I. G. Tsereteli and the Class Struggle

Published in Pravda No. 44, May 12 (April 29), 1917.

All the papers have published, in full or in part, the speech which I. G. Tsereteli delivered on April 27 at the ceremonial session of the deputies of all the Dumas, past and present.

It was quite a ministerial speech. The speech of a minister without a portfolio. Still, we think there is no harm, even when ministers without portfolios make ministerial speeches, in sparing a thought for socialism, Marxism and the class struggle. To each his own. It behooves the bourgeoisie to shun all talk about the class struggle, to avoid analysing it, studying it, and making it a basis for determining policies. It behooves the bourgeoisie to dismiss these “disagreeable” and “tactless” subjects—as they say in parlours—and to sing the praises of “unity” of “all friends of freedom”. It behooves the proletarian party not to forget the class struggle.

To each his own.

Two basic political ideas underlie I. G. Tsereteli’s speech. First, that a line can and should be drawn between two “sections” of the bourgeoisie. One section “has come to an agreement with the democrats”; the position of this bourgeoisie insecure. The other consists of “irresponsible elements of the bourgeoisie who are provoking civil war”, or, as Tsereteli describes them, “many people from among the moderate elements of the property-owners”.

The speaker’s second political idea is this: “Any attempt right now to proclaim [!?] the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” would be a “desperate” attempt, and he, Tsereteli, would agree to such a desperate attempt only if he could believe for one minute that Shulgin’s ideas were really “shared by all the property-owning bourgeoisie”.

Let us examine these two political ideas of I. G. Tsereteli, who, as befits a minister without a portfolio or a candidate for the ministry, has taken a middle-of-the-road stand—neither for reaction nor for revolution, neither with Shulgin nor with the adherents of ’desperate attempts”.

What class distinctions between the two indicated sections of the bourgeoisie did Tsereteli make? None at all. It did not even occur to Tsereteli that there would be no harm in shaping policies on the basis of the class struggle. Both “Sections” of the bourgeoisie, in class substance, are landowners and capitalists. Tsereteli did not mention a word about Shulgin not representing the same classes or sub-classes as Guchkov represents—the latter a member of the Provisional Government and an important one at that. Tsereteli singles out the ideas of Shulgin from those of the “entire” property-owning bourgeoisie, but gives no reasons for doing so. Nor could he give any. Shulgin stands for the undivided power of the Provisional Government; he is against supervision of that government by the armed soldiers; he is against “anti-British propaganda”, against the soldiers being “set on” the “officer class”, against the propaganda of Petrogradskaya Storona, etc. These ideas are to be found every day in the columns of Rech, in the speeches and manifestos of the ministers with portfolios, etc.

The only difference is that Shulgin speaks more “glibly”, while the Provisional Government, being a government, speaks more discreetly; Shulgin speaks in a deep voice, Milyukov in a falsetto. Milyukov is for an agreement with the Soviet, and Shulgin, too, has nothing against such an agreement. Both Shulgin and Milyukov are for “other methods of control” (not control by armed soldiers).

Tsereteli has thrown overboard all ideas of the class struggle. He has made no mention of class distinctions or any serious political distinctions between “the two sections” of the bourgeoisie, nor did he think of mentioning them.

By “democrats”, referred to in his speech. Tsereteli meant “the proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry”. Let us examine this class definition. The bourgeoisie has entered into an agreement with these democrats. One is entitled to ask, what forms the basis of this agreement, by what class interests is it upheld?

Not a word about this in Tsereteli’s speech. All he speaks about is a “common democratic platform which has now proved acceptable to the whole country”, i.e., evidently to the proletarians and the peasants, since the “country” is really the workers and peasants minus the property-owners.

Does this platform exclude, say, the question of the land? It does not. The platform side-steps it. Do class interests and their conflicts disappear by being side-stepped in diplomatic documents, deeds of “agreement”, and the speeches and statements of ministers?

Tsereteli “forgot” to raise this question, forgot a “trivial detail”—he “merely” forgot the class interests and the class struggle....

“All the problems of the Russian revolution,” expatiates I. G. Tsereteli, “the very crux of it [!?] depend on whether the propertied classes [i.e., the landowners and capitalists] will understand that this is a national platform and not a specially proletarian platform.”

Poor landowners and capitalists! They are so slow-witted. They “do not understand”. They need a special minister of the democracy to teach them what’s what.

Maybe this spokesman of the “democrats” has forgotten the class struggle, has adopted the stand of Louis Blanc, and is dismissing the conflict of class interests with mere phrases?

Is it Shulgin and Guchkov with Milyukov who “do not understand” that the peasant can be reconciled with the landowner on a platform that side-steps the land question? Or is it I. G. Tsereteli who “does not understand” that this cannot be done?

The workers and peasants must confine themselves to what is “acceptable” to the landowners and capitalists—that is the real gist (the class, not the verbal, gist) of the Shulgin Milyukov-Plekhanov position. And they “understand” it better than Tsereteli does.

This brings us to Tsereteli’s second political idea—that the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry (a dictator ship, by the way, is won, not “proclaimed”) would be a desperate attempt. In the first place, to speak so simply of this dictatorship nowadays is likely to land Tsereteli in the archives of the “old Bolsheviks”.[1] --> Secondly, and most important of all, the workers and peasants constitute the vast majority of the population. And does not “democracy” mean carrying out the will of the majority?

How then can one be a democrat, and yet be opposed to the “dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”? flow can one fear “civil war” from it? (What kind of civil war?

--> That of a handful of landowners and capitalists against the workers and peasants? That of an insignificant minority against an overwhelming majority?)

I. G. Tsereteli is hopelessly muddled. He has even forgotten that Lvov and Co. carry out their promise to convene the Constituent Assembly, the latter would become a “dictatorship” of the majority. Or must the workers and peasants, even in the Constituent Assembly, confine them selves to what is “acceptable” to the landowners and the capitalists?

The workers and peasants are the vast majority. All power to this majority is, if you please, a “desperate attempt”....

Tsereteli is in a muddle because he has completely over looked the class struggle. lie has abandoned the standpoint of Marxism for that of Louis Blanc, who talked himself out of the class struggle.

The task of a proletarian leader is to clarify the difference in class interests and persuade certain sections of the petty bourgeoisie (namely, the poor peasants) to choose between the workers and the capitalists, to take sides with the workers.

The task of petty-bourgeois Louis Blancs is to play down the difference in class interests and persuade certain sections of the bourgeoisie (mainly the intellectuals and parliamentarians) to “agree” with the workers, to persuade the workers to “agree” with the capitalists, and the peasants to “agree” with the landowners.

Louis Blanc tried hard to persuade the Paris bourgeoisie, and, as we know, all but persuaded it to refrain from the mass shootings of 1848 and 1871

Source: Marxist Internet Archive