On the Provisional Revolutionary Government
|Written||27 May 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 461-481.
Article One. Plekhanov’s Reference to History[edit source]
The Third Congress of the Party. adopted a resolution on the question of the provisional revolutionary government. The resolution expresses the position we have taken in Vperyod. We now propose to examine in detail all objections to our position and to clarify from all points of consideration the true doctrinal significance and the practical implications of the Congress resolution. We shall begin with Plekhanov ’s attempt to deal with the question strictly as a point of principle. Plekhanov entitled his article “On the Question of the Seizure of Power”. He criticises the “tactics aimed [evidently by Vperyod] at the seizure of political power by the proletariat”. As everyone who knows Vperyod is perfectly well aware, it has never raised the question of the seizure of power nor ever aimed at any “tactics of seizure”. Plekhanov seeks to substitute a fictitious issue for the real issue. We have only to recollect the course of the controversy to see this.
The question was first raised by Martynov in his famous Two Dictatorships. He stated that if our Party took the Lead in the uprising and the uprising were successful, this would inevitably bring about our participation in the provisional revolutionary government, which participation was inadmissible in principle and could only lead to disaster and discredit. Iskra defended this view. Vperyod contended that, on the contrary, such an outcome was highly desirable, that Social-Democratic participation in a provisional revolutionary government, which would be tantamount to the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, was permissible, and that without such a dictatorship the republic could not be maintained. Thus, in answering the question posed by Martynov, both camps to the dispute proceeded from two like premises but reached different conclusions. Both assumed: 1) that the party of the proletariat would take the lead in the uprising, and 2) that the uprising would be victorious and the autocracy completely over thrown; they differed in the evaluation of the tactical conclusions to be drawn from these premises. Does this bear any resemblance to “tactics aimed [!] at the seizure [?] of power”? Is it not obvious that Plekhanov seeks to evade Martynov’s presentation of the question discussed by Iskra and Vperyod? At issue was the question whether a victorious uprising would be dangerous or disastrous, since it might necessitate participation in a provisional revolutionary government. The point that Plekhanov wants to argue is whether the tactics should be aimed at seizure of power. We are afraid that Plekhanov’s wish (which can only be understood as a desire to obscure Martynov’s presentation of the question) will remain a pious wish, since this is a subject that no one has discussed or is arguing.
What this substitution of the question signifies for the whole of Plekhanov’s argumentation is clearly revealed in the “virtuosi-of-philistinism” incident. Plekhanov cannot get over this expression, which was used by Vperyod. He reverts to it time and again, sternly and angrily assuring his readers that Vperyod has dared to apply this none too flattering epithet to Marx and Engels, that Vperyod was beginning to “criticise” Marx, etc., etc. Seeing that Plekhanov’s aim was to rehabilitate Martynov and to give Vperyod a “dressing down”, we quite understand how pleased he would have been had Vperyod said anything like the nonsense he attributes to it. The point is that “Vperyod” did not say anything of the kind, and any attentive reader could easily challenge Plekhanov, who has confused an interesting question of principle by meaningless and paltry cavil.
Tedious though it is to answer cavils, the notorious “virtuosi-of-philistinism” incident will have to be explained at length. Vperyod reasoned as follows. We all talk of achieving the republic. To achieve it in reality, we must “strike together” at the autocracy—“we” being the revolutionary people, the proletariat and the peasantry. But that is not all. It is not enough even to “strike the finishing blow together” at the autocracy, that is, completely to overthrow the autocratic government. We shall also have to “repulse together” the inevitable desperate attempts to restore the deposed autocracy. In a revolutionary epoch this “repulsing together” is, in effect, the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, the participation of the proletariat in. the revolutionary government. Therefore, they who seek to frighten the working class with the perspective of such a dictatorship, as people like Martynov and L. Martov have done in the new Iskra, contradict their own slogan of struggling for the republic and consummating the revolution. At bottom, these people reason as if they wanted to restrict, to prune down their struggle for freedom—in a word, to measure off in advance the tiniest of modest gains, some sort of skimpy constitution in place of the republic Such people, said Vperyod, vulgarise, philistine fashion, the well-known Marxist thesis concerning the three major forces of the revolution in the nineteenth (and the twentieth) century and its three main stages. The gist of this thesis is that the first stage of revolution is the restriction of absolutism, which satisfies the bourgeoisie; the second is the attainment of the republic, which satisfies the “people”—the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie at large; the third is the socialist revolution, which alone can satisfy the proletariat. “That picture, by and large, is correct,” Vperyod said. We actually have here an ascent by three different schematic stages, varying according to the classes, which, at best, will accompany us in this ascent. But if we interpret this correct Marxist scheme of three stages to mean that we must measure off in advance, before any ascent begins, a very modest part, let us say, not more than one step, if, in keeping with this scheme and before any ascent begins, we sought to “draw up a plan of action in the revolutionary epoch”, we should be virtuosi of philistinism.
This was Vperyod’s line of thought in issue No. 14. And it was on the concluding italicised words that Plekhanov decided to pick. Vperyod, he triumphantly declared, thereby dubs Marx a philistine, because it was in keeping with this scheme that Marx drew up his plan of activity in the revolutionary epoch itself!
The evidence? The evidence is that in 1850, when the revolutionary people of Germany was defeated in the struggle of 1848-49 because it failed to deal the autocracy the finishing blow, when the liberal bourgeoisie had secured a skimpy constitution and passed over to the side of reaction— in a word, when the German democratic-revolutionary movement had only ascended the first step and halted for want of strength to mount higher, ... then Marx said that the next revolutionary ascent would be an ascent to the second step.
You smile, dear reader? Plekhanov’s syllogism is in fact somewhat—shall we say, to put it mildly—“dialectic”. Because Marx, in the corresponding concrete situation of a concrete democratic revolution, said that the ascent to the first step would be followed by the ascent to the second, therefore only “critics” of Marx could apply the word philistines to people who, before the first step is ascended, try to scare us with the awful perspective (in the event of an exceptionally well organised and accomplished uprising) of having to leap two steps at once.
No, indeed, it is not a nice thing to “criticise” Marx ... but neither is it nice to cite Marx maladroitly. Martynov was unfortunate in interpreting Marx; Plekhanov was unfortunate in defending Martynov.
Let no hypercritical reader infer from what we have said that we advocate “tactics aimed” at unconditionally leaping over one step, regardless of the correlation of the social forces. No, we advocate no such tactics. We only seek to prevent the proletariat from coming under the influence of people capable of talking of the republic and of carrying through the revolution while at the same time frightening themselves and others with the possibility of having to participate in a democratic dictatorship. We pointed out in Vperyod, No. 14, that after the present revolutionary upsurge, reaction would inevitably set in, but that the more freedom we win now and the more ruthlessly we suppress and destroy the counter-revolutionary forces in the epoch of the possible (and desirable) democratic dictatorship, the less will reaction be able to take away from us. We also pointed out in the same issue that the very question of this dictatorship makes no sense unless one assumes a course of events in which the democratic revolution goes to the length of completely overthrowing absolutism and establishing the republic without stopping midway.
Let us now pass from the “virtuosi-of-philistinism” incident to the substance of the famous Address (of the Central Committee of the Communist League to the League members, March 1850) which Plekhanov cites. In this extremely interesting and informative Address (deserving to be translated fully into Russian) Marx deals with the concrete political situation in Germany in 1850. He indicates the likelihood of another political outbreak, establishes the inevitability of the transition of power to the republican, petty-bourgeois democratic party in the event of a revolution, and analyses the tactics of the proletariat. Dealing with the tactics before and during the revolution, and following the victory of the petty-bourgeois democrats, Marx urges the necessity of creating “an independent secret and open organisation of the workers’ party”; he struggles with might and main against “its reduction to the role of appendage of the official bourgeois-democratic party”; and he stresses the importance of arming the workers, of forming an independent proletarian guard, and of having the proletarians keep a close watch on the treacherous petty-bourgeois democracy, etc.
There is not a word in the Address on the participation of the workers’ party in a provisional revolutionary government, or on the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. From that Plekhanov infers that Marx “apparently regarded as inconceivable the idea that the political representatives of the revolutionary proletariat could work together with those of the petty bourgeoisie to create a new social order”. The logic of this deduction limps. Marx does not raise the question of the participation of the workers’ party in a provisional revolutionary government, but Plekhanov concludes that Marx decides this question generally and in principle in a definitely negative sense. Marx speaks only of the concrete situation; Plekhanov draws a general conclusion without at all considering the question in its concreteness. Yet one has only to scan some passages in the Address which Plekhanov has omitted to see that his conclusions are entirely false.
The Address was written from the experience of two years in a revolutionary epoch, 1848 and 1849. Marx formulates the results of this experience as follows: “At the same time [i. e., in 1848-49] the former firm organisation of the League was considerably slackened. A large part of the members who directly participated in the revolutionary movement believed the time for secret societies to have gone by and public activities alone sufficient. The individual circles and communities [Gemeinden] allowed their connections with the Central Committee to become loose and gradually dormant. Consequently, while the democratic party, the party of the petty bourgeoisie, organised itself more and more in Germany, the workers’ party lost its only firm hold, remained organised at the most in separate localities for local purposes, and in the general movement thus came completely under the domination and leadership of the petty-bourgeois democrats.” On the following page of the Address Marx declares: “At this moment, when a new revolution is imminent ... it is extremely important that the workers’ party ... act in the most organised, most unanimous, and most independent fashion possible, if it is not to be exploited and taken in tow again by the bourgeoisie as it was in 1848.”
Consider the meaning of these categorical statements! After two years of open revolution, after the victory of the popular uprising in Berlin, after the convocation of a revolutionary parliament, after part of the country had been in open revolt and the power had passed temporarily into the hands of the revolutionary governments, Marx records the defeat of the revolutionary people, and as regards party organisation, a gain for the petty-bourgeois democrats and a loss for the workers’ party. Is it not as plain as plain can be that this implies a political situation in which it would have been pointless to raise the question of the participation of the workers’ party in the government? After two years of a revolutionary epoch, when Marx, for nine months, had openly published the most revolutionary newspaper of the workers’ party, it had to be recorded that the party was completely disorganised, that there was no clearly marked proletarian current in the mainstream (Stephan Born’s Workers’ Brotherhoods were too negligible), and that the proletariat had fallen completely, not only under the domination of the bourgeoisie, but under its leadership! Obviously, economic relations were still extremely undeveloped, there was practically no large-scale industry, nor was there an independent workers’ movement of any appreciable size, and the petty bourgeoisie was in complete control. Naturally, under such circumstances, the idea of participation by the workers’ party in a provisional government could never be entertained by a writer who was dealing with the concrete situation. Naturally, in his Address, Marx had to knock (pardon the expression) into the heads of the Communist League members axioms, which today seem elementary to us. He had to demonstrate the need for workers to nominate their own candidates in elections independently of the bourgeois democrats. He had to refute the democratic phrase mongering to the effect that the workers’ separation would “split” the democratic party (mark well!—you can only split what was yesterday united and what in the ideological sense is still united). Marx had to warn the members of the Communist League not to be carried away by such phrases. On behalf of the Central Committee of the League, he had to promise to convene a congress of the workers’ party at the first opportunity with the object of centralising the workers’ clubs; in the revolutionary years of 1848-49 the conditions were still lacking for anyone to entertain the idea of convening a separate congress of the workers’ party.
The conclusion is obvious: Marx, in the famous Address, does not even mention the question whether it is admissible in principle for the proletariat to participate in a provisional revolutionary government. He deals exclusively with the concrete situation that prevailed in Germany in 1850. He does not say a word about the participation of the Communist League in a revolutionary government, because, under the conditions then prevailing, the idea of such participation in the name of the workers’ party for the purpose of the democratic dictatorship could not have arisen.
Marx’s idea consists in the following: We, the German Social-Democrats of 1850, are unorganised, we were defeated in the first period of the revolution and were taken completely in tow by the bourgeoisie; we must organise independently—absolutely and under all circumstances independently—if we do not wish to be caught lagging again in an eventual victory of the organisationally strengthened and powerful petty-bourgeois party.
Martynov’s idea consists in the following: We, the Russian Social-Democrats of 1905, are organised in an independent party and we want to march at the head of the petty-bourgeois people for the first assault on the fortress of tsarism. But if we organise the assault too efficiently and carry it through successfully—which heaven forfend!—we may have to participate in a provisional revolutionary government, or even in the democratic dictatorship. Such participation is inadmissible in principle.
Does Plekhanov seriously want to convince us that Martynov can be defended according to Marx? Plekhanov must take the readers of Iskra for children. All we can say is: Marxism is one thing; Martynovism, another.
Before concluding with the Address we must clarify an other incorrect view of Plekhanov. He rightly points out that in March 1850, when the Address was written, Marx believed that capitalism was in a state of senile decay and the socialist revolution seemed to him “quite near”. Shortly after wards Marx corrected this mistake; as early as September 15, 1850, he broke with Schapper (Schapper found himself with Willich in a minority in the League and resigned from it), who had succumbed to bourgeois-democratic revolutionism or utopianism to the extent of saying, “We must achieve power at once, otherwise we may as well go to sleep.” Marx answered that it was incorrect to regard solely one’s own will, instead of the actual conditions, as the motive force of the revolution. The proletariat might still have to face fifteen, twenty, or fifty years of civil wars and international conflicts “not only to change the conditions, but to change yourselves [the proletarians] and to render yourselves fit for political rule”. Plekhanov briefly mentions this change in Marx’s views and concludes:
“They [Marx and Engels after this “change”] would have formulated the political tasks of the proletariat on the assumption that the democratic system had come to stay for a fairly long time. But for that very reason they would have all the more emphatically condemned the participation of socialists in a petty-bourgeois government.” (Iskra, No. 96.)
Plekhanov’s inference is entirely false. It brings us back to the confusion of socialist dictatorship and democratic dictatorship for which we have so often had occasion to criticise L. Martov and Martynov. Marx and Engels in 1850 did not differentiate between democratic dictatorship and socialist dictatorship, or, rather, they did not mention the former at all, since they considered capitalism to be in a state of senile decay and socialism near. Nor did they, for the same reason, differentiate at the time between a minimum and a maximum programme. If this distinction is to be made (as it is being made now by all of us, Marxists, who are combating the bourgeois-democratic revolutionariness of the “Socialists-Revolutionaries”, because they do not under stand the distinction), then the question of the socialist and the democratic dictatorship must be dealt with separately. In not so doing, Plekhanov is guilty of inconsistency. By choosing an evasive formulation and speaking in general terms of “the participation of socialists in a petty-bourgeois government”, he substitutes the question of the socialist dictatorship for the clearly, definitely and precisely presented question of the democratic dictatorship. He con founds (to cite the comparison of Vperyod ) the participation of Millerand in a Cabinet together with Galliffet in the epoch immediately preceding the socialist revolution with that of Varlin in a revolutionary government together with petty bourgeois democrats who defended and safeguarded the republic.
Marx and Engels considered socialism near in 1850; hence, they underestimated the democratic gains, which seemed to them to be well-established in view of the unquestionable victory of the petty-bourgeois democratic party. Twenty-five years later, in 1875, Marx drew attention to the undemocratic system in Germany—“military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms”. Thirty-five years later, in 1885, Engels predicted that in the coming European upheaval the power in Germany would pass to the petty-bourgeois democrats. What follows from this is the very reverse of what Plekhanov seeks to prove. If Marx and Eng els had realised that the democratic system was bound to last for a fairly long time, they would have attached all the more importance to the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry with the object of consolidating the republic, of completely eradicating all survivals of absolutism, and of clearing the arena for the battle for socialism. They would all the more strongly have condemned the tail-enders, who, on the eve of the democratic revolution, were capable of frightening the proletariat with the possibility of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship.
Plekhanov is aware of the weakness of his position, which is based on a misinterpretation of the Address. He therefore makes the discreet reservation that his reference to history does not claim to exhaust the subject, although he draws “exhaustively” categorical conclusions based on nothing beyond a reference which has no bearing on the matter, with no attempt even to examine the question posed concretely by Vperyod. Plekhanov seeks to impute to Vperyod both the desire to “criticise” Marx and the point of view of Mach and Avenarius. The attempt but makes us smile. Plekhanov’s position must be weak indeed if he can find no target for his darts among Vperyod’s actual assertions but needs must contrive a target from subjects as foreign to Vperyod as to the point in question. Finally, Plekhanov produces another piece of evidence, which he thinks “incontrovertible”. Actually, this evidence (a letter of Engels to Turati written in 1894) is worse than useless.
From Plekhanov’s version of this letter (unfortunately he does not quote it in full and does not say whether it was published and. where), it appears that Engels had to demonstrate to Turati the difference between a socialist and a petty-bourgeois revolution. No more need be said, Comrade Plekhanov! Turati is an Italian Millerand, a Bernsteinian, whom Giolitti had offered a portfolio in his Cabinet. Turati evidently confounded two revolutions of an entirely different class content. He imagined he would be furthering the interests of proletarian rule; but Engels explained to him that in the given situation in Italy in 1894 (i. e., several decades after Italy’s ascent to the “first step”, after the conquest of political freedom, which enabled the proletariat to organise openly, widely, and independently!), he, Turati, in a Cabinet of the victorious petty-bourgeois party, would actually be defending and promoting the interests of an alien class, the petty bourgeoisie. What we have here, consequently, is a case of Millerandism. It was against this confounding of Millerandism with the democratic dictatorship that Vperyod spoke out; but Plekhanov made no mention whatever of Vperyod’s arguments. This is a characteristic instance of the false position against which Engels had long warned the leaders of the extreme parties, that is, a position in which they fail to grasp the true nature of the revolution and unconsciously further the interests of an “alien” class. In the name of all that is sacred, Comrade Plekhanov, what on earth has this to do with the question raised by Martynov and analysed by Vperyod? If there is the danger that people who have risen to the first step may confound the second step with the third, can this danger serve as justification for frightening us, as we are about to mount the first step, with the perspective of possibly having to take two at once?
No, Plekhanov’s “brief reference to history” proves precisely nothing. His basic conclusion that “to participate in a revolutionary government together with representatives of the petty bourgeoisie would be a betrayal of the proletariat” is not in the least corroborated by references to the situation in Germany in 1850 or in Italy in 1894, which were radically different from the situation in Russia in January and May 1905. These references add nothing to the question of the democratic dictatorship and of the provisional revolutionary government. And if Plekhanov should want to apply his conclusion to this question, if he considers every participation of the proletariat in a revolutionary government in the course of the struggle for the republic, in the course of the democratic revolution, inadmissible in principle, we undertake to prove to him that this is an anarchistic “principle” unequivocally condemned by Engels. We shall demonstrate this point in our next article.
Article Two. Only From Below, or From Above As Well As From Below?[edit source]
In our previous article analysing Plekhanov’s reference to history we showed that he draws unwarranted general conclusions on points of principle from statements by Marx, which apply wholly and exclusively to the concrete situation in Germany in 1850. That concrete situation fully explains why Marx did not raise, and at that time could not have raised, the question of the Communist League’s participation in a provisional revolutionary government. We shall now proceed to examine the general, fundamental question of the admissibility of such participation.
In the first place, the question at issue must be accurately presented. In this respect, fortunately, we are able to use a formulation given by our opponents and thus avoid arguments on the essence of the dispute. Iskra, No. 93, says: “The best way towards achieving such organisation [the organisation of the proletariat into a party in opposition to the bourgeois-democratic state] is to develop the bourgeois revolution from below [Iskra’s italics] through the pressure of the proletariat on the democrats in power.” Iskra goes on to say that Vperyod “wants this pressure of the proletariat on the revolution to proceed not only ’from below’, not only from the street, but also from above, from the marble halls of the provisional government”.
The issue is thus clearly stated. Iskra wants pressure from below, Vperyod wants it “from above as well as from be low”. Pressure from below is pressure by the citizens on the revolutionary government. Pressure from above is pressure by the revolutionary government on the citizens. Some limit their activity to pressure from below; others do not agree with such a limitation and demand that pressure from below be supplemented by pressure from above. The issue, consequently, reduces itself to the question contained in our subtitle: only from below, or from above as well as from below? Some consider it wrong in principle for the proletariat, in the epoch of the democratic revolution, to exert pressure from above, “from the marble halls of the provisional government”. Others consider it wrong in principle for the proletariat, in the epoch of the democratic revolution, to reject entirely pressure from above, to renounce participation in the provisional revolutionary government. Thus, the question is not whether pressure from above is probable in a given situation, or whether it is practicable under a given alignment of forces. We are for the moment not considering any concrete situation, and in view of the numerous attempts to substitute one question at issue for another, we urgently ask the readers to bear this in mind. We are dealing with the general question of principle, whether in the epoch of the democratic revolution it is admissible to pass from pressure from below to pressure from above.
To elucidate this question, let us first refer to the history of the tactical views of the founders of scientific socialism. Were there no disputes in this history over the general question of the admissibility of pressure from above? There was such a dispute. It was caused by the Spanish insurrection of the summer of 1873. Engels assessed the lessons which the socialist proletariat should learn from that insurrection in an article entitled “The Bakuninists at Work”, printed in the German Social-Democratic newspaper Volksstaat in 1873 and reprinted in the pamphlet Internationales acts dem Volksstaat in 1894. Let us see what general conclusions Engels drew.
On February 9, 1873, King Amadeo of Spain abdicated the throne—“the first king to go on strike”, as Engels facetiously remarks. On February 12 the republic was proclaimed, soon to be followed by a Carlist revolt in the Basque provinces. April 10 saw the election of a Constituent Assembly which, on June 8, proclaimed the federal republic. On June 11 a new Cabinet was formed by Pi y Margall. In the commission charged with drafting the constitution the extreme republicans, known as the “Intransigentes”, were not represented. And when, on July 3, the new constitution was proclaimed the Intransigentes rose in revolt. Between July 5 and 11 they gained the upper hand in the Seville, Granada, Alcoy, Valencia, and several other provinces. The government of Salmeron, who succeeded Pi y Margall when the latter resigned, sent troops against the rebel provinces. The revolt was suppressed after a more or less stiff resistance. Cádiz fell on July 26, 1873, and Cartagena on January 11, 1874. Such are the brief chronological facts with which Engels introduces his subject.
In evaluating the lessons to be drawn from these events, Engels stresses, first, that the struggle for the republic in Spain was not and could not have been a struggle for the socialist revolution. “Spain,” he says, “is such an industrially backward country that there can be no thought of an immediate complete emancipation there of the working class of that country. Before it comes to that, Spain will have to pass through various preliminary stages of development and remove a considerable number of obstacles from its path. The republic offered that country the chance of going through those preliminary stages in the shortest possible time and of quickly surmounting the obstacles. But that chance could be utilised only through the active political intervention of the Spanish working class. The mass of the workers felt this. They strove everywhere to have a part in the events, to take advantage of the opportunity for action, instead of leaving the owning classes, as heretofore, a clear field for action and intrigues.
It was thus a question of struggle for the republic, a question of the democratic, not of the socialist, revolution. The question of the workers’ taking a hand in the events presented itself in a twofold aspect at the time. On the one hand, the Bakuninists (or “Alliancists”—-the founders of the “Alliance” for struggle against the Marxist “Inter national”) negated political activity, participation in elections, etc. On the other hand, they were against participation in a revolution which did not aim at the immediate and complete emancipation of the working class; they were against participation of whatever kind in a revolutionary government. It is this second aspect of the question that holds special interest for us in the light of our dispute. It was this aspect, incidentally, which gave rise to the formulation of the difference in principle between the two tactical slogans.
“The Bakuninists,” says Engels, “had for years been propagating the idea that all revolutionary action from above was pernicious, and that everything must be organised and carried out from below upward.”
Hence, the principle, “only from below” is an anarchist principle.
Engels demonstrates the utter absurdity of this principle in the epoch of the democratic revolution. It naturally and inevitably leads to the practical conclusion that the establishment of revolutionary governments is a betrayal of the working class. The Bakuninists drew this very conclusion, which they elevated into a principle, namely, that “the establishment of a revolutionary government is but a new deception and a new betrayal of the working class.”
We have here, as the reader will see, the same two “principles” which the new Iskra has arrived at, namely: (I) that only revolutionary action from below is admissible, as opposed to the tactics of “from above as well as from be low”; 2) that participation in a provisional revolutionary government is a betrayal of the working class. Both these new-Iskra principles are anarchist principles. The actual course of the struggle for the republic in Spain revealed the utter preposterousness and the utterly reactionary essence of both these principles.
Engels brings this truth home with several episodes from the Spanish revolution. The revolution, for example, breaks out in Alcoy, a manufacturing town of comparatively recent origin with a population of 30,000. The workers’ insurrection is victorious despite its leadership by the Bakuninists, who will, in principle, have nothing to do with the idea of organising the revolution. After the event the Bakuninists began to boast that they had become “masters of the situation”. And how did these “masters” deal with their “situation”, asks Engels. First of all, they established in Alcoy a “Welfare Committee”, that is, a revolutionary government. Mind you, it was these selfsame Alliancists (Bakuninists), who, only ten months before the revolution, had resolved at their Congress, on September 15, 1872, that “every organisation of a political, so-called provisional or revolutionary power can only be a new fraud and would be as dangerous to the proletariat as all existing governments”. Rather than refute this anarchist phrase-mongering, Engels confines himself to the sarcastic remark that it was the sup porters of this resolution who found themselves “members of this provisional and revolutionary governmental power” in Alcoy. Engels treats these gentlemen with the scorn they deserve for the “utter helplessness, confusion, and passivity” which they revealed when in power. With equal contempt Engels would have answered the charges of “Jacobinism”, so dear to the Girondists of Social-Democracy. He shows that in a number of other towns, e.g., in Sanlúcar de Barrameda (a port of 26,000 inhabitants near Cádiz) “the Alliancists ...here too, in opposition to their anarchist principles, formed a revolutionary government”. He reproves them for “not having known what to do with their power”. Knowing well that the Bakuninist labour leaders participated in provisional governments together with the Intransigentes, i.e., together with the republicans, the representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, Engels reproves the Bakuninists, not for their participation in the government (as he should have done according to the “principles” of the new Iskra), but for their poor organisation, the feebleness of their participation, their subordination to the leadership of the bourgeois republican gentry. With what withering sarcasm Engels would have flayed those people who, in the epoch of the revolution, try to minimise the importance of “technical” and military leadership, may incidentally be seen from the fact that he reproved the Bakuninist labour leaders for having, as members of the revolutionary government, left the “political and military leadership” to the bourgeois republican gentry, while they fed the workers with bombastic phrases and paper schemes of “social” reforms.
A true Jacobin of Social-Democracy, Engels not only appreciated the importance of action from above, he not only viewed participation in a revolutionary government together with the republican bourgeoisie as perfectly legitimate, but he demanded such participation, as well as energetic military initiative on the part of the revolutionary power, considering it his duty to give practical and guiding military advice.
“Nevertheless,” he says, “the uprising, even if begun in a brainless way, would have had a good chance to succeed, had it been conducted with some intelligence, if only in the manner of the Spanish military revolts, in which the garrison of one town rises, marches on to the next, sweeping along with it the town’s garrison previously worked on by propaganda, and, growing into an avalanche, the insurgents press on to the capital, until a fortunate engagement, or the crossing over to their side of the troops sent against them, decides the victory. This method was especially applicable in the given situation. The insurgents had long been organised everywhere into volunteer battalions, whose discipline, true, was pitiable, yet assuredly not more pitiable than that of the remnants of the old, largely demoralised Spanish army. The government’s only dependable troops were the gendarmes, and these were scattered all over the country. The thing was, above all, to prevent these gendarmes from being drawn together, which could be done only by a bold assumption of the offensive in the open field. Such a course of action would not have involved much danger, since the government could only put up against the volunteers equally undisciplined troops. For anyone bent on winning there was no other way.”
That is how a founder of scientific socialism reasoned when faced with the problems of an uprising and direct action in the epoch of a revolutionary upheaval! Although the uprising was begun by the petty-bourgeois republicans and although confronting the proletariat was neither the question of the socialist revolution nor that of elementary political freedom, Engels set very great store on the highly active participation of the workers in the struggle for the republic; he demanded of the proletariat’s leaders that they should subordinate their entire activity to the need for achieving victory in the struggle, which had begun. Engels himself, as a leader of the proletariat, even went into the details of military organisation; he was not averse to using the old-fashioned methods of struggle by military revolts when victory demanded it; he attached paramount importance to offensive action and the centralisation of the revolutionary forces. He bitterly reproved the Bakuninists for having made a principle of “what in the German Peasant War and in the German uprisings of May 1849 was an unavoidable evil, namely, the state of disunion and isolation of the revolutionary forces, which enabled the same government troops to put down one uprising after another." Engels’ views on the conduct of the uprising, on the organisation of the revolution, and on the utilisation of the revolutionary governmental power are as far removed from the tail-ist views of the new Iskra as heaven is from earth.
Summarising the lessons of the Spanish revolution, Engels established in the first place that “the Bakuninists, as soon as they were confronted with a serious revolutionary situation, were compelled to give up their whole former programme”. To begin with, they had to scrap the principle of abstention from political activity and from elections, the principle of the “abolition of the state”. Secondly, “they gave up the principle that the workers must not participate in any revolution that did not aim at the immediate and complete emancipation of the proletariat, and they them selves participated in an avowedly purely bourgeois movement”. Thirdly, and this conclusion answers precisely the point in dispute, “they trampled under foot the article of faith they had only just proclaimed— that the establishment of a revolutionary government is but a new deception and a new betrayal of the working class; they did this, sitting coolly in the government committees of the various towns, almost everywhere as an impotent minority outvoted and politically exploited by the bourgeois”. By their inability to lead the uprising, by splitting the revolutionary forces instead of centralising them, by leaving the leadership of the revolution to the bourgeois, and by dissolving the solid and strong organisation of the International, “the Bakuninists in Spain gave us an unsurpassable example of how not to make a revolution”.
Summing up the foregoing, we arrive at the following conclusions:
1) Limitation, in principle, of revolutionary action to pressure from below and renunciation of pressure also from above is anarchism.
2) He who does not understand the new tasks in the epoch of revolution, the tasks of action from above, he who is unable to determine the conditions and the programme for such action, has no idea whatever of the tasks of the proletariat in every democratic revolution.
3) The principle that for Social-Democracy participation in a provisional revolutionary government with the bourgeoisie is inadmissible, that every such participation is a betrayal of the working class, is a principle of anarchism.
4) Every “serious revolutionary situation” confronts the party of the proletariat with the task of giving purposive leadership to the uprising, of organising the revolution, of centralising all the revolutionary forces, of boldly launching a military offensive, and of making the most energetic use of the revolutionary governmental power.
5) Marx and Engels could not have approved, and never would have approved, the tactics .of the new Iskra at the present revolutionary moment; for these tactics are nothing short of a repetition of all the errors enumerated above. Marx and Engels would have called the new Iskra’s doctrinal position a contemplation of the “posterior” of the proletariat, a rehash of anarchist errors.
In the next article we shall discuss the tasks of the provisional revolutionary government.
- See p. 290 of this volume—Ed.
- Ansprache der Zentralbehörde an den Bund, von März 1850, K. Marx: Enthüllungen über den Kommunistenprocess zu Köln, 1885, Anhang IX, S. 75. (Address of the Central Committee to the League, March 1850, K. Marx: Revelations Concerning the Cologne Trials of the Communists, 1885, Appendix IX, p. 75.—Ed.) The italics in the quotation are ours.—Lenin
- Stephan Born (1824-98)—representative of the German labour movement, participant in the revolution of 1848, member of the Communist League (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. II, pp. 352-53).
- See Karl Marx, “Enthüllungen über den Kommunistenprozess zu Köln”, Berlin, 1952, S. 39.
- See p. 282 of this volume.—Ed.
- Lenin refers to the Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in March 1850 (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. I, pp. 106-17).
- See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. 1, pp. 106-17.
- Lenin refers to Engels’ “On the History of the Communist League” (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Moscow, 1958, Vol. II,p. 338).
- Der Volksstaat (The People’s State)—Central Organ of German Social-Democracy, published in Leipzig from 1869 to 1876, edited by Wilhelm Liebknecht. Marx and Engels contributed to the news paper.
- Wäre er nur mit etnigem Verstand geleitet warden. Poor Engels! A pity he was not acquainted with the new Iskra! He would have known then how disastrous, noxious, utopian, bourgeois, technically one-sided, and conspiratorially narrow is the “Jacobin” idea that an insurrection can be conducted (geleitet werden)!—Lenin
- Lenin’s third article on the subject of “The Provisional Revolutionary Government” did not appear in print. Lenin dealt with the question of the aims of the provisional revolutionary government in his “Sketch of a Provisional Revolutionary Government” (see pp. 534-36 of this volume), in his article “The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government” (see pp. 559-67 of this volume), and in his book Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution.