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Can the Slogan "Freedom of Association" Serve as a Basis
for the Working-Class Movement Today?

V. I. Lenin

In the legal press, the liquidators headed by Trotsky argue that it can. They are doing all in their power to distort the true character of the workers' movement. But those are hopeless efforts. The drowning liquidators are clutching at a straw to rescue their unjust cause.

In 1910 little groups of intellectuals began a campaign of petitions for freedom of association. It was an artificial campaign. The mass of the workers remained indifferent. One cannot fire the proletariat with so futile an undertaking. It was fitting for liberals to believe in political reforms under the tsarist autocracy. The workers at once saw through the falsity of the undertaking and remained aloof.

The workers are not against the struggle for reforms—they fought for the Insurance Bill. Through their deputies they used every opportunity in the Third Duma to bring about at least slight improvements. But the point is that the Third Duma and the Insurance Bill are not fiction, but political facts, while "freedom of association" under the June Third monarchy of Romanov is an empty promise from rotten liberals.

The liberals are enemies of the revolution. Even now they are outspoken in their opposition to it—the Black-Hundred Third Duma has not taught them to throw off their fear of the revolution. Being afraid of the revolution, the liberals comfort themselves with the hope of constitutional reforms and advocate for the workers one of those reforms, freedom of association.

But the workers do not believe the fable about a "constitution" under the conditions of the Third Duma, general lack of rights, and unbridled tyranny. The workers demand freedom of association in earnest and therefore they are fighting for freedom for the whole people, for the overthrow of the monarchy, for a republic.

The strikes in April and May showed in point of fact that the proletariat had risen in a revolutionary strike. The combination of the economic and political strike, revolutionary meetings, and the slogan of a republic advanced by the St. Petersburg workers on May Day—all these facts were conclusive proof of the beginning of a revolutionary upswing.

The factual, objective situation in Russia is this: the proletariat has begun a revolutionary struggle of the masses to overthrow the tsarist monarchy, and unrest in the armed forces is growing—an indication that they have joined in the struggle. As for the peasant democrats, the best among them are turning away from the liberals to lend ear to the working-class vanguard.

Meanwhile the liberals, enemies of the revolution, up hold only the "constitutional" path and put forward, against the revolution, the promise (an empty and false promise) of "freedom of association" under Russia's tsarist monarchy!

Such is the actual political situation. And these are the real social forces: (1) the tsarist monarchy, which flouts all "constitution"; (2) the liberal-monarchist bourgeois, who out of fear of the revolution pretend that they believe in a combination of "freedom" and the tsarist regime, and (3) the revolutionary democrats; from the midst of the latter a leader has already risen—the mass of the workers, to whose appeal the sailors and soldiers, from Helsingfors to Tashkent, are responding.

How hopelessly stupid, under the circumstances, is the liquidators' talk about "freedom of association"! Of all "reforms", these sages of liberal labour policy have chosen an impossible constitutional reform, which is nothing but a promise, and they are amusing themselves by playing at "European" constitutionalism.

It won't do! The workers are casting aside the liberals and liberal labour policy. They will support, develop, and make an object of their campaigns, every reform that really be comes an immediate issue—both in the Third and in the Fourth Duma—from insurance to increased salaries for those who slave in offices.

But the workers laugh contemptuously at the empty and absurd promise of a constitutional political reform under the autocracy. May the revolutionary struggle begun by the masses in order to overthrow the monarchy and win a republic grow in scale and intensity! The struggle will show what half-hearted constitutional reforms will result in if the new revolution is defeated, but to suggest to the masses a non-revolutionary road, a peaceful constitutional reform, now, at the beginning of a revolutionary onslaught, is something that only the "man in a muffler"[1] can do.

The revolutionary onslaught which has begun calls for revolutionary slogans. Down with the monarchy! Long live the democratic republic, the eight-hour working day, and the confiscation of all landed estates!

[1] The man in a muffler—the chief character in Chekhov's story of that name, a man typifying the narrow-minded philistine who dreads all initiative and all that is new.

Published: Rabochaya Gazeta No. 9, July 30 (August 12), 1912.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 242-244.

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