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The Socialist Party and Non-Party Revolutionism

V. I. Lenin


The revolutionary movement in Russia, which is rapidly spreading to ever new sections of the population, is giving rise to a number of non-party organisations. The longer the urge for association has been suppressed and persecuted, the more forcibly it asserts itself. All sorts of organisations, frequently loose in form, and most original in character, are constantly springing up. They have no hard and fast boundaries, as have organisations in Europe. Trade unions assume a political character. The political struggle blends with the economic struggle—as, for instance, in the form of strikes— and this gives rise to temporary, or more or less permanent, organisations of a blended type.

What is the significance of this phenomenon, and what should be the attitude of Social-Democrats towards it?

Strict adherence to the party principle is the corollary and the result of a highly developed class struggle. And, vice versa, the interests of the open and widespread class struggle demand the development of the strict party principle. That is why the party of the class-conscious proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party, has always quite rightly combated the non-party idea, and has worked steadily to establish a closely-knit, socialist workers' party consistent in its principles. The more thoroughly the development of capitalism splits up the entire people into classes, accentuating the contradictions among them, the greater is the success of this work among the masses.

It is quite natural that the present revolution in Russia should have given rise, and should continue to give rise, to so many non-party organisations. This is a democratic revolution, i.e., one which is bourgeois as regards its social and economic content. This revolution is overthrowing the autocratic semi-feudal system, extricating the bourgeois system from it, and thereby putting into effect the demands of all the classes of bourgeois society— in this sense being a revolution of the whole people. This, of course, does not mean that our revolution is not a class revolution; certainly not. But it is directed against classes and castes which have be come or are becoming obsolete from the point of view of bourgeois society, which are alien to that society and hinder its development. And since the entire economic life of the country has already become bourgeois in all its main features, since the overwhelming majority of the population is in fact already living in bourgeois conditions of existence, the anti-revolutionary elements are naturally extremely few in number, constituting truly a mere "handful" as compared with the "people". Hence the class nature of the bourgeois revolu tion inevitably reveals itself in the "popular", at first glance non-class, nature of the struggle of all classes of a bourgeois society against autocracy and feudalism.

The epoch of the bourgeois revolution in Russia, no less than in other countries, is distinguished by a relatively un developed state of the class contradictions peculiar to capitalist society. True, in Russia capitalism is more highly developed at the present time than it was in Germany in 1848, to say nothing of France in 1789; but there is no doubt about the fact that in Russia purely capitalist antagonisms are very very much overshadowed by the antagonisms between "cul ture" and Asiatic barbarism, Europeanism and Tartarism, capitalism and feudalism; in other words, the demands that are being put first today are those the satisfaction of which will develop capitalism, cleanse it of the slag of feudalism and improve the conditions of life and struggle both for the pro letariat and for the bourgeoisie.

Indeed, if we examine the demands, instructions and doléances, which are now being drawn up in infinite numbers in every factory, office, regiment, police unit, parish, educational institution, etc., etc., all over Russia, we shall easily see that the overwhelming majority of them contain purely "cultural" demands, if we may call them so. What I mean is that actually they are not specifically class demands, but demands for elementary rights, demands which will not destroy capitalism but, on the contrary, bring it within the framework of Europeanism, and free it of barbarism, savagery; corruption and other "Russian" survivals of serf dom. In essence, even the proletarian demands are limited, in most cases, to reforms of the sort that are fully realisable within the framework of capitalism. What the Russian proletariat is demanding now and immediately is not some thing that will undermine capitalism, but something that will cleanse it, something that will accelerate and intensify its development.

Naturally, as a result of the special position which the proletariat occupies in capitalist society, the striving of the workers towards socialism, and their alliance with the Socialist Party assert themselves with elemental force at the very earliest stages of the movement. But purely socialist demands are still a matter of the future: the immediate demands of the day are the democratic demands of the workers in the political sphere, and economic demands within the framework of capitalism in the economic sphere. Even the proletariat is making the revolution, as it were, within the limits of the minimum programme and not of the maximum programme. As for the peasantry, the vast and numerically overwhelming mass of the population, this goes without saying. Its "maximum programme", its ultimate aims, do not go beyond the bounds of capitalism, which would grow more extensively and luxuriantly if all the land were transferred to the whole of the peasantry and the whole of the people. Today the peas ant revolution is a bourgeois revolution—however much these words may jar on the sentimental ears of the sentimen tal knights of our petty-bourgeois socialism.

The character of the revolution now in progress, as out lined above, quite naturally gives rise to non-party organisations. The whole movement, therefore, on the surface in evitably acquires a non-party stamp, a non-party appearance—but only on the surface, of course. The urge for a "human", civilised life, the urge to organise in defence of human dignity, for one's rights as man and citizen, takes hold of everyone, unites all classes, vastly outgrows all party bounds and shakes up people who as yet are very very far from being able to rise to party allegiance. The vital need of immediate, elementary, essential rights and reforms puts off, as it were, all thought and consideration of anything further. Preoccupation with the struggle in progress, a preoccupation that is quite necessary and legitimate, for without it success in the struggle would be impossible, causes people to idealise these immediate, elementary aims, to depict them in rosy colours and sometimes even to clothe them in fantastic garb. Simple democracy, ordinary bourgeois democracy, is taken as socialism and "registered" as such. Everything seems to be "non—party"; everything seems to fuse into a single movement for "liberation" (actually, a movement liberating the whole of bourgeois society); everything acquires a faint, a very faint tint of "socialism", owing above all to the leading part played by the socialist proletariat in the democratic struggle.

In these circumstances, the idea of non-partisanship can not but gain certain temporary successes. The slogan of non partisanship cannot but become a fashionable slogan, for fa shion drags helplessly at the tail of life, and it is the non-party organisation that appears to be the most "common" phenomenon on the surface of political life: non-party demo cratism, non-p arty strike-ism, non-party revolutionism.

The question now arises: what should be the attitude of the adherents and representatives of the various classes to wards this fact of non-party organisation, towards this idea of non-partisanship? "Should", that is, not in the subjective sense, but objectively, i.e., not in the sense of what view to take of it, but in the sense of what attitude is inevitably taking shape under the influence of the respective interests and viewpoints of the various classes.


As we have already shown, the non-party principle is the product—or, if you will, the expression—of the bourgeois character of our revolution. The bourgeoisie cannot help inclining towards the non-party principle, for the absence of parties among those who are fighting for the liberation of bourg eois society implies that no fresh struggle will arise against this bourgeois society itself. Those who carry on a "non— party" struggle for liberty are not aware of the bourgeois nature of liberty, or they sanctify the bourgeois system, or else they put oil the struggle against it, its "perfecting", to the Greek calends. And, conversely, those who consciously or unconsciously stand for the bourgeois system cannot help feeling attracted by the idea of non-partisanship.

In a society based upon class divisions, the struggle between the hostile classes is bound, at a certain stage of its development, to become a political struggle. The most pur poseful, most comprehensive and specific expression of the political struggle of classes is the struggle of parties. The non-party principle means indifference to the struggle of parties. But this indifference is not equivalent to neutrality, to abstention from the struggle, for in the class struggle there can be no neutrals; in capitalist society, it is impossible to "abstain" from taking part in the exchange of commodities or labour-power. And exchange inevitably gives rise to economic and then to political struggle. Hence, in practice, indifference to the struggle does not at all mean standing aloof from the struggle, abstaining from it, or being neutral. Indifference is tacit support of the strong, of those who rule. In Russia, those who were indifferent towards the autocracy prior to its fall during the October revolution tacitly sup ported the autocracy. In present-day Europe, those who are indifferent towards the rule of the bourgeoisie tacitly support the bourgeoisie. Those who are indifferent towards the idea that the struggle for liberty is of a bourgeois nature tacitly support the domination of the bourgeoisie in this struggle, in the free Russia now in the making. Political unconcern is political satiety. A well-fed man is "unconcerned with", "indifferent to", a crust of bread; a hungry man, however, will always take a "partisan" stand on the question of a crust of bread. A person's "unconcern and indifference" with regard to a crust of bread does not mean that he does not need bread, but that he is always sure of his bread, that be is never in want of bread and that he has firmly attached himself to the "party" of the well-fed. The non-party principle in bourgeois society is merely a hypocritical, disguised, passive expression of adherence to the party of the well-fed, of the rulers, of the exploiters.

The non-party idea is a bourgeois idea. The party idea is a socialist idea. This thesis, in general and as a whole, is applicable to all bourgeois society. One must, of course, be able to adapt this general truth to particular questions and particular cases; but to forget this truth at a time when the whole of bourgeois society is rising in revolt against feudalism and autocracy means in practice completely to renounce socialist criticism of bourgeois society.

The Russian revolution, despite the fact that it is still in the early stages of its development, has already provided no little material to confirm the general considerations here outlined. Only the Social-Democratic Party, the party of the class-conscious proletariat, has always insisted, and insists now, upon strict adherence to the party principle. Our liberals, who voice the views of the bourgeoisie, cannot bear the socialist party principle and will not hear of class struggle. One need but recall the recent speeches of Mr. Rodichev, who for the hundredth time repeated what has been said over and over again by Osvobozhdeniye[1] abroad, as well as by the innumerable vassal organs of Russian liberalism. Finally, the ideology of the intermediate class, the petty bourgeoisie, has found a clear expression in the views of the Russian "radicals" of various shades, from Nasha Zhizn and the "radical-democrats"[2] to the "Social ist-Revol utionaries". The latter have demonstrated their confusion of socialism with democracy most clearly over the agrarian question, particularly by their slogan of "socialisation" (of the land without socialising capital). It is likewise well known that being tolerant towards bourgeois radicalism, they are intolerant towards the Social-Democratic Party principle.

An analysis of just how the interests of the various classes are reflected in the programme and tactics of the Russian liberals and radicals of all shades is beyond our subject. We have touched upon this interesting question only in passing, and must now proceed to draw the practical political conclusions with regard to the attitude of our Party towards non-party organisations.

Is it permissible for socialists to participate in non-party organisations? If so, on what conditions? What tactics should be pursued in these organisations?

The answer to the first question cannot be an uncondition al and categorical "no". It would be wrong to say that in no case and under no circumstances should Social-Democrats participate in non-party (i.e., more or less consciously or unconsciously bourgeois) organisations. In the period of the democratic revolution, a refusal to participate in non-party organisations would in certain circumstances amount to a refusal to participate in the democratic revolution. But undoubtedly socialists should confine these "certain circumstances" to narrow limits, and should permit of such participation only on strictly defined, restrictive condi tions. For while non-party organisations, as we have already said, arise as a result of the relatively undeveloped state of the class struggle, strict adherence to the party prin ciple, on the other hand, is one of the factors that make the class struggle conscious, clear, definite, and principled.

To preserve the ideological and political independence of the party of the proletartat is the constant, immutable and absolute duty of socialists. Whoever fails to fulfil this duty ceases to be a socialist in fact, however sincere his "socialist" (in words) convictions may be. Socialists may participate in non-party organisations only by way of exception; and the very purpose, nature, conditions, etc., of this participation must be wholly subordinated to the fun damental task of preparing and organising the socialist proletariat for conscious leadership of the socialist revolution.

Circumstances may compel us to participate in non-party organisations, especially in the period of a democratic revolution, specifically a democratic revolution in which the proletariat plays an outstanding part. Such participa tion may prove essential, for example, for the purpose of preaching socialism to vaguely democratic audiences, or in the interests of a joint struggle of socialists and revolu tionary democrats against the counter-revolution. In the first case, such participation will be a means of securing the acceptance of our ideas; in the second case, it will represent a fighting agreement for the achievement of definite revolutionary aims. In both cases, participation can only be temporary. In both cases, it is permissible only if the independence of the workers' party is fully safeguarded and if the party as a whole controls and guides its members and groups "delegated" to non-party unions or councils;

When the activities of our Party were conducted secretly, the exercise of such control and guidance presented extremely great, and sometimes almost insuperable difficulties. But now that the activities of our Party are becoming more and more open, this control and this guidance can and should be exercised on the largest scale, not only by the higher bodies of the Party, but also by the rank and file, by all the organised workers belonging to our Party. Reports on the activities of Social-Democrats in non-party unions and councils, lectures on the conditions and aims of such activities, resolutions of party organisations of all types about these activities, should become a regular practice in a workers' party. Only by such real participation of the Party as a whole, by participation in the direction of such activities, can we contrast in practice truly socialist work with general democratic work.

What tactics should we pursue in the non-party unions? First of all, we should use every opportunity to establish independent contacts and to propagate the whole of our socialist programme. Secondly, we should define the immediate political tasks of the day in terms of the fullest and most resolute accomplishment of the democratic revolution; we should put forward the political watchwords of the democratic revolution and advance a "programme" of those reforms which should be carried out by militant revolutionary democrats as distinct from haggling, liberal democrats.

Only if matters are arranged in this way will it be permissible and useful for members of our Party to participate in the non-party revolutionary organisations which are being set up one day by the workers, the next day by the peasants, the day after by the soldiers, etc. Only in that event shall we be in a position to fulfil the twofold task of a workers' party in a bourgeois revolution, namely, to carry the democratic revolution to completion and to extend and strengthen the forces of the socialist proletariat, which needs freedom in order to carry on a ruthless struggle for the overthrow of the rule of capital.


[1] Osvobozhdeniye (Emancipation)—a fortnightly bourgeois-liberal magazine published abroad from 1902 to 1905, and edited by P. B. Struve. In January 1904 it became the organ of the liberal-monarchist League of Emancipation. Subsequently the Osvobozhdeniye group formed the nucleus of the Cadet Party.

[2] Radical-Democrats—members of a petty-bourgeois organisation that arose in November 1905. Their position was intermediate between those of the Cadets and the Mensheviks. They started a newspaper of their own—Radikal—but were able to bring out only one issue. They demanded a democratic republic, even though they were willing to settle for a constitutional monarchy, provided the government was accountable to parliament. Concerning the agrarian question they favoured the expropriation of state, crown, monastery and church lands without compensation, and the expropriation of private holdings for a minimum compensation. Their organisation disintegrated early In 1908, its one-time members joining the semi-Cadet papers Bez Zaglavia (Without Title) and Tovarishch (Comrade).

Published: Novaya Zhizn, Nos. 22 and 27, November 26 and December 2, 1905.
Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the text in Novaycz Zhizn.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 75-82.

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