of socialism.” (Outline of the History of Bolshevism, page 14.) In principle, this outlook was no different from Lenin’s. Lavrov represented the Narodnik movement of enlightenment; Lenin represented Bolshevism. Both made use of the idea and the language of socialism in order to “get close to the people” and restate attractively their bourgeois-revolutionary aims. The essential difference between the two ideologists lay not in the principle of their activity but in the dissimilarity of their tactics. When he spoke of the enlightenment of the “masses,” Lenin did not mean the workers exclusively. His conception of consciousness applied also to the petty bourgeoisie, especially to the peasants. He wrote in 1906:
“The proletariat can overcome the hesitancy of the petty bourgeoisie only by promoting the class consciousness and solidarity of the masses and by enabling them to learn by their experience. There is no other, and there can be no other, means of overcoming the hesitancy of, the petty bourgeoisie.” (Vol. X, page 361.)
He returned to the question of class-consciousness during the revolutionary period of 1917. At that time he explained that the masses had failed to take power in their hands in February only because the proletariat was “not sufficiently class-conscious and organized.” (Vol. XX, Part 1, page 104.) “The cause is the insufficient self-consciousness and organization of the proletarians and peasants.” (Vol. XX, Part 1, page 127.) He called for a policy of “unmasking” the provisional government for the purpose of advancing the “clarification of the self-consciousness of the people.” In other words, whenever the aims of Bolshevism could be helped by the concept of class-consciousness, it was a good thing. But it was good only to the extent that the increased class-consciousness of the masses meant their support of the policies of the Bolshevik Party and their recognition and obedience of the Bolshevik leadership.
When they began their activity among the Russian workers, the Russian Social Democrats sought to tie up their propaganda with all the interests of the workers. They were going to “hammer in,” as Zinoviev put it, into as many heads as possible, the “principal idea of economic slavery.” From this activity, the Economist wing of the Russian Social Democratic movement drew the conclusion that the workers had to limit themselves to the economic struggle and leave the field of politics to the liberals. The Economist credo therefore called for the support of the economic struggle of the proletariat and, at the same time, for the participation of the revolutionary intellectuals in the political activity of the liberal opposition to the autocracy.
Though they carried on a bitter struggle against the Economists, the Bolsheviks were really closely related to them. In accordance with the Kautsky-Leninist theory of class-consciousness, the Bolsheviks limited the native capabilities of the proletariat to the economic field. But, they also wanted to develop the Social Democracy into a party that would influence the Russian proletariat “from the outside” and thus shape the industrial workers of Russia into a weapon that would be serviceable in the fight against Tsarism. The Economists and the Mensheviks believed the Russian bourgeoisie to be the directing force of the national revolution of capitalist emancipation. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, deduced from their own “Economism” the historically correct conclusion that it was the intelligentsia, manipulating as its “front” the supposed politically inept proletariat, that would be the guiding force of the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks’ ideological war against the Economists was an effort to put across the useful idea that the struggle of the workers on the economic field called also for a political struggle against Tsarism—of course, under the direction of the revolutionary intelligentsia.
In fact, the Kautsky-Leninist theory of class-consciousness has not at all been borne out by the history of the Russian labor movement.
At the end of 1877, there arose in St. Petersburg the so-called Labor Alliance of the North. It had two-hundred members, mostly textile workers, led by the carpenter Chalturnin and the laborer Obnorski. These workers had some contact with the Narodniki, but they ran quite independently several big strikes and organized by themselves a legal libraries. The educational activity of the Alliance was connected both with the economic and political struggles of the workers. Its program was formulated without the collaboration of intellectuals. According to Popov, the worker members of the Alliance of the North stated in their program of principles that “the laboring class must carry on a political struggle and strive to win political freedom, because that would facilitate the struggle for socialism.” They furthermore presented a list of demands similar to the later “minimum” program of the Social Democracy. As Yaroslavsky writes, the Alliance of the North connected up “quite definitely the struggle for socialism with the struggle for political freedom.” In this respect, he says, workers “anticipated by four years the Marxists of the Emancipation of Labor group, as G. V. Plekhanov and the rest.” In other words, the Alliance of the North was, according to the Bolsheviki's own testimony, a piece of an independent labor movement which developed on the economic and political fields in the direction of proletarian socialism, some time before the first peep of Marxism among the Russian intellectuals. The Russian workers gave signs of socialist consciousness before socialism was discovered by the Russian intelligentsia itself. The Russian workers showed tendencies of political class consciousness some time before the intellectuals Plekhanov, Kautsky and Lenin devised the theory that such a development was impossible. The Russian workers had a glimpse of “Marxism” before the Russian intelligentsia came upon it, apparently by virtue of the Leninist theory of the “independent development of ideas.”
The labor strikes in the 80’s and 90’s were nearly all spontaneous affairs. Popov records that they were carried on “almost entirely without the participation of the socialist intellectuals.” The first pure worker organizations arose in Russia in the course of these strikes. About the same time, some politically advanced workers began to enter the contemporary revolutionary circles, which were, for the most part, shortlived. Besides the emigre “Emancipation of Labor” group there already existed in Russia a number of small revolutionary organizations which expressed a Social Democratic viewpoint and had connections with the industrial workers. At the head of the most important of these organizations was the engineer Brussniev. Popov describes him as “a link between the first St. Petersburg Social Democratic circles of the 80’s and the activity of the St. Petersburg ‘League for the Emancipation of the Working Class’ of the 90’s.” Brussniev’s circle included advanced workers, as Bogdanov, Shelgunov, Fiodor Afanassiev and others. Similar Social Democratic groups, having connections with workers, arose toward the close of the 80’s in Odessa, Kharkov and Kiev. But these organizations, too, merely continued the work begun by the previous South Russian Alliance of Labor.
The increased class-consciousness of the Russian workers showed itself through their economic struggles and their attempts at political organization. About 1900 there took place in the important cities of the country a number of worker demonstrations, in which students also participated. The demonstrators carried slogans expressing their opposition to the autocracy. Popov is obliged to observe that “in these demonstrations the workers marched before the socialist groups.” The initiative in this activity came from the workers.
The history of the Russian labor movement shows that nearly all its great events, both during the first and second revolutions, occurred “spontaneously,” taking unawares and dragging behind them the Bolshevik “general staff.” Not incorrectly, Lenin called the St. Petersburg Bloody Sunday, which ushered in the 1905 revolution, a piece of history “made by the worker masses without the aid of the Social Democracy.” (Vol. VII, page 127.) Similarly the December uprisings in Moscow broke out without the intervention of the leader organizations. (Vol. X, page 66.)
Like 1905, so 1917. The February revolution took the Bolsheviki by surprise. Pokrovsky writes in his history that “the Bolsheviki had no thought of an armed uprising at the moment.” Indeed, at the order of the Bolshevik Central Committee, Shliapnikov forbade at that time the organization of combatant groups and the arming of the workers. (Pages 318-319.)
The eight-hour day was won in St. Petersburg (March, 1917) entirely upon the initiative of the mass of workers, without the help or “leadership” of any party. In April of the same year, the revolutionary regiments of the Petrograd garrison left their barracks, without the advice of any political leaders, and overthrew the semi-monarchist Milyukov government. In July, after the Bolsheviks postponed their much advertised demonstrations, there took place a spontaneous armed demonstration of the Petrograd workers and soldiers. After the collapse of Kornilov's venture, began the general expulsion of capitalists, managers and engineers from the factories of the city. This happened without the direction or advice of any of the revolutionary parties. Only in October did the Bolsheviki, under Lenin's energetic and insistent leadership, succeed in clambering abreast of their specific historic role. It was a new, predominantly peasant, wave of mass discontent and action that lifted them to the opportunity to win political power.
So that, though the Russian working class had given proof of considerable political aptitude, it finally had to forego independent action. It was taken in tow by Bolshevism. This was possible because the Russian working class was a minority in a predominantly peasant country, and because a bourgeois, not a proletarian, revolution was on the order of the day. The Bolsheviki were interested in developing the consciousness of the Russian proletariat only to the degree that they could direct it toward “democratism,” toward a policy of alliance with the peasants, and other bourgeois-revolutionary issues. By subjecting the numerically weak Russian proletariat to their own historic tactics, they made of it the most radical and most effective instrument of the Russian Revolution. The Russian working class became the hammer which, held in the fist of the Bolshevik Party, not only shattered Tsarism and the vestiges of the feudal regime, but also destroyed the forms of the parliamentary-bourgeois State that arose in the country as a result of the February revolution. With the aid of this tool, the Bolsheviki erected the State form that best suited the specific needs of their rule and appeared to offer the only possible political framework in which the development of the productive forces of the country could be advanced.
The Russian proletariat was mustered into the service of the Bolsheviki by the means of such demands as the call for the Constituent Assembly. The significance of these demands at the time they were broadcast was precisely that through them the mass of industrial workers could be drawn into the fray in behalf of the Bolshevik aims. The important question for the Bolsheviki was not what ideas arose in the workers' minds as a result of these slogans. What the workers thought was less important to the Bolsheviki than the action of the workers in the service of Bolshevism. It did not even matter if such action arose in response to a viewpoint and hopes which were “false,” considered from the angle of the historic aims of Bolshevism. It did not matter if such action did not coincide with the best interests of the Russian proletariat and failed to aid the development of its class understanding. The Bolsheviki were the head of the movement; their first and only concern was to be in a position to control the rest of the body at will.
In the general plan of the Bolsheviki's campaign for winning power, the Russian industrial workers were assigned the task of acting as the “vanguard” of a revolution that was essentially a peasant mass act. In his collection Lenin, Zinoviev wrote:
“Comrade Lenin was the first to recognize that all attempts of single revolutionists hailing from the intelligentsia to incite the peasantry to a mass uprising would meet with failure. He understood that only the workers could enter the villages and that only the industrial proletariat was in the position to move into action the millioned mass of the peasant population, to which it was closely related.” (Page 9.)
Neither was this a discovery of Lenin’s. Already in 1887, writing in the second program of the “Emancipation of Labor” group, Plekhanov noted that: “The proletarian who has been thrown out of the village as an impoverished member of the agricultural community returns to the village as a social democratic agitator.” (Works, Vol. II, page 104, Russian edition.)
The line of action that was pursued by the Bolsheviki had been indicated by Plekhanov at the beginning of the development of the Russian Social Democracy. And before Plekhanov it was already applied by the Narodniki. By possessing themselves of the political direction of the proletariat, the Bolsheviki also possessed themselves of the opportunity to direct the peasantry.
This is the social significance of Bolshevism. It was a movement of the Russian intelligentsia. It enlisted in its service the two revolutionary classes of Russia: the industrial workers and peasantry. It realized its aims through the action of these two classes. It won State power under a disguise of socialist ideology. The Russian Revolution was carried through by the Russian proletariat, acting as the dependable instrument of the Bolshevik intelligentsia. But the Russian workers did not and could not decide the course or content of the national revolution.
 The Bolsheviki hold fast to this theory to this day. See for example Popov: Outline History of Bolshevism, page 69, and Knorin: Short History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, page 7.
Last updated on: 5.8.2010