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The Fight for Power and the "Fight" for Sops

V. I. Lenin

It is common knowledge that already in its programme the Social-Democratic Party expressed the unshakable conviction that really to satisfy the urgent needs of the mass of the people all power must be in the hands of the people. If the mass of the people do not have the entire state power in their hands, if any organ of power not elected by the people, not liable to dismissal, and not entirely dependent on the people, is allowed to remain, it will be impossible really to satisfy the urgent and universally admitted needs of the people.

The Social-Democratic Party has always exerted every effort to spread this indisputable truth among the proletariat and among the whole people. The real, that is, the mass struggle for freedom has always passed, and always will pass, through the most varied and often unexpected stages. It cannot be otherwise owing to the enormous difficulties of the struggle, the complexity of its tasks and the changes taking place in the ranks of the fighters. In guiding the proletarian struggle at every stage in its development and under all circumstances, the Social-Democratic Party, as the conscious champion of the aspirations of the working class, must constantly bear in mind the general and fundamental interests of this struggle as a whole. Social-Democracy teaches us not to forget the general interests of the working class for the sake of particular interests; not to allow the specific features of the individual stages of the struggle to cause us to forget the fundamental aims of the struggle as a whole.

This is how the revolutionary Social-Democrats have always conceived their tasks in the present Russian revolution; and this conception alone is in accordance with the position and tasks of the proletariat as the advanced class. On the other hand, in conformity with the specific class interests of the bourgeoisie, the liberal bourgeoisie has always formulated its tasks in the struggle for political freedom quite differently. The bourgeoisie needs political freedom, but it is afraid to allow the people to have full power, because the proletariat, developed and united in the course of the struggle, would use this power of the people against the bourgeoisie. Hence, while striving for political freedom, the bourgeoisie nevertheless wants to retain a number of survivals from the old regime (the standing army, a non-elected bureaucracy, and so forth).

The proletariat's struggle for political freedom is revolutionary, because its object is to secure complete democracy. The bourgeoisie's struggle for freedom is opportunist, because its object is to obtain sops, to divide power between the autocracy and the propertied classes.

This fundamental difference between the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and the opportunist struggle of the bourgeoisie can be traced through the whole history of our revolution. The proletariat is fighting, the bourgeoisie is stealing its way into power. The proletariat is shattering the autocracy by its struggle; the bourgeoisie clutches at the sops thrown to it by the enfeebled autocracy. Before the whole people the proletariat holds on high the standard of struggle; the bourgeoisie raises the flag of minor concessions, deals and haggling.

The proletariat takes advantage of every breach, every weakening of the regime, every concession and sop in order to wage a more extensive, more determined, more intense and more mass struggle; the bourgeoisie uses them to cause the struggle gradually to calm down, weaken and die out, to curtail its aims and moderate its forms.

Let us review some of the stages of our struggle for freedom. The bourgeoisie "fights" to compel the government to show confidence in the Zemstvo[1] ("Rights and an Authoritative Zemstvo") and in the people (at the beginning of the present decade). The proletariat unfurls the banner of the struggle to overthrow the autocracy. The government proclaims an era of "confidence"[2] (Svyatopolk-Mirsky). The bourgeoisie pours out a flood of speeches at banquets; the proletariat forces new breaches in the citadel of tyranny, dying in the streets on the 9th of January[3], and starting a huge strike movement.

The summer of 1905. The bourgeoisie sends a deputation to plead for liberties. In the autumn the Bulygin Duma[4] is granted. The bourgeoisie is moved to tears of gratitude. A general cry goes up: to the Duma! The opportunist Social-Democrats waver. The proletariat continues to fight. A strike wave such as the world has never seen before spreads over the whole country and sweeps away the Duma. The proletariat seizes freedom and defends it with its blood against the encroachments of the autocracy.

In the first battle the proletariat is defeated. The bourgeoisie spurns the vanquished and slavishly clutches at the Duma. The proletariat gathers its forces for a fresh onslaught. It continues proudly to hold on high the banner of the struggle for complete democracy. But the onslaught could not be accomplished before the convocation of the Duma. The bourgeoisie once again grovels, throws overboard the slogan of a constituent assembly, froths at the mouth against "actions" and advocates conciliation, coming to terms, and the appointment by the supreme authority of a Cadet Cabinet.

The proletariat takes advantage of the new situation just as it did of the period of "confidence" in 1904, and of October 17, 1905[5]. It performs its revolutionary duty and does all in its power to sweep away the Witte Duma[6] as it swept away the Bulygin Duma. But it is unsuccessful, owing to the treachery of the bourgeoisie, and the inadequate organisation and mobilisation of the working class and peasantry. The proletariat continues the fight, utilising all the "Duma" conflicts and the conflicts around the Duma as points of departure for a wider and more determined mass movement.

A new struggle is developing. No one denies this. The proletarians, the peasants, the urban poor, the soldiers, etc., are rising in much greater masses than before. No one denies that this will be a struggle outside the Duma. Owing to the objective conditions of the present situation, it will be a struggle directly aimed at the destruction of the old regime. To what extent it will be destroyed, no one can foretell. But the proletariat, as the advanced class, is striving with greater determination than ever for complete victory in this struggle, for the complete abolition of the old regime.

And the proletariat remains consistent, rejecting the opportunist slogans of the bourgeoisie which have misled a certain section of the Social-Democrats. It is not true to say that the appointment of a Cadet Cabinet means "wresting power" from the hands of the camarilla. That is a bourgeois lie. As a matter of fact the appointment of such a Cabinet at the present time will be a new liberal screen for the camarilla. It is not true to say that the appointment of a Cadet Cabinet will transform the fictitious constitution into a real one. That is a bourgeois lie. As a matter of fact such a Cabinet will merely enable the autocracy to cover itself with a new cloak of pseudo-constitutionalism. It is not true to say that the demand for a Cadet Cabinet is being taken up by the whole people. That is a bourgeois lie. As a matter of fact it is only being demanded by the Cadet Duma. The fact that non-Cadets are echoing it is due only to a misunderstanding, for they think it means much more than it actually does. The demands of the whole people are in fact much more drastic than the demands of the Cadet Duma. Lastly, it is also not true to say that "supporting" the demand for a Cadet Cabinet (or, what amounts to the same thing, supporting a Cadet Cabinet) with the aid of resolutions, instructions to deputies, and so forth, means actually fighting the old regime. That is a bourgeois lie. For the proletariat, such "support" would simply mean abandoning the struggle, handing over the cause of freedom to the wavering liberals.

The proletariat is fighting, and will continue to fight, to destroy the old regime. Towards this end it will direct all its propaganda and agitation, and all its efforts to organise and mobilise the masses. If it fails to destroy the old regime completely, it will take advantage even of its partial destruction. But it will never advocate partial destruction, depict this in rosy colours, or call upon the people to support it. Real support in a genuine struggle is given to those who strive for the maximum (achieving something less in the event of failure) and not to those who opportunistically curtail the aims of the struggle before the fight.

Those who are not dazzled by flashy phrases will easily see that the people will actually fight, not for a Cadet Cabinet, but to abolish the old regime. It is in the interests of the bureaucracy to diminish the real scope of this struggle. It is in the interests of the proletariat to expand and intensify it.


[1] Zemstvos—the so-called local self-government bodies, dominated by the nobility, set up in the central gubernias of tsarist Russia in 1864. Their competence was confined to purely local economic and welfare matters (hospital and road building, statistics, insurance, etc.), and they functioned under the control of the provincial governors and the Minister of the Interior, who could invalidate any decisions the government found undesirable.

[2] The era of "confidence" of the government towards society was proclaimed in the autumn of 1904 by Svyatopolk-Mirsky, Minister of the Interior. In connection with the growing revolutionary movement the tsarist government, counting on deceiving the people and winning over the liberal bourgeoisie, made some minor concessions—a slight relaxation of the censorship, a partial amnesty and permission for congresses of Zemstvo officials. The liberals welcomed this "new" policy, as they regarded it, of the government. At their banquets they spoke of the constitution and of the necessity of their approach to power. The Mensheviks placed great hopes in this "banquet campaign"; they put forward a plan for influencing the liberal bourgeoisie so that the liberals should put political demands to the tsarist government in the name of the people. The Bolsheviks vigorously opposed the Menshevik plan. They pointed out that to place one's hopes in the liberal bourgeoisie meant trailing in the rear of the bourgeois movement and they called on the workers to head the struggle of all the militant revolutionary forces against the autocracy. The Bolsheviks exposed the hypocrisy of the government's policy and its talk of a period of "confidence". Lenin wrote in autumn 1904: "...While it has been flirting with the Zemstvos and has granted them some paltry concessions, the government has not, in actual fact, conceded anything whatever to the people; it may still well revert to (or rather continue) its reactionary course as has happened in Russia tens and hundreds of times after a momentary flash of liberalism from one autocrat or another" (present edition, Vol. 7, p. 506). On December 12 (25), 1904, Nicholas II signed a ukase which emphasised the "inviolability of the fundamental laws of the Empire" and demanded severe punishment "for all arbitrary acts". Although the ukase contained vague promises of some extension of the rights of rural and urban institutions it entirely avoided the question of a constitution for Russia. This ukase, which Lenin called a "slap in the face for the liberals" showed that the government had decided to put an end to the era of "confidence".

[3] January 9, 1905—the day on which St. Petersburg workers with their wives and children marched towards the Winter Palace to present a petition to the tsar describing their intolerable lot and complete lack of rights. By order of the tsar this peaceful demonstration of unarmed workers was fired on by the troops. This cold-blooded massacre started a wave of mass political strikes and demonstrations all over Russia, under the slogan of "Down with the autocracy!" The events of January 9 marked the beginning of the revolution of 1905-07.

[4] The Bulygin Duma—an advisory "representative institution" which the tsarist government intended to convene in 1905. The Bill for the establishment of a State Duma with advisory powers and the Regulations on elections to the Duma were drafted by a commission presided over by D. L. Bulygin, Minister of the Interior, and made public together with the tsar's Manifesto of August 6 (19), 1905. The Bolsheviks proclaimed an active boycott of the Bulygin Duma and the government did not succeed in convening it. It was swept away under the impact of the revolution.

[5] This refers to the tsar's Manifesto of October 17, 1905 issued at a time when the all-Russian political general strike was at its height. The tsar's Manifesto, which promised "civil liberties" and a "legislative" Duma, was a political manoeuvre of the autocracy aimed at gaining time, splitting the revolutionary forces, breaking the strike and crushing the revolution. Its promises were a deception of the masses and were never carried out.

[6] The Witte Duma—the First State Duma, convened on April 27 (May 10), 1906, on a franchise drawn up by the Prime Minister S. Y. Witte. On July 8 (21), 1906, this Duma was dissolved by the tsarist government.

Published: Vperyod, No. 17, June 14, 1906. Published according to the Vperyod text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 27-31.

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