“Deception of the People with Slogans of Freedom and Equality”
V. I. Lenin
The question I dealt with in my speech at the Congress on adult education on May 19—the question of equality in general and the equality of the worker and the peasant in particular—is undoubtedly one of the most pressing and “painful” questions of our time, and one that touches upon the most deep-seated prejudices of the petty bourgeois, the small proprietor, the petty commodity owner, every philistine and nine-tenths of the intelligentsia (including the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary intelligentsia).
Deny the equality of the worker and the peasant! How terrible! Of course, this is something all the friends of the capitalists, all of their hangers-on, and the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries first of all, are trying to seize upon in order to “irritate” the peasant, to “stir him up”, to incite him against the workers, against the Communists. Such attempts are inevitable, but since they are founded on lies, they are doomed to disgraceful failure.
Peasants are sober-minded, business-like, practical people. Things must be explained to them in a practical light, through simple, everyday examples. Is the peasant who has a surplus of grain justified in hiding this surplus until prices reach exorbitant, profiteering levels, without any regard for the workers who are going hungry? Or is the state authority, which is in the hands of the workers, justified in taking over all surplus grain not at profiteering, huckstering, exorbitant prices, but at a fixed price set by the state?
That is the point at issue That is the whole thing in a nutshell. To avoid facing up to this fact the various swindlers who, like the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, are working for the capitalists, for the return of undivided power to them, are resorting to empty phrase-mongering about “equality” and the “unity of labour democracy”.
The peasant must make his choice:
either freedom to trade in grain, which means speculation in grain, freedom for the rich to grow richer, freedom for the poor to be pauperised and to starve, return of undivided power to the landowners and capitalists, dissolution of the alliance of the peasants and the workers,
or delivery of grain surpluses at a fixed price to the state, i.e., the united workers' authority, which means an alliance between the peasants and the workers to get rid of the bourgeoisie altogether and to eliminate any possibility of their rule being restored.
Such is the choice.
The richer peasants, the kulaks, will choose the first alternative; they will want to try their luck in alliance with the capitalists and landowners against the workers, against the poor, but such peasants are a minority in Russia. The majority of the peasants will prefer an alliance with the workers against the restoration of capitalist rule, against “freedom for the rich to grow richer”, against “freedom for the poor to starve”, against the deceitful camouflage of this accursed capitalist “freedom” (freedom to starve to death) with flowery words about “equality” (the equality of the well-fed, who have a surplus of grain, and the starving).
Our task is to fight the—cunning capitalist deception which the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries practise by means of resounding and flowery phrase-mongering about “freedom” and “equality”.
Peasants! Unmask the wolves in sheep's clothing who praise “freedom”, “equality”, and “unity of labour democracy” and thereby actually champion the “freedom” of the landowner to oppress the peasants, the “equality” of the wealthy capitalist and the worker or the semi-starved peasant, the “equality” of the well-fed man who hides his surplus grain and the worker who is tormented by hunger and unemployment because the country has been ruined by war. Such wolves in sheep's clothing are the working people's worst enemies; whether they call themselves Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, or non-party they are in reality friends of the capitalists.
“The workers and peasants are equal as working people, but the well-fed grain profiteer is not the equal of the hungry worker.” “We are fighting only to protect the interests of labour, we take grain from profiteers, and not from working people.” “We want to reach an understanding with the middle peasants, the working peasants”—this is what I said in my speech, this is the crux of the matter, this is the real truth which is confused by loud-sounding phrases about “equality”. Moreover, the vast majority of the peasants know that this is the truth, that the workers' state fights the profiteers and the rich while rendering every assistance to the working people and the poor, whereas both the landowner' state (under a monarchy) and the capitalist state (under the freest and most democratic republic) have always and everywhere, in all countries, helped the rich to rob the working people, helped the speculators and the rich to grow richer at the expense of the poor who become poorer.
This is a truth every peasant knows. And hence the greater their awareness, the sooner and more resolutely the majority of the peasants will make their choice and declare for alliance with the workers, for agreement with the workers' government, against the landowner or capitalist state; for Soviet power against the “Constituent Assembly” or the “democratic republic”; for agreement with the Bolshevik Communists, against any support for the capitalists, Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries!
To the “learned” gentlemen, to the democrats, socialists, Social-Democrats, Socialist-Revolutionaries, etc., we say: you all pay lip-service to the “class struggle”, but actually you close your eyes to it at the very time when it is growing especially acute. And to do that means to side with capital, with the bourgeoisie, against the working people.
He who recognises the class struggle must also recognise that in a bourgeois republic, even in the freest and most democratic bourgeois republic, “freedom” and “equality” never were, and never could be, anything but an expression of the equality and freedom of the commodity owners, the equality and freedom of capital. Marx, in all of his writings and especially in his Capital (which you all recognise in words ), made this clear thousands of times; he ridiculed the abstract conception of “freedom and equality” and the vulgarisers, the Benthams who closed their eyes to the facts, and he revealed the material roots of these abstractions.
Under the bourgeois system (i.e., as long as private property in land and in the means of production persists) and under bourgeois democracy, “freedom and equality” remain purely formal, signifying in practice wage-slavery for the workers (who are formally free and equal) and the undivided rule of capital, the oppression of labour by capital. This is the ABC of socialism, my learned gentlemen—and you have forgotten it.
It follows from this ABC that during the proletarian revolution, when the class struggle has sharpened to the point of civil war, only fools and traitors will seek to get away with empty talk about “freedom”, “equality” and “unity of labour democracy”. Actually everything depends on the outcome of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and the intermediate, middle classes (including the entire petty bourgeoisie, and hence the entire peasantry) inevitably vacillate between the two camps.
The issue is this—which of the main forces, the proletariat or the bourgeoisie, these intermediate sections will join. There cannot be any third way; he who has not understood this from reading Marx's Capital has understood nothing in Marx, understood nothing in socialism, but is in fact a philistine and a petty bourgeois who blindly follows in the wake of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, he who has understood all this, will not allow himself to be deceived by empty phrases about “freedom” and “equality”, but will think and speak of practical things, that is, of the concrete conditions for a rapprochement between the peasants and the workers, their alliance against the capitalists, agreement between them against the exploiters, the rich and the profiteers.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is not the end of class struggle but its continuation in new forms. The dictatorship of the proletariat is class struggle waged by a proletariat that is victorious and has taken political power into its hands against a bourgeoisie that has been defeated but not destroyed, a bourgeoisie that has not vanished, not ceased to offer resistance, but that has intensified its resistance. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a specific form of class alliance between the proletariat, the vanguard of the working people, and the numerous non-proletarian strata of the working people (petty bourgeoisie, small proprietors, the peasantry, the intelligentsia, etc.), or the majority of these strata, an alliance against capital, an alliance whose aim is the complete overthrow of capital, complete suppression of the resistance offered by the bourgeoisie as well as of attempts at restoration on its part, an alliance for the final establishment and consolidation of socialism. It is a specific kind of alliance which takes shape in a specific situation, namely, amidst fierce civil war; it is an alliance between firm supporters of socialism and its vacillating allies, sometimes “neutrals” (in which case instead of an agreement on struggle the alliance becomes an agreement on neutrality); an alliance between economically, politically, socially, and spiritually different classes. Only the corrupt heroes of the corrupt Berne or yellow International, people like Kautsky, Martov and Co., can evade examination of the concrete forms, conditions, and tasks of this alliance by resorting to platitudes about “freedom”, “equality”, and “unity of labour democracy”, that is, by snatching fragments from the ideological baggage of the era of commodity economy.
June 23, 1919
Delivered: 23 June, 1919|
First Published: Published in the pamphlet N. Lenin, Two Speeches at the First All-Russia Congress on Adult Education, Moscow, 1919;
Published according to the pamphlet.
Source: Lenin's Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 29, pages 377-381
Translated: George Hanna
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