The Last Word of Russian Liberalism

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The Russian Social-Democrats drew the main lessons of the revolution in the London resolution on the non-proletarian parties.[1] In this resolution the Social-Democratic proletariat made a clear and precise appraisal of the class relations in the revolution, defined the social basis of all the major parties and the general tasks of the workers’ movement in the fight for democracy. The resolution of the December Party Conference of 1908 was a further development of these fundamental views of Social-Democracy.

Now, a year after this Conference, two and a half years after the London Congress, it is extremely instructive to see the views on the present position and the tasks of democracy that are being reached by the most influential representatives of Russian liberalism. The recent “conference” of leading members of the Cadet Party is particularly interesting in this respect. The “conference” endorsed the report of the leader of the party, Mr. Milyukov, who has now had it printed in Rech under the heading: “The Political Parties in the Country and in the Duma”. This report is an extremely important political document. In it we have what is hence forth the official platform of the Cadet Party. Furthermore, we have here an answer to questions which the Social- Democratic Party raised and settled long ago—an answer supplied by one of the shrewdest diplomats and politicians in the liberal camp, and at the same time one of the most adept historians, who has learned a thing or two from historical materialism, by which he was unmistakably influenced ... when he was a historian.

The historian Milyukov tries to put the question on a thoroughly scientific, i.e., materialist basis. To obtain “firm strongpoints” for party tactics there must be “a uniform conception of what is taking place in the country”. And to understand this one must see how the chief political parties or “political trends” are striving to “find support” in “broad circles of the population

The method is excellent. Its application immediately reveals to us the transformation of the adept historian into a commonplace liberal sycophant: the Cadets, you see, and everything to the right of them, constitute the “three chief political trends”, while everything to the “left” of the Cadets is a “political paroxysm”. Thank you for your candour, Mr. Liberal! But we’ll see nevertheless what you have to say as a historian? Three chief trends: the first is “demagogic monarchism”. Its “purpose” is to “defend the old social foundations of life”, a “combination of unlimited autocracy [the liberal, the Constitutional-Democrat unconsciously goes over to the standpoint of the Octobrist who upholds limited autocracy] with the peasantry on the basis of those patriarchal relations in which the nobility is the natural intermediary between the one and the other”.... Translated from the language of liberalism into plain ordinary Russian this means the domination of the feudal (“patriarchal”) landlords and Black-Hundred tsarism. Mr. Milyukov rightly remarks that this tsarism is becoming “demagogic”, that it is “abandoning the old artificial non-partyism or above-partyism and is intervening actively in the process of the organisation of par ties in the country”. It is this, incidentally, that constitutes the step towards the conversion of the autocracy into a bourgeois monarchy which is dealt with in the resolution of the December Conference of the Social-Democrats in 1908. This is the new development which constitutes the specific peculiarity of the present moment and which was taken into account by our Party in formulating the present tactical aims. Although he correctly notes certain features of the process, Mr. Milyukov; firstly, has not fully thought out the economic roots of it and, secondly, he is afraid to draw the logical conclusion about the reasons for the strength of the feudal landlords. This strength is expressed in the fact that in European Russia, according to the official statistics of 1905, ten million poor peasants have 75 million dessiatines of land, while 30,000 big landlords (including the crown lands, i.e., those of Nicholas Romanov and his family) own, 70 million dessiatines. Can Russia be delivered from “patriarchal” relations without the total abolition of these feudal latifundia of the upper thirty thousands, what do you think, Mr. Historian?

The second trend is “bourgeois constitutionalism”. Thus Mr. Milyukov names the Octobrists. “For the big bourgeoisie,” he writes, “this trend, perhaps, is too conservative be cause of its close ties with the bureaucracy and the nobility.” They are united by “a negative aim: joint defence against the more radical social or political trends”. “The bourgeois constitutionalists of June 3 and November 9”, seeking strong-points for themselves, are trying “to assimilate at least the upper section of the mass of the peasantry [the strong and virile ones, as Mr. Stolypin calls them]. But for the time being this sort of social basis lies entirely in the future.” “That is why this trend has perhaps the weakest prospects of finding a social basis”!!

It is a favourite tendency in our country—unfortunately even among would-be Social-Democrats—to attack “revolutionary illusions”. But could anything be more naïve than this liberal illusion that the social basis of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie (“joint defence”) and the landlords is weak”, that they can be defeated by other means than a most vigorous, and ruthless revolutionary offensive of the masses, an uprising of the masses? The serious historian again gives way to the commonplace liberal.

The third trend is the Cadets. Mr. Milyukov calls it “democratic constitutionalism” and explains that “the essence of this position consists in a combination of a radical political and radical social programme”. The historian is quite eclipsed by the diplomatist and politician. In actual fact the entire policy of the Cadets runs counter to the radicalism of the masses. In words—especially at a “conference” where there are Cadets from the provinces who are somewhat more closely aware of the sentiments of the masses—we are radicals, we are concerned for democracy and the masses.

Mr. Milyukov (particularly under the influence of the “conference”, we may be sure) makes no mistakes about the masses. He recognises as an indisputable fact, that the “growth of political consciousness in recent years has been tremendous”, that “the causes of mass discontent have not disappeared: it is possible that they have even increased in number and that their effect has grown stronger in proportion to the growth of political consciousness”. But, although the historian has to admit this, the liberal gets the upper hand just the same: ... “among the masses, unfortunately, it turned out [during the revolution] that only a bolder secret demagogy was effective, one which flattered the traditional opinions and customary expectations of the masses. This demagogy united in a purely artificial manner the intelligible and legitimate mass slogan of ‘land’ with the unintelligible and misinterpreted slogan of ‘liberty’. Under these circumstances even the grasping by people’s minds of the natural connection between the two slogans was only a source of new misunderstandings and gave rise to the same illusions,” and so on and so forth, right down to the “principle”: neither revolution nor reaction, but “a legal constitutional struggle”. The question of returning to the “old tactics of 1905” “must be answered with a categorical and emphatic negative

As the reader sees, all the good intentions of the historian Milyukov to find strongpoints for party tactics among broad circles of the population came to nothing as soon as it was a question of the peasantry and the proletariat. Mr. Milyukov gives the latter up as a bad job, admitting that “democratic constitutionalism has a wider, better organised and more politically conscious social basis among the urban democracy than any other political party can show, with the exception of the Social-Democratic Party, which is relying on the working class.” But Mr. Milyukov does not lose hope of the peasantry. “In spite of the existence of such obstacles” as “demagogy”, etc., he writes, “the possibility is not excluded of democratic constitutionalism acting parallel [Milyukov’s italics] to the direct expressions of the desires of the popular masses.”

Parallel activity!—there you have the new catchword for old liberal tactics. Parallel lines never meet. The bourgeois intellectuals have understood that their liberalism will never meet the masses, i.e., will not become their voice and leader in Russia—“never”, because of the growth of political consciousness after 1905. But the liberals of the Cadet type continue to count on the masses as a stepping stone to success, to domination. Translated into simple and clear language, to proceed “parallel” means to exploit the masses politically, trapping them with democratic words and betraying them in practice. “To Support them [the Octobrists I systematically in constitutional questions”, these words in Mr. Milyukov’s report express the essence of the policy of the Cadets. In practice the Cadets are accomplices of Octobrism, they are a wing of bourgeois constitutionalism. Struve and the other Vekhists admit this in candid, blunt and straightforward terms, and demand that the Cadets should stop “ogling the left and fawning on the revolutionaries who despise them” (the words of the well-known renegade Mr. Izgoyev in Moskovsky Yezhenedelnik,[2] 1909, No. 46, page 10). Milyukov and Co. are dissatisfied only with the bluntness and straight forwardness of the Vekhists only because the Vekhists are spoiling their diplomacy, are making it hard for them to lead the backward elements of the masses by the nose. Milyukov is the practical politician, Struve—the liberal doctrinaire, but their peaceful coexistence in the same party is no accident, but a necessity, because by the very nature of the case the bourgeois intellectual vacillates between placing hopes in the masses (who can help to pull the chestnuts out of the fire) and placing hopes in the Octobrist bourgeoisie.

“The fact that it is impossible for the present regime to permit free intercourse between the democratic elements who are politically enlightened and the democratic masses prevents the realisation of the main promises contained in the Manifesto of October 17,” writes Mr. Milyukov. Here, inadvertently, he has spoken a deeper truth than he intended. Firstly, if it is true that it is impossible for the present regime to permit intercourse between the masses and the democrats (and that is unquestionably true) then revolutionary tactics are necessary, not a “constitutional” struggle; the people need to be led to the overthrow of this regime, not its reformation. Secondly, October-December 1905 and the First Duma and the Second Duma all proved that “it is impossible to permit free intercourse” between the “democratic masses” and the Social-Democrats or even the Narodniks of all shades not only “for the present regime” but also for the Russian liberals, the Russian Cadets. The Cadets were unable to lead the democracy not only of the workers but also of the peasants during the period of civil liberties in October-December 1905, and even during the time of the Dumas watched over by the Goremykins and Stolypins the democracy was not reconciled to the leadership of the Cadets.

The political significance of the Cadet “conference” at the end of 1909 and of Mr. Milyukov’s report lies in the fact that the educated representatives of liberalism, being most bitter enemies of revolutionary Social-Democracy, have given signal confirmation of the correctness of its estimate of the moment and of its tactics. Everything of value and truthful in the report merely pads out and repeats over and over again our own basic thesis that the chief mark of distinction of the present moment is the step taken by the autocracy along the path towards transformation into a bourgeois monarchy. This is what distinguishes it from yesterday and tomorrow. This is the basis of the tactics peculiar to the Social-Democrats; tactics which require the application of the principles of revolutionary Marxism to altered conditions, and not simply the repetition of some slogans or other.

The liberals have recognised that the big bourgeoisie are counter-revolutionary, they have recognised that the masses are becoming more politically conscious and discontented. Then why don’t they resolutely enter the service of the big bourgeoisie if they repudiate the revolution, 1905, and the “demagogy” of “land and liberty”, if they recognise that Octobrism is too conservative for the big bourgeoisie? Because the “conference” of provincials made it crystal clear to them that the new Stolypin, bourgeois policy of the autocracy is a failure. The new social basis for the monarchy “still lies wholly in the future”—there you have the liberals’ most valuable admission. Well-ordered bourgeois constitutionalism with a monarchy at the head is a very fine thing, but it is not forthcoming, it will not come without a new movement of the masses—such is the summing up of the Cadet “conference”. We hate the movement of the masses, we hate the “demagogy” of “land and liberty”, we hate “political paroxysms” but we are realistic politicians, we must reckon with facts, we must shape our policy to run parallel with the movement of the masses, since it is inevitable. “The possibility is not excluded” that we can successfully contend for the leadership of the rural and urban masses (except the workers): let us try by talking about our “radicalism.” to secure a niche in the people’s movement just as our talk of being His Majesty’s Opposition secured us a niche in London.

Inadvertently the Cadet conference has signally confirmed the tactics of our Party. We must survive this new historical period when the autocracy is trying to save itself in a new way and is plainly heading for bankruptcy again on this new path. We must survive this period, systematically, persistently, patiently working to build up a broader and stronger organisation of the more politically conscious masses of the socialist proletariat and the democratic peasantry. We must utilise all conditions and opportunities for Party activity at a time when, both the Black-Hundred Duma and the monarchy are obliged to take the path of partyism. We must use this time as a period for training fresh masses of the people, on a new basis, under new conditions, to wage a more vigorous revolutionary struggle for our old demands. The revolution and the counter-revolution have shown that the monarchy is quite incompatible with democracy, rule by the people, freedom of the people—we must carry out among the masses propaganda for the abolition of the monarchy, for republicanism, as the condition without which the people cannot be victorious, we must make the slogan of “down with the monarchy” as popular a “household word” as the slogan of “down with the autocracy” became as a result of the long years of persistent work by the Social-Democrats in 1895–1904. The revolution and the counter-revolution have shown in practice the full power and significance of the landlord class—we must sow among the masses of the peasantry propaganda for the complete abolition of this class, the complete destruction of landlordism. The revolution and counter-revolution have shown in actual fact the true nature of the liberals and bourgeois intelligentsia—we must ensure that the masses of the peasantry clearly understand that the leadership of the liberals will ruin their cause, that without independent revolutionary mass struggle whatever the Cadet “reforms”, they will inevitably remain in bondage to the landlord. The revolution and counter-revolution have shown us the alliance of autocracy and the bourgeoisie, the alliance of the Russian and international bourgeoisie—we must educate, rally and organise in three times greater numbers than in 1905 the masses of the proletariat, which alone, led by an independent Social-Democratic Party and marching hand in hand with the proletariat of the advanced countries, is capable of winning freedom for Russia.

  1. This refers to the resolution of the Fifth (London) Congress of the RSDLP “On the Attitude to Non-proletarian Parties” (see The CPSU in Resolutions and Decisions of Congresses, Conferences and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, 7th Russian ed., Part 1, 1953, pp. 164–65).
  2. Moskovsky Yezhenedelnik (Moscow Weekly)—a weekly magazine, organ of the bourgeois-landlord counter-revolutionary “Party of Peaceful Renovation”, published in Moscow from 1906 to 1910.