What to Fight For?

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The recent utterances of the Octobrists, the predominating party in the Duma, in connection with the speeches made by Right-wing Cadets there and elsewhere, are undoubtedly highly symptomatic. “We are isolated in the country and in the Duma,” complained the head of the party of counter-revolutionary capitalists, Mr. Guchkov. And the Vekhist Mr. Bulgakov echoes him, as it were, in Moskovsky Yezhenedelnik: ... “both the reaction and the revolution deny ‘inviolability of the person’; on the contrary they affirm ‘violability’ of the person with all their heart and soul—there is complete identity between Markov the Second, with his persecution of non-Russian races and his pogrom morality, and the Social-Democrat Gegechkori, who appeals to a ‘second great Russian revolution’ in the name of inviolability of the person” (No. 8, February 20, 1910, page 25).

“We are waiting,” said Mr. Guchkov in the Duma, addressing the tsarist government, signifying by these words that the bourgeoisie, which has surrendered body and soul to the counter-revolution, cannot as yet regard their interests as assured or see anything really firm and stable in the sense of the creation of the famous “renovated” order.

And the Vekhist Bulgakov echoes him: “... I reflect with undiminishing pain on the old, bitter and anguishing thought: yes, it’s the same thing [i.e, the reaction and the revolution are the same thing, namely—] ... the same Maximalism effected by force.... Of late some people are already beginning again to sigh for a new revolution, as though now, after what we have experienced, anything could be expected from it but the final collapse of Russia” (p. 32).

The Duma leader of the largest bourgeois party and a Right-wing Cadet publicist who is popular in liberal “society” (Vekhi is being issued in a fifth edition)—both of them complain, lament and assert that they are isolated. They are ideologically isolated among the Maximalists of the reaction and the “Maximalists” of the revolution, among the heroes of the Black Hundred and the “sighers for a new revolution” (the liberals?)—“isolated in the Duma and in the country”.

This isolation of the “centre”, the isolation of the bourgeoisie who want to change the old regime but do not want to fight it, who want to “renovate” tsarism but fear its overthrow, is no new phenomenon in the history of the Russian revolution. In 1905 when the mass revolutionary movement was growing by leaps and bounds, dealing tsarism blow after blow, the Cadets and the Octobrists alike felt isolated”. The Cadets (the Osvobozhdeniye people of that time) began to back out already after August 6,1905, when they declared against boycotting the Bulygin Duma. The Octobrists finally “backed out” after October 17. In 1906–07 the Cadets were “isolated” in both Dumas, powerless to use their majority, shuttling helplessly between tsarism and revolution, between the Black-Hundred landlords and the onslaught of the proletariat and the peasantry. In spite of their majority in both Dumas the Cadets were isolated all the time, they were caught in a cleft stick between Trepov[1] and the real revolutionary movement and made an inglorious exit without a single victory to their credit. In 1908–09 the Octobrists were in the majority in the Third Duma, worked hand in glove with the government, supported it most loyally—and now they have to admit that in reality not they but the Black Hundreds were in command, and that the Octobrist bourgeoisie is isolated.

Such is the summing-up of the historical role of the bourgeoisie in the Russian bourgeois revolution. The experience of those most eventful five years (1905–09), which most of all brought about an open development of the mass struggle, of the class struggle in Russia, proved by facts that both sections of our bourgeoisie, the Cadet wing and the Octobrist wing alike, were actually neutralised by the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution, and were power less, helpless, pitiful, tossed hither and thither between the hostile camps.

By its continual betrayals of the revolution the bourgeoisie has richly deserved the unceremonious kicks, indignities, and contemptuous spurning which have so long been its portion from Black-Hundred tsarism, from the Black-Hundred clique of the tsar and the landlords. And it is not, of course, any special moral qualities that have occasioned these betrayals on the part of the bourgeoisie and brought this historic retribution upon it but the contradictory economic position of the capitalist class in our revolution. This class feared revolution more than it feared reaction, the victory of the people more than the preservation of tsarism, the confiscation of the landed estates more than the preservation of the power of the feudal landlords. The bourgeoisie was not one of those categories that had nothing to lose in the great revolutionary battle. Only the proletariat was such a category in our bourgeois revolution, and after it the millions of ruined peasantry.

The Russian revolution confirmed the conclusion which Engels drew from the history of the great bourgeois revolutions of the West, namely: In order to secure even those con quests of the bourgeoisie that were ripe for gathering at the time, the revolution had to be carried considerably further.[2] And the proletariat of Russia has led, is leading and will lead our revolution forward, impelling events further than the point at which the capitalists and liberals would like to halt them.

In the banquet campaign of 1904 the liberals tried in every way to restrain the Social-Democrats, fearing their impetuous intervention. But the workers were not to be deterred by the spectre of a frightened liberal and led the movement forward, to the 9th of January, to the wave of continuous strikes that swept the whole of Russia.

The bourgeois liberals, including the Osvobozhdeniye people who were “illegal” at that time, called on the proletariat to take part in the Bulygin Duma. But the proletariat was not to be deterred by the spectre of a frightened liberal and led the movement forward, to the great October strike, the first victory of the people.

The bourgeoisie split after October 17. The Octobrists definitely sided with the counter-revolution. The Cadets cut themselves adrift from the people and ran pell-mell to Witte’s antechamber. The proletariat marched onward. Placing itself at the head of the people it mobilised the masses for independent historic action in such millions that a few weeks of real freedom once and for all drew an indelible line between the old Russia and the new. The proletariat raised the movement to the highest possible form of struggle—the armed uprising in December 1905. It suffered defeat in this struggle but was not routed. Its uprising was crushed but it succeeded in uniting in battle all the revolutionary forces of the people, it did not allow itself to be demoralised by retreat but showed the masses—for the first time in the recent history of Russia—that the struggle could and must be fought to the finish. The proletariat was repulsed but it did not relinquish the great banner of revolution and at a time when the Cadet majority in the First and Second Dumas were repudiating the revolution, trying to extinguish it and assuring the Trepovs and Stolypins that they were ready and able to extinguish it, the proletariat raised the banner on high and continued to call to action, educating, uniting, and organising forces for the struggle.

Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in all the big industrial centres, a number of economic gains wrested from capital, Soviets of Soldiers’ Deputies in the army, peasant committees in Curia and other places; finally, transient “republics” in several cities in Russia—all this was the beginning of the con quest of political power by the proletariat relying on the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie, particularly the peasantry.

The December movement of 1905 was a great movement because it converted for the first time “a pitiful nation, a nation of slaves” (as N. G. Chernyshevsky said at the beginning of the sixties.[3]) into a nation capable under proletarian, leadership of carrying the fight against the loathsome autocracy to a conclusion and drawing the masses into this struggle. It was a great movement because the proletariat gave a practical demonstration of the possibility of the con quest of power by the democratic masses, the possibility of a republic in Russia, showed “how it is done”, showed in, practice how the masses set about accomplishing this task. The December struggle of the proletariat left the people a legacy that can serve as an ideological and political beacon for the work of several generations.

And the darker the clouds of rabid reaction, the greater the atrocities of the counter-revolutionary tsarist Black Hundreds, the more frequent the spectacle of even the Octobrists shaking their heads, declaring that “they are waiting” for reforms and losing patience, the more frequently the liberals and the democrats “sigh for a new revolution”, the more abject the utterances of the Vekhists (“we must consciously not want a revolution”; Bulgakov, ibid., page 32)—the more vigorously must the workers’ party remind the people what to fight for.

We have already said time and again that the aims set by the year 1905, the objectives which the movement of that time came near to attaining, must be fought for now by other methods in view of the altered conditions, in view of the different situation at the present historical moment. The attempts of the autocracy to remould itself on the pattern of a bourgeois monarchy, its long parleys with the landlords and the bourgeoisie in the Third Duma, the new bourgeois agrarian policy, etc.—all these things have led Russia into a unique phase of development, have con fronted the working class with the lengthy tasks of preparing a new proletarian army—and a now revolutionary army—tasks of training and organising the forces, of utilising the Duma tribune and all opportunities for semi-legal activity.

We must prove able to carry out our tactical line and build our organisation in such a way as to take into account the altered situation without lessening our objectives, without curtailing them or diminishing the ideological and political content of even the most modest, inconspicuous and, at first sight, petty work. It would be just such a lessening of our objectives and weakening of the ideological and political content of the struggle if, for instance, we were to put before the Social-Democratic Party the slogan of fighting for a legal labour movement.

Taken by itself this is not a Social-Democratic but a Cadet slogan, for only the liberals dream of the possibility of a legal labour movement without a new revolution (and, while they dream of it, preach false doctrines to the people). Only the liberals are limiting their objectives through a subsidiary aim, expecting—like the liberals of Western Europe—to reconcile the proletariat with a “reformed”, cleansed, “improved” bourgeois society.

Far from fearing such an outcome the Social-Democratic proletariat, on the contrary, is confident that any reform worth the name, any enlargement of its scope of activity, the base of its organisation and the freedom of its movement will increase its strength tenfold and enhance the revolutionary mass character of its struggle. But in order to bring about a real enlargement of the scope of its movement, to bring about a partial improvement, the slogans we put to the proletarian masses must not be curtailed, must not be attenuated. Partial improvements can be (and always have been in history) merely a by-product of revolutionary class struggle. Only if we set before the mass of the workers the objectives, in all their breadth and magnitude, which our generation inherits from 1905 will we be in a position actually to widen the base of the movement, to draw into it great masses and inspire them with that spirit of selfless revolutionary struggle that has always brought the oppressed classes to victory over their enemies.

Not to neglect a single opportunity, however slight, for open activity, for open action, for widening the base of the movement, continually enlisting new sections of the proletariat, using every weak point in the capitalist position for launching an attack and winning some improvement, in daily life—and at the same time permeating all these activities with the spirit of revolutionary struggle, explaining at every step and turn in the movement the full substance of the objectives which we approached but did not attain in 1905—such must be the policy and tactics of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

  1. Trepov, D. F.—Moscow Chief of Police in 1896-1905, Governor-General of St. Petersburg from January 1905 and later Minister of the Interior. He was the actual organiser of the suppression of the Revolution of 1905–07 and the organiser of mass shootings and executions of revolutionary workers and peasants.
  2. See the Introduction by F. Engels to the English edition of his pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific,
  3. N. G. Chernyshevsky. The Prologue, Part I.