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"Regret" and "Shame"

V. I. Lenin

Every crisis reveals the real nature of phenomena or processes, sweeps away the superficial, the trivial, the external, and demonstrates the more profound fundamentals of what is taking place. Take, for instance, the most common and least complicated of crises in the sphere of economic phenomena, a strike. Nothing serves to reveal more clearly the actual relationships between classes, the real nature of contemporary society, the fact that the vast majority of the population has to submit to the power of hunger, and that the propertied minority resorts to organised violence in order to maintain its rule. Take commercial and industrial crises. Nothing refutes so glaringly the various speeches of the champions and apostles of "harmony of interests", nothing reveals so vividly and so fully the entire mechanism of the contemporary, capitalist system, the "anarchy of production", the disunity of the producers and the struggle of each against all and of all against each. Take, lastly, such a crisis as war. All the political and social institutions are, tested and verified "by fire and sword". The strength or weakness of the institutions and social system of every nation are determined by the outcome of the war and its consequences. The essential nature of international relations under capitalism—the open robbery of the weaker—is fully and clearly exposed by war.

The significance of our notorious "parliamentary" crisis lies also in its revelation of the deep-rooted contradictions of the entire social and political system of Russia. Most of those participating in and acting out this crisis are, unfortunately, not attempting to explain it, to indicate its real causes and real significance but are doing their best to obscure it by words, words and more words—some of them are doing so deliberately, others because of their warped judgement or in deference to routine and tradition. The "big day" in the Third Duma, April 27, the day of the debate with Stolypin, was a big day of "parliamentary" phrase-mongering. But, despite the inordinate torrents of verbiage let loose by Stolypin himself and by his friends and opponents, they were unable to hide the essence of the matter. And the more the daily press tries to distract the attention of its readers by harping on liberal phrases, details and juridical formalities, the more appropriate it is to review again the picture of the crisis which was revealed on April 27.

The keynote of Stolypin's speech was defence of the "rights of the Crown" from any "derogation". "The significance of Article 87," said Stolypin, "is that it defines the rights of the Crown, and it cannot be departed from without creating an undesirable precedent." Stolypin objects to the attempts "to discredit the right of the supreme authority to invoke Article 87 in an emergency such as had arisen before the prorogation of the Chambers". "This right," he said, "is incontrovertible; it is based on, and rooted in, the conditions of life itself." "Any other interpretation of this right is inacceptable," he went on to say; "it would violate the meaning and sense of the law, it would reduce to naught the Monarch's right to issue emergency decrees."

All this is very clear, and all this is not mere words. The question is stated in cynically "realistic" terms. The Crown and attempts at its derogation.... If a dispute arises as to who is ultimately to interpret the meaning of the law, then force decides the issue. All this is very clear, and is not mere words.

On the other hand, Maklakov's "ardent, fervent, impassioned, and sincere" reproaches were nothing but mere words, juggling, juridical fictions. "It was with a feeling of profound regret and great shame" (report in Rech, April 28, p. 4) that he had heard certain references to the Crown. Maklakov, who spoke on behalf of the entire so-called "constitutional Centre" (i.e., on behalf of the Cadets and Octobrists), defended the usual fiction of the monarchy being constitutional. But the "defence", voiced by the Cadets, or by the Cadets and the Octobrists, consisted of hollow phrase mongering. What has it to do with regret and shame when it is a question of force? The bourgeoisie, who would like to have a constitution, regret the fact that the Crown refuses to grant a constitution, and is "ashamed" of this. The Crown is "ashamed" to have anyone impose a constitution on it, regards it as "derogation" and "regrets" any and all interpretation of any law that might be intended to "derogate".

Here we have two sides, and two interpretations of the law. Regrets and shame on both sides, with the only difference that one side does nothing else but "regret" and be "ashamed"; whereas the other side says nothing either about regretting or about being ashamed—it says only that derogation is "unacceptable".

Surely it is obvious that the ones to be "ashamed" of this state of affairs, the ones to be ashamed of their impotence, should be the Maklakovs, should be the whole of our Cadet and Octobrist bourgeoisie. The spokesman of the Council of the United Nobility is cynical about the crisis he cynically engineered, he hurls defiance and draws his sword. And the liberal bourgeoisie, like a street-trader who has been scared out of his wits by a police officer, shrinks back in awe, muttering: I regret, I am ashamed to ... be treated in this manner!

"I say," Maklakov vowed, "that I am a better constitutionalist than the Chairman of the Council of Ministers [I can imagine how Stolypin inwardly, and in the privacy of his home, laughed at these words; the point, my dear sir, is not whether one proclaims oneself a constitutionalist, but who possesses the power to determine whether a constitution shall exist, and what kind of constitution it shall be!], but for all that I am no less a monarchist than he. [Stolypin smiles even more contentedly, so that's the kind of a fellow he is—starts off by uttering threats, and winds up by offering regrets! He is a great warrior, this Maklakov!] I consider it lunacy to create a monarchy where it has no roots, but just as much lunacy to renounce it where its historical roots are strong."

Having first uttered some threats, and then offered his regrets, he now begins to cite arguments in favour of Stolypin. Oh, magnificent parliamentarian of the liberals! Oh, incomparable leader of the "constitutional" (lucus a non lucendo[1]—"constitutional" though there is no constitution) Centre, of the Cadet and Octobrist Centre!

"The Chairman of the Council of Ministers", thunders our tribune of "people's freedom" (read, of the historical slavery of our people), "may still remain in power; he will hold on to it both because of fear of the revolution which is being engineered by his own agents (shouts from the benches on the right: "Shame!", tumult) ... and because of the danger of creating a precedent!"

It is a tale about how Ivan Ivanovich cried "shame" upon Ivan Nikiforovich, and Ivan Nikiforovich cried "shame" upon Ivan Ivanovich[2]. "It's a shame not to observe the common standards of constitutional procedure," Ivan Ivanovich says to Ivan Nikiforovich. "It's a shame to threaten a revolution, which you yourself fear, in which you don't believe, and which you don't help," Ivan Nikiforovich says to Ivan Ivanovich.

Well, reader, who do you think had the better of that argument?

The representative of the "constitutional Centre", Lvov the First, spoke after Gegechkori who had quite correctly explained that the liberal press wrongly represents the crisis as being of a "constitutional" nature, that the Cadets "have, through their spokesmen, supported the criminal illusion about a constitutional Centre", and that a constitution needs a certain movement, which is still lacking. (Gegechkori made one awkward slip at the end when he mentioned "anarchy"—that was not the word he should have used.)

To judge by the speech of Lvov the First, it seemed at one time that even some of the landowners had learned a thing or two from Gegechkori's explanations. "All that has happened," said Lvov the First, "goes to show indeed that we have no Constitution, and we have no parliamentary system; but neither have we any fundamental laws and, in general, any organised system [that's a good one! And what about the existence of the landowners—doesn't that mean that there is an organised landowners' system? You let your tongues run away with you, gentlemen of the "constitutional Centre"]—there is only arbitrary rule [that is precisely one of the fundamental and most essential features of the organised landowner system] and demagogy."

Judging by the interpretation of the "progressive" land lord Nikolai Nikolayevich Lvov the First, demagogy stands for something highly unpleasant. Listen further:

"And the men who are now in office employ this demagogy in order to enhance their own influence and their own power. But others, too, will make use of this demagogy—those who want to seize power [brr ... what an odious and immoral desire! Far be it from the Russian liberal bourgeois to entertain such a desire. It is only in the decadent West that the immoral bourgeoisie tries to seize power, and has even invented the unnatural doctrine that only the bourgeoisie in power can safeguard a bourgeois constitution. We, the Russian liberals, have been enlightened by the moral and idealist sermons of Struve, Berdayev and Co. and we are, therefore, of the opinion that power must remain in the hands of the Tolmachovs, whereas the Maklakovs ought to be engaged in writing instructions for the truly constitutional application of that power]... those who are more proficient in wielding the instrument of demagogy. Fear this demagogy, for everything will be sacrificed to it: your dignity, your possessions, your honour, and Russia's civic system.

The "progressist" Nikolai Nikolayevich Lvov the First talks sense. He is even fairly clear when he refers to "possessions". For instance, if yesterday a landowner owned 10,000 dessiatines, and today he is left with only 50 dessiatines, it means that 9,950 dessiatines have been "sacrificed" to "demagogy". That is clear. That is not mere words. But matters are not so clear when he refers to "dignity" and "honour". Does our progressist imply that a landlord can be a man of "dignity" and "honour" only when he owns 10,000 dessiatines, and that he is bound to lose both if he loses 9,950 of his dessiatines? Or does Lvov the First imply that dignity and honour stand to be sacrificed if the dessiatines do not fetch a fair price—say, 500 rubles a dessiatine?

On the subject of "Russia's civic system" the "progressist" Lvov the First is somewhat at sea. If it is true, as he said, that we have neither a constitution, nor a parliamentary system, nor fundamental laws, that means that we have no civic system either, and what doesn't exist, cannot be sacrificed. If what Lvov the First said is true this means that our civic system has been sacrificed to our "organised [landowner] system". Wasn't this a slip of the tongue on the part of our "progressist"? Didn't he mean to say that our organised landowner system would be sacrificed to Russia's civic system? Didn't he imply that it would be demagogy if events were to take such a hypothetical course? When he said—"fear this demagogy"—didn't he imply that the majority of the Third Duma ought to fear that hypothetical course of events?

It is a tale about how Ivan Ivanovich accused Ivan Nikiforovich of demagogy, and Ivan Nikiforovich accused Ivan Ivanovich of the same thing: "You are a demagogue," said Ivan Ivanovich to Ivan Nikiforovich, "because you are In office and you are using it to enhance your own influence and your own power, while at the same time pretending to serve the national interests of the population." "No," said Ivan Nikiforovich to Ivan Ivanovich, "you are a demagogue, because you are shouting at the top of your voice and in a public place, that all we have is arbitrary rule, and that we have neither a constitution nor fundamental laws; more over you are hinting rather impolitely at some sort of sacrifice of our possessions."

We do not know which of them proved, in the long run, that the other was a demagogue. But we do know that when thieves fall out true men come into their own.


[1] An untranslatable Latin pun: its meaning is clear from the context. (Literally "a grove, but not giving light"; lucus—a grove, lucere—to give light.)—Ed.

[2] Ivan Ivanovich and Ivan Nikiforovich—characters in Gogol's Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich.

Published: Zvezda, No. 21, May 7, 1911. Signed: V. Ilyin.
Published according to the Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 17, pages 189-194.
Translated: Dora Cox

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