A Revolution of the 1789 or the 1848 Type?
Published: First published in 1926 in Lenin Miscellany V. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 257-259.
An important question in connection with the Russian revolution is the following:
I. Will it go on to the complete overthrow of the tsarist government and the establishment of a republic?
II. Or will it limit itself to a curtailment of tsarist power, to a monarchist constitution?
In other words, are we to have a revolution of the 1789 type or of the 1848 type? (We say type in order to dispose of the preposterous idea that there can be any repetition of the irrevocably vanished social, political, and international situations of 1789 and 1848.)
That a Social-Democrat must want and work for the former, of this there can hardly be any doubt.
Yet Martynov’s way of stating the issue reduces itself wholly to a tail-ender’s desire for a more modest revolution. In type lithe “danger”, so frightening to the Martynovs, of the proletariat and the peasantry seizing power is entirely eliminated. In this case Social-Democracy will unavoidably remain “in opposition”—even to the revolution; this indeed is what Martynov wants—to remain in opposition even to the revolution.
The question is, which type is the more probable?
In favour of type I we have: (1) An immeasurably greater store of resentment and revolutionary feeling among the lower classes in Russia than there was in the Germany of 1848. With us the change is sharper; with us there have been no intermediate stages between autocracy and political freedom (the Zemstvo does not count); with us despotism is Asiatically virginal. (2) With us a disastrous war increases the likelihood of a severe collapse, for it has involved the tsarist government completely. (3) With us the international situation is more favourable, for proletarian Europe will make it impossible for the crowned heads of Europe to help the Russian monarchy. (4) With us the development, of class-conscious revolutionary parties, their literature and organisation, is on a much higher level than it was in 1789, 1848, or 1871. (5) With us the various nationalities oppressed by tsarism, such as the Poles and Finns, provide a powerful impulse to the attack on the autocracy. (6) With us the peasantry is in particularly sorry plight; it is incredibly impoverished and has absolutely nothing to lose.
Of course, all these considerations are by far not absolute. Others may be contraposed to them: (1) We have very few survivals of feudalism. (2) The government is more experienced and has greater facilities for detecting the danger of revolution. (3) The spontaneity of a revolutionary outburst is complicated by the war, which creates problems that have no bearing on the revolution. The war demonstrates the weakness of the Russian revolutionary classes, which would not have had the strength to rise without it (cf. Karl Kautsky in The Social Revolution). (4) Other countries provide no stimulus to a revolution in ours. (5) The national movements towards the dismemberment of Russia are likely to tear the bulk of t.he Russian big and petty bourgeoisie away from our revolution. (6) The antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie with us is much deeper than it was in 1789, 1848, or 1871; hence, the bourgeoisie will be more fearful of the proletarian revolution and will throw itself more readily into the arms of reaction.
Only history, of course, can weigh these pros and cons in the balances. Our task as Social-Democrats is to drive the bourgeois revolution onward as far as it will go, without ever losing sight of our main task—the independent organisation of the proletariat.
This is where Martynov gets muddled. The complete revolution means seizure of power by the proletariat and the poor peasantry. These classes, once in power, cannot but strive for the socialist revolution. Ergo, seizure of power, from being at first a step in the democratic revolution, will, by force of circumstances, and against the will (and sometimes without the awareness) of its participants, p a s s i n t o the socialist revolution. And here failure is inevitable. If attempts at the socialist revolution are bound to end in failure, we must (like Marx in 1871, when he foresaw the inevitable failure of the insurrection in Paris) advise the proletariat not to rise, but to wait and organise, reculer pour mieux sauter.
Such, in substance, is Martynov’s idea (and that of the new Iskra, too), had he been able to reason it out to its logical end.
- N.B. Some might add here “or of the 1871 type”? This question must be considered as a probable objection raised against us by many non-Social-Democrats.—Lenin
- To step back, the better to leap.—Ed.