A Proletarian Militia

Pravda No. 36, May 3 (April 20), 1917.

On April 14 our paper [Pravda] published a report from a correspondent in Kanavino, Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia, to the effect that “a workers’ militia paid for by the factory managements has been introduced at practically all the factories”.

Kanavino district, our correspondent reports, has sixteen factories and about thirty thousand workers, not counting railway employees. The organisation of a workers’ militia paid for by the capitalists therefore embraces a considerable number of the largest enterprises in the locality.

The organisation of a workers’ militia to be paid for by the capitalists is a measure of tremendous—it will be no exaggeration to say, gigantic and decisive—importance, both practically and in principle. The revolution cannot be made safe, its gains cannot be assured, its further development is impossible,until this measure has become general, until it is carried through all over the country.

The bourgeois and landowner republicans, who turned republican after they saw that it was impossible to rule the people otherwise, are trying to establish a republic that would be as monarchical as possible; something like that in France, which Shchedrin called a republic without republicans. [1]

At the present time, when the landowners and capitalists have come to realise the strength of the revolutionary masses, the most important thing for them is to safeguard the most essential institutions of the old regime, to safeguard the old instruments of oppression: the police, the bureaucracy, the standing army. They are trying to reduce the “civil militia” to an institution of the old type, i.e., to small detachments of armed men standing apart from the people and as close as possible to the bourgeoisie and under the command of men from among the bourgeoisie.

The minimum programme of the Social-Democrats calls for the replacement of the standing army by a universal arming of the people. Most of the official Social-Democrats in Europe and most of our own Menshevik leaders, however, have “forgotten” or put aside the Party’s programme, substituting chauvinism (“defencism”) for internationalism, reformism for revolutionary tactics.

Yet now of all times, at the present revolutionary moment, it is most urgent and essential that there be a universal arming of the people. To assert that, while we have a revolutionary army, there is no need to arm the proletariat, or that there would “not be enough” arms to go round, is mere deception and trickery. The thing is to begin organising a universal militia straight away, so that everyone should learn the use of arms even if there is “not enough” to go round, for it is not at all necessary that the people have enough weapons to arm everybody. The people must learn, one and all, how to use arms, they must belong, one and all, to the militia which is to replace the police and the standing army.

The workers do not want an army standing apart from the people; what they want is that the workers and soldiers should merge into a single militia consisting of all the people.

Failing this, the apparatus of oppression will remain in force, ready today to serve Guchkov and his friends, the counter-revolutionary generals, and tomorrow Radko Dmitriev or some pretender to the throne and builder of a plebiscite monarchy.

The capitalists need a republic now, because they cannot “manage” the people otherwise. But what they need is a “parliamentary” republic, i.e., one where democracy would be limited to democratic elections, to the right of sending to parliament individuals who, as Marx aptly remarked, represent the people and oppress the people.[2]

The opportunists of contemporary Social-Democracy, who have substituted Scheidemann for Marx, have memorised the rule that parliamentarism “should be utilised” (which is absolutely correct), but have forgotten what Marx taught concerning proletarian democracy as distinguished from bourgeois parliamentarism.

The people need a republic in order to educate the masses in the methods of democracy. We need not only representation along democratic lines, but the building of the entire state administration from the bottom up by the masses themselves, their effective participation in all of life’s steps, their active role in the administration. Replacement of the old organs of oppression, the police, the bureaucracy, the standing army, by a universal arming of the people, by a really universal militia, is the only way to guarantee the country a maximum of security against the restoration of the monarchy and to enable it to go forward firmly, systematically and resolutely towards socialism, not by “introducing” it from above, but by raising the vast mass of proletarians and semi-proletarians to the art of state administration, to the use of the whole state power.

Public service through a police standing above the people, through bureaucrats, who are the most faithful servants of the bourgeoisie, and through a standing army under the command of landowners and capitalists—that is the ideal of the bourgeois parliamentary republic, which is out to perpetuate the rule of Capital.

Public service through a really universal people’s militia, composed of men and women, a militia capable partly of replacing the bureaucrats—this, combined with the principle of elective office and displaceability of all public officers, with payment for their work according to proletarian, not “master-class”, bourgeois standards, is the ideal of the working class.

This ideal has not only become a part of our programme, it has not only won a place in the history of the labour movement in the West, namely, in the experience of the Paris Commune; it has not only been evaluated, stressed, explained and recommended by Marx, but it was actually put into practice by the Russian workers in the years 1905 and 1917.

The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, in point of significance, in point of the type of government they create, are institutions of precisely that kind of democracy which does away with the old organs of oppression, and takes the road of a universal militia.

But how can the militia be made universal when the proletarians and semi-proletarians are herded in the factories, crushed by unbearable labour for the landowners and the capitalists?

There is only one way: the workers’ militia must be paid for by the capitalists.

The capitalists must pay the workers for the hours and days which they give to public service.

This reliable method is being adopted by the working masses themselves. The example of the Nizhni-Novgorod workers should become a model for all Russia.

Comrade workers, make the peasants and the rest of the people see the need for a universal militia in place of the police and the old bureaucracy! Introduce such and only such a militia! Introduce it through the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, through the Soviets of Peasants’ Deputies, through the organs of local self-government that fall into the hands of the working class. Do not under any circumstances be content with a bourgeois militia. Draw the women into public service on an equal footing with the men. See to it that the capitalists pay the workers for days devoted to public service in the militia!

Learn the methods of democracy by actual practice, right now, on your own, from the bottom up—rouse the masses to effective, immediate, universal participation in government—this and this alone will assure the full triumph of the revolution and its unswerving, purposeful and systematic advance.


[1] The reference is to Saltykov-Shchedrin’s comments on France contained in his sketches Abroad.

This interview was published in the “Correspondence” column of the Finnish Social-Democratic newspaper Työmies (Worker) No. 122, for May 8, 1917, under the heading “Interview with Russian Revolutionaries”, to which the correspondent supplied the following introduction:

“I found Comrade Lenin, of whom so much has been spoken lately in Russia, in the editorial office of Pravda. Pressed for time, Lenin agreed to speak only briefly. Nevertheless, he answered my questions with the following statement.”

Työmies was published in Helsingfors from March 1895 to 1918.

[2] See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1962, pp. 520–21.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive