Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers' Deputies
A Letter to the Editor
V. I. Lenin
Comrades, the question of the significance and role of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies is now immediately facing the St. Petersburg Social-Democrats and the entire proletariat of the capital. I take up my pen to set out certain ideas on this burning issue; but before doing so, I consider it absolutely necessary to make a most important reservation. I am speaking as an onlooker. I still have to write from that accursed "afar", from the hateful "abroad" of an exile. And it is all but impossible for anyone to form a correct opinion of this concrete, practical matter if he has not been in St. Petersburg, if he has never seen the Soviet of Workers' Deputies or exchanged views with comrades on the spot. Therefore I leave it to the discretion of the editorial board to publish or not to publish this letter, written by an uninformed person. I reserve the right to revise my opinion when I have at last had an opportunity of acquainting myself with the matter from something more than "paper" information.
And now to get down to business. It seems to me that Comrade Radin is wrong in raising the question, in No. 5 of Novaya Zhizn (I have seen only five issues of the virtual Central Organ of our R.S.D.L.P.): the Soviet of Workers' Deputies or the Party? I think that it is wrong to put the question in this way and that the decision must certainly be: both the Soviet of Workers' Deputies and the Party. The only question—and a highly important one—is how to divide, and how to combine, the tasks of the Soviet and those of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
I think it would be inadvisable for the Soviet to adhere wholly to any one party. As this opinion will probably surprise the reader, I shall proceed straightway to explain my views (stating again and most emphatically that it is the opinion of an onlooker).
The Soviet of Workers' Deputies came into being through the general strike, in connection with the strike, and for its aims. Who led the strike and brought it to a victorious close? The whole proletariat, which includes non-Social-Democrats—fortunately a minority. What were the aims of the strike? They were both economic and political. The economic aims concerned the whole proletariat, all workers, and partly even all working people, not the wage-workers alone. The political aims concerned all the people, or rather all the peoples, of Russia. These aims were to free all the peoples of Russia from the yoke of the autocracy, survivals of serfdom, a rightless status, and police tyranny.
Let us go further. Should the proletariat continue its economic struggle? By all means; there is no disagreement over this point among Social-Democrats, nor could there be any. Should this struggle be conducted only by the Social-Democrats or only under the Social-Democratic banner? I do not think so; I still hold the view I have expressed (in entirely different, now outdated conditions, it is true) in What Is To Be Done?, namely, that it is inadvisable to limit the composition of the trade unions, and hence of those taking part in the trade union, economic struggle, to members of the Social-Democratic Party. It seems to me that the Soviet of Workers' Deputies, as an organisation representing all occupations, should strive to include deputies from all industrial, professional and office workers, domestic servants, farm labourers, etc., from all who want and are able to fight in common for a better life for the whole working people, from all who have at least an elementary degree of political honesty, from all but the Black Hundreds. As for us Social-Democrats, we shall do our best, first, to have all our Party organisations represented on all trade unions as fully as possible and, secondly, to use the struggle we are waging jointly with our fellow-proletarians, irrespective of their views, for the tire less, steadfast advocacy of the only consistent, the only truly proletarian world outlook, Marxism. To propagate it, to carry on this propaganda and agitation work, we shall by all means preserve, strengthen and expand our completely independent, consistently principled class party of the class-conscious proletariat, i.e., the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. Every step in the proletarian struggle, if inseparably linked with our Social-Democratic, methodical and organised, activities, will bring the masses of the working class in Russia and the Social-Democrats ever closer together.
This aspect of the problem, concerning the economic struggle, is comparatively simple and hardly gives rise to any particular disagreement. But the other aspect, concerning political leadership and the political struggle, is a different matter. And yet, at the risk of surprising the reader still more, I must say here and now that in this respect, too, I think it inadvisable to demand that the Soviet of Workers' Deputies should accept the Social-Democratic programme and join the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. It seems to me that to lead the political struggle, both the Soviet (reorganised in a sense to be discussed forth with) and the Party are, to an equal degree, absolutely necessary.
I may be wrong, but I believe (on the strength of the incomplete and only "paper" information at my disposal) that politically the Soviet of Workers' Deputies should be regarded as the embryo of a provisional revolutionary government. I think the Soviet should proclaim itself the provisional revolutionary government of the whole of Russia as early as possible, or should set up a provisional revolutionary government (which would amount to the same thing, only in another form).
The political struggle has just reached a stage of development where the forces of revolution and counter-revolution are roughly equal and where the tsar's government is already powerless to suppress the revolution, while the revolution is not yet strong enough to sweep away the Black-Hundred government. The decay of the tsar's government is complete. But even as it rots alive, it is contaminating Russia with the poison of its putrefaction. It is absolutely necessary, in contrast to the decay of the tsarist, counter revolutionary forces, to organise the revolutionary forces at once, immediately, without the slightest delay. This organisation has been making splendid progress, particularly of late. This is evident from the formation of contingents of a revolutionary army (defence squads, etc.), the rapid development of Social-Democratic mass organisations of the proletariat, the establishment of peasants' committees by the revolutionary peasantry, and the first free meetings of our proletarian brothers in sailor's or soldier's uniform, who are paving for themselves a strenuous and difficult but true and bright way to freedom and to socialism.
What is lacking now is the unification of all the genuinely revolutionary forces, of all the forces that are already operating in revolutionary fashion. What is lacking is an all-Russian political centre, a fresh, living centre that is strong because it has struck deep roots in the people, a centre that enjoys the absolute confidence of the masses, that possesses tireless revolutionary energy and is closely linked with the organised revolutionary and socialist parties. Such a centre can be established only by the revolutionary proletariat, which has brilliantly carried through a political strike, which is now organising an armed uprising of the whole people, and which has won half freedom for Russia and will yet win full freedom for her.
The question may be asked: Why cannot the Soviet of Workers' Deputies become the embryo of such a centre? Is it because there are not only Social-Democrats in the Soviet? But this is an advantage, not a disadvantage. We have been speaking all the time of the need of a militant alliance of Social-Democrats and revolutionary bourgeois democrats. We have been speaking of it, and the workers have actually done it. It is splendid that they have done it. When I read in Novaya Zhizn a letter from worker comrades who belong to the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, and who protest against the Soviet being included in one of the parties, I could not help thinking that those worker comrades were right in many practical respects. It goes without saying that our views differ from theirs, and that a merger of Social-Democrats and Socialist-Revolutionaries is out of the question, but then there is no suggestion of it. We are deeply convinced that those workers who share Socialist-Revolutionary views and yet are fighting within the ranks of the proletariat are inconsistent, for they retain non-proletarian views while championing a truly proletarian cause. Their inconsistency we must combat, from the ideological point of view, with the greatest determination, but in so doing we must see to it that the revolutionary cause, a vital, burning, living cause that is recognised by all and has brought all honest people together, does not suffer. We still consider the views of the Socialist-Revolutionaries to be revolutionary-democratic and not socialist. But for the sake of our militant aims, we must march together while fully retaining Party independence, and the Soviet i, and must be, a militant organisation. To expel devoted and honest revolutionary democrats at a time when we are carrying out a democratic revolution would be absurd, it would be folly. We shall have no difficulty in overcoming their inconsistency, for our views are supported by history itself, are supported at every step by reality. If our pamphlet has not taught them Social-Democracy, our revolution will. To be sure, those workers who remain Christians, who believe in God, and those intellectuals who defend mysticism (fie upon them!), are inconsistent too; but we shall not expel them from the Soviet or even from the Party, for it is our firm conviction that the actual struggle, and work within the ranks, will convince all elements possessing vitality that Marxism is the truth, and will cast aside all those who lack vitality. And we do not for one moment doubt our strength, the overwhelming strength of Marxists, in the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
To my mind, the Soviet of Workers' Deputies, as a revolutionary centre providing political leadership, is not too broad an organisation but, on the contrary, a much too narrow one. The Soviet must proclaim itself the provisional revolutionary government, or form such a government, and must by all means enlist to this end the participation of new deputies not only from the workers, but, first of all, from the sailors and soldiers, who are everywhere seeking freedom; secondly, from the revolutionary peasantry, and thirdly, from the revolutionary bourgeois intelligentsia. The Soviet must select a strong nucleus for the provisional revolutionary government and reinforce it with representatives of all revolutionary parties and all revolutionary (but, of course, only revolutionary and not liberal) democrats. We are not afraid of so broad and mixed a composition—indeed, we want it, for unless the proletariat and the peasantry unite and unless the Social-Democrats and revolutionary democrats form a fighting alliance, the great Russian revolution cannot be fully successful. It will be a temporary alliance that is to fulfil clearly defined immediate practical tasks, while the more important interests of the socialist proletariat, its fundamental interests and ultimate goals, will be steadfastly upheld by the independent and consistently principled Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
The objection may be raised that if the composition is broad and mixed, it will be hardly possible to establish a centre solid and united enough to exercise practical leadership. I shall answer that with a question: What are the lessons of the October revolution? Did not the strike committee prove in fact to be the generally recognised centre, the real government? And would not that committee readily admit into its ranks representatives of that section of the unions and of the "Union of Unions" which is really revolutionary and really supports the proletariat in its relentless struggle for freedom? The essential thing is that the main, purely proletarian body of the provisional revolutionary government should be strong and that for, say, hundreds of workers, sailors, soldiers and peasants there should be dozens of deputies from the unions of the revolutionary intelligentsia. I believe the proletarians will soon be able in practice to establish the proper ratio.
The objection may be raised that it is hardly possible to advance for such a government a programme complete enough to ensure victory for the revolution and broad enough to make possible a fighting alliance free from all reservations, vagueness, reticence or hypocrisy. I shall answer: such a programme has already been advanced in full by reality. It is already recognised in principle by all the politically- conscious elements of absolutely all the classes and sections of the population, including even Orthodox priests. The complete realisation of political freedom, which the tsar has promised so hypocritically, should come first in this programme. The repeal of all legislation restricting freedom of speech, conscience, assembly, the press, association and strikes, and the abolition of all institutions limiting these liberties, should be immediate and real, they should be guaranteed and actually put into practice. The programme should provide for the convocation of a national constituent assembly that would enjoy the support of a free and armed people and have full authority and strength to establish a new order in Russia. It should provide for the arming of the people. The necessity of arming the people is realised by all. What remains to be done is to complete and unify the work already begun and being carried on every where. The programme of the provisional revolutionary government should also provide for the immediate granting of real and full freedom to the nationalities oppressed by the tsarist monster. A free Russia has been born. The proletariat is at its post. It will not allow heroic Poland to be crushed again. It will itself go into action; it will fight both for a free Russia and a free Poland, not only by peaceful strikes, but by force of arms as well. The programme should provide for the eight-hour working day, which the workers are already "seizing", and for other urgent measures to curb capitalist exploitation.. Lastly, the programme must necessarily include transfer of all the land to the peasants, support for every revolutionary measure that the peasantry is carrying out to take away all the land (without, of course, supporting the illusion of "equalised" small land tenure), and the establishment everywhere of revolutionary peasants' committees, which have already begun to take shape spontaneously.
Who but the Black Hundreds and the Black-Hundred government will deny today the pressing character and practical indispensability of this programme? In fact, even bourgeois liberals are willing to accept it in theory! As for us, we must put it into practice with the help of the forces of the revolutionary people; to do this, we must unite those forces as speedily as possible through the proletariat pro claiming a provisional revolutionary government. True, only an armed uprising can really form the basis of such a government. But the projected government will in fact be the organ of this growing and already maturing uprising. The formation of a revolutionary government could not be initiated in practice until the insurrection had assumed proportions evident to all, proportions that were, so to speak, tangible to all. But now is the time to unify this uprising politically, to organise it, to give it a clear-cut programme, to turn all the contingents of the revolutionary army, which are already numerous and are growing fast in strength, into the mainstay and into instruments of this new, truly free and truly popular government. The struggle is imminent, the uprising inevitable, and the decisive battle close at hand. It is time to issue a direct challenge, to set the organised power of the proletariat against the decaying tsarist regime, to address to the whole people a manifesto on behalf of the provisional revolutionary government constituted by the foremost workers.
It is now obvious to us that among the revolutionary people there can be found persons capable of accomplishing this great task, persons thoroughly devoted to the revolution, and more important still, persons of tireless, inexhaustible energy. It is now obvious to us that there exist the elements of a revolutionary army, which will back this cause, and that all who are fair-minded and alert and politically-conscious in every class of the population will turn away completely from tsarism when the new government declares a decisive war on the dying semi-feudal, police state of Russia.
Citizens—it would be proper to say in that declaration of war, in that manifesto of the revolutionary government— citizens, make your choice! There we have the whole of old Russia, all the sinister forces of exploitation, oppression, and violence against man. And here we have a union of free citizens who have equal rights in all affairs of the state. There we have a union of exploiters, of the wealthy, of policemen. And here we have a union of all working people, of all the vital forces of the people, of all fair-minded intellectuals. There we have the Black Hundreds, here we have the organised workers fighting for freedom, for education, for socialism.
Make your choice, citizens! Here is our programme, which has long since been put forward by the whole people. These are our aims in the name of which we declare war on the Black-Hundred government. We are not trying to impose on the people any innovations thought up by us; we are merely taking the initiative in bringing about that without which it is impossible to live in Russia any longer, as is acknowledged generally and unanimously. We do not shut ourselves off from the revolutionary people but submit to their judgement every step and every, decision we take. We rely fully and solely on the free initiative of the working masses themselves. We unite absolutely all revolutionary parties, and we call into our ranks deputies from every group of the population that is willing to fight for freedom, for our programme, which guarantees the elementary rights and meets the elementary needs of the people. In particular, we hold out our hand to our worker comrades in soldier's uniform and to our peasant brothers, so that we may fight together to the end against the yoke of the landlords and the bureaucrats, for land and freedom.
Prepare for the decisive struggle, citizens! We will not allow the Black-Hundred government to use violence against Russia. We will not be deluded by the replacement of a few bureaucrats or by the resignation of a few police officers while the whole mass of Black-Hundred police retains the power to kill, plunder and commit outrages against the people. Let the liberal bourgeois stoop to pleading with that Black-Hundred government. The Black Hundreds laugh when anyone threatens them with trial in the very same old tsarist court by the very same old tsarist officials. We shall order our army units to arrest the Black-Hundred heroes who fuddle ignorant people with vodka and corrupt them; we shall commit all those monsters, such as the chief of police in Kronstadt, for public, revolutionary trial by the whole people.
Citizens, everyone but the Black Hundreds has turned away from the tsarist government. Rally, then, behind the revolutionary government, stop paying any duties or taxes, and bend all your energies to organise and arm a free people's militia force. Russia will have genuine freedom only insofar as the revolutionary people gain the upper hand over the forces of the Black-Hundred government. There are not, and cannot be, any neutrals in a civil war. The white-flag party is sheer cowardly hypocrisy. Whoever shies away from the struggle bolsters up Black-Hundred rule. Who is not for the revolution is against the revolution. Who is not a revolutionary is one of the Black Hundreds.
We undertake to rally and train forces for an uprising of the people. Let there not be a trace left of the institutions of tsarist power in Russia by the anniversary of that great day, the Ninth of January. May the spring holiday of the world proletariat find Russia already a free country, with a freely convened constituent assembly of the whole people!
That is how I visualise the development of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies into a provisional revolutionary government. And these first and foremost are the tasks that I would set all our Party organisations, all class-conscious workers, the Soviet itself, the workers' forthcoming congress in Moscow, and the congress of the Peasant Union.
"Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers' Deputies"—an article appraising the Soviets for the first time as an organ of insurrection and the rudiments of a new revolutionary power. It was written by Lenin early in November 1905 In Stockholm, where he stayed for a while on his way back to Russia from exile. He contributed the article to Novaya Zhizn, which, however, did not publish it. The manuscript was not discovered until the autumn of 1940.
Novaya Zhizn (New Life)—the first legal Bolshevik newspaper, published daily from October 27 (November 9) to December 3 (16), 1905, in St. Petersburg. Lenin became the editor of the paper upon his return to Russia early in November 1905. The paper was the virtual Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P. V. V. Vorovsky, M. S. Olminsky and A. V. Lunacharsky were closely associated with the paper, and Maxim Gorky contributed articles and appreciable funds.
The paper had a circulation of up to 80,000 though it was constantly persecuted, 15 issues out of 27 being confiscated and destroyed. It was closed by the government after issue No. 27; issue No. 27, which was the last, appeared illegally.
See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 451-67.—Ed.
Socialist-Revolutionary Party—a petty-bourgeois party in Russia, which arose at the end of 1901 and beginning of 1902 as a result of the amalgamation of various Narodnik groups and circles (Socialist-Revolutionary Union, Socialist-Revolutionary Party, etc.). The newspaper Revolutsionnaya Rossiya (Revolutionary Russia) (1900-05) and the magazine Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii (Herald of the Russian Revolution) (1901-05) became its official organs. The Socialist-Revolutionaries did not see the class distinctions between the proletarian and the small proprietor They glossed over the class differentiation and contradictions within the peasantry, and rejected the proletariat's leading role in the revolution. Their views were an eclectic mixture of the ideas of Narodism and revisionism; they tried, as Lenin put it, to patch up "the rents in the Narodnik ideas with bits of fashionable opportunist 'criticism' of Marxism" (see present edition, Vol. 9, p. 310). The tactics of individual terrorism, which the Socialist-Revolutionaries advocated as the basic method of struggle against the autocracy, did much harm to the revolutionary movement and made it difficult to organise the masses for the revolutionary struggle.
The agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries envisaged the abolition of private landownership and transfer of the land to the village communities on the basis of the "labour principle", "equalised" tenure, and the development of co-operatives. There was nothing socialist in this programme, which the Socialist-Revolutionaries described as a programme for "socialising the land".
The Bolshevik Party exposed the Socialist-Revolutionaries' attempts to pose as socialists; it waged a stubborn struggle against the Socialist-Revolutionaries to gain influence over the peasantry, and revealed the harmful effect which their tactics of individual terrorism had on the working-class movement. At the same time, on definite conditions, the Bolsheviks concluded temporary agreements with the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the struggle against tsarism.
In analysing the Socialist-Revolutionary programme, Lenin showed that if commodity production and private farming on commonly-owned land were preserved, the rule of capital could not he eliminated nor the labouring peasantry delivered from exploitation and ruin. He also showed that co-operatives functioning under capitalist system could not save the small peasant, since they served to enrich the rural bourgeoisie. At the same time Lenin pointed out that the demand for equalised land tenure, while not socialist, was historically progressive, revolutionary-democratic in character, being directed against reactionary landlordism.
The fact that the peasantry did not constitute a homogeneous class accounted for the political and ideological instability of and organisational confusion among the Socialist-Revolutionaries and for their constant wavering between the liberal bourgeoisie and the proletariat. There was a split in the Socialist-Revolutionary Party as early as the period of the first Russian revolution. Its Right wing formed the legal Labour Popular-Socialist Party, which held views close to those of the Cadets; the Left wing became the semi- anarchist league of "Maximalists". During the Stolypin reaction the Socialist-Revolutionary Party experienced a complete ideological and organisational break-up, and the First World War saw most Socialist-Revolutionaries adopt social-chauvinist views.
After the victory of the February bourgeois-democratic revolution in 1917 the Socialist-Revolutionaries, together with the Mensheviks and Cadets, were the mainstay of the counter-revolutionary bourgeois-landlord Provisional Government, which included leaders of their party, Kerensky, Avksentyev and Chernov. The Socialist-Revolutionary Party refused to support the peasants' demand for abolishing landlordism, and indeed, advocated its maintenance. Socialist-Revolutionary Ministers of the Provisional Government sent punitive expeditions against the peasants who seized landed estates. Late in November 1917, the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries founded an independent party. To retain their influence among the peasant masses, they recognised Soviet power in form and entered into an agreement with the Bolsheviks, but soon began to fight against Soviet power.
During the years of foreign military intervention and civil war the Socialist-Revolutionaries carried on counter-revolutionary subversive activities, vigorously supported the interventionists and whiteguard generals, took part in counter-revolutionary plots, and organised terrorist acts against Soviet statesmen and Communist Party leaders. After the Civil War, they continued their activities against the Soviet state within the country and whiteguard émigrés.
The reference is to the all-Russian political strike in October 1905.
The Union of Unions—a political organisation of the liberal-bourgeois intelligentsia. It was founded in May 1905 at the first congress of 14 associations of lawyers, writers, doctors, engineers, teachers, etc. The congress demanded the convocation of a constituent assembly by universal suffrage. In July 1905 the Union declared for boycotting the Bulygin Duma; but before long it abandoned that stand, and decided to take part in the Duma elections. By the end of 1900 the Union had fallen apart.
On January 9, 1905, by order of the tsar, the troops fired on a peaceful demonstration of St. Petersburg unarmed workers who marched with their wives and children to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the tsar describing their intolerable conditions and utter lack of rights. This massacre of unarmed workers started a wave of mass political strikes and demonstrations all over Russia under the slogan "Down with the autocracy!" The events of January 9 marked the beginning of the 1905-07 revolution.
All-Russian Peasant Union—a revolutionary-democratic organisation founded in 1905. Its programme and tactics were elaborated at its first and second congresses, held in Moscow in August and November 1905. The Union demanded political freedom and the immediate convocation of a constituent assembly. It adopted the tactics of boycotting the First State Duma. Its agrarian programme provided for the abolition of private landownership and for transfer of the lands belonging to monasteries, the Church, the Crown and the government to the peasants without compensation. The Union pursued a half-way and erratic policy; while demanding abolition of the landed estates, it agreed to partial compensation of the landlords. An object of police reprisals from the first, it had ceased to exist by the end of 1906.
Written: Written on November 2-4 (15-17), 1905|
Published: First published on November 5, 1940, in Pravda, No. 308. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 17-28.
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