Political Notes (1908)
|Written||13 February 1908|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 13, pages 440-446.
The chauvinists are hard at work. Rumours are increasingly being spread that the Japanese are arming, that they have concentrated 600 battalions in Manchuria for an attack on Russia. Turkey is reported to be vigorously arming with the intention of declaring war on Russia in the spring of this year. It is said that a revolt is being prepared in the Caucasus with the object of seceding from Russia (all that is lacking is a clamour about the plans of the Poles!). Feeling against Finland is being worked up by tales that she is arming. A bitter campaign is being conducted against Austria over the building of a railway in Bosnia. The attacks of the Russian press on Germany, which is alleged to be inciting Turkey against Russia, are becoming more violent. The campaign is being conducted not only in the Russian but also in the French press, whose bribery by the Russian Government was recently so opportunely mentioned in the Duma by a Social-Democrat.
The serious bourgeois press of the West declines to regard this campaign as a figment of the imagination of newspaper men or the speculation of sensation-mongers. Obviously, “ruling circles”—meaning the Black-Hundred tsarist government, or a secret court cabal like the notorious “Star Chamber”—have given a very definite cue; some systematic “line” is being pursued, some “new course” has been adopted. The foreign press traces a direct connection between this chauvinistic campaign and the fact that the doors of the Duma Committee of State Defence have been closed to all members of the Duma not belonging to that Committee, i.e., not only to the revolutionary parties but also to the Cadets; it is even said that the Russian Government, as a crowning token of its contempt for “constitutionalism”, intends to apply for credits for frontier military reinforcements not to the whole Duma, but only to the Black Hundred-Octobrist Committee.
Here are some quotations from European newspapers, newspapers which are anything but socialist and which can not be suspected of optimism with regard to the Russian revolution:
“The German victories over France (in 1870), as Bismarck once remarked, fired the ambition of the Russian military, and they too reached out for martial laurels. For political, religious, and historical reasons, Turkey seemed a most suitable object for this purpose (the war with Turkey of 1877-78). Evidently, the same views are held today by certain Russian circles who have forgotten the lessons of the Japanese war and who do not understand the true needs of the country. As there are no more ‘brothers’ to be liberated in the Balkans, they have to devise other methods of influencing Russian public opinion. And these methods, to tell the truth, are even more clumsy than the others: it is being made out that Russia is surrounded by internal and external enemies.
“Russia’s ruling circles seek to bolster up their position by the old methods of forcibly suppressing the internal movement for emancipation and diverting public attention from the deplorable internal situation by arousing nationalist sentiments and stirring up diplomatic conflicts, of which nobody knows what the outcome will be.”
What is the significance of this new chauvinistic line in the policy of the counter-revolutionary autocracy? After Tsushima and Mukden, only people from under whose feet the ground is definitely slipping can embark on such a pol icy. Notwithstanding all the efforts that have been made, the experience of two years of reaction has not created any reliable support within the country for the Black-Hundred autocracy, nor any new class elements capable of rejuvenating the autocracy economically. And without this no atrocities, no frenzy of the counter-revolution can save the present political system in Russia.
Stolypin, the Black-Hundred landlords, and the Octobrists all understand that unless they create new class sup ports for themselves they cannot remain in power. Hence their policy of utterly ruining the peasants and forcibly breaking up the village communes in order to clear the way for capitalism in agriculture at all costs. The Russian liberals, the most learned, the most educated, and the most “humane” of them—like the professors of Russkiye Vedomosti— prove to be incomparably more stupid in this respect than the Stolypins. “It would not be surprising,” says the editorial in the February 1st issue of this newspaper, “if in deciding, for instance, the fate of the November provisional regulations, the formerly Slavophile advocates of the village commune support the attempt of the Ministry to destroy the village communes by assigning land to individual householders as their private property.... It may even be assumed that the defensive aims common to the conservative majority in the Duma and to the Ministry will suggest to both measures even more aggressive than the famous ukases of 1906.... We get an amazing picture: the conservative government, with the support of representatives of the conservative parties, are preparing to carry out a radical reform of agrarian relations—which are the least amenable to drastic changes—and are deciding upon so radical a measure from abstract considerations about the preferability of one form of ownership to another.”
Wake up, mister professor! Shake off the archive dust of old-fashioned Narodism; look at what two years of revolution have done. Stolypin defeated you not only by physical force, but also because he correctly understood the most practical need of economic development, namely, the forcible break-up of the old form of landownership. The great “advance” which has already been irrevocably effected by the revolution consists in the fact that formerly the Black-Hundred autocracy could base itself on medieval forms of landownership, whereas now it is compelled, wholly and irrevocably compelled, to work for their destruction with feverish speed. For it has understood that without the break-up of the old agrarian order there can be no escape from the contradiction which most profoundly of all explains the Russian revolution, namely, the most backward system of landownership and the most ignorant peasantry on the one hand, and the most advanced industrial and finance capitalism on the other!
So you are for the Stolypin agrarian legislation? the Narodniks will ask us in horror.
Oh, no. Calm yourselves! We are unreservedly opposed to all the forms of the old landownership in Russia—both landlordism and peasant allotment ownership. We are unreservedly in favour of a forcible break-up of this rotten and decaying antiquity which is poisoning everything new. We are in favour of bourgeois nationalisation of the land, as the only consistent slogan of the bourgeois revolution, and as the only practical measure that will direct the spearhead of the historically necessary break-up against the landlords by contributing towards the emergence of free farmers from among the mass of the peasantry.
A feature of the Russian bourgeois revolution is that a revolutionary policy on the key issue of the revolution—the agrarian question—is being pursued by the Black Hundreds and by the peasants together with the workers. The liberal lawyers and professors, on the other hand, are advocating something that is absolutely lifeless, absurd, and utopian—namely, a reconciliation of the two antithetical and mutually exclusive methods of breaking up what is obsolescent; a reconciliation, moreover, which will mean no break up at all. Either a victory for the peasant revolt and the complete break-up of the old landowning system in favour of a peasantry that has been remoulded by the revolution—in other words, confiscation of the landed estates and a republic; or a Stolypin break-up which also remoulds—in fact, remoulds and adapts the old landowning system to capitalist relationships—but wholly in the interests of the land lords and at the price of the utter ruin of the peasant masses, their forcible ejection from the countryside, the eviction, starvation, and the extermination of the flower of the peas ant youth with the help of jails, exile, shooting, and torture. For a minority to enforce such a policy against the majority would not be easy, but economically it is not impossible. We must help the people to realise this. But the attempt by means of a neat reform, peacefully and without violence, to escape from that utterly tangled skein of medieval contradictions, which has been created by centuries of Russian history, is the stupidest dream of hidebound “men in mufflers”. Economic necessity will certainly call for, and will certainly bring about a most “drastic change” in Russia’s agrarian system. The historical question is whether it will be carried out by the landlords, led by the tsar and Stolypin, or by the peasant masses, led by the proletariat.
“Union of the opposition”—such is the topic of the day in the Russian political press. Stolypin’s police-minded Rossiya is jubilant: “Union?—that means the Cadets too are revolutionaries! At the Cadets, at ’em!” The Cadet Rech, thoroughly imbued with the desire of the loyal government official to prove that the Constitutional-Democrats can be no less moderate than the Octobrists, primly purses its lips, pours forth a flood of “moral” indignation at the unscrupulous attempts to accuse it of being revolutionary, and declares: We, of course, would welcome the union of the opposition, but that union must be a movement “from Left to Right” (editorial of February 2). “We have had experience of political mistakes and disillusionments. When an opposition unites, it naturally unites on the minimum programme of the most moderate of the parties which form it.”
This programme is perfectly clear: the hegemony of bourgeois liberalism—those are my terms, say the Cadets, just as Falloux in 1871 said to Thiers, when the latter appealed to him for support: The monarchy—those are my terms.
Stolichnaya Pochta realised that it is shameful, disgraceful to say such things outright, and it therefore “does not agree” with Rech and confines itself to vague hints at the “pre-October mood” (the accursed censorship prevents a clearly stated political programme!) and, in substance, calls for a deal. Rech, it as much as says, wants to lead, and the revolutionaries want to lead (the new union), but what about me—am I not entitled to a commission for acting as an honest broker?
“Union”—we warmly sympathise with that slogan, especially when there is a hint—although only a hint!—of “pre-October moods”. Only, history does not repeat itself, my dear political intriguers! And no power on earth can erase from the minds of the various classes the lessons that were taught by the “history of the three years”. Those lessons are exceedingly rich both in positive content (the forms, nature, and conditions of the victory of the mass struggle of the workers and peasants in 1905) and in negative content (the failure of the two Dumas, in other words, the shattering of constitutional illusions and of Cadet hegemony).
Anyone who wants systematically to study, ponder over, understand, and teach the masses these lessons is welcome to do so—we are wholly in favour of “union”, union for a relentless struggle against the renegades of the revolution. You don’t like that? Well, then our paths diverge.
The old “pro-October” slogan (“constituent assembly”) is a good one and (we hope that this will not rouse the ire of M-d-m of the Our Thought symposium) we shall not discard it. But it is inadequate. It is too formal. It contains no recognition of the acute practical issues that life is raising. We shall reinforce it with the great lesson of the three great years. Our “minimum programme”, “our programme of union”, is simple and clear: (1) confiscation of all landlords’ estates; (2) a republic. The kind of constituent assembly we need is one that can achieve this.
The history of the two Dumas, the Cadet Dumas, showed with striking clarity that the real struggle of social forces— the struggle which was not always a conscious one, which did not always break into the open, but which always exercised a decisive influence upon every big political issue and which always swept away like dust tile conjuring tricks of the naïve and knavishly astute “constitutionalist” ignoramuses—was waged wholly and completely for the sake of the two above-mentioned “objects”. Not abstract theories, but the real experience of the struggle of our popular masses under the real conditions of Russia’s landlord autocracy, has demonstrated to us in practice the inevitability of precisely these slogans. To those who are capable of grasping them we propose that we “march separately” but “strike together”, strike at the enemy who is devastating Russia and killing off thousands of her finest people.
“With such a programme of union you will remain isolated.” That is not true.
Read the speeches of the non-party peasants in the, first two Dumas, and you will see that our programme of union only formulates their wishes, their needs, and the elementarily necessary conclusions to be drawn from these needs. Against those who do not understand these needs—from the Cadets to Peshekhonov (he too has preached “union” in Moscow, as we are informed from there)—we shall wage war in the name of “union”.
It will be a stubborn war. We knew how to work during the long years preceding the revolution. Not for nothing do they say we are as hard as rock. The Social-Democrats have built a proletarian party which will not be disheartened by the failure of the first armed onslaught, will not lose its head, nor be carried away by adventures. That party is marching to socialism, without tying itself or its future to the outcome of any particular period of bourgeois revolutions. That is precisely why it is also free of the weaker aspects of bourgeois revolution. And this proletarian party is marching to victory.
- Lenin is possibly referring to the article “Political Sketches” published in the symposium Nasha Tribuna (Our Tribune), Book I, Vilna, 1907. The writer of the article—M-d-m (Medem), a prominent Bundist, argued that after the defeat of the revolution of 1905-07 Russian Social-Democracy should drop such revolutionary slogans as that calling for a constituent assembly.