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The Proletariat and the Bourgeois Democrats

V. I. Lenin

We have pointed out the unpardonable short-sightedness of the new-Iskrists' view that moderate Russian liberalism has been dealt its death-blow[1] and that the vanguard role of the proletariat has been recognised by our democrats. On the contrary, the bourgeois democrats are striving more than ever now to gain control of the working-class movement; more harmful now than ever, therefore, is Rabocheye Dyelo-ism, which the new-Iskrists are attempting to revive. Here is an interesting leaflet which is being circulated in Russia and which offers valuable material on this question:

"The bourgeoisie has lately shown a tendency towards organisation; but what is still more significant is that the bourgeois democrats are turning to the workers. The democrats want to act as leaders of the proletariat's economic and political struggle. 'By conviction,' they say, 'we are, strictly speaking, Social-Democrats; but Social-Democracy, owing to Party dissensions, does not grasp the importance of the present moment and has failed to lead the working-class movement; this is where we want to step in.' We learn from what they have to say further that these new 'Social Democrats at heart' have not worked out any programme of their own but merely intend to explain things to the workers and answer their inquiries. The literature is to meet the same needs and is by no means to bear a Party character. And so these 'clean Social-Democrats', dissatisfied with the tactics and the present behaviour of the Committee, have turned to the methods of 'lending ear to the masses', which history has long ago rejected, to the methods of Economism of blessed memory. Considering themselves to be Social-Democrats and the true spokesmen of working-class aspirations, these gentlemen do not understand or do not want to understand that the working-class movement will achieve substantial results only if it is led by a united working-class party, if the proletariat is conscious of its class distinctness and realises that its real emancipation lies in its own hands and not in the hands of the bourgeois democrats, who are discrediting the actions of the workers' party. These 'strictly-speaking' Social-Democrats, alleged Marxists, ought to realise the demoralisation they are bringing among the working-class masses by seeking to prove that certain 'democrats' (but not Social-Democrats) consisting exclusively of bourgeois intellectuals are called upon to show the workers the way to freedom and socialism.

"The last point, though, they seem to have entirely forgotten in their absorption with politics of the day. Little by little they are carrying elements of opportunism into the working-class movement. The workers are not so keen now on founding a party of their own, relying as they do on the intelligentsia. Why, then, do these new friends of the working class allow and even encourage such things to happen? The 'democrats' themselves give a frank reply to this question. 'Our group used to work only among the intellectuals,' they say, 'but recent events have compelled us to turn to the workers.'"

"The democratic milk-skimmers, who call themselves Social-Democrats in 'principle', began to give their gracious attention to the proletarian movement only after the masses had come out into the streets and the blood of thou sands of workers had stained the pavements. Posing as the true friends of the working class, they pass by with a hypocritical mien the work of decades, work which has created and directed the revolutionary mood of the Russian proletariat and, at the cost of great sacrifices, brought into being the united Social-Democratic working-class party. Apparently, these modernistic Social-Democrats have learned only one thing from the whole of Marxist doctrine (and that only recently), namely, that only the power of the organised proletariat is capable of overthrowing autocratic tyranny and winning political freedom, the benefit of which will be derived mainly by the bourgeoisie. The new friends of the proletariat are trying to saddle themselves upon the working-class movement and urge it on with the whip of immediate results, to the shout, 'Onward, to our freedom!' How apt the Russian proverb, God save us from our friends, from our enemies we shall save ourselves."

[1] See p. 170 of this volume.—Ed.

Published: Vperyod, No. 10, March 15 (2), 1905.
Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 228-230.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker

eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive
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