The “Leftward Swing” of the Bourgeoisie and the Tasks of the Proletariat
|Written||8 April 1909|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 395-401
The question of the “leftward swing” of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie has long become a standing feature in the columns of our legal press. It has been noted and acknowledged that the Octobrist press has a regular periodic grumble against the “agrarian” (read: feudalist- landlord) Duma and against the corresponding policy of tsarism. It has been noted and acknowledged that quite a number of local amid national associations of merchants and industrialists—from provincial stock exchange committees to the “Board of Congresses of Representatives of Commerce and Industry”—have in recent years, and particularly of late, been voicing their dissatisfaction with this pro-landlord policy. There have been descriptions of the Moscow “fraternisation of millions with science”, to wit, the private conferences of Moscow’s and St. Petersburg’s money-bags—Krestovnikov, Goujon, Volsky and others—with the Cadet professors and writers—Manuilov, Struve, Kiesewetter and Co. One need hardly add that the liberal press, including the Menshevik publications, seize on every piece of news of this kind and blazon forth with a thousand variations the rebirth and renovation of liberalism.
This sensational “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie has been reflected in the “political” steps of the tsarist government and in speeches in the Duma. Mr. Timiryazev, darling of the Russian merchants and at the same time an old bureaucrat, has been appointed Minister of Commerce and Industry. On March 13 he made a big “programme” speech in the Duma—such ministerial speeches arc called programme speeches in all the march-reactionary bourgeois and ordinary bourgeois parliaments in the world “just for show”. As a matter of fact the tsarist Minister outlined no programme at all, and merely contented himself, as usual, with meaning less courtesies to the capitalists and threats to the working class, of course combining these threats with stereotyped hypocritical expressions of “sympathy”. On March 19 these affectionate exchanges of the Minister with the leaders of capital were repeated in Moscow, where Timiryazev and Krestovnikov exchanged friendly speeches at a meeting of the Moscow Stock Exchange Association. “Russia is sick, but with proper care her malady is not dangerous, and will soon pass,” said Krestovnikov, welcoming the highly-esteemed Timiryazev. While Timiryazev, thanking the highly-esteemed Krestovnikov, signified on behalf of the government its benevolent consent to “care for” the patient with the tried Stolypin remedies of the “transition period”.
The question, arises, what are the objective causes of this “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie, and what is its class significance? In. the periodical Vozrozhdeniye (No. 1–2) Comrade Martov, with a clarity and directness not very usual for this writer, answers this question in an article entitled “The ‘Leftward Swing’ of the Bourgeoisie”. “Experience has shown,” he writes, “that if economic development has ripened for a precisely bourgeois reformation and the bourgeoisie is unable to become its driving force, this only means that the social change cannot be completed until the further development of the class in question makes it the driving force.” And elsewhere: “Those who assumed that the Constitution now in force represents a more or less organic union of the nobility with the bourgeoisie as equally ‘counter-revolutionary factors’ may regard phenomena of the kind indicated above [i. e., the “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie] merely as minor episodes, not necessarily connected with the general trend of social development.... These isolated phenomena may have a symptomatic importance only in the eyes of those who were certain a priori that the course of social development is inexorably leading the Russian bourgeoisie, as a class, into sharp opposition to the regime ... of June 3.”
Compare with this the declaration of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, No. 12: “We agree also with the proposal of the Caucasians [i. e., Dan, Axelrod and Semyonov at the last conference of the RSDLP] to speak of the Russian monarchy not as ‘bourgeois’ but as ‘plutocratic’, for this amendment refutes the fundamentally false assertion of the Bolshevik resolution that Russian tsarism is beginning to voice the class interests of the bourgeoisie.”
Here we have the political theory of Menshevism complete with all its conclusions. If our revolution is bourgeois, it cannot be completed until the bourgeoisie becomes its driving force. The “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie proves that it is becoming such a driving force, and there can be no question of calling it counter-revolutionary. Tsarism in Russia is becoming, plutocratic, not bourgeois. Obviously the logic of this is to advocate the pursuance of opportunist tactics by the workers’ party in our bourgeois revolution, the tactics of support to the liberals by the proletariat, as opposed to the tactics which allot to the proletariat, allying to itself the peasantry, the leading role in the bourgeois revolution—which it must play in spite of the vacillations and betrayals of liberalism.
The Menshevik tactics stand revealed as a falsification of Marxism, as a camouflaging of anti-Marxist content with “Marxist” phraseology. The method of reasoning underlying these tactics is not that of Marxists but of liberals dressed up as Marxists. To be convinced of this we have only to cast a cursory glance at the history and results of the bourgeois revolution in Germany. In Die Neue Rheinische Zeitung Marx wrote about the causes of the defeat of the revolution in 1848: “The big bourgeoisie, anti-revolutionary from the very outset, concluded a defensive and offensive alliance with reaction out of fear of the people, that is to say, the workers and the democratic bourgeoisie.” This was Marx’s point of view, and it is shared by all the German Marxists in their estimate of 1848 and the subsequent tactics of the German bourgeoisie. The counter-revolutionary nature of the big bourgeoisie did not prevent it from “going left”, for instance,, in the period of the constitutional conflict of the sixties; but inasmuch as the proletariat did not take independent and strong action, the result of this “leftward swing” was not a revolution but only a timid opposition that impelled the monarchy to become more and more bourgeois, and did not destroy the alliance of the bourgeoisie with the Junkers, i. e., the reactionary landlords.
That is how the Marxists look at it. The liberals, on the contrary, take the view that the workers, with their immoderate demands, their unreasonable revolutionariness, their ill-timed attacks on liberalism, prevented the success of the cause of liberty in Germany by precipitating their possible allies into the arms of reaction.
It is quite obvious that our Mensheviks are using Marxist words to disguise their falsification of Marxism, and to disguise their own defection from Marxism to liberalism.
Both in France after 1789 and in Germany after 1848 the monarchy undoubtedly made “a further step towards its transformation into a bourgeois monarchy”. It is equally certain that the bourgeoisie became counter-revolutionary after both these revolutions. Does this mean that after 1789 in France and after 1848 in Germany the basis for a “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie, and for a subsequent bourgeois revolution, had disappeared? Of course not. The French bourgeoisie, for all its counter-revolutionariness “moved left”, for example, in 1830, and the German in 1863-64. Inasmuch as the proletariat did not take independent action, inasmuch as it did not win political power even for a short time with the help of the revolutionary sections of the bourgeoisie, the “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie did not lead to revolution (Germany) and led only to further steps in the transformation of the monarchy into a bourgeois monarchy. To the extent that the proletariat did act independently, and won political power in alliance with the revolutionary sections of the bourgeoisie, overthrowing the old regime (as was the case in France more than once in the nineteenth century), the “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie proved to be the prologue to a new bourgeois revolution.
This is the ABC of history that our Mensheviks have f or- gotten and distorted, adopting the point of view of the liberals: there will be no bourgeois revolution in Russia until the bourgeoisie becomes the driving force! This is an abject failure to understand the dialectics of history and the lessons of the nineteenth century. On the contrary, there will be no bourgeois revolution in Russia until the proletariat, in alliance with the revolutionary elements of the bourgeoisie (i. e., with the peasantry in our case), becomes an independent driving force, operating in spite of the vacillations and betrayals of the unstable and counter revolutionary bourgeoisie.
It was not in the reign of Nicholas II, dear Menshevik comrades, but in that of Alexander II that Russian tsarism began to be transformed into a “plutocratic” monarchy, “began to voice the class interests of the bourgeoisie”. But it could never have voiced them had there been no independent class organisation of the bourgeoisie. The revolution of 1905 has raised us to a higher stage, and the old struggle is being renewed on a plane of more advanced political relations. The Third Duma is the politically constituted, national alliance of the political organisations of the land lords and the big bourgeoisie. Tsarism is making an at tempt to solve objectively-necessary historical problems with the help of the organisations of these two classes. Will it succeed in the attempt?
No. It turns out that the solution of such a problem has not only defied a plutocratic tsarism, which had no national representation of the “upper” classes to fall back on, but it defies even a semi-bourgeois tsarism assisted by a Black-Hundred-bourgeois Duma. The Duma is helping it to solve the problem. But this help is proving inadequate. The “leftward swing” of the bourgeoisie is due precisely to the objective fact that, in spite of Stolypin’s doctoring of tsarism, its bourgeois evolution is not working out. Just as before 1905, in the period when tsarism knew nothing of representative institutions, the “leftward swing” of the landlords and the marshals of nobility was a symptom of maturing crisis, so in 1909, in the period when tsarism has given national representation to the Krestovnikovs, the “leftward swing” of these money-bags is a symptom that “the objective tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia remain unsolved”, and that “the main factors which brought about the Revolution of 1905, continue to operate” (the conference resolution on the present situation).
The Mensheviks confine their argument to the fact that the revolution in our country is bourgeois and that our bourgeoisie is “going left”. But stopping there means converting Marxism, a “guide to action”, into a dead letter; it means falsifying Marxism and virtually adopting the point of view of liberalism. There can be a bourgeois revolution without a single complete victory of the proletariat, when the result is the gradual conversion of the old monarchy into a bourgeois and bourgeois-imperialist monarchy (for instance, Germany). There can be a bourgeois revolution with a number of independent actions by the proletariat, producing both complete victories and heavy defeats, when the result is a bourgeois republic (for instance, France).
The question arises: has Russian history decided in favour of one path or the other? The Mensheviks do not understand this question, they are afraid to raise it, they avoid it, not realising that by avoiding it they are actually dragging in their policy at the tail of the liberal bourgeoisie. We are of the opinion that Russian history has not yet answered this question, that it will be answered by the struggle of the classes in the next few years, that the first round of our bourgeois revolution (1905-07) has proved beyond doubt that our bourgeoisie is utterly unstable and counter revolutionary, proved that our proletariat is capable of being the leader of a victorious revolution, proved the capacity of the democratic masses of the peasantry to help the proletariat make this revolution victorious.
And here again we come up against the purely liberal point of view of the Mensheviks regarding our Trudovik peasantry. The Mensheviks say the Trudoviks are full of petty bourgeois utopias, their fight for the land is a fight in the name of the absurd and reactionary slogans of socialisation of land or equalised laud tenure; “consequently” the Trudovik fight for the land weakens the fight for freedom, the victory of the Trudoviks would be a reactionary victory of countryside over town. That is the gist both of Martynov’s reasoning in No. 10-11 of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata and of Martov’s arguments in the symposium The Social Movement in Russia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century.
Such an estimate of the Trudovik peasantry is just as outrageous a distortion of Marxism as the discourses, on the bourgeois revolution quoted above. It is doctrinairism at its worst when a Marxist is unable to grasp the actual significance of a revolutionary struggle against the whole system of contemporary landed proprietorship, under the integument of a Narodnik doctrine which, really is absurd, visionary and reactionary when viewed as a socialist doctrine. The Mensheviks display incredible blindness and ignorance of the dialectics of Marxism when they fail to see that, the conditions of life of the Russian peasantry being what they are, its bourgeois-democratic revolutionary spirit could not be ideologically expressed otherwise than in the form of “belief” in the sovereign virtue of land equalisation. “What formally may be economically incorrect, may all the same be correct from the point of view of world history.” Our Mensheviks have never been able to under stand these words of Engels. While exposing the falsity of the Narodnik doctrine, they closed their eyes like pedants to the truth of the contemporary struggle in the contemporary bourgeois revolution, which is expressed by these quasi-socialist doctrines.
But we say: resolute struggle against the quasi-socialist doctrines of the Trudoviks, the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Popular Socialists and Co., and frank, firm recognition of the alliance between the proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry in the bourgeois revolution. The victory of this revolution will dissipate like a puff of smoke the doctrine of the sovereign virtue of land equalisation, but the masses of the peasantry in the present struggle express by this doctrine the breadth, strength, courage, enthusiasm, sincerity and invincibility of their historic action which heralds a Russia cleansed of each and every survival of feudalism.
The bourgeoisie is going left, down with Trudovik utopianism, long live support of the bourgeoisie—argue the Mensheviks. The bourgeoisie is going left, we shall say: that means new powder is accumulating in the powder-magazine of the Russian revolution. If today the Krestovnikovs are saying “Russia is sick”, it means that tomorrow the socialist proletariat will go into action, leading the democratic peasantry, and will say: “We shall cure her!”
- Vozrozhdeniye (Revival)—a journal of the Menshevik liquidators, published in Moscow from December 1908 to July 1910.
- See K. Marx und F. Engels, “Die Berliner Debatte über die Revolution”.
- Lenin is quoting from Engels’s “Preface to the First German Edition” of K. Marx’s work The Poverty of Philosophy (see K. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, pp. 12-13).