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The Platform of the Reformists and the Platform of the Revolutionary Social-Democrats

V. I. Lenin

The revolutionary upswing in Russia made itself clearly felt in the first half of 1912. The number of political strikers, as calculated by the factory owners, reached 515,000 for five months. A particularly important document, reprinted in full in No. 27 of the Central Organ, namely, the May Day appeal of the St. Petersburg workers, provides evidence as to the nature of the strikers' slogans, their demands, the political content of their demonstrations, meetings, etc.

The slogans with which the St. Petersburg workers came forward in those memorable days were not reformist but revolutionary Social-Democratic slogans: a constituent assembly, an eight-hour working day, confiscation of the land ed estates, the overthrow of the tsarist government, and a democratic republic.

The revolts and attempted revolts of soldiers and sailors—in Turkestan, in the Baltic Fleet and on the Black Sea—supplied fresh objective evidence that after long years of rampant counter-revolution and of a lull in the working-class movement, a new revolutionary upswing had begun.

This upswing coincided with the period of the elections to the Fourth Duma, when all parties and all political trends had to present, in one form or another, their general appraisal of the political situation. Now, if we want to analyse our political tasks seriously, as the tasks of the working class and not the pious wishes of little groups, and if we want to test programmes and platforms in a Marxist way by comparing them with the facts of the mass struggle and with the actions of all the classes of this society, we must also test the various election platforms on the touch stone of this revolutionary upswing of the masses. For, as far as the Social-Democrats are concerned, elections are not a special political operation, not an attempt to win seats through all sorts of promises and declarations, but merely a special occasion for advocating the basic demands and the principles of the political world outlook of the class-conscious proletariat.

The programmes and platforms of all the government parties, from the Black Hundreds to Guchkov, leave no room for doubt. They are plainly and openly counter-revolutionary. It is common knowledge that these parties lack a foothold of any real importance not only among the working class and the peasantry, but even among wide sections of the bourgeoisie. These sections have almost completely turned away from the Octobrists.

The programmes and platforms of the liberal bourgeois parties have been published in part almost officially (the platform of the Moslem group) and are partly known quite accurately through the "big" political press (the platforms of the "Progressists" and of the Cadets). The essence of all these programmes and platforms has been inimitably expressed in the declarations of the garrulous Cadet, Gredeskul, which were reprinted in Rech and from there found their way into the Marxist press.

"A public denial of the need for a new revolution in Russia" is how Gredeskul himself formulated his views (cf. Sotsial-Demokrat No. 27, p. 3). It was he, too, who contrast ed the real platform of the liberals (with the Cadets at their head) with that of the revolutionaries, saving that "what we need is merely quiet, persevering and confident constitutional work".

We stress the words "real platform", for in Russia, as in all bourgeois countries, most platforms are mere window dressing.

The crux of the matter is what was admitted (in a rare fit of truthfulness) by Mr. Gredeskul. The liberal monarchist bourgeoisie is opposed to a new revolution and advocates only constitutional reforms.

The Social-Democrats consistently, and the bourgeois democrats (Narodniks) hesitantly, uphold the "need" for a new revolution, and are carrying on propaganda in favour of such a revolution. The upswing of the mass struggle has begun. The revolutionary Social-Democrats are trying to extend and strengthen it, helping it develop to a still higher plane, to the stage of revolution. The reformists, however, regard the upswing as a mere "revival"; their policy is a policy aimed at obtaining constitutional concessions, constitutional reforms. It follows that the bourgeoisie and proletariat have entered, at this "stage" of Russian history as well, into a struggle for influence over the "people", over the masses. No one can foretell the outcome of this struggle, but neither can anyone entertain any doubts as to the position which the R.S.D.L.P. must occupy in this struggle.

It is in this way, and only in this way, that one can start to appraise the election platform of the Party and the election platform issued the other day by the "Organising Committee" elected by the liquidationist conference.

The election platform of the Party, published by the Central Committee after the January Conference, was draft ed before the events of April and May. These events proved it correct. A single theme runs through the whole platform—criticism of constitutional reforms in present-day Russia as hopeless and utopian, and the propaganda of revolution. The slogans of the platform have been framed precisely in such a way as to express the revolutionary tasks with perfect clarity and make it absolutely impossible to mistake them for promises of constitutional reforms. The platform of the Party represents a direct appeal of the revolutionary Social-Democrats to hundreds of thousands of political strikers, to those who are in the front ranks of the millions of the muzhik armed forces, to whom it explains the tasks of an uprising. A revolutionary party could not even dream of a better test for its platform, of a better confirmation of it by experience, than this direct response to the explanations of the Party—the May strikes and the attempted military revolts in June and July.

Look at the platform of the liquidators. Its liquidationist essence is artfully concealed by Trotsky's revolutionary phrases. This camouflage may sometimes blind na\"ive and altogether inexperienced people, and may even appear to be "reconciliation" between the liquidators and the Party. But the most cursory examination will rapidly dissipate this self-deception.

The platform of the liquidators was written after the May strikes and the attempted revolts in the summer. And in seeking a real practical answer to the question of the essence of this platform, the first thing we ask is: how does it appraise those strikes and those attempts?

"The economic upswing...", "...by the growth of its strike movement, the proletariat has signalled the coming new social upswing...", "...the powerful April movement of the proletariat demanding freedom of association"—that is all the liquidators' platform says about the April and May strikes.

But this is indeed an untruth! It is a crying distortion of the issue! The main thing is omitted here, namely, the revolutionary character of the political strike, which is not aimed at winning a constitutional reform, but at over throwing the government, i.e., at revolution.

How could such an untruth come to be written in an illegal, revolutionary leaflet full of "red" phrases? It had to be, because such is the view of the liberals and the liquidators. They see in strikes what they wish to see—a struggle for constitutional reforms. They do not see what they do not wish to see, namely, a revolutionary upswing. We liberals want to fight for reform, but not for revolution—there you have the truth of the class position that found expression in the untruth of the liquidators.

With regard to the attempted revolts we read, "...the soldiers in the barracks are driven by violence, humiliation and starvation to outbursts of desperate protest, then they are suppressed with bullets, the rope", etc.

This is a liberal appraisal. We revolutionary Social-Democrats regard the attempted revolts as the beginning of an uprising of the masses, even if an unsuccessful, untimely, incorrect beginning. And we know that the masses learn how to make a successful uprising only from the experience of unsuccessful ones, just as the Russian workers, by a series of unsuccessful, and sometimes particularly unsuccessful, political strikes in 1901–04 learned to organise the successful strike of October 1905. We say that the workers and peasants who are most downtrodden by the barracks have begun to rise in revolt. Hence the plain and obvious conclusion: we must explain to them how and for what purpose they should prepare for a successful uprising.

The liberals take a different view. The soldiers are "driven" to "outbursts of desperate protest", they say. To a liberal, an insurgent soldier is not the subject of the revolution, not the forerunner of the masses rising in revolt, but an object of governmental evil ("driven to desperation"), serving to demonstrate that evil.

See how bad our government is—it drives the soldiers to desperation and then suppresses them with bullets, says the liberal (the inference being: if we liberals were in power, there would be no soldiers' mutinies).

See how deeply and widely revolutionary energy is maturing among the masses—says the Social-Democrat—even the soldiers and sailors who are downtrodden by barrack drill are beginning to rise in revolt, and by rising badly they teach how to rise successfully.

As you see, the liquidators have "interpreted" (in the senatorial sense of the word interpret) the revolutionary upsurge in Russia during the spring and the summer.

After which they "interpreted" the programme of our Party.

The Programme of the R.S.D.L.P. says:

    "The R.S.D.L.P. sets itself the immediate political task of overthrowing the tsarist autocracy and replacing it by a democratic republic, whose constitution would ensure: (1) the sovereignty of the people" ... etc., and then comes a list of "liberties" and "rights".

One would think that this could not be misunderstood; the "immediate" task is the overthrow of the autocracy and its replacement by a republic, which would ensure liberties.

The liquidators have revised all this.

In their platform we read:

    "The Social-Democrats call on the people to fight for a democratic republic....

    "Striving for this aim, which the people will be able to achieve only as a result of revolution, the Social-Democrats in the present election campaign [listen to this!] call on the working masses to rally to the following current demands: (1) universal, etc., suffrage ... in the elections to the Duma", etc.

Mr. Peshekhonov, a Socialist-Revolutionary liquidator, wrote in the autumn of 1906, when he was founding an "open party" (and almost succeeded in founding it, but the police stepped in and put him in quod!), that the republic was a "remote prospect", that "the question of a republic requires extreme caution", that the immediate demands now were reforms.

But the Socialist-Revolutionary liquidator was na\"ive, simple, clumsy and blunt. Do the "European" opportunists ever act in that way? No. They are more cunning, more clever, more diplomatic.

They do not renounce the slogan of a republic—what a libel! They only "interpret" it in a suitable fashion, being prompted by considerations obvious to every philistine. It is a moot point whether there will be a revolution or not, says the man in the street simply, and Trotsky repeats it in a scholarly fashion in Nasha Zarya (No. 5, p. 21). A republic "only as a result of revolution", but the "current" issue "in the present election campaign" is constitutional reforms!

Everything went off so smoothly: the republic is both recognised and relegated to the distant future. Heaps of r-r-revolutionary words were spoken, but in reality the demands put forward "in the present election campaign" (the whole platform is written only for this present campaign!) as "current are those for reforms.

Yes, it was certainly great "masters of diplomacy" who were present at the liquidators' conference. But what puny masters they are! While they may delight the group diplomatists and mislead the simple-minded "conciliators" the Marxists will talk to them in a different strain.

The philistine is satisfied with the undoubted, holy and empty truth that it is impossible to say in advance whether there will be a revolution or not. A Marxist is not satisfied with that; he says: our propaganda and the propaganda of all worker Social-Democrats is one of the factors determining whether there will be a revolution or not. Hundreds of thousands of political strikers and the foremost men of various units of the armed forces ask us, our Party, what they should strive for, for the sake of what they should rise, what they should try to achieve, whether they should expand the up- surge that has begun into a revolution, or whether they should direct it towards a struggle for reforms.

The revolutionary Social-Democrats have given their answer to these questions, which are more interesting and important than the philistine-Trotskyist attitude of uncertainty: will there be a revolution or not, who can tell?

Our answer is—criticism of the utopia of constitutional reforms, explanation of the futility of the hopes placed in them, the utmost all-round promotion of the revolutionary upsurge, utilisation of the election campaign for this purpose. Whether or not there will be a revolution does not depend on us alone. But we shall do our work, and this work will never be in vain. It will sow the seeds of democracy and proletarian independence deep among the masses, and these seeds will certainly sprout and produce either a democratic revolution tomorrow, or a socialist revolution the day after.

Those, however, who preach to the masses their vulgar, intellectualist. Bundist-Trotskyist scepticism—"we don't know whether there will be a revolution or not, but the 'current' issue is reforms"—are already corrupting the masses, preaching liberal utopias to them.

Instead of permeating the election campaign with the spirit of the present, real, "actual" political situation, in which half a million workers are engaged in revolutionary strikes, and the foremost men in the muzhik armed forces are firing on their aristocrat officers—instead of this they dismiss from their would-be "European" (they are so European, so European, are our liquidators!) "parliamentary" considerations this real situation (in which there is very little of the "European", but very much of the "Chinese", that is to say, of the democratic-revolutionary), and having dismissed it by means of a few non-committal phrases, they declare the reformist election campaign to be the real thing.

The Social-Democratic Party needs a platform for the elections to the Fourth Duma in order once more to explain to the masses—in connection with the elections, on the occasion of the elections, and in debates on the elections—the need for, and the urgency and inevitability of, the revolution.

They, the liquidators, need a platform "for" the elections, i.e., a platform enabling them politely to dismiss considerations about a revolution as an uncertain eventuality and to declare the election campaign for a list of constitutional reforms to be the "real" thing.

The Social-Democratic Party wants to use the elections in order again to drive home to the masses the idea of the need for revolution, and the fact of the revolutionary up swing which has begun. That is why the Social-Democratic Party, in its platform, says briefly and plainly to those voting in the elections to the Fourth Duma: not constitutional reforms, but a republic, not reformism, but revolution.

The liquidators are using the elections to the Fourth Duma to preach constitutional reforms and weaken the idea of revolution. It is for this purpose and because of this that they depict soldiers' revolts as "outbursts of desperate protest" to which soldiers are "driven", and not as the beginning of a mass uprising which will grow or subside according, among other things, to whether or not all the Social-Democratic workers of Russia at once begin to support it with all their might, with all their energy, with all their enthusiasm.

It is for this purpose that the May strikes have been "interpreted" from being revolutionary into being reformist.

It is for this purpose that the Party programme has been "interpreted", and instead of the "immediate" task of establishing a republic that will ensure liberties, it has been decreed to regard as current in the "present election campaign"—for the Fourth Duma, don't laugh!—the demand for various liberties.

How much that is old Chinese there is in Russian life! What an amount of old Chinese practices there is in our tsarism, and also in our liquidators, who wish to fit the "ceremonials" of parliamentary struggle and reformism into a setting which has the Purishkeviches and Treshchenkovs on top and revolutionary attempts of the masses below! How much that is old Chinese there is in these vain efforts of intellectuals to defend themselves against the Khvostovs and Makarovs by producing a letter of recommendation from MacDonald and Jaurès, from Bissolati and Bernstein, from Kolb and Frank!

The diplomatic "reconciliation" of liquidationist views with those of the Party that was staged by Trotsky at the liquidationist conference does not in reality "reconcile" anything at all. It does not remove the greatest political fact, which determines the entire social and political situation in present-day Russia. That fact is the struggle between the reformist and the revolutionary Social-Democratic platforms; it is the pronouncement of the bourgeoisie, as represented by its liberal party leaders, against the need for a new revolution in Russia and in favour of purely constitutional "work", in opposition to the revolutionary strike of hundreds of thousands of proletarians, which is a call to the masses to begin a real struggle for freedom.

To make one bow to the reformists and another to the revolutionary Social-Democrats does not do away with this objective political fact, does not weaken its force and weight in the slightest degree. Good intentions to smooth over differences arising from this fact—even assuming that these intentions are indeed perfectly "good" and sincere—are powerless to alter the irreconcilably hostile political tendencies arising from the entire counter-revolutionary situation.

The proletariat has risen with its revolutionary Social-Democratic banner, and on the eve of the Fourth, Black Hundred, Duma, It will not lower it before the liberals, will not furl it to please the reformists, will not consent to blunt or tone down its platform for reasons of group diplomacy.

The platform of revolutionary Social-Democracy versus the platform of reformism—this was the watchword under which the May strikes took place. Under it, too, the R.S.D.L.P. is entering the elections to a landlord and priest Duma, and under it the Party will carry on its entire work in that Duma and among the masses.

Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 28–29, November 5 (18), 1912.
Published according to the text in Sotsial-Demokrat.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 378-386.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan

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