The Fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party*|
April 30-May 19 (May 13-June 1), 1907
Speech on the Attitude Towards Bourgeois Parties
May 12 (25)
V. I. Lenin
The question of our attitude to the bourgeois parties is the nub of the differences in matters of principle that have long divided Russian Social-Democracy into two camps. Even before the first major successes of the revolution, or even before the revolution—if it is permissible to express oneself in this way about the first half of 1905— two distinct points of view on this question already existed. The disputes were over the appraisal of the bourgeois revolution in Russia. The two trends in the Social-Democracy agreed that this revolution was a bourgeois revolution. But they parted company in their understanding of this category, and in their appraisal of the practical and political conclusions to be drawn from it. One wing of the Social-Democracy—the Mensheviks—interpreted this concept to mean that the bourgeoisie was the motive force in the bourgeois revolution, and that the proletariat could occupy only the position of the "extreme opposition". The proletariat could not undertake the task of conducting the revolution independently or of leading it. These differences of opinion stood out in particularly high relief during the disputes on the question of a provisional government (to be more exact, whether the Social-Democrats should participate in a provisional government)—disputes which raged in 1905. The Mensheviks denied that the Social-Democrats could be permitted to participate in a provisional revolutionary government, primarily because they considered the bourgeoisie the motive force or leader in the bourgeois revolution. This view found most clear expression in the resolution of the Caucasian Mensheviks (1905), approved by the new Iskra. This resolution state.d forth right that Social-Democratic participation in a provisional government might frighten the bourgeoisie away, and thereby reduce the scope of the revolution. We have here a clear admission that the proletariat cannot and should not go further than the bourgeoisie in the bourgeois revolution.
The Bolsheviks held the opposite view. They maintained unequivocally that in its social and economic content our revolution was a bourgeois revolution. This means that the aims of the revolution that is now taking place in Russia do not exceed the bounds of bourgeois society. Even the fullest possible victory of the present revolution— in other words, the achievement of the most democratic republic possible, and the confiscation of all landed estates by the peasantry—would not in any way affect the foundations of the bourgeois social system. Private ownership of the means of production (or private farming on the land, irrespective of its juridical owner) and commodity economy will remain. The contradictions of capitalist society—and the most important of them is the contradiction between wage-labour and capital—will not only remain, but become even more acute and profound, developing in a more extensive and purer form.
All this should be absolutely beyond doubt to any Marxist. But from this it does not at all follow that the bourgeoisie is the motive force or leader in the revolution. Such a conclusion would be a vulgarisation of Marxism, would be a failure to understand the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The fact of the matter is that our revolution is taking place at a time when the proletariat has already begun to recognise itself as distinct class and to unite in an independent, class organisation. Under such circumstances the proletariat makes use of all the achievements of democracy, makes use of every step towards freedom, to strengthen its class organisation against the bourgeoisie. Hence the inevitable endeavour of the bourgeoisie to smooth off the sharp corners of the revolution, not to allow it to reach its culmination, not to give the proletariat the opportunity of carrying on its class struggle unhampered. The antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat forces the bourgeoisie to strive to preserve certain instruments and institutions of the old regime in order to use them against the proletariat.
At the very best, therefore, the bourgeoisie, in the period of greatest revolutionary upsurge, still constitutes an element that wavers between revolution and reaction (and does not do so fortuitously, but of necessity, by force of its economic interests). Hence the bourgeoisie cannot be the leader in our revolution.
The major distinguishing feature of this revolution is the acuteness of the agrarian question. It is much more acute in Russia than in any other country in similar conditions. The so-called peasant reform of 1861 was carried out so inconsistently and so undemocratically that the principal foundations of feudal landlord domination remained unshaken. For this reason, the agrarian question, that is, the struggle of the peasants against the landowners for the land, proved one of the touchstones of the present revolution. This struggle for the land inevitably forces enormous masses of the peasantry into the democratic revolution, for only democracy can give them land by giving them supremacy in the state. The victory of the peasantry presupposes the complete destruction of landlordism.
Such an alignment of social forces inevitably leads to the conclusion that the bourgeoisie can be neither the motive force nor the leader in the revolution. Only the proletariat is capable of consummating the revolution, that is, of achieving a complete victory. But this victory can be achieved only provided the proletariat succeeds in getting a large section of the peasantry to follow its lead. The victory of the present revolution in Russia is possible only as the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.
The correctness of this presentation of the question, which dates back to the beginning of 1905—I am referring to the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. in the spring of 1905— found full confirmation in events at all the most important stages of the Russian revolution. Our theoretical conclusions were confirmed in practice in the course of the revolutionary struggle. In October 1905, at the very height of the revolution, the proletariat was at the head, the bourgeoisie wavered and vacillated, and the peasantry wrecked the landed estates. In all the embryonic organs of revolutionary power (the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, the Soviets of Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, etc.) representatives of the proletariat were the main participants, followed by the most advanced of the insurgent peasantry. At the time of the First Duma, the peasants immediately formed a democratic "Trudovik" group, which was more to the Left, in other words, more revolutionary, than the liberals—the Cadets. In the elections to the Second Duma, the peasants defeated the liberals outright. The proletariat marched ahead, the peasantry more or less resolutely following it against the autocracy and against the vacillating liberals.
I shall now pass to the draft resolutions we have before us. The difference in points of view I have described is fully reflected in the antithesis between the Bolshevik and Menshevik resolutions. The Bolshevik draft is based on a definition of the class content of the principal types of bourgeois parties. We drew up our resolution in the same way for the Unity Congress in Stockholm. There we noted three principal types of bourgeois parties: the Octobrists, the liberals and the peasant democrats (at that time they were not yet fully delineated, and the word "Trudovik" did not exist in the Russian political vocabulary). Our resolution of today retains that same structure. It is simply a modification of the Stockholm resolution. The course of events has confirmed its basic postulates to such an extent that only very small changes were required for due consideration to be paid to experience acquired in the First and Second Dumas.
The Menshevik resolution for the Unity Congress gave no analysis whatever either of types of parties or their class content. The resolution states helplessly that "bourgeois-democratic parties are only just forming in Russia and therefore have not yet had the time to acquire the character of stable parties", and that "at the present historical moment in Russia there are no parties in existence that could simultaneously blend within themselves a consistent democracy and a revolutionary character". Is this not a helpless declaration? Is this not a deviation from Marxist tasks? Outside the ranks of the proletariat there will never be absolute stability of parties or fully "consistent" democracy. It is, however, our duty to lay bare the class roots of all parties that appear on the historical scene. And our resolution shows that this is something quite feasible. The three types of parties outlined in this resolution have proved sufficiently "stable" throughout a whole year of revolution, as I have already shown by the example of the First and Second Dumas.
What has proved unstable is the views of the Mensheviks. Their present resolution is a tremendous step backward in comparison with their draft of last year. Let us examine this resolution, which was published in Narodnaya Duma, No. 12 (March 24, 1907). The preamble to this resolution points first to a "number of tasks common" to the proletariat and to bourgeois democracy; secondly, it says that the proletariat must "combine its activities with those of other social classes and groups"; thirdly, it says that in a country where the peasantry predominates and urban democracy is weak, the proletariat "by its own movement impels forward"... "the entire bourgeois democracy of the country"; fourthly, "that the democratic movement of the country has not yet found its ultimate expression in the present grouping of bourgeois parties", which reflects the "realism" and unpreparedness to fight on the part of the urban bourgeoisie at one extreme, and at the other, peasant "illusions of petty-bourgeois revolutionism and agrarian utopias". Such is the preamble. Now let us look at the conclusions; the first conclusion is that, while pursuing an independent policy, the proletariat must fight both against the opportunism and constitutional illusions of the one, and the revolutionary illusions and reactionary economic projects of the other. The second conclusion is that it is necessary to "combine our activities with the activities of the other parties".
A resolution like this does not answer any one of the questions that every Marxist is obliged to ask himself, if he wants to define the attitude of the workers' party to the bourgeois parties. What are these general questions? First of all, it is necessary to define the class nature of the parties. Then it is necessary to make clear to oneself the basic alignment of the various classes in the present revolution in general, that is, in what relation the interests of these classes stand to the continuation or development of the revolution. Further, it is necessary to pass over from classes in general to the present-day role of the various parties, or various groups of parties. Finally, it is necessary to furnish practical directives concerning the policy of the workers' party on this question.
There is nothing of this in the Menshevik resolution. It is simply an evasion of these questions, evasion by means of general phrase-mongering about "combining" the policy of the proletariat with the policy of the bourgeoisie. Not a word is said about how to "combine", and with precisely which bourgeois-democratic parties. This is a resolution about parties, but without parties. This is a resolution to define our attitude, which does nothing to define our attitude towards the various parties. It is impossible to take such a resolution as a guide, for it provides the greatest freedom to "combine" anything you like and in any way you like. Such a resolution does not restrict anyone; it is a most "liberal" resolution in the fullest sense of that word. It can be interpreted backwards and forwards. But of Marxism— not a grain. The fundamental propositions of Marxism have been so thoroughly forgotten here that any Left Cadet could have subscribed to such a resolution. Take its main points— "tasks in common" for the proletariat and bourgeois democracy—is that not the very thing the entire liberal press is vociferating about?... The need to "combine"—the very thing the Cadets are demanding.... The struggle against opportunism on the Right and revolutionism on the Left— but that is the pet slogan of the Left Cadets, who say they want to sit between the Trudoviks and bourgeois liberals! This is not the position of a workers' party distinct from and independent of bourgeois democracy; it is the position of a liberal who wants to occupy the "centre" in the midst of the bourgeois democrats.
Let us examine the gist of the Mensheviks' proposition: by its own movement the proletariat "impels forward" "the entire bourgeois democracy of the country". Is this true? Absolutely not. Just recall the major events in our revolution. Take the Bulygin Duma. In reply to the tsar's appeal to take the legal path, to adopt his, the tsar's, conditions for convening the first popular representative body, the proletariat answered with a resolute refusal. The proletariat called on the people to wipe out this institution, to prevent its birth. The proletariat called on all the revolutionary classes to fight for better conditions for the convocation of a popular representative body. This in no way ruled out the question of utilising even bad institutions if they actually came into being despite all our efforts. This was a fight against allowing the implementation of worse conditions for convening a popular representative body. In appraising the boycott, the logical and historical mistake is often made of confusing the fight on the basis of the given institution, with the fight against the establishment of that institution.
What reply did the liberal bourgeoisie make to the proletariat's appeal? It replied with a general outcry against the boycott. It invited us to the Bulygin Duma. The liberal professors urged the students to go on with their studies, instead of organising strikes. In reply to the proletariat's appeal to fight, the bourgeoisie answered by fighting against the proletariat. As far back as that, the antagonism between these classes, even in a democratic revolution, manifested itself fully and definitely. The bourgeoisie wanted to narrow the scope of the proletariat's struggle, to prevent it going beyond the bounds of the convocation of the Bulygin Duma.
Professor Vinogradov, the shining light of liberal science, wrote just at that time: "It would be the good fortune of Russia if our revolution proceeded along the road of 1848-49, and its misfortune if it proceeded along the road taken by the revolution of 1789-93." What this "democrat" called good. fortune was the road of an unconsummated revolution, the road of a defeated uprising! If our revolution were to deal as ruthlessly with its enemies as the French revolution did in 1793, then, according to this "liberal", it would be necessary to call upon the Prussian drill sergeant to re-establish law and order. The Mensheviks say that our bourgeoisie are "unprepared to fight". Actually, however, the bourgeoisie were prepared to fight, prepared to fight against the proletariat, to fight against the "excessive" victories of the revolution.
To proceed. Take October to December 1905. There is no need to prove that during this period of the high tide of our revolution, the bourgeoisie displayed "preparedness to fight" against the proletariat. This was fully acknowledged by the Menshevik press of that day. The bourgeoisie, including the Cadets, tried in every way to denigrate the revolution, to picture it as blind and savage anarchy. The bourgeoisie not only failed to support the organs of insurrection set up by the people—all the various Soviets of Workers' Deputies, Soviets of Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, etc.—but it feared these institutions and fought against them. Call to mind Struve, who termed these institutions a degrading spectacle. In them the bourgeoisie saw a revolution that had gone too far ahead. The liberal bourgeoisie wanted to divert the energy of the popular revolutionary struggle into the narrow channel of police-controlled constitutional reaction.
There is no need to dwell at length on the behaviour of the liberals in the First and the Second Dumas. Even the Mensheviks acknowledged that, in the First Duma, the Cadets hindered the revolutionary policy of the Social-Democrats and, to some extent, of the Trudoviks, that they hampered their activity. And in the Second Duma the Cadets openly joined up with the Black Hundreds, gave outright support to the government.
To say at present that the movement of the proletariat "impels the entire bourgeois democracy of the country forward" means scorning facts. To maintain silence at the present time about the counter-revolutionary nature of our bourgeoisie means departing entirely from the Marxist point of view, means completely forgetting the viewpoint of the class struggle.
In their resolution, the Mensheviks speak of the "realism" of the urban bourgeois classes. Strange terminology this, which betrays them, against their will. We are accustomed to seeing a special meaning attached to the word realism, among the Right-wing Social-Democrats. For instance, Plekhanov's Sovremennaya Zhizn contrasted the "realism" of the Right Social-Democrats with the "revolutionary romanticism" of the Left Social-Democrats. What then does the Menshevik resolution have in view when it speaks of realism? It appears that the resolution praises the bourgeoisie for its moderation and punctiliousness!
These arguments of the Mensheviks about the "realism" of the bourgeoisie, about its "unpreparedness" to fight— taken in conjunction with the open declaration of their tactical platform on the "one-sided hostility" of the Social-Democrats towards the liberals—speak of one thing, and of one thing only. In point of fact, it all means that the independent policy of the workers' party is replaced by a policy of dependence on the liberal bourgeoisie. And this, the substance of Menshevism, is not something that we have invented or have drawn solely from their theoretical arguments—it has manifested itself in all the major steps of their policy throughout the past year. Take the "responsible ministry", blocs with the Cadets, voting for Golovin, etc. This is what has actually constituted the policy of dependence on the liberals.
And what do the Mensheviks say about peasant democracy? The resolution puts the "realism" of the bourgeoisie and the "agrarian utopias" of the peasantry on a par, off setting the one by the other as being of equal significance or at any rate wholly analogous. We must fight, say the Mensheviks, equally against the opportunism of the bourgeoisie and against the utopianism, the "petty-bourgeois revolutionism", of the peasantry. This is typical of the Menshevik line of reasoning. And it is worth while dwelling on this, for it is radically wrong. From it inevitably ensue a number of mistaken conclusions in practical policy. This criticism of peasant utopias harbours a lack of understanding of the proletariat's task—to urge the peasantry on ward to complete victory in the democratic revolution.
Just look carefully at what is behind the agrarian utopias of the peasantry in the present revolution. What is their main utopia? Undoubtedly, it is the idea of equalitarianism, the conviction that the abolition of the private property in land and the equal division of the land (or of land tenure) are able to destroy the roots of want, poverty, unemployment and exploitation.
No one disputes the fact that, from the point of view of socialism, this is a utopia, a utopia of the petty bourgeois. From the point of view of socialism, this is a reactionary prejudice, for proletarian socialism sees its ideal, not in the equality of small proprietors, but in large-scale socialised production. But do not forget that what we are now appraising is the significance of the peasants' ideals, not in the socialist movement, but in the present, bourgeois-democratic revolution. Can we say that it is utopian or reactionary in the present revolution for all the land to be taken away from the landlords and be handed over to, or divided up equally among, the peasants?! No! Not only is this non-reactionary, but, on the contrary, it reflects most conclusively and most consistently the desire for the most thorough abolition of the entire old regime, of all the remnants of serfdom. The idea that "equality" can exist under commodity production and even serve as a foundation for semi-socialism is utopian. The peasants' desire to take the land away from the landlords at once and divide it up on an equalitarian basis is not utopian, but revolutionary in the fullest, strictest, scientific meaning of the word. Such confiscation and such division would lay the foundation for the speediest, broadest and freest development of capitalism.
Speaking objectively, from the point of view not of our desires, but of the present economic development of Russia, the basic question of our revolution is whether it will secure the development of capitalism through the peasants' complete victory over the landowners or through the landowners' victory over the peasants. A bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia's economy is absolutely inevitable. No power on earth can hinder it. But this revolution is possible in either of two ways: in the Prussian, if one might say so, or in the American way. This means the following; the land lords may win, may foist compensation payments or other petty concessions on the peasants, may unite with a handful of the wealthy, pauperise the masses, and convert their own farms into Junker-type, capitalist, farms. Such a revolution will be bourgeois-democratic but it will be to the least advantage of the peasants—to their least advantage from the angle of the rapidity of capitalist development. Or, on the contrary, the complete victory of the peasant uprising, the confiscation of all landed estates and their equal division will signify the most rapid development of capitalism, the form of bourgeois-democratic revolution most advantageous to the peasants.
Nor is this most advantageous to the peasants alone. It is just as advantageous to the proletariat. The class conscious proletariat knows that there is, and there can be, no path leading to socialism otherwise than through a bourgeois-democratic revolution.
Hence the more incomplete and irresolute this revolution, the longer and the more heavily will general democratic tasks, and not socialist, not purely class, proletarian tasks, weigh upon the proletariat. The more complete the victory of the peasantry, the sooner will the proletariat stand out as a distinct class, and the more clearly will it put forward its purely socialist tasks and aims.
From this, you see that the peasants' ideas on equality, reactionary and utopian from the standpoint of socialism, are revolutionary from the standpoint of bourgeois democracy. That is why the equating of the liberals' reactionary nature in the present revolution and the reactionary utopianism of the peasants in their ideas of the socialist revolution is a glaring logical and historical error. To put on a par the liberals' endeavours to cut the present revolution off short at compensation for land, a constitutional monarchy, at the level of the Cadet agrarian programme, etc., and the peasants' attempts at utopian idealisation, in a reactionary spirit, of their endeavours to crush the landlords immediately, to confiscate all the land, to divide it all up—to attempt to equate these things is to abandon completely, not only the standpoint of the proletariat, but also the standpoint of a consistent revolutionary democrat. To write a resolution on the struggle against liberal opportunism and muzhik revolutionism in the present revolution is to write a resolution that is not Social-Democratic. This is not a Social-Democrat writing, but an intellectual who sits between the liberal and the muzhik in the camp of bourgeois democracy.
I cannot deal here in as great detail as I should on the famous tactical platform of the Mensheviks with their much vaunted slogan of struggle against the "one-sided hostility of the proletariat towards liberalism". The non-Marxist and non-proletarian nature of such a slogan is more than obvious.
In conclusion, I shall deal with a frequent objection that is raised against us. In the majority of cases, we are told, "your" Trudoviks follow the Cadets against us. That is true, but it is no objection against our point of view and our resolution, since we have quite definitely and outspokenly admitted it.
The Trudoviks are definitely not fully consistent democrats. The Trudoviks (including the Socialist-Revolutionaries) undoubtedly vacillate between the liberals and the revolutionary proletariat. We have said this, and it had to be said. Such vacillation is by no means fortuitous. It is an inevitable consequence of the very nature of the economic condition of the small producer. On the one hand, he is oppressed and subject to exploitation. He is unconsciously impelled into the fight against this position, into the fight for democracy, for the ideas of abolishing exploitation. On the other hand, he is a petty proprietor. In the peasant lives the instinct of a proprietor—if not of today, then of tomorrow. It is the proprietor's, the owner's instinct that repels the peasant from the proletariat, engendering in him an aspiration to become someone in the world, to become a bourgeois, to hem himself in against all society on his own plot of land, on his own dung-heap, as Marx irately remarked.
Vacillation in the peasantry and the peasant democratic parties is inevitable. And the Social-Democratic Party, therefore, must not for a moment be embarrassed at the fear of isolating itself from such vacillation. Every time the Trudoviks display lack of courage, and drag along in the wake of the liberals, we must fearlessly and quite firmly oppose the Trudoviks, expose and castigate their petty-bourgeois inconsistency and flaccidity.
Our revolution is passing through difficult times. We need all the will-power, all the endurance and fortitude of the organised proletarian party, in order to be capable of resisting sentiments of distrust, despondency, indifference, and denial of the struggle. The petty bourgeoisie will always and inevitably succumb most easily to such sentiments, display irresolution, betray the revolutionary path, whine and repent. And in all such cases, the workers' party will isolate itself from the vacillating petty-bourgeois democrats. In all such cases we must be able to unmask the irresolute democrats openly, even from the Duma platform. "Peasants!" we must say in the Duma in such circumstances, "peasants! You should know that your representatives are betraying you by following in the wake of the liberal landlords. Your Duma deputies are betraying the cause of the peasantry to the liberal windbags and advocates." Let the peasants know— we must demonstrate this to them by facts—that only the workers' party is the genuinely reliable and thoroughly faithful defender of the interests, not only of socialism but also of democracy, not only of all working and exploited people, but also of the entire peasant masses, who are fighting against feudal exploitation.
If we pursue this policy persistently and undeviatingly, we shall derive from our revolution enormous material for the class development of the proletariat; we shall achieve this under all circumstances, whatever vicissitudes may be in store for us, whatever setbacks for the revolution (under particularly unfavourable circumstances) may fall to our lot. A firm proletarian policy will give the entire working class such a wealth of ideas, such clarity of understanding and such endurance in the struggle that no one on earth will be able to win them away from Social-Democracy. Even if the revolution suffers defeat, the proletariat will learn, first and foremost, to understand the economic class foundations of both the liberal and the democratic parties; then it will learn to hate the bourgeoisie's treacheries and to despise the petty bourgeoisie's infirmity of purpose and its vacillations.
And it is only with such a fund of knowledge, with such habits of thinking, that the proletariat will be able to approach the new, the socialist revolution more unitedly and more boldly. (Applause from the Bolsheviks and the Centre.)
The Fifth Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party— held in London between April 30 and May 19 (May 13-June 1), 1907. The Congress was attended by 336 delegates with a vote and with consultative voice; of these 105 were Bolsheviks, 97 were Mensheviks, 57 were Bund members, 44 were Polish Social-Democrats, 29 were Latvian Social-Democrats and 4 were “non-factional”. The Bolsheviks were supported by the Poles and Latvians and had a stable majority at the Congress.
The Congress discussed: (1) the report of the Central Committee; (2) the report of the Duma group and its organisation; (3) the attitude to bourgeois parties; (4) the State Duma; (5) the labour congress and non-party labour organisations; (6) trade unions and the Party; (7) partisan actions; (8) unemployment, the economic crisis and lock-outs; (9) organisational questions; (10) the International Congress at Stuttgart (May 1, militarism); (11) work in the army; (12) miscellaneous. The most important point on the agenda was Lenin’s report on the attitude towards bourgeois parties. Bolshevik resolutions were adopted on all questions of principle. The Central Committee elected by the Congress consisted of 5 Bolsheviks, 4 Mensheviks, 1 Latvian and 2 Polish Social-Democrats. Alternate members of the C.C. were also elected: 10 Bolsheviks, 7 Mensheviks, 3 Polish and 2 Latvian Social-Democrats.
The Congress ended in the complete victory of Bolshevism over the opportunist wing of the Party, the Mensheviks. For further material on the Fifth Congress of the B.S.D.L.P. see Lenin s article "The Attitude Towards Bourgeois Parties" (see present volume, pp. 489-509).
 Lenin deals in detail with the resolution of the Caucasian Mensheviks in his "Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution" (see present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 92-104).
 Marx-Engels, Beschlüsse gegen Hermann Kriege, den Redacteur des "Volkstribun", MEGA, Bd. V, S. 10.
Published: First published in the book The London Congress of the R.S.D.L P. (1907), Unabridged Minutes, Paris, 1909.|
Published according to the manuscript, verified with the book.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 437-488.
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