Chapter 3 Lenin and the Revolutionary-Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry
To demonstrate that Lenin did, indeed, fundamentally change his revolutionary perspective during 1917, it is necessary to understand what he had previously proposed and what Lenin’s pre-1917 demand for a democratic dictatorship actually entailed. Thus, this chapter explores the origins, content and predicted likely outcomes of the slogan of the RDDPP, which encapsulated the Bolshevik strategy for the seizure of power in the forthcoming Russian Revolution. It discusses the slogan itself, identifies what was new in it and what elements Lenin retained in common with his Menshevik opponents, and argues that Lenin placed clear limits on the nature of the changes that a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship would introduce to Russian society and its economy. It describes how Lenin, himself, indicated such a dictatorship would function, the form it might take, and the key measures it would need to take to successfully carry through the bourgeois-democratic revolution. This is important for any analysis of the limitations of the RDDPP, and for understanding how, pre-1917, Lenin’s concept of the Russian Revolution differed from Trotsky’s.
The chapter also discusses inherent tensions and contradictions in the perspective of a RDDPP, and ends with a review of how Lenin believed, until 1917, that the RDDPP would solve the agrarian question in Russia in a way that would strengthen capitalism and that this would be achieved before the Russian socialist revolution. The latter would occur after, and as a consequence of, the socialist revolution in Western Europe. Additionally, the chapter introduces the idea that the political education that Bolshevik leaders, such as Zinoviev, Kamenev and others, received in the period 1905-1917 (the time span over which the RDDPP was an essential part of the Bolshevik programme), contributed to their actions over the February-October period prior to the October 1917 Revolution, which were so heavily criticised by Lenin.
Between 1903 - when he presented the agrarian programme of the RDSLP to the Second Congress in London - and 1905, Lenin completed an important leap in viewing the petty bourgeois peasantry rather than the urban petty bourgeois, as the major ally of the working class in the bourgeois-democratic revolution. At that time all currents within the RDSLP agreed that the Russian Revolution towards which they were working, was a bourgeois-democratic revolution, the outcome of which would be a capitalist state with a capitalist government. It was generally accepted by Marxists, even before the experiences of the first Russian Revolution, that the Russian big bourgeoisie would play no independent progressive role in the actual revolution:
“We told you already in 1848, brothers, that the German liberal bourgeoisie would soon come to power and would immediately turn its newly won power against the workers. You have seen how this forecast came true. It was indeed the bourgeoisie which took possession of the state authority in the wake of the March movement of 1848 and used this power to drive the workers, its allies in the struggle, back into their former oppressed position. Although the bourgeoisie could accomplish this only by entering into an alliance with the feudal party, which had been defeated in March, and eventually even had to surrender power once more to this feudal absolutist party, it has nevertheless secured favourable conditions for itself”(1).
Bolshevism, specifically emphasised the view that the Russian bourgeoisie, liberal or otherwise, was incapable of leading its own revolution to the end.
Prior to the experiences of 1905, international SD marched in step because it saw the major ally of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution as the urban petty bourgeois not the peasantry, and certainly not the peasantry as a whole. Lenin was at one with the leading theoreticians of the Second International on his attitude to agrarian questions. So wedded was Lenin to the views of Plekhanov and Kautsky, that in an 1899 review he wrote that Kautsky’s book (Die Agrarfarge (The Agrarian Question)) was the most important event in economic literature since the third volume of Capital(2).
It was expected that during the bourgeois-democratic revolution the working-class would lead the fight supported by revolutionary elements of the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie, liberal bourgeoisie and intelligentsia; would defend its specific interests (8-hour day, existence of trade unions, right to strike, minimum wage, freedom to form its own political parties and struggle for socialism, etc.), but would not attempt to replace the bourgeoisie as the ideological leaders of the revolution. Plekhanov’s Marxism, while leading him to the conclusion that “the revolutionary movement in Russia will triumph only as a working class movement or else it will never triumph”(3) also led him to ignore key specificities of Russia’s social structure and of her revolutionary development, and to see that development as a shadow following Marx’s theory of Western historical development(4,5).
The revolution of 1905 produced three key tendencies within Russian Marxism, which would separate into the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and a small group around Trotsky. Naturally, their differences centred on the historical character of the Russian Revolution, how it would be realised and the path of its development - because the answers to these questions defined the strategy, tactics and practical day-to-day activities to be undertaken.
3.2 The Peasants Replace the Liberal Bourgeoisie as a Major Driving Force in the Russian Democratic Revolution
By 1905, the leaders of the RDSLP were well aware that the masses rise to revolution only in their own interests; the workers against the factory owner, and the great peasant mass of the Russian people against the landlords. The differences between SDs lay in the answers to the questions: What would be the character of the revolutionary government? What tasks would confront it, and in what order? How far would the revolution go?
For SDs, the answers to these important questions would determine which bourgeois and petty bourgeois block(s) the proletariat allied with in the coming bourgeois revolution - the liberal bourgeoisie, the urban petty bourgeois and intellectuals, or the peasantry. The Menshevik leadership retained the view that the bourgeoisie would remain the hegemonic class and so chose to attempt an alliance with the former groups. While critically supporting the bourgeoisie during the 1905 Revolution, they argued against Social-Democratic participation in the transitional revolutionary government, and by 1917 had become apologists for the bourgeoisie and their policies. In this, they constituted a block to the revolutionary progress of both the proletariat and peasantry, and it was against this that Lenin concentrated most of his fire during and after 1905, beginning with, for example, Should We Organise the Revolution(6) and Two Tactics(7).
Lenin had viewed the peasantry - over 80% of the Russian population - as potential allies of the proletariat in the democratic revolution since 1894, but it was re-assessing them as the major allies that became the basis of the historic disagreement between the two factions. The ‘land programme’ or ‘agrarian question’ or ‘land question’ were names for the process that would release the land to the peasant, and - and this was the more important issue for many peasants - end the feudal duties owed by peasants to their landlord. Lenin saw this programme of bourgeois progress as the key question of the bourgeois-democratic revolution because it affected the lives of so many.
Nevertheless, for the next twelve years, in common with the Mensheviks, Lenin continued to support the classical Marxist analysis, that a bourgeois-democratic revolution, particularly the agrarian revolution, was necessary before the question of the socialist revolution could be posed in Russia. In none of his writings before 1917-18 did Lenin ever, for a moment, pose the question of the peasantry becoming an ally of the proletariat in the socialist revolution. On the contrary, at that time he considered the socialist revolution in Russia impossible before the solution of the agrarian question, precisely because of the overwhelming preponderance of the peasantry in Russian society(8). This idea underpins all his articles which touch directly or indirectly upon the agrarian question. However, whether the allies of the proletariat were the urban petty-bourgeoisie or the peasantry, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks agreed that the autocratic rule of the Romanovs could be broken only if a majority of the population supported the revolution and the resulting regime rested on majority rule, as expressed in a Constituent Assembly(9).
However, Lenin, in contrast to Plekhanov, insisted that the destruction of Tsarist feudalism was not possible under the political leadership of the Russian bourgeoisie. The triumph of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia was possible only if the working class waged the struggle for democracy independently of and, in fact, in opposition to, the bourgeoisie. The necessary mass base of the democratic revolution could not be provided by the working class alone, but the Russian proletariat, would be able to mobilise and lead the Russian peasantry if it consistently advanced an uncompromisingly radical resolution of the agrarian issues10.
Lenin was not the only leading SD to revise his views on the role of the peasantry in the Russian Revolution. Kautsky, the Second International’s leading Marxist theoretician, in his article The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution(11), was strongly in support of the new Leninist position and was quoted with enthusiasm by Lenin:
“Kautsky ... points out that in Russia .... the urban petty bourgeoisie ‘will never be a reliable support of the revolutionary parties’ ... Kautsky determines that peculiar relation between Russian liberalism and the revolutionary character of the peasants, ... ‘The more the peasants become revolutionary, the more do the big landowners become reactionary, ... the more unstable become the liberal parties, and the more the liberal professors and lawyers in the towns shift to the right, so as not to lose all connection with their previous mainstay’”(12).
The Russian urban bourgeoisie would not be one of the driving forces in the Russian Revolution. Their function would be performed by the peasantry and the central problem for the democratic revolution in Russia would be the ‘land question’. Only the proletariat and peasantry were authentic revolutionary forces and their alliance would be a RDDPP. Lenin was firmly of the opinion that the peasantry could only carry out an agrarian revolution if they abolished the old regime, the standing army and the bureaucracy, because all these were supports of landlordism, bound to it by ties of family, friendship, and financial interest(13). The Russian bourgeois revolution would be a bourgeois revolution made largely without and, most likely, against the urban bourgeoisie.
At the Third (Bolshevik) Congress of the RDSLP in 1905, Lenin formalised significant changes to his 1903 strategy, and proposed a new scenario for the Russian Revolution that differed substantially from that of Plekhanov and the Mensheviks. The Congress agreed that, notwithstanding the bourgeois character of the coming revolution, the Russian liberal bourgeoisie was hostile to the expropriation of landlords’ estates; instead they wanted a compromise with the monarchy on the basis of a constitutional regime. Lenin now argued that an alliance of workers and the entire peasantry would play the leading role in carrying out the tasks of the bourgeois revolution. Not that Lenin had any illusions about the extent to which the peasantry as an estate would support the working class struggle, nor the limits on the reciprocal support the proletariat would show for the peasants’ struggle to obtain possession of the land and abolish serfdom. In September 1905, Lenin might have seen the semi-proletarian, landless elements in the Russian village as allies in the struggle for socialism, but never the peasantry as a whole:
“We support the peasant movement to the extent that it is revolutionary democratic. We are making ready (doing so now, at once) to fight it when, and to the extent that, it becomes reactionary and anti-proletarian. The essence of Marxism lies in that double task, which only those who do not understand Marxism can vulgarise or compress into a single and simple task”(14).
Lenin over the period 1905-1909, charted the two possible and alternative capitalist developments for Russian agriculture which he called the Prussian path and the American path(15). In the former, the semi-feudal system slowly evolved into a bourgeois landed gentry style economy under a constitutional monarchy, this was the favoured option of the liberal bourgeoisie. Here, the process was evolutionary, from feudal bondage to capitalist exploitation on the land of the descendants of the feudal landlords, which condemned the peasants to decades of deprivation and subjugation. In the second case, revolutionary bourgeois democracy eliminated feudal relations on the land by confiscation without compensation, the feudal estates to be seized and divided between the peasants by the peasants themselves. Initially small-holdings would predominate, but eventually the most capitalistic peasants would evolve into bourgeois farmers. Lenin believed that the seizure of the land, and its distribution to the peasants by the peasants, would turn the peasantry into a conservative force protecting its new interests. For Lenin’s most complete description of the processes involved see The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution in particular in Section 5, Two Types of Bourgeois Agrarian Evolution(16). Of course, there was no suggestion in Lenin’s works that by the use of the term ‘American path’ he was implying that Russia could become a capitalist world power, as had the USA. He was making the point that for the peasants and workers of Russia, the most beneficial development of capitalism would be a revolutionary resolution of the land question.
In the postscript to the 1917 edition of The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, Lenin would say something very different, in clear confirmation that in 1907 the demand for nationalisation of the land was not seen as a step towards socialism:
“At the present time [September 1917] the revolution poses the agrarian question in Russia in an immeasurably broader, deeper, and sharper form than it did in 1905-07. ... neither the proletariat nor the revolutionary petty-bourgeois democrats can keep within the limits of capitalism.
Life has already overstepped those limits and ... the question of the nationalisation of the land must inevitably be presented in a new way in the agrarian programme, namely: nationalisation of the land is not only ‘the last word’ of the bourgeois revolution, but also a step towards socialism.”(17)
If Lenin had expected the Russian Revolution to proceed from its bourgeois phase to its proletarian phase with no significant period of time between, he would have been unlikely to have spent so much time discussing and describing which was the most beneficial form of capitalist agricultural property relations for the struggle for the socialist revolution(18). Lenin’s preferred option, the transition of peasant farmers into capitalist farmers is hardly the task of a few months or years and Lenin predicted the process might take “several revolutionary decades”(19). In describing the development of these bourgeois farmers, Lenin compared them to the growth of capitalist farms after the fall of serfdom in 1861, a process which was nowhere near completion in 1905, even after a period of over forty years. The crucial issue is that Lenin considered the expropriation of the land necessary for the American path, could be carried through by an alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, with the support of the revolutionary democratic petty bourgeoisie, later to be legitimised by the bourgeois Constituent Assembly. During the period, 1905-1915, there was never any suggestion in his writings that it would be necessary for the proletariat to hold state power, for a proletarian, socialist revolution to take place before the land question could be resolved.
Lenin was quite clear, the peasants wanted the land for themselves: small-scale capitalist cultivation was fighting large-scale feudal land-owners. He stressed that the proletarian leadership of the bourgeois liberation movement, had to rally the peasantry as a whole behind it and lead a bourgeois revolution in its most consistent and decisive form. “In the Russian revolution the struggle for the land is nothing else than a struggle for the renovated path of capitalist development”(20).
If there was to be a significant period of time between the bourgeois-democratic and socialist revolutions then, in the sense that the bourgeois-democratic revolution had at its core the solution of the ‘agrarian problem’, and could only succeed to the extent it solved that problem, it could be said that Lenin was proposing a dominance of peasant interests. Indeed, on certain occasions, Lenin appeared to say just that. For example, at the Stockholm Unity Congress(21) Lenin, in refuting Plekhanov who came out against the ‘utopia’ of seizing power, said that to be victorious, the ‘peasant agrarian revolution’ must become the central authority throughout the state(22).
This point was not, of course, in contradiction to his more common and frequent declarations that “Our party holds firmly to the view that the role of the proletariat is the role of leader in the bourgeois-democratic revolution ...”, rather it was confirmation that the proletarian party would not be making demands of the democratic dictatorship which were against or went beyond the interests of the peasantry. That is, the demands of the RDSLP within the revolutionary dictatorship would be limited, essentially, to the SD minimum programme(23). Implicit in Lenin’s strategy was that the workers and peasants could successfully make a revolution in favour of a third class, the bourgeoisie, which did not want such a revolution!
3.3 Social Democrats in a Revolutionary Government?
In the early part of 1905, prior to the Third Congress in London, Lenin published a series of articles in Vyperod proposing that the RDSLP participate in any revolutionary government that came into being in the struggle against the autocracy. Articles such as The Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry(24) argued for two new concepts, both in opposition to the Mensheviks. Firstly, Lenin proposed (see previous section) that the main petty bourgeois allies of the proletariat would be the peasantry. Lenin’s thinking had developed under the direct impact of the peasant uprisings beginning in 1902, followed by the rural explosion(s) of 1903-05. These led to To the Village Poor which introduced the concept of a reciprocal alliance of the poor peasant and the industrial worker(25). This proposal was agreed and adopted as the policy and programme of the Bolsheviks at the Third Congress. (See Lenin’s Report on the Question of the Participation of the Social Democrats in the Provisional Revolutionary Government (26).)
Secondly, he proposed that, in addition to participating in the armed uprising in fighting unity with the revolutionary democrats, the RDSLP should not shrink from taking part in any provisional revolutionary government to secure the best conditions for the workers from the Russian bourgeois-democratic revolution. Of course, the RDSLP representatives in any provisional revolutionary government would be subject to strict control by the party. At that time, in Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government(27), Lenin had cause to criticise Parvus’ call for a Social-Democratic government on the grounds that such a perspective had the insurmountable failing in the Russian context of effectively excluding the peasants. Parvus’ statement appeared in his introduction to Trotsky’s pamphlet Before the Ninth of January, where he had proposed the possibility of a Social Democratic government arising from the Russian bourgeois-democratic revolution. This was the first time such an idea had been mooted and, for many (including Lenin), Parvus’ introduction overshadowed the pamphlet it introduced. Indeed, there is evidence that Lenin believed that the body of the pamphlet carried the same message as the introduction. In his response to Parvus, Lenin gave an insight into his own understanding of the likely composition of the RDDPP when he absolutely ruled out any possibility that the provisional revolutionary dictatorship could be exclusively SD, and went so far as to say that even a SD majority was:
“impossible, unless we speak of fortuitous, transient episodes, and not of a revolutionary dictatorship that will be at all durable and capable of leaving its mark in history. This is impossible, because only a revolutionary dictatorship supported by the vast majority of the people can be at all durable ... The Russian proletariat, however, is at present a minority of the population in Russia. It can become the great, overwhelming majority only if it combines with the mass of semi-proletarians, semi-proprietors, i.e., with the mass of the petty-bourgeois urban and rural poor”(28).
The irony here is that the debate in 1905 et seq was about whether or not the RDSLP should participate in a revolutionary government. Lenin considered a Social Democratic majority in the RDDPP as “impossible”, but in 1917 he would defend a revolutionary government initially composed entirely of Bolsheviks! Lenin’s insistence on majority support should also be noted. If land distribution ended the peasants’ revolutionary fervour, then the requirement for majority support (i.e. peasant support) placed a severe constraint on the revolutionary dictatorship. However, in 1917, Lenin would recognise that the party that enabled land distribution would gain the support of the peasantry as a whole, so that a revolutionary proletarian regime could - at least in its initial stages - gain the support of the overwhelming majority of the Russian population.
In June 1905, Lenin wrote the pamphlet Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution(29). The title of the pamphlet is interesting because it made clear that Lenin was addressing differences in tactics; the aim of the revolution remained that of a (bourgeois) democratic state and this was not, apparently, in dispute. One of the main themes of the pamphlet was a sharp rebuttal of the Menshevik arguments that the RDSLP should not play a leading role in any provisional revolutionary government since such a presence would inevitably mean attempting to put into effect the entire Social-Democratic programme - including its maximum, socialist programme. The theoretical basis of the Menshevik argument was an extract from Engels’ The Peasant War in Germany(30) to the effect that the leadership of an “extreme party” should avoid taking over as a government when the historic conditions were not ripe for the domination of the class which it represented, nor for the implementation of those measures which that domination required.
Lenin, in a series of pamphlets and articles, roundly attacked the argument that the RDSLP in taking the leading part in the struggle to establish the RDDPP, and then playing a major role in any subsequent government, would necessarily have to lead an attempt at a socialist revolution. He gave two separate answers to the criticisms made by Martynov, the delegate from - and former editor of - Workers’ Cause who did not quit the Second Congress, and who symbolised the transition of the Mensheviks to reformism.
The first part of his answer is particularly interesting because it concerned the subjective factor, the role of the party leaders and their aims and objectives in participating in the provisional revolutionary government. Lenin argued it was acceptable for the RDSLP to participate in the transitional revolutionary government precisely because it would not attempt to introduce socialist measures! Because the RDDPP was not the period of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the RDSLP leadership would voluntarily restrict its demands to the minimum programme. The RDSLP itself would eliminate the subjective factor of leadership of the socialist revolution.
This argument gave rise to criticisms from rank and file members of the RDSLP, which Lenin had to answer. His proposal that the party participate in the revolutionary democratic government and limit its demands to the minimum programme was interpreted by some Bolsheviks as meaning the RDSLP would be endorsing and continuing the repressive measures of a bourgeois state for a prolonged period! If Lenin had been proposing a process in which the revolution would flow more or less uninterruptedly from the bourgeois to the socialist, then these rank and file Bolsheviks had completely the wrong idea about how the Russian revolution would progress. Lenin would have been required to correct the misapprehension, to inform and educate the Party on the rapidity of the transition from bourgeois to socialist revolution. But what did he say? In The Revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry he replied:
“ ... Participation in the provisional government with the bourgeois revolutionary democrats, they [Lenin’s critics] weep, means sanctioning the bourgeois order; it means sanctioning the perpetuation of prisons and the police, of unemployment and poverty, of private property and prostitution. ... Social-Democrats do not hold back from struggle for political freedom on the grounds that it is bourgeois political freedom. Social-Democrats regard this “sanctioning” of the bourgeois order from the historical point of view. ... they sanction it, not for its prisons and police, its private property and prostitution, but for the scope and freedom it allows to combat these charming institutions”(31).
Here, Lenin clearly accepted that RDSLP representatives in the provisional dictatorship would, indeed, be operating within a ‘republican-democratic bourgeois order’. The class rule of the bourgeois would be ‘sanctioned’, there is no suggestion that essential elements of the bourgeois state, e.g. prisons and police, were to be abolished during the period when the RDDPP held power. There can be little doubt that, in the given context, Lenin was envisaging a revolutionary dictatorship initiating, and resting on, bourgeois state norms. It will be shown later that such a state was expected to be ratified and exist for a significant period of time under the governance of a Constituent Assembly.
The second part of his answer was the huge numbers of peasants who were capable of supporting the democratic revolution but were not interested in supporting the socialist revolution(32), that is the forces necessary for carrying out the socialist revolution would be missing. Having the peasantry as the major ally imposed severe limits on the aims of the revolution. In The Peasant, or “Trudovik”, Group and the RDSLP, written in May 1906, Lenin’s perspective was that the bourgeois-democratic revolution came to an end when the peasants solved the land problem, because they had achieved their objective of taking ownership of the land for themselves. He explained that a period of time (‘decades’) would then be required during which class differentiation would occur in the countryside, before the victory of the struggle against capitalist society as a whole.
The peasant movement was not proletarian, it was a struggle waged by small proprietors to cleanse Russia of serfdom. It was not a struggle against the foundations of capitalism. The proletariat would lead the successful bourgeois-democratic revolution as a necessary step on its way to a genuine socialist revolution, but the masses of the peasantry were not interested in any immediate struggle against capitalist society. When the peasantry won the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the peasantry as a whole would have exhausted its revolutionary energy(33). In Social-Democracy’s Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement, 1 Sept 1905, Lenin argued:
“At first we support the peasantry en masse against the landlords, support it to the hilt and with all means, ... we shall bend every effort to help the entire peasantry achieve the democratic revolution, in order thereby to make it easier for us, the party of the proletariat, to pass on as quickly as possible to the new and higher task - the socialist revolution. We promise no harmony, no egalitarianism or ‘socialisation’ following the victory of the present peasant uprising, on the contrary, we ‘promise’ a new struggle, new inequality, the new revolution we are striving for”(34).
Lenin never saw the peasantry as an ally in the fight for the socialist revolution. If he had, he would not have had the slightest grounds for insisting upon the bourgeois character of the revolution and for limiting the RDDPP to purely democratic tasks. Lenin correctly foresaw that land distribution would transform the poor peasants into middle peasants, ending their revolutionary dynamic. Their concern would then be to protect their newly-gained ownership of the land, not risk it by launching a struggle for a socialist revolution(35). All Lenin promised was that after the victory of the struggle against the landlords for the democratic revolution, when no-one could know the balance of class forces, there would begin a new struggle for the socialist revolution, the victory of which would first require class differentiation within the peasantry.
3.4 Prospects for a Socialist Revolution
Despite their differences and the heat of the discussion, Plekhanov and Lenin still shared elements of their previous, common, approach. Both separated the bourgeois revolution from the socialist revolution, on the grounds that each revolution required an entirely different combination of social forces to carry it through to success. Plekhanov postponed the socialist revolution to some indefinite future. Political freedom was to be achieved by the proletariat in alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie; after many decades and on a higher level of capitalist development, the proletariat would then carry out the socialist revolution in direct struggle against the bourgeoisie.
The constraints Lenin imposed on the democratic revolution flowed directly from the economic analysis, spelled out in great detail in The Development of Capitalism in Russia(36). The destruction of the feudal system by the democratic revolution was the key that would open the development of capitalism in Russia, so Lenin placed at the heart of Bolshevik strategy, a revolutionary alliance that had as its essential task, the abolition of feudal relations in agriculture. The main forces in the alliance would be the proletariat and the peasantry, and the alliance would have the governmental form of the RDDPP. The democratic dictatorship as he envisaged it at that time had a certain structural fluidity, being defined more as the mechanisms required to enforce and defend the sum-total of changes proposed in the RDSLP minimum programme, than a given form of government(37).
Lenin’s response to the Mensheviks’ concern over a too-rapid transition to a socialist revolution pointed out that the concrete circumstances in which the bourgeois-democratic revolution would occur eliminated any such possibility. It is important for any proposed comparison of the RDDPP with Trotsky’s ToPR to be unambiguous on this point. Lenin’s stated position in his pamphlet The Revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry (March 30th, 1905), was:
“... Social-Democracy has constantly stressed the bourgeois nature of the impending revolution in Russia and insisted on a clear line of demarcation between the democratic minimum programme and the socialist maximum programme. ... [The] march of events will assuredly confirm this more and more fully as time goes on. It is the march of events that will ‘impose’ upon us the imperative necessity of waging a furious struggle for the republic and, in practice, guide our forces, the forces of the politically active proletariat, in this direction. It is the march of events that will, in the democratic revolution, inevitably impose upon us such a host of allies from among the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry, whose real needs will demand the implementation of our minimum programme, that any concern over too rapid a transition to the maximum programme is simply absurd.”(38)
That the working class was in a small numerical minority was given prominence, the numerically superior “host of allies” would act as a block on any attempts at a “too rapid transition” to a socialist revolution. That is: to preserve its allies in the RDDPP, it would be ‘absurd’ for the RDSLP to do anything more than enact its minimum programme. In 1905, Lenin was proposing that the actual events of the bourgeois-democratic revolution would, themselves, eliminate the possibility of its growing over into a socialist revolution.
The primacy of actual events in determining the pace and extent of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (and the likelihood of a subsequent socialist revolution) is methodologically important, since the emphasis on reality as the determining factor gives Lenin’s analysis a certain algebraic character. A different quantification of the objective factors allowed for a different qualitative outcome from the same methodology, which is as it should be. In 1918 Lenin would use exactly the same method to justify the socialist nature of the 1917 October Revolution.
In 1905, Lenin believed that both the objective conditions (the degree of economic development and alliance with the peasantry) and subjective conditions (degree of class consciousness) in which the working class found itself, made the too rapid transition to a socialist revolution impossible(39). In 1917, the “impossible” would be accomplished within a year.
In Two Tactics Lenin clearly explained that between the democratic and socialist dictatorships there would be a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development, at the start of which, capitalism would receive an impetus, and during which, the bourgeoisie would rule as a class:
“Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. ... the democratic reforms in the political system and the social and economic reforms, which have become a necessity for Russia .. will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class. ... even the complete success of a peasant insurrection, even the redistribution of the whole of the land for the benefit of the peasants and in accordance with their desires ... will not destroy capitalism at all, but will, on the contrary, give an impetus to its development and hasten the class disintegration of the peasantry itself.
... the only force capable of gaining ‘a decisive victory over Tsarism,’ is the people, i.e., the proletariat and the peasantry, ... the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. ... But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will not be able (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism. At best it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantry...”(40).
There is no suggestion here of an uninterrupted transition to a socialist revolution in less than a year, rather several revolutionary decades of capitalist rule would be required for the class disintegration of the peasantry(41). This viewpoint can be followed in Lenin’s writings from one article to the next, year by year, volume by volume. The language and examples vary, but the basic thought remains the same, the aim of the struggle was to overthrow Tsarism and bring about the conquest of governmental power by the proletariat relying on the support of the revolutionary peasantry. In 1911 in “The Peasant Reform” and the Proletarian-Peasant Revolution, Lenin showed that he remained convinced that the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution would be finally accomplished by the convocation of a popular Constituent Assembly and the establishment of a democratic republic(42). To this end, he proposed at the 1913 Joint Conference of the Central Committee of the RDSLP and Party Officials that the task of the SDs was to conduct widespread revolutionary agitation among the masses for the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of a democratic republic, which would legitimise the confiscation of the landed estates, an 8-hour day and freedom of association(43).
In 1914 in Left-Wing Narodism and Marxism, Lenin remained insistent that the economic development of Russia would proceed from feudalism to capitalism, and through large-scale, machine-based, capitalist production to socialism. He was clear that he considered the only route to socialism was through the further development of capitalism. Suggestions for any other route he considered pipe-dreams, and characteristic of the liberals or of “petty proprietors”(44).
In November 1915 in On the Two Lines in the Revolution, he called for the proletariat to wage a courageous revolutionary struggle against the monarchy based on the ‘three pillars’ of Bolshevism: a democratic republic; confiscation of the landed estates; an 8-hour day. He remained convinced that such a struggle would gather in its wake the democratic masses, i.e., the bulk of the peasantry. At the same time the proletariat would wage a ruthless struggle in alliance with the European proletariat for the socialist revolution in Europe(45).
Lenin saw the RDDPP establishing the democratic republic, in parallel with which, the proletarians would struggle to gain as much as they could and lay the most advantageous basis for the struggle for socialism. It will be shown later that Lenin retained this approach until at least the early spring of 1917 and it was still, at least partially, present in his Letters from Afar(46).
So where was the socialist revolution? For Lenin in 1905 the complete victory of the democratic revolution marked the beginning of the struggle for the socialist revolution:
“... The complete victory of the present revolution will mark the end of the democratic revolution and the beginning of a determined struggle for a socialist revolution. The satisfaction of the demands of the present-day peasantry, the utter rout of reaction, and the winning of a democratic republic will mark the complete end of the revolutionism of the bourgeoisie and even of the petty bourgeoisie - will mark the beginning of the real struggle of the proletariat for Socialism. The more complete the democratic revolution, the sooner, the more widespread, the purer and the more determined will be the development of this new struggle. ... when not only the revolution but the complete victory of the [bourgeois] revolution becomes an accomplished fact, we shall ‘substitute’ (perhaps amid the horrified cries of new, future, Martynovs) for the slogan of the democratic dictatorship, the slogan of a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e., of a complete socialist revolution”(47).
On a number of occasions Lenin was disarmingly frank about his assessment of the likelihood for a Russian socialist revolution growing directly out of the bourgeois-democratic. For example, at the Unity Congress in 1906, Lenin went so far as to argue that instead of progressing towards a socialist revolution, the Russian working class could hope to retain the democratic gains of the bourgeois-democratic revolution only if the workers in Western Europe came to their aid. He believed then, and for the rest of his life, that the only guarantee against restoration was a socialist revolution in the West. Indeed without such help, restoration would be positively inevitable. He formulated his proposition as:
“the Russian [bourgeois-democratic] revolution can achieve victory by its own efforts, but it cannot possibly hold and consolidate its gains by its own strength. It cannot do this unless there is a socialist revolution in the West. .... After the complete victory of the democratic revolution the small proprietor will inevitably turn against the proletariat; and the sooner the common enemies of the proletariat and of the small proprietors, such as the capitalists, the landlords, the financial bourgeoisie, and so forth are overthrown, the sooner will this happen. Our democratic republic has no other reserve than the socialist proletariat in the West”(48).
The theme of the better-off peasants becoming positively anti-working class after the revolution is also present in the ToPR, as will be shown in the next chapter. But the comments above were not unique. In May 1905 Lenin gave the warning:
“Our victory in the coming democratic revolution will be a giant stride forward towards our socialist goal; we shall deliver all Europe from the oppressive yoke of a reactionary military power and help our brothers, the class-conscious workers of the whole world who have suffered so much under the bourgeois reaction and who are taking heart now at the sight of the successes of the revolution in Russia, to advance to socialism more quickly, boldly, and decisively. With the help of the socialist proletariat of Europe, we shall be able, not only to defend the democratic republic, but to advance with giant strides towards socialism.”(49).
In The Stages, the Trend and the Prospects of the Revolution (written late 1905 or early 1906), Lenin further elaborated his idea of the socialist revolution in Western Europe being the safe-guard of the gains of the Russian bourgeois-democratic revolution. His more detailed scenario was: in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the Russian workers and peasants break the power of the landlords but face a counter-revolutionary upsurge by the liberal bourgeoisie (which includes the well-to-do peasants and a section of the middle peasants) to take away from the proletariat the gains of the revolution. The proletariat fights to retain its democratic gains including the 8-hour day and the right to free trade unions. The Russian workers’ if left to fight alone, face inevitable defeat, but the socialist revolution in Europe comes to their aid, and the European and Russian workers together bring about the socialist revolution in Russia:
“... 4. The working-class movement achieves victory in the democratic revolution, the liberals passively waiting to see how things go and the peasants actively assisting. ... The rising of the peasants is victorious, the power of the landlords is broken. (‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.’)
5. The liberal bourgeoisie ... becomes downright counter-revolutionary, and organises itself in order to take away from the proletariat the gains of the revolution. Among the peasantry, the whole of the well-to-do section, and a fairly large part of the middle peasantry ... turn to the side of the counter-revolution in order to wrest power from the proletariat and the rural poor, who sympathise with the proletariat.
6. ... a new crisis and a new struggle develop and blaze forth, with the proletariat now fighting to preserve its democratic gains for the sake of a socialist revolution. ... at this stage, the liberal bourgeoisie and the well-to-do peasantry (plus partly the middle peasantry) organise counter-revolution. The Russian proletariat plus the European proletariat organise revolution. In such conditions the Russian proletariat can win a second victory. The cause is no longer hopeless. The second victory will be the socialist revolution in Europe. The European workers will show us ‘how to do it’, and then together with them we shall bring about the socialist revolution”(50).
This argument can be followed until at least November 1915 when Lenin again re-iterated that the RDDPP would rid bourgeois Russia of Tsarism the better to bring about a socialist revolution in alliance with the proletarians of Europe(51). To paraphrase; in 1905-06 Lenin’s predicted scenario for the Russian Revolution was a victorious uprising leading to the RDDPP. This would face a determined counter-attack by the forces of reaction but the Russian Revolution would generate a socialist revolution in the West which would “save the day”. The direct translation of the RDDPP into a socialist revolution in Russia alone was excluded. We can say, with certainty, that in Lenin’s writings during the period when the slogan of the provisional RDDPP was a key programmatic demand of the Bolsheviks, there was no suggestion of either:
•The socialist revolution occurring in Russia before the socialist revolution in Western Europe, or
•The land question in Russia being solved by a socialist rather than a bourgeois-democratic revolution; by the dictatorship of the proletariat rather than the provisional RDDPP.
To end this section it is appropriate to consider the public face of the Bolsheviks. Here is the relevant section of a leaflet distributed prior to 1 May 1905:
“Down with the tsarist government! We will overthrow it and set up a provisional revolutionary government to convene a Constituent Assembly of the people. Let people’s deputies be elected by universal, direct, and equal vote, through secret ballot. ...
This is what the Social-Democrats ... call upon you to fight for, arms in hand: for complete freedom, for the democratic republic, for the eight-hour day, for peasants’ committees. ... Freedom or death! Workers of all Russia, we will repeat that great battle-cry, we will not shrink from any sacrifices: through the uprising we will win freedom; through freedom, socialism!” Bureau of Committees of the Majority Editorial Board of Vperyod(52).
3.5 What Form for the RDDPP?
The victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, Lenin wrote in Two Tactics, would require a dictatorship because without a dictatorship, it would be impossible to break the desperate resistance of the landlords, big business and Tsarism, and repel their counter-revolutionary attempts(53). By its origin and fundamental nature, such a democratic dictatorship must be the organ of popular insurrection. But what would be its form? Investigating this question shows that Lenin intended the democratic dictatorship to be a stage on the path to a bourgeois-democratic Constituent Assembly.
Lenin argued that the Russian Revolution was of a bourgeois-democratic character, but recognised that such a description did not define the balance of class forces and the governmental power in the revolution. For Lenin, always sensitive to the needs of the peasants, the heart of this democratic revolution was the resolution of the agrarian question - the destruction of all remnants of feudalism. Lenin insisted that the task of the working class was to strive, through its independent organisations and efforts, for the widest and most radical development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. He was for an utterly uncompromising struggle to demolish all economic, political and social vestiges of feudalism. The struggle against Tsarism was to be used to create the most favourable conditions for the establishment of a genuinely progressive constitutional democratic framework for the benefit of the Russian workers’ movement.
Initially, Lenin was more concerned with defining the tasks the democratic dictatorship would have to carry out, and at this stage was severely critical of those who, in his opinion, showed ‘lifeless scholasticism’ in attempting to define too closely the form. For him the RDDPP was the movement, the alliance of workers and peasants that overthrew Tsarism, after which it was any form of revolutionary government required to repulse all attempts at restoration(54) [occasionally he added the condition that the participation of the proletariat in the government was necessary].
The formation of the St Petersburg Soviet suggested to Lenin that the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies should be regarded as the embryo of the RDDPP(55). However, the formal purpose of the RDDPP was to convene a popular Constituent Assembly; to put into effect the minimum programme of proletarian democracy which was the only programme capable of safeguarding the interests of the people which had risen against the autocracy. Somebody had to convene the Constituent Assembly, somebody had to guarantee the freedom and fairness of the elections, somebody had to invest the Assembly with power and authority. Obviously only a revolutionary government, the organ of the insurrection, could genuinely desire this and be capable of doing what was necessary to achieve it(56). The Soviet perfectly fitted that specification.
Lenin made it clear: the major political task of the provisional revolutionary government, the government of the victorious popular insurrection, would be to secure and convene a Constituent Assembly that would express the will of all the people with full power and authority. This Constituent Assembly was, of course, a democratic institution elected by universal suffrage - that is, a bourgeois institution. The Constituent Assembly would be the Russian governmental form that rested on the bourgeois state relations resulting from the seizure of power by the proletariat and peasantry. This sets a clear limit on the tasks and duration of the RDDPP.
Nevertheless, Lenin felt it necessary to explain in some detail its practical tasks and political programme. In 1905, in The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government(57), Lenin listed six fundamental points that he considered had to become the political banner and the immediate programme of any provisional revolutionary government. These were designed to enlist the sympathy of the people for that government and were to be regarded as the most urgent tasks, on which the entire revolutionary energy of the people would be concentrated. There was, of course, as was usual with Lenin, considerable overlap with what he wrote elsewhere. (See, for example, The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat(58) and Victorious Revolution(59).)
The six points were:
(1) Convening a Constituent Assembly of all the people, elected by secret ballot in universal, direct, and equal elections (one person one vote, etc.). However, this slogan did not stand in isolation, but in conjunction with the following Bolshevik slogans:
•the revolutionary overthrow of the Tsarist autocracy, and its replacement by the democratic republic, and
•the sovereignty of the people, safeguarded by a democratic constitution, i.e., the concentration of supreme governmental authority entirely in the hands of a legislative assembly composed of representatives of the people and forming a single chamber.
(2)Creation of a democratic political system. Political freedom was economically equivalent to:
•free development of capitalism, but no privileges for either the capitalists or the landlords,
•abolition of all survivals of serfdom, and
•the raising of the living and cultural standards of the masses, especially of the lower strata.
(3) Arming the people, no independent power for either the police or the officials; their complete subordination to the people. All power - wholly, completely and indivisibly - in the hands of the whole people.
(4)Complete freedom for the oppressed and disfranchised nationalities.
(5)Introduction of the Bolshevik minimum programme: 8-hour day, free trade unions, the working class be free to struggle for socialism, etc.
(6)Formation of peasant revolutionary committees with responsibility for distributing the land seized without compensation by the revolutionary activities of the peasants during the democratic revolution. The provisional revolutionary government resting on the RDDPP would enact land to the peasant, and this would be formally approved by the subsequent bourgeois-democratic Constituent Assembly.
Of course, Lenin could give only a list of the most important factors required for winning the democratic republic. He did not claim his list was complete. Rather, his emphasis was on the revolutionary government striving to secure the support of the masses, as without the active revolutionary support of the people it would be a mere nothing.
The lynch-pin of the class alliance that would form the basis of the provisional RDDPP was item 6 on the list, proletarian support for the bourgeois measure of an end to serfdom: seizure of the land without compensation, and its distribution amongst the peasants by the peasants themselves. Here, the task is to be performed as an integral and essential part of the bourgeois-democratic revolution by a provisional revolutionary democratic dictatorship consciously restricting itself to bourgeois measures and resting on bourgeois property relations.
To sum up:
1. The RDDPP was, in practice, whatever governmental structure was required to implement the sum-total of bourgeois-democratic changes envisaged in the Bolshevik minimum programme, and for the defence of the gains of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, until reaction had been defeated.
2. The form of the government was not essential: the Soviets appeared suitable as did revolutionary peasant committees.
3. A key and essential purpose of the provisional RDDPP was to ensure that a Constituent Assembly would be freely and fairly elected to be the government of a bourgeois Russian state.
4. To preserve its alliances in the RDDPP the Bolshevik Party would limit its demands to its minimum programme.
It is quite clear that in 1905-06, Lenin’s schema for the Russian Revolution was a victorious uprising of the democratic forces, overthrowing the Tsarist autocracy, solving the land problem and leading to the provisional RDDPP. This would be followed by an elected bourgeois-democratic government (Constituent Assembly) resting on a capitalist state. During this last period there would be a determined counter-attack by the forces of reaction to take back some or all of the gains made, but the day would be saved by a socialist revolution in the West. The direct translation of the RDDPP into a socialist revolution in Russia alone was excluded. This was a scenario that ran through Lenin’s works up to, and including, early 1917. For example, in September 1914, he again drew attention to the link he placed between the socialist revolution in Europe and bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia. He explained that while in all the advanced countries the war had placed socialist revolution on the order of the day, in Russia it still remained the task of Russian SDs to achieve the three fundamental conditions for consistent democratic reform [a democratic republic with complete equality and self-determination for all nations, confiscation of the landed estates, and an eight-hour working day](60).
Lenin’s perspective may be briefly expressed as follows: The belated Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of leading its own revolution to the end. The complete victory of the revolution through the medium of the provisional RDDPP would purge the country of serfdom, invest the development of Russian capitalism with an “American” dynamic, strengthen the proletariat in the city, its allies in the country, and would open up broad possibilities within a democratic Russia for the struggle for socialism. Simultaneously, the victory of the Russian Revolution would provide a mighty impulse for the socialist revolution in Western Europe, and this latter would not only shield Russia from the dangers of restoration but also permit the Russian proletariat to achieve the conquest of power in a comparatively short historical interval.
3.6 Inner Tensions in the RDDPP
In 1905, Lenin’s conception of the bourgeois-democratic transition in Russia represented an enormous step forward as it proceeded not from the constitutional reform of Tsarism as demanded by the liberal bourgeoisie, but from the revolutionary overthrow of agricultural relations, and it also proposed a workable combination of real social forces for the accomplishment of this task.
The weak point in Lenin’s conception was a major internal contradiction within the RDDPP. A fundamental limitation of this dictatorship was that it was defined as revolutionary democratic, and therefore, while it was revolutionary in origin and actions, its class content was pre-determined as bourgeois. By this, as has been shown above, for the sake of preserving its alliance with the peasantry, the proletariat would restrict itself to the RDSLP minimum programme and forego directly posing socialist tasks. That is, the proletariat would renounce any possibility of moving directly to its own dictatorship and the socialist revolution. Today, it is hard to credit Lenin with believing the armed workers would not use their power to protect and extend their own, specific, interests in the factories, the government and the state. But Lenin was writing in 1905, before the St Petersburg Soviet and twelve years before the activities of the Red Guards in 1917-1918.
Lenin’s perspective was not tested in 1905 because the revolution was defeated before that could happen. His formula attempted to avoid the problem of the probable conflict between a bourgeois state power and a revolutionary government based, at least to a significant extent, on proletarian Soviets, by simply stating that the democratic Constituent Assembly would be their mutual goal. In 1917 the reality had to be faced and, it will be argued later that, from April 1917, Lenin was compelled, in a direct struggle against the most experienced cadres of the party, to drop his 1905 perspective and adopt a radically new stance.
The pamphlet Two Tactics (61) provided the governmental slogan of the RDDPP and also delineated Bolshevik tactics and strategy for the unfolding Russian Revolution. It contained and developed a number of very important ideas and strategies that were crucial for success in the October Revolution. These were summed up in the resolution passed at the Third Congress, the text in full is printed in Two Tactics, and the elements of the resolution occur as themes in Two Tactics. In later years Lenin would frequently refer back to these points as demonstrating the continuity of Bolshevik ideas, in direct line from Marx and Engels, in particular:
(1)Lenin re-emphasised and reaffirmed Engel’s and Marx’s position on the necessity for the destruction of the (autocratic) state.
(2)Lenin made clear the necessity for a separate, strictly class party of SD which must maintain its complete organisational and political independence.
(3)Lenin insisted that, for the success of the revolution, the proletariat must ally with the peasantry.
(4)Lenin insisted that the working class would lead the struggle against the autocracy.
(5)Lenin argued that, in its struggles the proletariat should be armed and the revolution would be an armed uprising.
(6)Lenin predicted that the outcome of the armed uprising would be a dictatorship since without a dictatorship it would be impossible to break down resistance and to repel counter-revolutionary attempts.
(7)Lenin argued that the RDSLP should be prepared to participate in a provisional revolutionary government (subject to strict control by the party over its representatives).
There are a wealth of quotations in Two Tactics and other works from about that time that show that Lenin was determined to push the bourgeois-democratic revolution as far as possible and this shows an inner tension, or possibly even a degree of contradiction, in Lenin’s writings. The dilemma is the antagonism between bourgeois factory owner and proletarian. For the bourgeois revolution to have been successful, the workers - guns in hand - would have already taken the lead. To suppose that the proletariat participates in the democratic revolution independently of the bourgeoisie, and as the leader of the revolution, is to invite the proletariat to overstep bourgeois-democratic limitations. In such circumstances, the proletarian would not accept control by the provisional RDDPP. For example, in the struggle for the bourgeois-democratic republic, revolutionary workers would push for demands outside the Bolshevik minimum programme; nationalisation of their industry under workers’ control, say. In 1905 Lenin removed this potential contradiction from his schema by stressing the overwhelming proportion of peasants in the population and the lack of political and social development of the working class. As a minority within the RDDPP, the Bolshevik Party recognised the:
“incontestably bourgeois nature of the revolution, which is incapable of directly overstepping the bounds of a mere democratic revolution, our slogan pushes forward this particular revolution and strives to mould it into forms most advantageous to the proletariat; consequently, it strives to make the very most of the democratic revolution in order to attain the greatest success in the further struggle of the proletariat for Socialism”(62).
The contradictions between the consistent revolutionary core of Lenin’s policies, in 1905 and afterwards, and its bourgeois-democratic shell, would be a factor in the party crisis - the paralysis of the Bolshevik leadership for days and weeks - during and after the February 1917 Revolution. Lenin’s combativity and determination, expressed in 1905 by wanting to take the struggle against the regime as far as possible, would be crucial in resolving the 1917 crisis in the Bolshevik Party and the success of the October Revolution.
Lenin insisted that the Bolsheviks would participate in the revolutionary-democratic government, and the leadership of the Bolshevik Party was educated in, and Bolshevik culture was imbued with, the idea of participating as leading figures in the democratic dictatorship. For over a decade, the Bolshevik cadres were educated in the notion that the coming revolution was bourgeois because of its governmental form, its immediate programme and its socio-economic content (free capitalist farmers leading to the unfettered development of capitalism). An essential part of this strategy was that the proletarian party would limit its demands to the RDSLP minimum programme.
In 1917 did the Old Bolsheviks see the existing Soviets as the revolutionary government? Did the Old Bolsheviks believe that the line the party had pushed since 1905 was coming to fruition, that everything they had worked and called for was actually beginning to happen? Part of the answer is given by Zinoviev, one of Lenin’s closest comrades for many years and one of the Bolshevik Party’s leaders from 1907. In his book, History of the Bolshevik Party, published in 1923, he stated:
“Beginning with 1905 we considered that Russia was moving towards a dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry ... when a wave of revolution was already forming , we were still, however, talking about a democratic revolution ... Some of us (including myself) for too long upheld the idea that in our peasant country we could not pass straight onto the socialist revolution, but merely hope that if our revolution coincided with the start of the international proletarian one it could become its overture.”(63).
3.7 Lenin and the Peasantry
Lenin had researched the agrarian development of Russia thoroughly, and was the leader of the RDSLP most concerned with the so-called peasant question. As we have seen, from at least 1905 Lenin was convinced that the abolition of feudal relations in agriculture would strengthen the development of capitalism in Russia. Before 1917 there is no suggestion that the solution of the agricultural question would require a workers’ socialist revolution.
Three points need to be made here about the 1905 theories developed by Lenin concerning the peasantry. For many years Lenin was iconised in public by the Soviet bureaucracy and its supporters, who presented him as a man who never made a political mistake, nor had to change his policies. See, for example, Sorin(64) and Hill(65). The reality is different. In response to the peasant upsurge of 1903-1905, Lenin recognised that the then existing party programme, regarding the agrarian question, was inadequate. Lenin’s consistent use of the Marxist method, which required analysis of the actual, concrete circumstances of the given stage of the 1905 Revolution, caused him to make a significant change to this element of the party programme during the revolution itself.
The second point to appreciate is the manner in which Lenin presented the changes in policy and programme to the party. Until the Third (Bolshevik) Congress, the party’s agrarian programme consisted of little more than the return to the peasants of the so-called “cut-off lands”, the land which had been withheld from the peasants when the serfs were emancipated in the Peasant Reform of 1861. By 1905 the general sentiment among the peasants, clearly expressed in their spontaneous uprisings across most of Russia, was unquestionably in favour of seizing all the landlords’ lands and estates. In this respect the old party programme was well out of date.
Lenin re-drafted the agrarian programme to include the confiscation of all landowners’, government, church, monastic, and crown lands. In his address to the Congress on the Peasant Movement. Lenin was at pains to stress the continuity of his position:
“The Resolution speaks of measures that will not halt at the expropriation of the landed estates. It has been said that this formulation modifies our agrarian programme. I consider this opinion wrong. ... we see nothing in our Resolution that modifies our agrarian programme. ... Both Plekhanov and I have stated in the press that the Social-Democratic Party will never hold the peasantry back from revolutionary measures of agrarian reform, including the ‘general redistribution’ of the land. Thus, we are not modifying our agrarian programme”(66).
Lenin was quite correct to point out that both he and Plekhanov had never sought to impose limits on the revolutionary activities of the peasants, and to draw attention to the continuity of the Marxist method that led to the proposed change in the party programme, but he is stretching things a bit too far to say there was no modification of the party programme.
Indeed, Krupskaya in her Memories of Lenin tells just how Lenin was finally convinced that a change in programme was necessary. Lenin met Father Gapon in Geneva early in 1905. Independently present was a sailor from the Potemkin, Matinshenko, later to be a leading participant in the mutiny. Together they convinced Lenin that the ‘pieces of land’ slogan was inadequate and that a much broader slogan must be launched - one of confiscation of landowners’ estates, crown and church lands. The result was that at the December Conference in Tammerfors, Finland, Lenin tabled a motion to drop this point on the peasants’ land from the programme. In its place a paragraph was inserted on support for the revolutionary measures of the peasantry, including confiscation of landowners’ estates, crown and church lands(67).
As if to confirm that significant changes had, indeed, been made to the party programme, Krupskaya describes how Lenin addressed a fringe meeting, organised by the Bolsheviks, at a Teachers’ Congress. The meeting was attended by ‘a few score’ teachers. Lenin spoke on the agrarian question (which may be an indication of how important he felt this to be). The SRs present challenged Lenin on the changes in the RDSLP agrarian programme, quoting his previous writings against his new position and claiming that the Bolsheviks had adopted the SR land programme. Krupskaya says that Lenin made a “rather angry reply”(68).
It might be argued that Lenin was faced with a Congress dominated by committee-men and he had enough on his hands in persuading them to open the party to new members. Was stressing the elements of continuity, and downplaying differences, the best way to get the committee-men to vote to agree a new policy towards the peasants? As we shall see later, Lenin adopted a similar approach after 1917, when many times, he stressed the continuity of such key strategies as the revolutionary alliance between the workers and the peasantry as a pre-requisite for solving the agrarian problem, strategies which were integral to Bolshevik success in the 1917 October Revolution. Unfortunately, the stress placed on ‘continuity’ appears to have blinded some authors to the qualitative change in Bolshevik policy between the first (1905) and second (1917) Russian Revolutions.
The third point is to understand the development of Lenin’s ideas and just what he proposed as the policy of the RDSLP in 1905, and for twelve years subsequently. From very early in his political life Lenin studied the agrarian question; in 1899 he proposed some minor changes to the RDSLP agrarian programme(69), in 1901 he made his first serious attempt to elaborate his own agrarian programme in The Workers’ Party and the Peasantry(70), he developed these ideas in The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy(71), and persuaded the RDSLP to adopt them as its agrarian programme at the Second Congress, in 1903. The central demands of this programme were, as we already noted, for the return of the ‘cut-off’ lands [which in some areas amounted to nearly 40% of the peasants’ land], and the abolition of feudal relations in the countryside.
Lenin always wanted any demands to be concrete and correspond as closely as possible to the actual needs and consciousness of the peasants. He had to defend himself against those who (correctly) objected that limiting the RDSLP demand to the restitution of the cut-off lands was far too meek an approach. He replied: “We maintain, and shall endeavour to prove, that the demand for the ‘restitution of the cut-off lands’ is the maximum that we can at present advance in our agrarian programme.”(72). But the breadth and depth of the 1903-1906 peasant uprising made it clear that Lenin’s 1903 programme was far too conservative. Later (1907), Lenin was to admit that the fundamental mistake in the agrarian programme of 1903 was that the Bolsheviks had failed to appreciate that the political awareness of the peasant masses had risen to a level such that they could be directed against landlordism in general(73).
As Lenin became increasingly convinced that the only meaningful ally for the workers in their struggle to overthrow the autocracy consisted in the peasantry, his vision of the revolution became one of the broadest possible movements to overthrow Tsarism and establish a provisional revolutionary government which, without going beyond the limits of capitalism, would carry through the most radical and far-reaching democratic programme, first and foremost the confiscation of the big estates and “land to the peasants”. It is quite correct for Barnes, for example, to draw attention to Lenin’s emphasis on the alliance between the proletariat and the peasants as a whole, to carry through the bourgeois-democratic revolution(74). Indeed it was a significant progression in Lenin’s thinking that, during and after 1905, he proposed an alliance not with the liberal bourgeoisie but with the “entire peasantry against the landlords”(75), and that the revolutionary peasant committees to be set up would be committees representing the peasants as an estate(76). But Barnes and other writers are quite wrong to refrain from mentioning that in 1917, from the April Theses onwards, Lenin was at pains to emphasise the divisions between the wealthy and middle peasants (capitalists and petty capitalists) on the one hand, and agricultural labourers, wage-workers and poor peasants (the semi-proletarians), on the other, and that the aim of the Bolsheviks for the October Revolution was for the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry(77) to hold state power. In 1917 the goal would not be a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry as a whole, but instead a dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasants and semi-proletarians in the countryside.
In 1905 Lenin was clearly arguing that the solution of the agrarian problem was achievable within capitalism and would strengthen capitalist development:
“A bourgeois revolution is a revolution which does not go beyond the limits of the bourgeois, i.e., capitalist, social and economic system. A bourgeois revolution expresses the need for the development of capitalism, and far from destroying the foundations of capitalism, it does the opposite, it broadens and deepens them. This revolution therefore expresses the interests not only of the working class, but of the entire bourgeoisie as well. ... Marxism has irrevocably broken with the ravings of the Narodniks and the anarchists to the effect that Russia, for instance, can avoid capitalist development, jump out of capitalism, or skip over it and proceed along some path other than the path of the class struggle on the basis and within the framework of this same capitalism”(78).
He continued this theme until at least 1915, stating clearly that the outcome of the democratic revolution (land reform) would be a bourgeois state. In chronological order, there follow are a number of passages to show that Lenin had a consistent overall appreciation of what the bourgeois-democratic revolution meant for Russia. In March 1906 he wrote:
“... In its social and economic aspect, the impending agrarian revolution will be a bourgeois-democratic revolution; it will not weaken but stimulate the development of capitalism and capitalist class contradictions”(79). In 1907 he wrote:
“... the aims of the revolution that is now taking place in Russia do not exceed the bounds of bourgeois society. Even the fullest possible victory of the present revolution - in other words, the achievement of the most democratic republic possible, and the confiscation of all landed estates by the peasantry - would not in any way affect the foundations of the bourgeois social system. ...
... This struggle for the land inevitably forces enormous masses of the peasantry into the democratic revolution, for only democracy can give them land by giving them supremacy in the state ... the complete victory of the peasant uprising, the confiscation of all landed estates and their equal division will signify the most rapid development of capitalism, the form of bourgeois-democratic revolution most advantageous to the peasants. ... It is just as advantageous to the proletariat. The class conscious proletariat knows that there is, and there can be, no path leading to socialism otherwise than through a bourgeois-democratic revolution. ... The more complete the victory of the peasantry, the sooner will the proletariat stand out as a distinct class, and the more clearly will it put forward its purely socialist tasks and aims”(80).
Lenin continued this theme and in May 1914 re-affirmed that anyone acquainted with even the ABC of political economy must have known that Russia was undergoing a change-over from the system of serf-ownership to capitalism, that there was no third economic system for Russia, and that there was no way of achieving the ideals of labour democracy other than by ensuring the most rapid elimination of serfdom and the rapid development of capitalism(81). In June of the same year he wrote:
“What is the economic essence of the agrarian question in Russia? It is the reorganisation of Russia on bourgeois-democratic lines. ... Capitalism will develop more widely, more freely and more quickly from such a measure. This measure is very progressive and very democratic. ... But, we repeat, this is a bourgeois-democratic measure. ... Marx advised class-conscious workers, while forming a clear idea of the bourgeois character of all agrarian reforms under capitalism (including the nationalisation of the land), to support bourgeois-democratic reforms as against the feudalists and serfdom. But Marxists cannot confuse bourgeois measures with socialism.”(82)
Before 1917 Lenin considered that the effective solution of the land question would strengthen the growth of capitalism in Russia. The RDDPP would gain most for the working class by ensuring land distribution was achieved by the revolutionary seizure and distribution of the land by the peasantry - to whom, and in what proportions, was left undecided until 1917(83,84). The organisational form of the revolution could well be Soviets supported by peasant committees but these would be temporary institutions which yielded power to a bourgeois-democratic Constituent Assembly.
1. Marx, K. and Engels, F., Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, March 1850, Marx-Engels Selected Works, FLPH Moscow 1962, Vol 1, p106 - 117
2. Lenin, V.I., Review of Karl Kautsky’s The Agrarian Question, 1899, CW 4:94
3. Quoted in Harding, N., Lenin’s Political Thought, Vol 1 Theory and Practice of the Democratic Revolution, Macmillan Press, London 1977, p46. See also Wolfe, B.D., Three who made a Revolution, Penguin, London, p112
4. Trotsky, L.D., Stalin, Hollis and Carter, London, 1947, p426
5. Knei-Paz, B., The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, Clarendon Press, London, 1978, p4
6. Lenin, V.I., Should We Organise the Revolution, Feb 1905, CW 8:167-176
7. Lenin, V.I., The Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, June-July 1905, CW 9:13-140
8. Lenin, V.I., The Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry, March 1905, CW 8:295
9. Shanin, T., Russia, 1905-07, Revolution as a Moment of Truth, Macmillan, London, 1986, p296
10. Lenin, V.I., Report on the Resolution on the Support of the Peasant Movement, April 1905, CW 8:400-404
11. Kautsky, K. The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution (abridged translation), Journal of Trotsky Studies No 2 1994, p200-223
12. Lenin, V.I., The Proletariat and its Ally in the Russian Revolution, Dec 1906, CW 11:363-375
13. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian programme of Russian Social-Democracy, March 1902, CW:13 349
14. Lenin, V.I., Social-Democracy’s Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement, Sept 1 1905, CW 9:230-239
15. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905 - 1907, Nov-Dec 1907, CW 13:239
16. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, Nov-Dec 1907, CW 13:238-242
17. Lenin, V.I., ibid p430
18. Cliff, T.C., Lenin: Building the Party, Pluto Press, 1975, p200
19. Lenin, V.I. Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, March 1905, CW 8:288
20. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905 - 1907, Nov-Dec 1907, CW 13:229 and 292-3
21. Lenin, V.I., Report on the Unity Congress of the RDSLP, May 1906 CW 10:342
22. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905 - 1907, Nov-Dec 1907, CW 13:333
23. Lenin, V.I., The Aim of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, March 1909, CW 15:379
24. Lenin, V.I., The Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry, March 1905, CW 8:293-303
25. Krupskaya, N., Memories of Lenin, Panther History, 1970, p79 and 108 - 111
26. Lenin, V.I., Report on the Question of the Participation of the Social Democrats in the Provisional Revolutionary Government, April 1905, CW 8:382-395
27. Lenin, V.I., Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, March 1905, CW, 8:277-292
28. Lenin, V.I., The Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry, March 1905, CW 8:291
29. Lenin, V.I., The Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, June-July 1905, CW 9:15-140
30. Engels, F., The Peasant War in Germany, International Publishers, New York, 2000, p70
31. Lenin, V.I., The Revolutionary Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry, March 1905, CW 8:300
32. Lenin, V.I., ibid p298
33. Lenin, V.I., The Peasant, or “Trudovik”, Group and the R.S.D.L.P. May 1906, CW 10:411
34. Lenin, V.I., Social-Democracy’s Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement, Sept 1905, CW 9:237
35. Lenin, V.I. Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905-1907, Nov-Dec 1907, CW 13:230
36. Lenin, V.I., The Development of Capitalism in Russia, 1899, CW 3:21-607
37. Lenin, V.I., The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat, June 1905, CW 8:511-518
38. Lenin, V.I., The Revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry, March 1905, CW 8:297
39. Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, June-July 1905, CW 9:29
40. Lenin, V.I., ibid, p48 and 52
41. Lenin, V.I. Social-Democracy and the Provisional Revolutionary Government, March 1905, CW 8:288
42. Lenin, V.I., “The Peasant Reform” and the Proletarian-Peasant Revolution, March 1911, CW 17:128
43. Lenin, V.I., Resolutions of the Summer, 1913, Joint Conference of the Central Committee of the R.S.D.L.P. and Party Officials, September 1913, CW19:420
44. Lenin, V.I., Left-Wing Narodism and Marxism, June 1914, CW 20:372
45. Lenin, V.I., On the Two Lines in the Revolution, November 1915, CW 21:418
46. Lenin, V.I., Letters from Afar, 1917, CW 23:295-342
47. Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, July 1905, CW 9:130
48. Lenin, V.I., Speech in Reply to the Debate on the Agrarian Question, 1906, CW 10:280
49. Lenin, V.I., Report on the Third Congress of the RDSLP, May 1905, CW 8:438-439
50. Lenin, V.I., The Stages, the Trend and the Prospects of the Revolution, late 1905 or early 1906, CW 10:91-92
51. Lenin, V.I., On the Two Lines in the Revolution, November 1915 CW 21:420
52. Lenin, V.I., Bureau of Committees of the Majority Editorial Board of Vperyod, May 1905, CW 8:350-351
53. Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, July 1905, CW 9:56
54. Lenin, V.I., On the Provisional Revolutionary Government, May 1905, CW 8:464-465
55. Lenin, V.I., Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, 1905, CW 10:21
56. Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, July 1905, CW 9:21
57. Lenin, V.I., The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government, 1905, CW 8:566-567
58. Lenin, V.I., The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat, June 1905, CW, 8:511-518
59. Lenin, V.I., Victorious Revolution, May-June 1905, CW8:450-451
60. Lenin, V.I., War and Russian Social Democracy, Sept 1914, CW 21:33
61. Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, July 1905, CW 9:15-140
62. Lenin, V.I., ibid p87
63. Zinoviev, G., op cit p177-178
64. Sorin, V., Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) Marx Engels Institute, Moscow, USSR, 1936
65. Hill, C., Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Pelican Books, London, 1971
66. Lenin, V.I., Report on the Resolution on the Support of the Peasant Movement CW 8:400-404
67. Krupskaya, N., op cit, p108 - 110
68. Krupskaya, N., op cit, p137
69. Lenin, V.I., A Draft Programme of our Party, 1899, CW 1:227-254
70. Lenin, V.I., The Workers’ Party and the Peasantry, 1901, CW 4:420-428
71. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy, March 1902, CW 6:107-150
72. Lenin, V.I., Ibid, March 1902, CW 6:116
73. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution 1905 - 1907, November-December 1907, CW 13:257-258
74. Barnes, J., Their Trotsky and Ours: Communist Continuity Today, Fall 1983, New International, Vol. 1 No 1 pp9-89.
75. Lenin, V.I., The Proletariat and the Peasantry, Nov 12, 1905, CW 10:43
76. Lenin, V.I. On Our Agrarian Programme, March 16, 1905, CW 8:250
77. Lenin, V.I., Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power, Oct 1, 1917, CW 26:87-136
78. Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, July 1905, CW 9:48-49
79. Lenin, V.I., Revision of the Agrarian Programme of the Workers’ Party, March 1906, CW 10:193
80. Lenin, V.I., Fifth Congress of the RDSLP. May 1907, CW 12:466
81. Lenin, V.I., Left-Wing Narodism and Marxism, June 1914, CW 20:299
82. Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Question in Russia, June 1914 CW 20:376
83. Lenin, V.I., Social-Democracy’s Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement, Sept 1905, CW 9:236-237
84. Lenin, V.I., The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918, CW 28: 313