Once Again About the Duma Cabinet

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 28 June 1906

Ekho, No. 6, June 28, 1906. Published according to the Ekho text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 69-73.
Collection(s): Ekho

“We must choose”—this is the argument the opportunists have always used to justify themselves, and they are using it now. Big things cannot be achieved at one stroke. We must fight for small but achievable things. How do we know whether they are achievable? They are achievable if the majority of the political parties, or of the most “influential” politicians, agree with them. The larger the number of politicians who agree with some tiny improvement, the easier it is to achieve it. We must not be utopians and strive after big things. We must be practical politicians; we must join in the demand for small things, and these small things will facilitate the fight for the big ones. We regard the small things as the surest stage in the struggle for big things.

That is how all the opportunists, all the reformists, argue; unlike the revolutionaries. That is how the Right-wing Social-Democrats argue about a Duma Cabinet. The demand for a constituent assembly is a big demand. It can not be achieved immediately. By no means everyone is consciously in favour of this demand.[1] But the whole State Duma, that is to say, the vast majority of politicians—that is to say “the whole people”—is in favour of a Duma Cabinet. We must choose—between the existing evil and a very small rectification of it, because the largest number of those who are in general dissatisfied with the existing evil are in favour of this “very small” rectification. And by achieving the small thing, we shall facilitate our struggle for the big one.

We repeat: this is the fundamental, the typical argument of all opportunists all over the world. To what conclusion does this argument inevitably lead? To the conclusion that we need no revolutionary programme, no revolutionary party, and no revolutionary tactics. What we need are reforms, nothing more. We do not need a revolutionary Social-Democratic Party. What we need is a party of democratic and socialist reforms. Indeed, is it not clear that there will always be people who admit that the existing state of affairs is unsatisfactory? Of course, always. Is it not also clear that the largest number of discontented people will always be in favour of the smallest rectification of this unsatisfactory situation? Of course, always. Consequently, it is our duty, the duty of advanced and “class-conscious” people, always to support the smallest demands for the rectification of an evil. This is the surest and most practical policy to pursue; and all talk about “fundamental” demands, and so forth, is merely the talk of “utopians”, merely “revolutionary phrase-mongering”. We must choose—and we must always choose between the existing evil and the most moderate of the schemes in vogue for its rectification.

That is exactly how the German opportunist Social-Democrats argued. They said, in effect! There is a social-liberal trend which demands the repeal of the anti-socialist laws, a reduction of the working day, insurance against illness, and so on. A fairly large section of the bourgeoisie supports these demands. Do not repel it by tactless conduct, offer it a friendly hand, support it, and then you will be practical politicians, you will achieve small, but real benefits for the working class, and the only thing that will suffer from your tactics will be the empty words about “revolution”. You cannot make a revolution now, in any case. One must choose between reaction and reform, between the Bismarck policy and the “social empire” policy.

The French ministerial socialists argued exactly like the Bernsteinians.[2] They said in effect: We must choose between reaction and the bourgeois radicals, who promise a number of practical reforms. We must support these radicals, support their Cabinets; phrases about social revolution are merely the chatter of “Blanquists”, “anarchists”, “utopians”, and so forth.

What is the main flaw in all these opportunist arguments? It is that in fact they substitute the bourgeois theory of “united”, “social” progress for the socialist theory of the class struggle as the only real driving force of history. According to the theory of socialism, i.e., of Marxism (non Marxist socialism is not worth serious discussion nowadays), the real driving force of history is the revolutionary class struggle; reforms are a subsidiary product of this struggle, subsidiary because they express unsuccessful attempts to weaken, to blunt this struggle, etc. According to the theory of bourgeois philosophers, the driving force of progress is the unity of all elements in society who realise the “imperfections” of certain of its institutions. The first theory is materialist; the second is idealist. The first is revolutionary; the second is reformist. The first serves as the basis for the tactics of the proletariat in modern capitalist countries. The second serves as the basis of the tactics of the bourgeoisie.

A logical deduction from the second theory is the tactics of ordinary bourgeois progressives: always and everywhere support “what is better”; choose between reaction and the extreme Right of the forces that are opposed to reaction. A logical deduction from the first theory is that the advanced class must pursue independent revolutionary tactics. We shall never reduce our tasks to that of supporting the slogans of the reformist bourgeoisie that are most in vogue. We pursue an independent policy and put forward only such reforms as are undoubtedly favourable to the interests of the revolutionary struggle, that undoubtedly enhance the independence, class-consciousness and fighting efficiency of the proletariat. Only by such tactics can reforms from above, which are always half-hearted, always hypocritical, and always conceal some bourgeois or police snare, be made innocuous.

More than that. Only by such tactics can real progress be achieved in the matter of important reforms. This may sound paradoxical, but its truth is confirmed by the whole history of the international Social-Democratic movement. Reformist tactics are the least likely to secure real reforms. The most effective way to secure real reforms is to pursue the tactics of the revolutionary class struggle. Actually, reforms are won as a result of the revolutionary class struggle, as a result of its independence, mass force and steadfastness. Reforms are always false, ambiguous and permeated with the spirit of Zubatovism;[3] they are real only in pro portion to the intensity of the class struggle. By merging our slogans with those of the reformist bourgeoisie we weak en the cause of revolution and, consequently, the cause of reform as well, because we thereby diminish the independence, fortitude and strength of the revolutionary classes.

Some readers may ask: Why repeat these elementary principles of international revolutionary Social-Democracy? Our answer is: Because Golos Truda and many Menshevik comrades tend to forget them.

A Duma, or Cadet, Cabinet is just such a false, ambiguous and Zubatov reform. To forget the real significance of such a reform, as an attempt on the part of the Cadets to strike a bargain with the autocracy, means substituting the liberal-bourgeois philosophy of progress for Marxism. By supporting such a reform, by including it among our slogans, we dim the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat and weaken its independence and fighting capacity. By up holding our old revolutionary slogans in their entirety, we strengthen the actual struggle, and thereby increase the probability of reforms and the possibility of turning them to the advantage of the revolution, and not of reaction. All that is false and hypocritical in these reforms we leave to the Cadets; all that is of positive value in them we utilise ourselves. Only by such tactics shall we be able to take advantage of the attempts of the Trepovs and Nabokovs to trip each other up so as to throw both these worthy acrobats into the pit. Only if we pursue such tactics will history say about us what Bismarck said about the German Social-Democrats: “If there were no Social-Democrats there would have been no social reform.” Had there not been a revolutionary proletariat there would have been no October 17. Had there been no December,[4] attempts to prevent the convocation of the Duma would not have been defeated. We shall have another December, which will determine the future progress of the revolution....

Postscript. This article had already been written when we read the leading article in Golos Truda, No. 6. Our comrades are mending their ways. They now propose that be fore accepting their portfolios, the Duma Cabinet should demand and secure the abolition of martial law in all parts of the country, the abolition of secret police, a general amnesty, and the restoration of all liberties. Very good, comrades. Ask the Central Committee to insert these terms in its resolution on the Duma Cabinet. In fact, do it yourselves, and then it will read: before supporting a Duma, or Cadet, Cabinet, we must demand and secure that the Duma, or Cadets, take the path of revolution. Before supporting the Cadets we must demand and secure that the Cadets cease to be Cadets.

  1. Only the minority in the Duma supports this demand.—Lenin
  2. Bernsteinians— representatives of an anti-Marxist, opportunist trend in international Social-Democracy. The trend arose at the close of the nineteenth century in Germany and was named after Eduard Bernstein, the most open exponent of revisionism.
  3. Zubatovism— the policy of “police socialism” named after Zubatov, colonel of gendarmerie and chief of the Moscow Secret Police. In 1901-03 on his initiative legal workers’ organisations wer set up intended to divert the workers from the political struggle against the autocracy. Zubatov’s activity had the support of B. K. Plehve, Minister of the Interior. The Zubatovists attempted to direct the working-class movement towards the achievement of purely economic aims and make the workers believe that the government was ready to satisfy their demands. The first Zubatov organisation was set up in Moscow in May 1901 under the title “Society for Mutual Aid of Workers in the Engineering Industry”. Others were established in Minsk, Odessa, Wilno, Kiev and other towns.
    The reactionary character of Zubatovism was unmasked by the revolutionary Social-Democrats, who made use of legal workers’ organisations to draw wide sections of the working class into the struggle against the autocracy. Owing to the rise of the revolutionary movement in 1903 the tsarist government was compelled to put an end to the Zubatov organisations.
  4. For further details see pp. 171-78 of this volume.