The Latest in Iskra Tactics, or Mock Elections as a New Incentive to an Uprising
|Written||17 October 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 356-373.
We have spoken many times already about the inefficacy of the Iskra tactics in the “Duma” campaign. The two main lines of this tactics—the urge to support the Osvobozhdeniye League which wants to enter the Duma on the strength of certain revolutionary pledges and the release of a slogan calling for “revolutionary self-government of citizens” and for popular elections to a constituent assembly under the autocracy—are both unsound. In the resolution of the Mensheviks’ “Southern Constituent [?] Conference” we at last have an attempt to formulate the Iskra tactics accurately and officially. At this Conference the best of the new-Iskra forces in Russia were represented. The resolution is an attempt at a business-like exposition of purely practical advice addressed to the proletariat. That is why a careful analysis of this resolution is so essential, both for the purpose of evolving a definite line of practical activity and for an appraisal of Iskra’s tactical stand as a whole.
We quote the full text of the resolution:
Resolution on the State Duma Adopted by the Constituent Conference of the Southern Organisations
we see the only way out of the present difficult conditions, compatible with the interests of the whole people, in the convocation of a constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and a secret ballot, for the purpose of abolishing the autocratic regime, and establishing a democratic republic necessary in the first place to the proletariat in its struggle against all the foundations of the bourgeois system and for the achievement of socialism; and whereas,
1) the system of elections to the State Duma does not enable the whole people to participate in them, the proletariat being excluded from the elections by reason of the high property qualification fixed for urban dwellers, while the peasantry—a mere section of it at that— will vote on the basis of a four-stage system, which provides the authorities with every opportunity for exerting pressure on them; and whereas,
2) the whole of Russia is still deprived of all essential civil liberties, in the absence of which there can be no election campaign and, consequently, no elections conducted with any degree of fairness, and whereas, on the contrary, at the present time the authorities’ arbitrary procedure is everywhere becoming worse than ever before, and vast areas are one after the other placed under martial law; and, finally, whereas,
3) a system of representation which is even more of a travesty is being worked out for all the marginal regions; —
the Conference urges all organisations to build up a most energetic campaign of agitation to expose the entire travesty of representation by which the autocratic government proposes to deceive the people, and declares deliberate traitors to the people all those who are prepared to content themselves with the State Duma, and who will not at this decisive moment set themselves the task of supporting by their actions and tactics the revolutionary people’s demand for the convocation of a constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, direct elections and a secret ballot.
To achieve the speediest possible realisation of the said demand, the Southern Conference recommends the following tactics to the Party organisations:
1) The launching of an energetic agitation campaign among the industrial proletariat and the peasant masses for the creation of comprehensive democratic organisations and their amalgamation in an all-Russia organisation with the purpose of waging an energetic struggle against the State Duma and for the establishment of a popular constituent assembly with the immediate introduction of freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, and the right to strike. The establishment of this all-Russia people’s organisation should proceed through the formation of agitation committees elected by the workers at their respective factories, and the amalgamation agitation committees; through the creation of similar agitation committees among the peasantry; through the establishment of closer ties between the urban and rural committees; through the setting up of gubernia committees and the establishment of contact between them.
2) If this organisation proves sufficiently strong, and the working masses’ temper appropriate, the inauguration of the election campaign should be used to organise nation-wide popular elections to a constituent assembly, bearing in mind the prospect that the organised movement of the people, aimed at getting these elections held, may naturally lead to the whole people rising against tsarism, since inevitable resistance by the latter and the clash with it on the occasion of the elections will provide the rising with new incentives, while the people’s preliminary organisation will give the rising universality and unity.
3) In addition, the Conference proposes that efforts be made to secure freedom of election meetings and recommends energetic intervention in the election campaign, intervention by the people in electors’ meetings, and public discussion of the tasks confronting representatives elected to the State Duma, these discussions to be conducted by electors at mass meetings. At the same time, the Social-Democratic Party must induce those sections of the population with the right to vote in the State Duma elections, to take to the road of revolution. This may find expression either in their joining an uprising led by the democratic organisations of the people, or, in the absence of such, in their striving to transform the incipient State Duma into a revolutionary assembly that will convoke a popular constituent assembly, or facilitate its convocation by the democratic organisations of the people.
4) Preparations should be made for exerting pressure on the State Duma along the same lines, should the mass movement fail to have brought about the overthrow of the autocracy and the establishment of a constituent assembly by the time the Duma is finally convened. Preparations should be made for an ultimatum to the State Duma demanding the convocation of a constituent assembly and the immediate introduction of freedom of speech, assembly, the press and association, and the arming of the people. Preparations should be made to back up this ultimatum with a political strike and other mass action by the people.
5) All this tactics shall be approved at general mass meetings, organised prior to and during the election campaign among the proletariat and the peasantry.
We shall not dwell on the shortcomings in the redaction of the resolution which is far too wordy. Let us deal with its fundamental mistakes.
1. The preamble speaks of the only way out of the present situation. In this connection the entire stress is placed on the idea of a constituent assembly, and not a word is said as to who is to call it, so that the “way out” should be not merely on paper, but in actual fact. Silence on this score amounts to Social-Democrats yielding to the Osvobozhdeniye gentry. As we have repeatedly pointed out, it is the interests of the monarchist-liberal bourgeoisie that oblige the Osvobozhdeniye gentry to limit themselves to the convocation of a popular constituent assembly, and pass over in silence the question of who is to call it. This, as we have repeatedly pointed out, is the very question that the developing revolution has brought into the forefront, and herein at present lies the fundamental difference between the bourgeoisie’s opportunist (“compromise”) tactics and the proletariat’s revolutionary tactics. By their resolution the new-Iskra supporters have furnished documentary proof of their incurable blindness in fundamental questions of tactics, and of their relapsing into Osvobozhdeniye slogans.
In the succeeding sections the resolution still more confuses the question of the convocation of a popular constituent assembly. Propaganda which proclaims confidence in the State Duma on this score is downright reactionary, while to say that a constituent assembly should be convened by a “democratic organisation of the people” is much like proposing to call a constituent assembly through a committee of friends of the people living on the planet Mars. At their all-Russia Conference the new-Iskrists committed an unpardonable error in placing the convocation of a popular constituent assembly by a revolutionary government on a par with its convocation by a representative institution. The new-Iskrists have now gone even farther in reverse: they have not even mentioned a revolutionary provisional government. Why? On what grounds? In what respect have their views changed? All this remains a mystery. Instead of developing tactical directives, the Mensheviks’ conferences merely provide exhibitions of plunges and vacillations now to the right, now to the left.
2. To call “deliberate traitors to the people all those who are prepared to content themselves with the State Duma”, etc., is just such a plunge ostensibly to the left, but one that is not towards a genuinely revolutionary path, but rather towards revolutionary phrase-mongering. In the first place, what is the point of the stinging adjective “deliberate” (traitor)? Was Johann Jacoby, who entered the State Duma or the United Landtag in 1847 as a bourgeois liberal, and went over to the Social-Democrats after the war of 1870- 71, a deliberate traitor to the people? Will any peasant who goes into the Duma and is “prepared” to content himself with very, very little be a deliberate traitor? Secondly, is it reasonable to establish as criteria of treachery things like: "whoever is prepared to content himself”, “whoever does not set himself the task”, etc.? Row does one reveal one s “being prepared” and “setting oneself the task”—in word, or in deed? If in word, then it is necessary to obtain from those C.D.s ("Constitutional-Democrats”, as the Osvobozhdeniye gentry now call themselves) who are entering the State Duma, a written promise or revolutionary pledge (Parvus, Cherevanin, Martov). In that case the resolution should express this idea clearly instead of being so vague about it. On the other hand, if being “prepared” is proved in deed, then why does the resolution not state openly and straightforwardly what “actions” It considers proof of this preparedness? The reason is because the resolution reflects the fundamental error of the new Iskra, which is unable to distinguish between revolutionary democracy and liberal-monarchist democracy. Thirdly, is it rational for a militant party to talk in general about persons (“all who”) instead of speaking concretely about trends or parties? At present it is of particular importance for us to expose to the proletariat that trend—the Party of Constitutional-Democrats—whose “actions” have already shown us what demands it supports, and how it does so. Addressing the workers in the name of Social-Democratic organisations, speaking to them about entrants into the Duma, and about Duma electors, etc., while keeping silent about the Constitutional-Democratic Party (i.e., the Osvobozhdeniye people) means either shilly-shallying and scheming (coming to terms on the sly with the Osvobozhdeniye people to support them on conditions stipulated by Parvus or Cherevanin), or unwittingly spreading corruption among the workers and giving up the struggle against the Constitutional-Democrats.
Besides the historical facts regarding the activity of Osvobozhdeniye, its adherents, the Zemstvo members, and all other Constitutional-Democrats, we have no important data for gauging the “preparedness” of democrats from among the bourgeoisie to fight together with the people. The new-Iskrists ignore these facts and dismiss the matter with meaningless phrases. Yet Plekhanov is still trying to convince us that the organisational vagueness in Iskra’s views is not supplemented by vagueness in tactics!
The Iskra supporters have in fact not only shut their eyes to the Constitutional-Democrats’ “preparedness” to commit treachery, proved by their obvious and universally noted turn to the right during the period between the July and September Zemstvo congresses, but have even assisted these Constitutional-Democrats by fighting, against the boycott! The Iskrists are threatening hypothetical Osvobozhdeniye adherents ("all those who are prepared”, etc.) with “frightfully terrifying” words, but by their tactics they are assisting the genuine Osvobozhdeniye adherents. This is wholly in the spirit of Rodichev, one of the Constitutional- Democratic leaders, who thunders: “We will not accept liberty from hands steeped in the blood of the people !" (this statement of Rodichev’s, uttered at a private meeting and directed against William Stead, is now making the rounds of the entire foreign press)—and in the same breath demands that those very hands convoke a popular constituent assembly.
3. The next fundamental error in the resolution is the slogan for “the creation of comprehensive democratic organisations and their amalgamation in an all-Russia organisation”. The frivolity of the Social-Democrats who advance such a slogan is simply staggering. What does creating comprehensive democratic organisations mean? It can mean one of two things: either the socialists’ organisation (the RSDLP) being submerged in the democrats’ organisation (and the new-Iskrists cannot do that deliberately, for it would be sheer betrayal of the proletariat)—or a temporary alliance between the Social-Democrats and certain sections of the bourgeois democrats. If the new-Iskrists want to advocate such an alliance, why do they not say so frankly and openly? Why do they hide behind the word “creation”? Why do they not specify the exact trends and groups in the bourgeois-democratic camp, with which they are urging the Social-Democrats to unite? Is this not a fresh example of impermissible vagueness of tactics, which in practice inevitably transforms the working class into an appendage to the bourgeois democracy?
The resolution’s only definition of the nature of these comprehensive democratic organisations” consists of a statement of the two aims set them: 1) a struggle against the State Duma, and 2) a struggle for a popular constituent assembly. The latter aim, as lamely formulated by Iskra, i.e., without any indication of who is to convene the popular constituent assembly, has been fully endorsed by the Constitutional-Democrats. Does this mean that the Iskrists advocate an alliance between the Social-Democrats and the Constitutional-Democrats, but are ashamed to say so openly? The former aim is formulated with an obscurity we are accustomed to seeing only in Russian laws, which are deliberately designed to deceive the people. What is meant by a struggle against the State Duma? If we take the expression literally—assuming the authors of the resolution want to express themselves unequivocally—it means a boycott of the Duma, for to fight against an institution that does not yet exist means opposing its establishment. But we know that the Iskrists are opposed to the boycott, we see from the resolution itself that further on they no longer talk of a struggle against the State Duma, but of exerting pressure on the State Duma, of a striving to transform it into a revolutionary assembly, etc. This means that the words “struggle against the State Duma” should not be taken literally, or in their narrow sense. But in that case, how should they be taken? Perhaps, as understood by Mr. M. Kovalevsky, who reads papers criticising the State Duma? What constitutes a struggle against the State Duma? That remains a mystery. Our muddle-heads have said nothing precise on this score. Aware of the class-conscious workers’ mood, which is definitely opposed to the tactic of agreements with the Constitutional-Democrats, the tactic of supporting the Duma on certain conditions, our new-Iskrists have cravenly taken a middle course: on the one hand, they repeat the slogan “Struggle against the State Duma” which is popular among the proletariat and, on the other hand, they are depriving this slogan of any exact meaning, are throwing dust into the eyes of the people, are interpreting the struggle against the Duma in the sense of exerting pressure on the Duma, etc. And this wretched muddle is being advanced by the most influential of the new-Iskra organisations at a time the Osvobozhdeniye gentry are loudly protesting for the world to hear that they are entering the State Duma only in order to carry on a struggle and exclusively for the struggle, that they are “prepared” to make a complete break with the government!
We ask the readers: has more disgraceful vacillation in tactics ever been seen anywhere in the Social-Democratic movement? Is it possible to imagine anything more ruinous to Social-Democracy than this advocacy of “creating comprehensive democratic organisations” together with the Osvobozhdeniye people (for the Constitutional-Democrats are in agreement with the aims of such organisations as set forth by Iskra), but without mentioning these people by name??
And Plekhanov, who has degraded himself in the eyes of all Russian revolutionary Social-Democrats by defending Iskra’s “organisational vagueness” for almost two years, will now try to assure us that this new-Iskra tactic is good!...
4. Further. It is most unwise to call an alliance of comprehensive (and amorphous) democratic organisations “an all-Russia people’s organisation” or “a democratic organisation of the people”. First of all, this is incorrect theoretically. As we know, the Economists erred by confusing party with class. Reviving old mistakes the Iskrists are now confusing the sum of democratic parties or organisations with an organisation of the people. That is empty, false, and harmful phrase-mongering. It is empty because it has no specific meaning whatever, owing to the absence of any reference to definite democratic parties or trends. It is false because in a capitalist society even the proletariat, the most advanced class, is not in a position to create a party embracing the entire class—and as for the whole people creating such a party, that is entirely out of the question. It is harmful be cause it clutters up the mind with bombastic words and does nothing to further the real work of explaining the actual significance of actual democratic parties, their class basis, the degree of their closeness to the proletariat, etc. The present, the period of a democratic revolution, bourgeois in its social and economic content, is a time when bourgeois democrats, all Constitutional-Democrats, etc., right down to the Socialist-Revolutionaries, are revealing a particular inclination to advocate “comprehensive democratic organisations” and in general to encourage, directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, non-partisanship, i.e., an absence of any strict division between the democrats. Class-conscious representatives of the proletariat must fight this tendency resolutely and ruthlessly, for it is profoundly bourgeois in essence. We must bring exact party distinctions into the fore ground, expose all confusion, show up the falsity of phrases about allegedly united, broad, solid democratism, phrases our liberal newspapers are teeming with. In proposing an alliance with certain sections of the democrats for the achievement of definite tasks, we should single out only revolutionary democrats—particularly at a time like this; we should indicate what most clearly distinguishes those “prepared” to fight (right now, in the ranks of the revolutionary army) from those who are “prepared” to bargain with the autocracy.
To bring home their mistake to the Iskrists, let us take a very simple example. Our programme speaks of peasant committees. The resolution of the Third Congress of the RSDLP defines their role more precisely by calling them revolutionary peasant committees (in this respect the new Iskra Conference agreed, in essence, with the Third Congress). We have set them the task of bringing about democratic reforms in general and agrarian reforms in particular, going as far as the confiscation of the landed estates by revolutionary action. The Iskra resolution now recommends a new kind of “agitation committees among the peasantry”. Such advice is worthy not of socialist workers but of liberal bourgeois. Had they been formed, such “peasant committees of agitation” would play right into the hands of the Osvobozhdeniye gentry, for their revolutionary character would be supplanted by liberalism. We have already pointed out that the content of the agitation of these committees, as defined by Iskra (the struggle “against” the State Duma and for a popular constituent assembly), does not exceed the limits set by the Osvobozhdeniye programme. Is it now clear to the new-Iskrists that by supplementing the slogan of revolutionary peasant committees with one calling for “peasant committees of agitation” it is transforming Social-Democratic slogans into Osvobozhdeniye slogans?
5. Finally, we reach the main task of this “all-Russia people’s organisation”—the organisation of nation-wide popular elections to a constituent assembly. Nation-wide popular elections with the autocracy left intact! And “clashes” with the autocracy provide “new incentives for an uprising”.... Mock elections as a new incentive for an uprising is what this amounts to!
The slogan calling for “revolutionary self-government”, and the theory of the “spontaneous generation” of a constituent assembly could not but lead to this absurdity, which is destined to become classical. To speak of nation wide popular elections under the rule of the Trepovs, i.e., before the victory of the uprising, before the actual overthrow of the tsarist government, is the height of Manilovism, and can serve only to spread incredible political corruption among the workers. Only people attuned to phrase mongering by the new Iskra can accept such slogans, which crumble to dust at the merest contact with sober criticism. One has only to reflect a little on precisely what is meant by nation-wide popular elections, if the term be taken seriously; one has only to remember that they imply freedom of agitation, keeping the entire population informed, and recognition b.y the entire population of the centre or local centres that will register the entire population, and canvass literally everyone, with no exceptions—one has only to give such things a little thought to realise that the “nation wide popular elections” proposed by Iskra would amount to a nation-wide joke or a nation-wide swindle. Not a single deputy who could claim to have been “elected by the entire people”, i.e., who has had 50,000 to 100,000 votes freely and consciously cast for him—not one such deputy can be elected anywhere in Russia “in the inauguration of the election campaign”.
The Iskra resolution advises the proletariat to stage a farce, and no reservations or excuses can change the farcical import of this resolution. We are told that elections can be carried out only “if this organisation proves sufficiently strong”, only when “preliminary organisation will give the rising universality and unity”. Our answer to this is that strength is revealed in action, not in word. Prior to the victory of an uprising it is ridiculous to talk of a force that will be able, without evoking laughter, even to proclaim “nation-wide popular elections”, let alone conduct them. No organisation, no matter how universal or united, can ensure the victory of an uprising unless 1) this organisation consists of people who are really capable of insurrection (and we have seen that the resolution advocates merely “comprehensive”, organisations, i.e., actually organisations of the Osvobozhdeniye type which would undoubtedly betray an uprising once it had started); and unless 2) there exist forces for the victory of the uprising (and to achieve victory, the material force of a revolutionary army is needed, besides the moral force of public opinion, the people’s welfare, etc.). To put the main stress on this moral force and on high-sounding phrases about “the whole people”, while maintaining silence, in a call to arms, about the actual material force, is to reduce the revolutionary slogans of the proletariat to bourgeois-democratic phrase-mongering.
Mock elections do not constitute a “natural transition to an uprising”, but rather an artificial transition invented by a handful of intellectuals. The fabrication of such artificial transitions is absolutely similar to Nadezhdin’s old occupation—the concoction of “excitative” terrorist acts. In the same way, the new-Iskrists want to “excite” the people to insurrection artificially—an idea that is basically false. We cannot create an organisation that will really em brace the whole people; any elections we would take it into our heads to appoint under the autocracy would inevitably be a farce, and to utilise such a fabricated pretext for an uprising is just like decreeing an uprising at a moment when the people are not genuinely roused. Only people who have no faith in the proletariat’s revolutionary activity, only intellectuals who are fond of using fancy words, could start inventing “new incentives for an uprising”, in September 1905. One might think that we in Russia lack genuine incentives for an uprising and need farcical ones, that there are so few cases of genuine unrest among the masses that such a sentiment has to be staged or faked! Mock elections will never rouse the masses. However, a strike, a demonstration, mutiny in the armed forces, a serious students’ outbreak, famine, mobilisation, or a conflict in the State Duma, etc., etc., etc., can really rouse the masses, constantly, at any hour. Not only is it the crassest stupidity to think of concocting “new incentives for an uprising”, but the very thought of indicating in advance that this and no other will be the real incentive for the masses would be foolish. People who have the slightest degree of self-respect, who are in the least earnest in what they say, would never allow themselves to concoct “new incentives for an uprising”.
What is lacking is not “new incentives”, my most esteemed Manliovs, but a military force, the military force of the revolutionary people (and not the people in general), consisting of 1) the armed proletariat and peasantry, 2) organised advance detachments of representatives of these classes, and 3) sections of the army that are prepared to come over to the side of the people. It is all this taken together that constitutes a revolutionary army. To talk of an uprising, of its force, of a natural transition to it, and to say nothing of a revolutionary army is folly and muddle headedness—and the greater the degree of the counter revolutionary army’s mobilisation, the more that is so. To invent “new incentives for an uprising” at a time of uprisings in the Caucasus and on the Black Sea, in Poland and Riga means deliberately withdrawing into one’s shell and isolating oneself from the movement. We are witnesses of the greatest unrest among the workers and peasants, of a series of insurrectionary outbreaks which have been steadily and with enormous speed spreading and becoming more forceful and more stubborn ever since January 9. No one can guarantee that these outbreaks will not repeat themselves tomorrow in any big city, or any military camp, or any village. On the contrary, everything goes to show that such outbreaks are probable, imminent, and inevitable. Their success depends, first of all, on the success of revolutionary agitation and organisation—revolutionary and not the “comprehensively democratic” agitation and organisation that Iskra prattles of, since among democrats there are many non-revolutionaries. In the second place, success depends on the might and preparedness of the revolutionary army. The first condition has long been acknowledged by all, and is being applied throughout Russia by all revolutionaries, at literally all meetings of study circles, group gatherings, impromptu and mass meetings. The second condition is as yet very little recognised. By reason of its class stand, the liberal bourgeoisie does not care to recognise it, and cannot afford to do so. As for the revolutionaries, only those who are hopelessly plodding along in the wake of the monarchist bourgeoisie are silent about it.
"Insurrection” is an important word. A call to insurrection is an extremely serious call. The more complex the social system, the better the organisation of state power, and the more perfected the military machine, the more impermissible is it to launch such a slogan without due thought. And we have stated repeatedly that the revolutionary Social-Democrats have long been preparing to launch it, but have launched it as a direct call only when there could be no doubt whatever of the gravity, widespread and deep roots of the revolutionary movement, no doubt of matters having literally come to a head. Important words must be used with circumspection. Enormous difficulties have to be faced in translating them into important deeds. It is precisely for that reason that it would be unpardonable to dismiss these difficulties with a mere phrase, to use Manilovist inventions to brush aside serious tasks or to put on one’s eyes the blinkers of sweet dreams of so-called “natural transitions” to these difficult tasks.
A revolutionary army are also important words. The creation of a revolutionary army is an arduous, complex, and lengthy process. But when we see that it has already begun and is proceeding on all sides—though desultorily and by fits and starts—when we know that a genuine victory of the revolution is impossible without such an army, we must issue a definite and direct slogan, advocate it, make it the touchstone of the current political tasks. It would be a mistake to think that the revolutionary classes are invariably strong enough to effect a revolution whenever such a revolution has fully matured by virtue of the conditions of social and economic development. No, human society is not constituted so rationally or so “conveniently” for progressive elements. A revolution may be ripe, and yet the forces of its creators may prove insufficient to carry it out, in which case society decays, and this process of decay sometimes drags on for very many years. There is no doubt that Russia is ripe for a democratic revolution, but it still remains to be seen whether the revolutionary classes have sufficient strength at present to carry it out. This will be settled by the struggle, whose crucial moment is approaching at tremendous speed—if the numerous direct and indirect indications do not deceive us. The moral preponderance is indubitable—the moral force is already overwhelmingly great; without it, of course, there could be no question of any revolution whatever. It is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient. Only the outcome of the struggle will show whether it will be translated into a material force sufficient to smash the very serious (we shall not close our eyes to this) resistance of the autocracy. The slogan of insurrection is a slogan for deciding the issue by material force, which in present-day European civilisation can only be military force. This slogan should not be put forward until the general prerequisites for revolution have matured, until the masses have definitely shown that they have been roused and are ready to act, until the external circumstances have led to an open crisis. But once such a slogan has been issued, it would be an arrant disgrace to retreat from it, back to moral force again, to one of the conditions that prepare the ground for an uprising, to a “possible transition”, etc., etc. No, once the die is cast, all subterfuges must be done with; it must be explained directly and openly to the masses what the practical conditions for a successful revolution are at the present time.
We have by no means exhausted the list of mistakes in the Iskra resolution, which—to people who think and who do not confine themselves to “clutching at opportunities — will long remain a sad memento of a vulgarisation of Social-Democracy’s tasks. It seems to us more important to investigate the underlying source of the errors rather than to enumerate all, including even the comparatively petty manifestations of the basic fallacy. We shall therefore only note, in passing, the absurdity and reactionary nature of the idea of presenting “ultimatums” (a military term, which in the absence of a trained military force, sounds like vulgar bragging) to the Duma, of the endeavour to transform this Duma into a revolutionary assembly, and will pass on to the general meaning of the slogan: “revolutionary self-government of the people”.
This slogan or rather its conversion into the focal slogan is at the root of all Iskra’s shilly-shallying. Iskra has attempted to defend it by referring to “dialectics”—the very same Plekhanov dialectics, by virtue of which Iskra’s “organisational vagueness” was first defended by Plekhanov, and then exposed by him!
Revolutionary self-government of the people, we have said, is not a prologue to an uprising, nor is it a “natural transition to it”, it is its epilogue. There can be no serious talk of genuine and complete self-government unless the uprising is victorious. And we have added that the very idea of placing the main emphasis on state administration rather than on state organisation is reactionary, that to identify revolutionary self-government with a revolutionary army is the height of absurdity, that a victorious revolutionary army necessarily presupposes a revolutionary self-government, whereas a revolutionary self-government does not necessarily include a revolutionary army.
Iskra tried to defend the confusion in its deliberately chosen slogans by referring to the “dialectics” of the unconscious and spontaneous process. Life, it says, knows of no sharply defined boundaries. Labour exchanges exist even now (Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 12)—here you have the elements of self-government. In a dialectical process of development, the prologue and the epilogue often inter twine, it says.
The latter consideration is quite true. Yes, the process of actual development is always tangled, with bits of the epilogue emerging before the true prologue. But does this mean that it is permissible for a leader of a class-conscious party to jumble the tasks of the struggle, to confuse the prologue with the epilogue? Can the dialectics of a jumbled and spontaneous process justify confusion in the logic of conscious Social-Democrats? Does not this imply substitution of dialectics d la Plekhanov for Marxist dialectics?
To make our idea clearer, let us take an example. Let us assume that we are discussing not a democratic but a socialist revolution. The crisis is maturing, the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat is approaching. At this point the opportunists make the establishment of consumers’ societies their central slogan, while the revolutionaries advance a slogan calling for the conquest of political power by the proletariat. The opportunists argue that consumers’ societies constitute a real force for the proletariat, the conquest of a real economic position, and a genuine bit of socialism; you revolutionaries do not understand dialectical development, the evolution of capitalism into socialism, the penetration of nuclei of socialism into the very heart of capitalism, the purging of capitalism by giving it a new socialist content.
Yes, the revolutionaries answer, we agree that in a way consumers’ societies do constitute a bit of socialism. In the first place, socialist society is one big consumers’ society with production for consumption organised according to plan. In the second place, socialism cannot be achieved without a powerful, many-sided working-class movement, and consumers’ societies will inevitably be one of these many sides. But that is not the point at all. While power remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie, consumers’ societies will remain a paltry fragment, ensuring no serious changes what ever, introducing no decisive alterations whatever, and some times even diverting attention from a serious struggle for revolution. No one disputes the fact that the habits acquired by the workers in consumers’ societies are very useful. But only transfer of power to the proletariat can give full scope to these habits. Then the system of consumers’ societies will have surplus value at its disposal; at present the scope of this useful institution is bound to be paltry by reason of the paltry wages. Then it will become a consumers’ union of really free workers; at present it is a union of wage-slaves, oppressed and stifled by capitalism. Thus the consumers’ societies are a fragment of socialism. The dialectical process of development really does intrude elements of the new society, elements both material and spiritual, even under capitalism. But socialists should be able to distinguish the part from the whole; they should demand the whole in their slogan, and not a part; they must contrapose to bits of patch work, which often divert fighters from the truly revolutionary path, the basic requisites for a real revolution.
What is Iskra’s opinion, who is right in this dispute?
It is the same with the slogan calling for “revolutionary self-government” in the period of a democratic revolution. We are not against revolutionary self-government, we long ago gave it a certain modest place in our minimum programme (see the paragraph on extensive local self-government). We agree that it is a fragment of a democratic revolution, as has already been stated in No. 15 of Proletary with reference to the Smolensk Municipal Council. A democratic revolution would be impossible without a powerful and many-sided democratic movement, and the movement for self- government is one of those many sides. However, the democratic revolution would likewise be impossible without, for example, revolutionary schools, which are as much an indubitable sign of tsarism’s actual disintegration as are labour exchanges, which exist despite the police ban, as the unrest among the clergy, as local self-government instituted in violation of the law, etc. Comrades of the Iskra, consider what conclusion should be drawn from all this! Is it that all these elements of disintegration should be summed up in an integral slogan of insurrection? Or that the slogan of insurrection should be mutilated by tying it down to one of the elements, namely, self-government?
"The organisation of revolutionary self-government, or, what amounts to the same, the organisation of popular forces for an uprising,” wrote the audacious Iskra (No. 109, page 2, line 1). That is just like saying that organising revolutionary schools means organising forces for an uprising, that organising unrest among the clergy means organising forces for an uprising, or that organising consumers’ societies means organising forces for a socialist revolution. No, you are poor dialecticians, comrades of the Iskra. You are unable to reason dialectically, although you are very well able to twist and squirm, like Plekhanov, when it comes to the question of the organisational and tactical vagueness of your views. You have overlooked the fact that, given victory of the uprising, all these fragments of revolution will inevitably merge in an integral .and complete “epilogue” to the uprising, whereas if the uprising is not victorious these fragments will remain fragments, paltry, changing nothing, and satisfying only the philistines.
The moral is: 1) Both on the eve of a socialist revolution and on the eve of a democratic revolution, opportunists in the Social-Democratic movement have a bad habit of working themselves up over a single petty fragment of a big process, exalting this fragment to the status of the whole, and subordinating the whole to this fragment, thereby mutilating the whole, and thereby themselves becoming toadies to the inconsistent and cowardly reformists. 2) The dialectics of the spontaneous process, which is always and necessarily confused, does not justify confusion in logical conclusions and political slogans which are quite often (but not necessarily) confused.
P. S. This article was already in the page proofs when we received the resolutions of the Southern Constituent Conference, published abroad by Iskra. The text of the resolution on the State Duma differs somewhat from the one published in Russia, which we have reproduced above. But these differences are not essential, and do not affect our criticism in any way.
- If we prove strong in the impending decisive conflict with tsarism, the State Duma will inevitably turn to the left (at least its liberal section will do so—we are not speaking about its reactionary section), but to attempt to influence the State Duma seriously without destroying the rule of the tsar would be just as stupid as for Japan to present “ultimatums” to China or to attach much weight to Chinese assistance without destroying the military might of Russia. After March 18, 1848, the Prussian State Duma (the United Landtag) immediately affixed its signature to a paper providing for the convocation of a constituent assembly, but until that all “ultimatums” of the revolutionaries, all their “endeavours” to influence the State Duma, all their threats, were hollow phrases to the Petrunkeviches, Rodichevs, Milyukovs, and their like, who sat in that State Duma.—Lenin
- Sotsial-Demokrat (The Social-Democrat)—a Menshevik news paper published in Geneva from October 1904 till October 1905.
- See pp. 221-22 of this volume.—Ed.