Working-Class and Bourgeois Democracy: excerpts V.I. Lenin 1905

“The intellectualist wing devises a criterion of a good and kind bourgeoisie, worthy of concluding agreements with. The proletarian wing expects no kindness from the bourgeoisie, but supports any, even the very worst bourgeoisie, to the extent that it actually fights tsarism.”

This  excerpted from Lenin 1905 article written on the eve of the 1905 revolution as the Bolsheviks prepared themselves for direct participation in rising workers struggles. It defines succinctly a revolutionary strategy which is oriented toward supporting democratic demands without losing the political independence of the working class or it’s political organizations.

Working-Class and Bourgeois Democracy[*]  V. I.  Lenin 1905

[title above linked to the full article in the Marxists Internet Archive]

The question of the attitude of the Social-Democrats, or working-class democrats, to the bourgeois democrats is an old and yet ever new question. It is old because it has been an issue ever since the inception of Social-Democracy[1] . Its theoretical principles were elucidated in the earliest Marxist literature, in the Communist Manifesto and in Capital. It is ever new because every step in the development of every capitalist country produces a peculiar, original blending of different shades of bourgeois democracy and different trends within the socialist movement.

*           *            *

Starover’s resolution, on the contrary, does not give a class analysis of liberalism and democracy. It is full of good intentions, it devises terms of agreement that are possibly loftier and better, but unfortunately fictitious, just words: the liberals or the democrats must declare so-and-so, must not put forward such-and-such demands, must adopt such-and-such a slogan. As if the history of bourgeois democracy anywhere and everywhere has not warned the workers against putting their trust in declarations, demands, and slogans. As if history has not afforded us hundreds of instances in which bourgeois democrats came forward with slogans demanding, not only full liberty, but also equality, with socialist slogans—without thereby ceasing to be bourgeois democrats—and thus “be fogged” the minds of the proletariat all the more. The intellectualist wing of Social-Democracy wants to combat this befogging by setting conditions to the bourgeois democrats that they abstain from befogging. The proletarian wing, in its struggle, resorts to an analysis of the class content of democratism. The intellectualist wing hunts out words for terms of an agreement. The proletarian wing demands actual co-operation in the struggle. The intellectualist wing devises a criterion of a good and kind bourgeoisie, worthy of concluding agreements with. The proletarian wing expects no kindness from the bourgeoisie, but supports any, even the very worst bourgeoisie, to the extent that it actually fights tsarism. The intellectualist wing slips into a huckster’s standpoint: if you side with the Social-Democrats and not with the Socialists-Revolutionaries, we shall agree upon a pact against the common enemy; otherwise we won’t. The proletarian wing maintains the point of view of expediency: the support we shall lend you will be exclusively conditioned on whether it will put us in a better position to aim a blow—greater or lesser—at our enemy.

*           *            *

Of course, the antithesis between the Zemstvo men and the bourgeois democrats had not yet been discovered at that time. But contraposing the two would be just as rational as saying, “Moscow Gubernia[2] and the territory of the Russian Empire”. Both the Zemstvo people, who believe in qualified suffrage, and the Marshals of the Nobility are democrats, to the extent that they oppose autocracy and serfdom. Their democratism is limited, narrow, and inconsistent, just as any and all bourgeois democratism is in one or another degree limited, narrow and inconsistent. The editorial in Iskra, No. 77, analyses our liberals by dividing them into the following groups: (1) serf-owning landlords; (2) liberal landlords; (3) the liberal intelligentsia, which stands for a constitution with qualified suffrage; and (4) the extreme Left—-the democratic intelligentsia. This analysis is incomplete and muddled, since the division of the intelligentsia is confounded with those of various classes and groups whose interests are expressed by the intelligentsia. Besides the interests of a broad section of The landlords, Russian bourgeois democratism reflects the interests of the mass of tradesmen and manufacturers, chiefly medium and small, as well as (and this is particularly important) those of the mass of proprietors and petty proprietors among the peasantry. The first flaw in Iskra’s analysis is its ignoring of this broadest section of Russia’s bourgeois-democratic sphere. The second flaw is its failure to see that the Russian democratic intelligentsia breaks up necessarily, not by accident, into three main trends corresponding to their political stand: the Osvobozhdeniye, the Socialist-Revolutionary, and the Social-Democratic. All these trends have a long history, and each expresses (as definitely as is possible in an autocratic state) the point of view of the moderate and the revolutionary ideologists of the bourgeois democrats and the point of view of the proletariat. Nothing could be more amusing than the innocent wish of the new Iskra that “the democrats should act as an independent force”, while at the same time the democrats are identified with the radical intelligentsia! The new Iskra has forgotten that the radical intelligentsia or intellectual democratic movement, which has become “an independent force”, is none other than our “Socialist Revolutionary Party”! Our democratic intelligentsia could have no other “extreme Left”. It stands to reason, however, that one can speak of the independent force of such an intelligentsia only in the ironical or terrorist sense of the word. To stand on the same platform with the bourgeois democrats and move Leftward away from the Osvobozhdeniye means to move towards the Socialists-Revolutionaries, and in no other direction.

[1] [At this stage the major socialist organizations called themselves ‘social-democratic’ This article from 1905 preceeds the permanent separation of Bolshevism from Menshevism ultimately from communism and reformist “social democracy”]

[2] Gubernia, uyezd, volost—Russian administrative-territorial units. The largest of these was the gubernia, which had its subdivisions in uyezds, which in turn were subdivided into volosts. This system of districting continued under the Soviet power until the introduction of the new system of administrative-territorial division of the country in 1929-30.—Ed.

[*] Published: Vperyod, No. 3, January 24 (11), 1905. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 72-82.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
Other Formats:   TextREADME

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News and political commentary from the point of view of the social interests of the international working class.
This entry was posted in Democratic tasks of the Workers Struggle, Lenin, Revolutionary Tactics and Strategy, Social Democracy, Soviet/Bolshevik history and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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