V. I.   Lenin

What Our Liberal Bourgeois Want, and What They Fear

Published: Proletary, No. 16, September 14 (1), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 240-245.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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.
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In Russia political education of the people and the intelligentsia hardly exists as yet. Clear political convictions and firm party opinions have as yet scarcely developed in our country. People in Russia are too ready to give credence to any protest against the autocracy and frown upon. any criticism of the character and substance of that protest, regarding such criticism as something that maliciously disunites the movement for emancipation. It is not surprising, therefore, that under this general flag of emancipation the Osvobozhdeniye[1] too, which is published under the editorship of Mr. Struve, has a wide circulation among all and sundry free-thinking intellectuals who resent any analysis of the class content of Osvobozhdeniye liberalism.

And yet, Osvobozhdeniye liberalism is merely a more systematic, uncensored expression of the fundamental features of Russian liberalism as a whole. The farther the revolution advances, the more that liberalism exposes itself, and the more unpardonable is the fear of looking the truth full in the face and understanding the real essence of that liberalism. The “Political Letters” of the well-known historian Mr. Pavel Vinogradov, published in Russkiye Vedomosti (August 5), the well-known liberal organ, are highly characteristic in this respect. No less characteristic is the fact that other liberal newspapers, like Nasha Zhizn, quoted excerpts from this admirable piece of writing, without a single word of indignation or protest. Mr. Pavel   Vinogradov has expressed in bold relief, in a way rarely to be met, the interests, tactics, and psychology of. the self- seeking bourgeoisie; his outspokenness might, perhaps, be considered inappropriate by certain of the shrewder liberals, but then that makes it all the more valuable to class-conscious workers. Here are the concluding words of Mr. Vinogradov’s article, which express its very quintessence:

"I do not know whether Russia will succeed in reaching the new system along a road close to that taken by Germany in 1848, but I have no doubt that every effort must be exerted to enter upon this road, and not upon the one chosen by France in 1789.

"Along the latter path Russian society—raw, poorly organised, and torn by internecine strife—will encounter tremendous dangers, if not its doom. To wait until we get object lessons on the subject of power, order, national unity, and social organisation is undesirable the more so since these object lessons will be given either by the police sergeant, who will have gained new strength, or by the German corporal, whom anarchy in Russia will provide with a providential mission

That is what the Russian bourgeois is thinking of most of all: the tremendous dangers of the “road” of 1789! The bourgeois has no objection to the path taken by Germany in 1848, but he will exert “every effort” to avoid the path taken by France. An instructive pronouncement, one which provides much food for thought.

What is the radical difference between the two roads? It is that the bourgeois-democratic revolution carried out by France in 1789, and by Germany in 1848, was brought to its consummation in the first case, but not in the second. The first ended in a republic and complete liberty, whereas the second stopped short without smashing the monarchy and reaction. The second proceeded under the leadership mainly of the liberal bourgeoisie, which took the unsufficiently mature working class in tow, whereas the first was carried out, at least to a certain extent, by the revolutionarily active mass of the people, the workers and peasants, who, for a time at least, pushed the respectable and moderate bourgeoisie aside. The second led rapidly to the “pacification” of the country, i.e., the suppression of the revolutionary people and the triumph of “the police sergeant and the corporal”; whereas for a certain period the first placed power in the hands of the revolutionary people   which crushed the resistance of “the police sergeants and the corporals”.

And now a learned lackey of the Russian bourgeoisie comes out in a “highly respectable” liberal organ with a warning against the first road, the “French”. The learned historian wants the “German” road, and is quite outspoken about it. He knows perfectly well that the German road did not escape an armed uprising of the people. In 1848 and 1849 there were a number of uprisings and even provisional revolutionary governments in Germany. But none of these uprisings was fully victorious. The most successful of them, the Berlin uprising of March 18, 1848, terminated not in the overthrow of the royal power, but in concessions granted by the king, who remained in power and very soon managed to recover from his partial defeat and withdraw all these concessions.

And so, the learned historian of the bourgeoisie does not fear an uprising of the people. He fears the victory of the people. He is not afraid of the people administering a slight lesson to the reactionaries and the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy which he hates so much. He is afraid of the people overthrowing the reactionary government. He hates the autocracy and desires its overthrow with all his heart; it is not from the preservation of the autocracy, not from the poisoning of the people’s organism by the slow putrefaction of the still living parasite of monarchist rule that he expects the doom of Russia, but from the complete victory of the people.

This man of cheap-jack scholarship knows that a time of revolution is a time of object lessons for the people, but he does not want object lessons on the destruction of reaction, and tries to scare us with object lessons on the destruction of the revolution. He is scared to death of the road which has led to the. complete victory of the revolution, even for a short time, and yearns with all his heart for an outcome like the German, in which reaction secured complete victory for a long, long time.

He does not welcome revolution in Russia, but merely tries to find extenuating circumstances for it. He desires not a victorious revolution, but an unsuccessful revolution. He considers reaction a phenomenon that is in order and legitimate, natural and durable, reliable and reasonable.   He regards revolution as a phenomenon that is illegitimate, fantastic, and unnatural, one that can at best be justified to a certain degree on the grounds of the instability, the “weakness”, the “unsoundness” of the autocratic government. This “objective” historian regards revolution not as the most lawful right of the people, but merely as a sinful and dangerous method of correcting the extremes of reaction. In his opinion a revolution which has been completely victorious is “anarchy”, whereas completely victorious reaction is not anarchy, but merely a slight exaggeration of certain necessary functions of the state. He knows of no other “rule” but a monarchy, no other “system” and no other “social organisation” but those of the bourgeoisie. Of the European forces which revolution in Russia will “provide with a providential mission” he knows only the “German corporal”, but he neither knows nor cares to know the German Social-Democratic worker. He detests most of all the “presumption” of those who “are preparing to outstrip the Western bourgeoisie” (the Professor writes the word bourgeoisie in ironical quotation marks as if to say: what a stupid term to apply to European—En-ro-pe-an—civilisation!). This “objective historian” smugly closes his eyes to the fact that it is precisely because of the old abomination of the Russian autocracy that Europe has for decades and decades been marking time and even retrogressing politically. He fears the object lesson of the “police sergeant who will have gained new strength” and therefore—O leader of the people! 0 statesman!—he utters a warning above all against resolutely smashing all the “forces” of the contemporary police sergeant. What contemptible servility! What a despicable betrayal of the revolution, dished up with the sauce of a pseudo-scholarly and pseudo-objective analysis of the question! Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tartar, said Napoleon. We say, scratch a Russian liberal bourgeois and you will find a police sergeant in a brand-new uniform, who is permitted to retain nine-tenths of his old strength for the very profound, “scholarly”, and “objective” reason that otherwise, he may, perhaps, want to “gain new strength”! Every bourgeois ideologist has the soul of a thoroughgoing huckster; he does not think of destroying the forces of reaction and of the “police sergeant”, but   of bribing this police sergeant, of greasing his palm and appeasing him by striking a bargain with him as quickly as possible.

How inimitably this most learned ideologist of the bourgeoisie corroborates all that we have so often said in Proletary about the nature and character of Russian liberalism! Unlike the European bourgeoisie, which was revolutionary in its time and went over to the side of reaction decades later, our home-grown wiseacres immediately skip revolution, or want to do so, and arrive at the moderate and tidy rule of the reactionary bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie does not and, because of its class position, cannot want revolution. It merely wants to strike a bargain with the monarchy against the revolutionary people; it merely wants to steal to power behind the backs of that people.

And what an instructive lesson this liberal bourgeois sage teaches those doctrinaire Social-Democrats who have gone as far as the following resolution, which was adopted by the Caucasian supporters of the new Iskra and specially approved by the Editorial Board of Iskra in a special supplement. This resolution (together with Iskra’s approval) is given in full in N. Lenin’s Two Tactics (pp. 68-69),[2] but since many comrades in Russia are not acquainted with this resolution, and since the Iskra Editorial Board refused to publish this, in their opinion, so “very apt” resolution, we reproduce it here in full so as to edify all Social- Democrats and put Iskra to shame:

"Whereas we consider it to be our task to take advantage of the revolutionary situation so as to deepen Social- Democratic consciousness in the proletariat, and in order to secure for the Party complete freedom to criticise the nascent bourgeois-state system, the Conference” (the Caucasian new-Iskra Conference) “declares itself against the formation of a Social-Democratic provisional government, and entering such a government, and considers it to be the most expedient course to exercise pressure from without upon the bourgeois provisional government in order to secure a feasible measure of democratisation of the state system. The Conference believes that the formation of a provisional government by   Social-Democrats, or their entering such a government, would lead, on the one hand, to the masses of the proletariat becoming disappointed in the Social-Democratic Party and abandoning it, because the Social-Democrats, despite the seizure of power, would not be able to satisfy the pressing needs of the working class, including the establishment of socialism, and, on the other hand, would cause the bourgeois classes to recoil from the revolution and thus diminish its sweep.”

This is a shameful resolution, for (against the will and mind of its authors, who have stepped on to the inclined plane of opportunism) it expresses a betrayal of the interests of the working class to the bourgeoisie. This resolution sanctifies the conversion of the proletariat into the tail-end of the bourgeoisie for the duration of the democratic revolution. One need but place this resolution side by side with the passage from Mr. Vinogradov’s article quoted above (and anybody will find hundreds and thousands of similar passages in the writings of the liberal publicists) to realise what a marsh the new-Iskrists have got into. Mr. Vinogradov, this typical ideologist of the bourgeoisie, has already recoiled from the cause of the revolution. Has he not thereby diminished the “sweep of the revolution”, gentlemen of the new Iskra? Should you not go penitently to the Vinogradovs and beg them, at the price of your refraining from leading the revolution, not “to recoil from the revolution”?


[1] Osvobozhdeniye—Russian for “emancipation, liberation”.—Tr.

[2] See pp. 93-94 of this volume—Ed.

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