They Have Forgotten the Main Thing
|Written||5 May 1917|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 24, pages 350-353.
THE MUNICIPAL PLATFORM OF THE PROLETARIAN PARTY[edit source]
Elections to the district councils being close at hand, the two petty-bourgeois democratic parties, the Narodniks and the Mensheviks, have come out with high-sounding platforms. These platforms are exactly the same as those of the European bourgeois parties who are engaged in angling for the gullible uneducated mass of voters from among the petty proprietors, etc., such as, for instance, the platform of the Radical and Radical-Socialist Party of France. The same specious phrases, the same lavish promises, the same vague formulations, the same silence on or forgetfulness of the main thing, namely, the actual conditions on which the practicability of these promises depends.
At present these conditions are: (1) the imperialist war; (2) the existence of a capitalist government; (3) the impossibility of seriously improving the condition of the workers and the whole mass of working people without revolutionary encroachment on the “sacred right, of capitalist private property”; (4) the impossibility of carrying out the reforms promised by those parties while the old organs and machinery of government remain intact, while there exists a police force which is bound to back the capitalists and put a thousand and one obstacles in the way of such reforms.
For example: “House rents is in war time to be controlled”, “such stocks to be requisitioned for the public needs” (that is stocks of foodstuffs kept in stores or by private individuals) “communal stores, bakeries, canteens, and kitchens to be organized”—write the Mensheviks. “Proper attention to be paid to sanitation and hygiene,” echo the Narodniks (the Socialist-Revolutionaries)
Excellent wishes, to be sure. The trouble is that they cannot be carried out unless one stops supporting the imperialist war, stops supporting the loan (which is profitable to the capitalists), stops supporting the capitalist government, which safeguards capitalist profits, stops preserving the police, who are bound to obstruct, thwart, and kill any such reform, even if the government and the capitalists themselves did not present an ultimatum to the reformers (and they certainly will, once capitalist profits are involved).
The trouble is that once we forget the harsh and rigid conditions of capitalist domination, then all such platforms, all such lists of sweeping reforms are empty words, which in practice turn out to be either harmless “pious wishes”, or simple hoodwinking of the masses by ordinary bourgeois politicians.
We must face the truth squarely. We must not gloss it over, we must tell it to people in a straightforward manner. We must not brush the class struggle under the carpet, but clarify what relation it bears to the high-sounding, specious, delightful “radical” reforms.
Comrade workers, and all other citizens of Petrograd! In order to give the people all those pressing and essential reforms of which the Narodniks and the Mensheviks speak, one must throw over the policy of support for the imperial 1st war and war loans, support for the capitalist government and for the principle of the inviolability of capitalist profits. To carry out those reforms, one must not allow the police to be reinstated, as the Cadets are now doing, but have it replaced by a people’s militia. This is what the party of the proletariat should tell the people at elections, this is what it must say against the petty-bourgeois parties of the Narodniks and the Mensheviks. This is the essence of the proletarian municipal platform that is being glossed over by the petty-bourgeois parties.
Foremost in this platform, topping the list of reforms, there must be, as a basic condition for their actual realisation, the following three fundamental points:
1. No support for the imperialist war (either in the form of support for the war loan, or in any other form).
2. No support to the capitalist government.
3. No reinstatement of the police, which must be replaced by a people’s militia.
Unless attention is focused on these cardinal questions, unless it is shown that all municipal reforms are contingent upon them, the municipal programme inevitably becomes (at best) a pious wish.
Let us examine point 3.
In all bourgeois republics, even the most democratic, the police (like the standing army) is the chief instrument of oppression of the masses, an instrument making for a possible restoration of the monarchy. The police beats up the “common people” in the police stations of New York, Geneva, and Paris; it favours the capitalists either because it is bribed to do so (America and other countries), or because it enjoys wealthy “patronage” and “protection” (Switzerland), or because of a combination of both (France). Separated as it is from the people, forming a professional caste of men trained in the practice of violence upon the poor, men who receive somewhat higher pay and the privileges that go with authority (to say nothing of “gratuities”), the police everywhere, in every republic, however democratic, where the bourgeoisie is in power, always remains the unfailing weapon, the chief support and protection of the bourgeoisie. No important radical reforms in favour of the working masses can be implemented through the police. That is objectively impossible.
A people’s militia instead of the police force and the standing army is a prerequisite of effective municipal reforms in the interests of the working people. At a time of revolution this prerequisite is practicable. And it is on this that we must concentrate the whole municipal platform, for the other two cardinal conditions apply to the state as a whole, and not only to municipal governments.
Just how this people’s militia can be brought into existence is something which experience will show. To enable the proletarians and semi-proletarians to serve in this militia, the employers must be made to pay them their full wages for the days and hours they spend in service. This is practicable. Whether we should first organise a workers’ militia by drawing upon the workers employed at the large factories, i.e.. the workers who are best organised and most capable of fulfilling the task of militiamen, or whether we should immediately organise general compulsory service for all adult men and women, who would devote to this service one or two weeks a year and so on, is not a question of fundamental importance. There is no harm in the different districts adopting different procedures—in fact, it would make for richer experience, and the process of organisation would develop more smoothly and come closer to life’s practical requirements.
A people’s militia would mean education of the masses in the practices of democracy.
A people’s militia would mean government of the poor by the people themselves, chiefly by the poor, and not by the rich, not through their police.
A people’s militia would mean that control (over factories, dwellings, the distribution of products, etc.) would be real and not merely on paper.
A people’s militia would mean distribution without any bread queues, without any privileges for the rich.
A people’s militia would mean that quite a number of the serious and radical reforms listed also by the Narodniks and the Mensheviks would not remain mere pious wishes.
Comrades, working men and women of Petrograd! Go to the district council elections. Protect the interests of the poor population. Come out against the imperialist war, against support of the capitalist government, against the restoration of the police and for the immediate unqualified replacement of the police by a people’s militia.