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The Separation of Liberalism from Democracy

V. I. Lenin

The separation of liberalism from democracy in Russia is one of the basic questions of the entire emancipation movement.

What is the cause of the movement's weakness? Is it because democracy has been insufficiently aware and definite in separating from liberalism and has allowed itself to become infected by liberalism's importance and wavering? Or is it because democracy separated from liberalism too soon (or too sharply, etc.) and thus weakened the "force of the common onslaught"?

There can scarcely be anybody interested in the cause of freedom who will argue that this is not a question of fundamental importance. One cannot be a conscious champion of freedom without giving a definite answer to this question. To settle it one must understand which social forces, which classes support liberalism, and which support democracy, and what political strivings have their roots in the nature of these classes.

In this article we want to throw some light on this fundamental question from the point of view of current foreign political events. The burning question is naturally that of the Second Balkan War, the defeat of Bulgaria, the Bucharest peace that was so humiliating for her, and Russia's unsuccessful attempt to blame France for not having supported "us", and to obtain a revision of the peace terms.

As we know, Novoye Vremya and Rech are in agreement about these accusations against France, about this attempt to renew Russia's "active" policy in the Balkans. This means that there is agreement between the feudal landowners and reactionary nationalist ruling circles on the one hand, and the most politically conscious, most organised circles of the liberal bourgeoisie, who have long been gravitating towards an imperialist policy on the other.

Apropos of this, Kievskaya Mysl, a provincial newspaper with a large circulation, which expresses the views of certain sections of petty-bourgeois democracy, said the following in a very instructive editorial on August 1:

    "It is not that the opposition and nationalism have changed places [as Mr. Milyukov asserted in his well-known foreign policy speech in the Duma] but that liberalism has separated [Kievskaya Mysl's italics] from democracy and has entered, at first timidly, with backward glances, and then with head held high, upon the same path, the path of political adventure, along which nationalism leads the way under the same Slavophile banner."

And the newspaper in all justice recalls the generally known facts—how Rech displayed "chauvinist enthusiasm", how that newspaper, permeated, in general, with "imperialist tendencies", called for an advance to Armenia, to the Bosphorus.

    "Liberalism," said Kievskaya Mysl, "by supporting at its own risk Russian foreign policy, which cannot be anything but a reaction cry nationalist policy as long as home policy remains such, has also taken upon itself political responsibility for that support."

An incontestable truth. It only has to he fully analysed. If it is true that the Russian foreign political line is deter mined by the line in home policy (and it undoubtedly is), does this refer only to the reactionaries? Obviously not. Obviously it refers to liberalism as well.

Liberalism could not have "separated from democracy" in foreign policy if it was not separated from democracy in home policy. Kievskaya Mysl itself has to admit this when it says that "the character of the political mistake of liberalism ... is evidence of profound organic disorders".

That is just it! We should have put it differently—profound class interests of the bourgeoisie—instead of using that somewhat high-sounding and obscure expression. It was these class interests of liberalism that made it fear (especially in 1905) the democratic movement, and that made it turn to the right both in home and foreign policy.

It would be ridiculous for anyone to think of denying the connection between Cadet imperialism and chauvinism today and the Cadet-Octobrist slogan to save the Duma in the spring of 1907, between the Cadet vote against local land committees in the spring of 1908 and the Cadet decision to enter the Bulygin Duma[1] in the autumn of 1905. This is the same policy of one and the same class, which fears revolution more than it does reaction.

One of the main causes of the weakness of the Russian emancipation movement is the lack of understanding of this truth by the broad sections of the petty bourgeoisie in general, and by petty-bourgeois politicians, writers and ideological leaders in particular.

Contrary to the tales of the liberals who, in order to cover the steps they were taking towards reconciliation with the Rights, pointed to the "implacability" of the Lefts, working-class democrats have never lumped the liberals and Rights together in "one reactionary mass",[2] have never refused to use their differences (at the second stage of the Duma elections, for example) in the interests of the emancipation movement. But working-class democrats considered—and must always consider—their task to be one of neutralising the wavering liberals, who are capable of becoming "infatuated" with imperialism under Stolypin or Maklakov.

Russian democracy cannot make a serious advance if it does not recognise the deep-going class roots that separate liberalism from democracy, if it does not spread the consciousness of this among the masses, if it does not learn to neutralise in this way the waverings of the liberals and their betrayals of the cause of "people's freedom". Without this all talk of the successes of the emancipation movement is meaningless.


[1] Bulygin Duma—the advisory representative institution that the tsarist government promised to convene in 1905. The draft of a law founding an advisory State Duma and the election procedure were elaborated by a commission under the chairmanship of Minister of the Interior Bulygin and promulgated on August 6 (19), 1905 The Bolsheviks declared an active boycott of the Bulygin Duma and put it into effect; the government was unable to convene the Duma, its attempts to do so being foiled by the political general strike of October 1905.

[2] This refers to Lassalle's well-known thesis that all other classes constitute one reactionary mass as compared with the working class. The thesis was included in the programme of the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany adopted at the Gotha Congress in 1875.

Marx criticised this anti-revolutionary thesis in his "Critique of the Gotha Programme". (See K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 25–27).

Published: Severnaya Pravda August 11, 1913.
Signed: V. I..
Published according to the Severnaya Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 302-304.
Translated: The Late George Hanna

eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive
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