Problems of theory and history


Defining the general orientation of the struggle, the objective to which all the efforts of the social democrats had to be directed, Lenin declared in 'Two Tactics': 'the only force capable of gaining a "decisive victory over Tsarism" is the people, i.e. the proletariat and the peasantry . . . the "decisive victory" . . . means the establishment of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.'
    The task of this dictatorship is to accomplish 'the changes urgently and absolutely indispensable to the proletariat and the peasantry', that is, the Party's 'minimum programme'.
    'But of course', Lenin added, 'it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism.'(7)
    What does Trotsky say on the subject?

The very fact of the proletariat's representatives entering the government, not as powerless hostages, but as the leading force,destroys the borderline between maximum and minimum programme; that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day . . . For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry).(8)

A few pages earlier, he has stressed: 'The whole problem consists in this: who will determine the content of the government's policy, who will form within it a solid majority?'(9)
    This is why Lenin could plausibly attribute to him the slogan, 'No Tsar but a workers' government', which adequately sums up his position.(10)
    Expounding on the resolution of the 3rd Congress of the RSDLP, Lenin declared, on the contrary:(11)

The resolution deals with a provisional revolutionary government only, and with nothing else; consequently, the question of the 'conquest of power' in general, etc., does not at all come into the picture . . . because the political situation in Russia does not by any means turn such questions into immediate issues. On the contrary, the whole people have now raised the issue of the overthrow of the autocracy and the convocation of a constituent assembly. Party congresses should take up and decide not the issues which this or that writer has happened to mention opportunely or inopportunely, but such as are of vital political importance by reason of the prevailing conditions.

As for the participation of the social democrats in the provisional revolutionary government, the 3rd Congress had only decided that it could be entered, 'subject to the alignment of forces and other factors which cannot be exactly predetermined'.(12)
    We see that Lenin was by no means inclined to make 'prognoses' or to build castles in the air. His sole preoccupation was to formulate the slogans which met the tasks of the moment by pointing out 'the essential, the general'.
    Trotsky later explained: 'I came out against the formula "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry", because I saw its shortcoming in the fact that it left open the question of which class would wield the real dictatorship.'(
    This argument is correct if Trotsky meant by it that Lenin did not fix in advance the composition of the government 'which must exercise the democratic dictatorship'.(
14) But it is false if he was suggesting that Lenin did not speak of the hegemonic role of the working class. The Bolshevik leader expressed his view on the subject more than once in 'Two Tactics': 'We intend to guide . . . not only the proletariat, organised by the Social Democratic Party, but also this petty bourgeoisie, which is capable of marching side by side with us.'(15) And also: 'The proletariat must be class conscious and strong enough to rouse the peasantry to revolutionary consciousness, guide its assault, and thereby independently pursue the line of consistent proletarian democratism.'(16)
    However, when Martov took up an idea of Trotsky's, Lenin made it clear that 'The question of the revolutionary classes, however, cannot be reduced to a question of the "majority" in any particular revolutionary government'.(
    Trotsky's criticisms are therefore devoid of any basis. By holding fast to the prospect of a homogeneous social democratic government he overestimated the level of the Russian workers' political consciousness while underestimating the revolutionary potential of the peasant masses, who in 1905 were not yet differentiated.
    In April 1917 the situation was profoundly different. Lenin observes 'the deeper cleavage between the agricultural labourers and the poor peasants on the one hand and the peasant proprietors on the
other'.(18) He emphasises 'a struggle for influence within the Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies'.(19)

    The formula of 'the democratic dictatorship' was outdated in 1917 for two reasons:

    1.  It was realised in a way in the soviets: 'The Soviet is the implementation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the soldiers; among the latter the majority are peasants. It is therefore a dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.'(20)
    2.  Under the leadership of the petty bourgeoisie the soviets had ceded power to the provisional government, that is, to the bourgeoisie.

In the particular conjuncture of 1917 it was against the political representatives of this petty bourgeoisie that the principal blow had to be struck, for it was deceiving the masses and consolidating the rule of the imperialist bourgeoisie. We know that Stalin generalised this particular case, while Mao has followed the opposite (and general) principle of winning over the intermediary forces while isolating the diehard reactionaries.
    The Trotskyists claim that Lenin 'tacitly' went over to Trotsky's point of view in April 1917.(
21) Lenin had already given them the lie in texts such as the following, which dates precisely from April 1917: 'Trotskyism: "No Tsar but a Workers' Government". But it is in two parts. The poorer of the two is with the working class';(22) and also this one which dates from 1918:

Things have turned out just as we said they would. The course of the revolution has confirmed the correctness of our reasoning. First with the whole of the peasants against the monarchy, against the landlords, against the medieval regime (and to that extent the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then, with the poor peasants, the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited against capitalism . . . and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one.(23)

It is plain what credence is to be given to the legend hawked about by the Trotskyists that in 1917 Lenin was converted to Trotskyism and recognised that he had been mistaken in distinguishing the democratic stage from the socialist stage. As we have just shown, things were quite different. This is why they are forced to attempt to confer some credibility on their thesis by going even further along the road of falsification and fabricating a Lenin denying the 'interpenetration' (transcroissance) of one stage into the other. Thus Isaac Deutscher's readers are informed: 'His (Lenin's) policy was based firmly on the premiss that the Russian revolution would confine itself to its anti-feudal objectives.'(24)
    Anyone who takes the trouble to check this will find that Lenin said exactly the opposite in 'Two Tactics of Social Democracy':

 The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry has a past and a future. Its past is autocracy, serfdom, monarchy and privilege . . . Its future is the struggle against private property, the struggle of the wage-worker against the employer, the struggle for socialism.(25)

Having introduced a first untruth into the minds of his unsuspecting readers, Deutscher makes them accept all the more easily a second (the important one for him) which seems to follow naturally: 'In 1917 . . . Lenin changed his mind. In all essentials the thesis of the permanent revolution (though not, of course, its somewhat bookish nomenclature) was adopted by his party.'(26)

    Thus, to declare Trotsky correct, we must attribute to Lenin a crude opportunist error in 1905 which then enables us to falsify Lenin's positions in 1917 in the opposite direction. Finally, let us admire the 'of course' which saves Deutscher from having to explain to us why Lenin did not take over the term 'permanent revolution' if it were true that it corresponded to a scientific concept. Was Lenin afraid of Marxist terms; was he afraid of Marxist works?

    All the false and nonsensical Trotskyist constructions are summarised in a short note of Ernest Mandel's:

Between 1905 and 1917 the Bolshevik Party was educated in the spirit of achieving the 'democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants', i.e. in the spirit of a formula with its eye on the possibility of a coalition between a workers' party and a peasant party . . . Only in 1917 did he (Lenin) realise that Trotsky had been correct back in 1905 when he predicted that the agrarian question could only be solved by the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialisation of the Russian economy.(27)

Lenin has long since refuted this interpretation of his political line in 1905 by showing that the problem of class alliances cannot be reduced to that of alliances between parties - which completely undermines Trotsky's objection that there could not be an independent peasant party:

A 'coalition' of classes does not at all presuppose either the existence of any particular powerful party, or parties in general. This is only confusing classes with parties . . . The experience of the Russian revolution shows that the 'coalitions' of the proletariat and the peasantry were formed scores and hundred of times, in the most diverse forms, without any 'powerful independent party' of the peasantry.(28)

Mandel could have disputed this argument of Lenin's. He decided that it was more prudent to pass it over in silence, hoping that his readers would not come across it in Lenin's voluminous works. In fact, Mandel not only claims that Lenin's policy was wrong, he falsifies this policy by arguing that it presupposed a coalition between parties. Mandel also repeats the old Trotskyist confusion between socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, between the character (the social content) of the stages and the class nature of the power.(29) This is what enables him to conclude that, after the 'April Theses', there was no better Trotskyist than Lenin.