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Revolutionary Office Routine and Revolutionary Action

V. I. Lenin

It was only natural and inevitable in our revolutionary movement that the question of a constituent assembly should be brought forward. To sweep away the survivals of the old, semi-feudal institutions of autocratic Russia for good and all, to determine the institutions of new, free Russia, one cannot conceive of any consistent and logical path save that of calling a constituent assembly of the whole people. True, in actual life consistent and logical objectives are rarely realised in full; life always introduces many unforeseen features which complicate and confuse the issue, which mix up the old and the new. But whoever sincerely wishes to have done with the old and knows how to work for that end must define clearly what a constituent assembly stands for, and fight with all his might for its realisation in its full and unadulterated form.

The party of the class-conscious proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party, advanced the demand for a constituent assembly as far back as 1903, in its Programme adopted at the Second Congress. "The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party," reads the last section of our Programme, "is firmly convinced that the complete, consistent and lasting attainment of the above-mentioned political and economic reforms [the establishment of a democratic state system, labour protection, etc.][1] can be achieved only by overthrowing the autocracy and convoking a constituent assembly, freely elected by the whole people."

These words clearly show that our Party is concerned not only with the purely formal, but also with the material conditions for the convocation of a constituent assembly, i.e., with the conditions which would make such an assembly truly national and truly constituent. It is not enough to call an assembly "constituent", it is not enough to convene representatives of the people, even though they be chosen by universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and secret ballot, even though freedom of elections be really guaranteed. In addition to all these conditions, it is necessary that the constituent assembly have the authority and the force to constitute a new order. There have been cases in the history of revolutions when an assembly was nominally constituent, while in actual fact real force and power were not in its hands but in the hands of the old autocracy. This was the case in the German revolution of 1848, which explains why the "constituent" assembly of that period, the notorious Frankfurt Parliament, acquired the shameful reputation of a contemptible "talking shop". That assembly babbled about freedom, decreed freedom, but took no practical steps to remove the government institutions which were destroying freedom. It is quite natural, therefore, that that pitiable, assembly of pitiable liberal-bourgeois prattlers withdrew from the scene in ignominy.

In present-day Russia the question of the convocation of a constituent assembly heads the list of the political questions of the day. And it is now that the practical side of this question is becoming a matter of the utmost urgency. What is important is not so much whether a constituent assembly will be convoked (it is probable that even Count Witte, that ministerial broker, will agree to it tomorrow), but whether it will be a truly national and truly constituent assembly.

As a matter of fact, the experience of our revolution, despite the fact that it is only just beginning, has already shown clearly what jugglery may be performed with words and promises in general, and with the constituent assembly slogan in particular. Just call to mind the recent congress of Zemstvo and municipal leaders—the "Cadets"[2]—in Moscow. Recall their famous formula: a State Duma with constituent functions for drawing up a constitution to be approved by the Emperor.... Even the bourgeois-democratic press noted the inherently contradictory nature and absurdity of this formula. To "constitute" a new political order "to be approved" by the head of the old government—what does this mean but legalising two governments, two equal (on paper) supreme authorities—the authority of the people risen in revolt and the authority of the old autocracy. It is obvious that equality between them is a sheer semblance, that in practice the terms of any "compromise" between them depend on which side has the preponderance of force. Thus, in their "ideal" plan of transition from the old Russia to the new, the liberal bourgeois were legitimising the coexistence of two equal, mutually hostile and contending forces, i.e., they were legitimising an eternal and hopeless struggle.

This contradiction cannot be explained by simple formal logic. But it is fully explained by the logic of the class interests of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is afraid of complete freedom, of full democracy, for it knows that the class-conscious, i.e., socialist, proletariat will use this freedom to fight against the domination of capital. Therefore what the bourgeoisie really wants is not complete freedom, not the full sovereignty of the people, but a deal with reaction, with the autocracy. The bourgeoisie wants parliamentarism in order to ensure the domination of capital rather than that of the bureaucracy, and at the same time it wants the monarchy, a standing army, the preservation of certain privileges for the bureaucracy, because it does not want to allow the revolution to reach its final goal, because it does not want to arm the proletariat—"arming" meaning both direct arming with weapons and arming with complete freedom. The contradictory class position of the bourgeoisie between the autocracy and the proletariat inevitably gives rise, irrespectively of the will or consciousness of this or that individual, to senseless and absurd formulas of "compromise". The constituent assembly slogan is turned into an empty phrase the great demand of the proletariat which has risen to win freedom is reduced to a farce—this is the way the bourgeoisie profanes absolutely everything, substituting haggling for struggle.

The radical bourgeois of Nasha Zhizn do not see this inevitably false and spurious presentation of the question by the liberals, when they extol with serious mien the "draft" for the convocation of a constituent assembly prepared by Messrs. Falbork and Charnolusky, and then also by the Central Bureau of the Union of Unions. It is ridiculous to make such "drafts", gentlemen! You are following in the footsteps of the "Cadets", who have betrayed the revolution. You forget that paper drafts, like all constitutional illusions, corrupt the revolutionary consciousness of the people and weaken their fighting spirit, for they obscure the main point and entirely distort the question itself. After all, you are not engaged in propaganda for a political ABC. You are putting the question practically, as is indicated by the very nature of the discussion of the draft "by representatives of the extreme and the moderate parties", which you have proposed. It is Manilovism[3] on your part, esteemed bourgeois democrats, to admit, on the one hand, that it is desirable for the constituent assembly to possess "full" power and attempt, on the other hand, to unite the extreme parties with the "moderate" parties, i.e., those who desire suck full power with those who do not desire it.

Off with the frills and furbelows! We have had enough of lying liberal phrases! It is time to draw the line. To the right —the autocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie, who have in effect been brought together by their opposition to the transfer of all power—sole, full and indivisible—to a constituent assembly. To the left —the socialist proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry or, more broadly, the whole of revolutionary bourgeois democracy. They want the constituent assembly to have full power. For this they can and must conclude a fighting alliance, without, of course, merging. It is not paper drafts they need, but fighting measures, not the organisation of office routine, but the organisation of a victorious struggle for liberty.


[1] Interpolations in square brackets (within passages quoted by Lenin) have been introduced by Lenin, unless otherwise indicated.—Ed.

[2] Cadets—members of the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the chief party of the Russian liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie. The Cadet Party was founded in October 1905, its membership including representatives of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, Zemstvo functionaries from among the landlords, and bourgeois intellectuals. Among the more prominent Cadet leaders were P. N. Milyukov, S. A. Muromtsev, V. A. Maklakov, A. I. Shingaryov, P. B. Strove and F. I. Rodichev. The Cadets called themselves the "party of people's freedom" to mislead the working masses. In reality they never demanded anything beyond a constitutional monarchy. Their main task they considered to ho the fight against the revolutionary movement. They tried to persuade the tsar and the feudal landlords to share power with them.

During the First World War the Cadets actively supported the tsarist government's foreign policy of conquest. At the time of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917, they tried to save the monarchy. In the bourgeois Provisional Government, in which they played the key role, they pursued a counter-revolutionary policy, opposed to the interests of the people hut favourable to the U.S., British and French imperialists. Following the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution the Cadets became rabid enemies of Soviet power and participated in all armed counter revolutionary actions and the campaigns of the interventionists. When the interventionists and whiteguards had been defeated, the Cadets fled abroad, where they continued their anti-Soviet counter-revolutionary activity.

[3] Manilovism—a term derived from the name of the landlord Manilov, one of the characters in Gogol's Dead Souls. Manilov is a typical philistine, sugary sentimentalist and empty visionary.

Published: Novaya Zhizn, No. 18, November 20, 1905.
Signed: N. Lenin.
Published according to the text in Novaya Zhizn.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 62-65.

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