Marx-Engels | Lenin | Stalin | Home Page
V. I. Lenin
LETTERS ON TACTICS
Written between April 8 and 13
(21 and 26), 1917
Published as a pamphlet
in April 1917 by Priboi Publishers
to the pamphlet text
From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964
Vol. 24, pp. 42-54.
Translated from the Russian
Edited by Bernard Isaacs
Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, email@example.com (August 1997)
LETTERS ON TACITCS
Forward . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
First Letter. Assessment of the Present Situation . .
LETTERS ON TACTICS
On Apri 4, 1917, I had occasion to make a report on the subject indicated in the title, first, at a meeting of Bolsheviks in Petrograd. These were delegates to the All-Russia Conference of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, who had lo leave for their homes and therefore could not allow me to postpone it. After the meeting, the chairman, Comrade G. Zinoviev, asked me on behalf of the whole assembly to repeat my report immediately at a joint meeting of Bolshevik and Menshevik delegates, who wished to discuss the question of unifying the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.
Difficult though it was for me immediately to repeat my report I felt that I had no right to refuse once this was demanded of me by my comrades-in-ideas as well as by the Mensheviks, who, because of their impending departure, really could not grant me a delay.
In making my report, I read the theses which were published in No. 26 of Pravda, on April 7, 1917.*
Both the theses and my report gave rise to differences of opinion among the Bolsheviks themselves and the editors of Pravda. After a number of consultations, we unanimously concluded that it would be advisable openly to discuss our differences, and thus provide material for the All-Russia Conference of our Party (the Russian Social-Democratic <"fnp">
* I reprint these theses together with the brief comment from the same issue of Pravda as an appendix to this letter. (See pp. 21-24 of this volume --Ed.)
Labour Party, united under the Central Committee) which is to meet in Petrograd on April 20, 1917.
Complying with this decision concerning a discussion, I am publishing the following letters in which I do not claim to have made an exhaustive study of the question, but wish merely to outline the principal arguments, which are especially essential for the practical tasks of the working-class movement.
F I R S T L E T T E R
ASSESSMENT OF THE PRESENT SITUATION
Marxism requires of us a strictly exact and objectively verifiable analysis of the relations of classes and of the concrete features peculiar to each historical situation. We Bolsheviks have always tried to meet this requirement, which is absolutely essential for giving a scientific foundation to policy.
<"p43"> "Our theory is not a dogma, but a guide to action," Marx and Engels always said, rightly ridiculing the mere memorising and repetition of "formulas", that at best are capable only of marking out general tasks, which are necessarily modifiable by the concrete economic and political conditions of each particular period of the historical process.
What, then, are the clearly established objective facts which the party of the revolutionary proletariat must now be guided by in defining the tasks and forms of its activity?
Both in my first Letter from Afar ("The First Stage of the First Revolution") published in Pravda Nos. 14 and 15, March 21 and 22, 1917, and in my theses, I define "the specific feature of the present situation in Russia" as a period of transition from the first stage of the revolution to the second. I therefore considered the basic slogan, the "task of the day" at this moment to be: "Workers, you have performed miracles of proletarian heroism, the heroism of the people, in the civil war against tsarism. You must perform miracles of organisation, organisation of the proletariat and of the whole people, to prepare the way for your
victory in the second stage of the revolution" (Pravda No. 15).[*]
What, then, is the first stage?
It is the passing of state power to the bourgeoisie.
Before the February-March revolution of 1917, state power in Russia was in the hands of one old class, namely, the feudal landed nobility, headed by Nicholas Romanov.
After the revolution,the power is in the hands of a different class, a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie.
The passing of state power from one class to another is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of that term.
To this extent, the bourgeois, or the bourgeois-democratic, revolution in Russia is completed.
But at this point we hear a clamour of protest from people who readily call themselves "old Bolsheviks". Didn't we always maintain, they say, that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed only by the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry"? Is the agrarian revolution, which is also a bourgeois-democratic revolution, completed? Is it not a fact, on the contrary, that it has not even started?
My answer is: The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked out differently ; they are more original, more peculiar, more variegated than anyone could have expected.
To ignore or overlook this fact would mean taking after those "old Bolsheviks" who more than once already have played so regrettable a role in the history of our Party by reiterating formulas senselessly learned by rote instead of studying the specific features of the new and living reality.
"The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" has already become a reality** in the Russian revolution, for this "formula" envisages only a relation of classes, and not a concrete political institution implementing this relation, this co-operation. "The Soviet <"fnp44">
* See present edition, Vol. 23, pp. 306-07. --Ed.
** In a certain form and to a certain extent.
of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies" -- there you have the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" already accomplished in reality.
This formula is already antiquated. Events have moved it from the realm of formulas into the realm of reality, clothed it with flesh and bone, concretised it and thereby modified it.
A new and different task now faces us: to effect a split within this dictatorship between the proletarian elements (the anti-defencist, internationalist, "Communist" elements, who stand for a transition to the commune) and the small-proprietor or petty-bourgeois elements (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the other revolutionary defencists, who are opposed to moving towards the commune and are in favour of "supporting" the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois government).
The person who now speaks only of a "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" is behind the times, consequently, he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the prolctarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of "Bolshevik" pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of "old Bolsheviks").
The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry has already been realised, but in a highly original manner, and with a number of extremely important modifications. I shall deal with them separately in one of my next letters. For the present, it is essential to grasp the incontestable truth that a Marxist must take cognisance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday, which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its complexity.
"Theory, my friend, is grey,<"p45"> but green is the eternal tree of life."
To deal with the question of "completion" of the bourgeois revolution in the old way is to sacrifice living Marxism to the dead letter.
According to the old way of thinking, the rule of the bourgeoisie could and should be followed by the rule of the proletariat and the peasantry, by their dictatorship.
In real life, however, things have already turned out differently ; there has been an extremely original, novel and unprecedented interlacing of the one with the other. We have side by side, existing together, simultaneously, both the rule of the bourgeoisie (the government of Lvov and Guchkov) and a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, which is voluntarily ceding power to the bpurgeoisie, voluntarily making itself an appendage of the bourgeoisie.
For it must not be forgotten that actually, in Petrograd, the power is in the hands of the workers and soldiers; the new government is not using and cannot use violence against them, because there is no police, no army standing apart from the people, no officialdom standing all-powerful above the people. This is a fact, the kind of fact that is characteristic of a state of the Paris Commune type. This fact does not fit into the old schemes. One must know how to adapt schemes to facts, instead of reiterating the now meaning less words about a "dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" in general.
To throw more light on this question let us approach it from another angle.
A Marxist must not abandon the ground of careful analysis of class relations. The bourgeoisie is in power. But is not the mass of the peasants also a bourgeoisie, only of a different social stratum, of a different kind, of a different character? Whence does it follow that this stratum cannot come to power, thus "completing" the bourgeois-democratic revolution? Why should this be impossible?
This is how the old Bolsheviks often argue.
My reply is that it is quite possible. But, in assessing a given situation, a Marxist must proceed not from what is possible, but from what is real.
And the reality reveals the fact that freely elected soldiers' and peasants' deputies are freely joining the second, parallel government, and are freely supplementing, developing and completing it. And, just as freely, they are surrendering power to the bourgeoisie -- a fact which does not in the least "contravene" the theory of Marxism, for we have always known and repeatedly pointed out that the bourgeoisie maintains itself in power not only by force but
also by virtue of the lack of class-consciousness and organisation, the routinism and downtrodden state of the masses.
In view of this present-day reality, it is simply ridiculous to turn one's back on the fact and talk about "possibilities".
Possibly the peasantry may seize all the land and all the power. Far from forgetting this possibility, far from confining myself to the present, I definitely and clearly formulate the agrarian programme, taking into account the new phenomenon, i.e., the deeper cleavage between the agricultural labourers and the poor peasants on the one hand, and the peasant proprietors on the other.
But there is also another possibility; it is possible that the peasants will take the advice of the petty-bourgeois party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, which has yielded to the influence of the bourgeoisie, has adopted a defencist stand, and which advises waiting for the Constituent Assembly, although not even the date of its convocation has yet been fixed.[*]
It is possible that the peasants will maintain and prolong their deal with the bourgeoisie, a deal which they have now concluded through the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies not only in form, but in fact.
Many things are possible. It would be a great mistake to forget the agrarian movement and the agrarian programme. But it would be no less a mistake to forget the reality, which reveals the fact that an agreement, or -- to use a more exact, less legal, but more class-economic term -- class collaboration exists between the bourgeoisie and the peasantry.
When this fact ceases to be a fact, when the peasantry separates from the bourgeoisie, seizes the land and power despite the bourgeoisie, that will be a new stage in the bourgeois-democratic revolution; and that matter will be dealt with separately. <"fnp47">
* Lest my words be misinterpreted, I shall say at once that I am positively in favour of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers and Peasants immediately taking over all the land, but they should themselves observe the strictest order and discipline, not permit the slightest damage to machines, structures, or livestock, and in no case disorganise agriculture and grain production, but rather develop them, for the soldlers need twice as much bread, and the people must not be allowed to starve.
A Marxist who, in view of the possibility of such a future stage, were to forget his duties in the present, when the peasantry is in agreement with the bourgeoisie, would turn petty bourgeois. For he would in practice be preaching to the proletariat confidence in the petty bourgeoisie ("this petty bourgeoisie, this peasantry, must separate from the bourgeoisie while the bourgeois-democratic revolution is still on"). Because of the "possibility" of so pleasing and sweet a future, in which the peasantry would not be the tail of the bourgeoisie, in which the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the Chkheidzes, Tseretelis, and Steklovs would not be an appendage of the bourgeois government -- because of the "possibility" of so pleasing a future, he would be forgetting the unpleasant present, in which the peasantry still forms the tail of the bourgeoisie, and in which the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Social-Democrats have not yet given up their role as an appendage of the bourgeois government,<"p48"> as "His Majesty" Lvov's Opposition.
This hypothetical person would resemble a sweetish Louis Blanc, or a sugary Kautskyite, but certainly not a revolutionary Marxist.
But are we not in danger of falling into subjectivism, of wanting to arrive at the socialist revolution by "skipping" the bourgeois-democratic revolution -- which is not yet completed and has not yet exhausted the peasant movement?
<"p48a"> I might be incurring this danger if I said: "No Tsar, but a workers' government." But I did not say that, I said something else. I said that there can be no government (barring a bourgeois government) in Russia other than that of the Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers'; Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies. I said that power in Russia now can pass from Guchkov and Lvov only to these Soviets. And in these Soviets, as it happens, it is the peasants, the soldiers, i.e., petty bourgeoisie, who preponderate, to use a scientific, Marxist term, a class characterisation, and not a common, man-in-the-street, professional characterisation.
In my theses, I absolutely ensured myself against skipping over the peasant movement, which has not outlived itself, or the petty-bourgeois movement in general, against any playing at "seizure of power" by a workers' government, against any kind of Blanquist adventurism; for I pointedly
referred to the experience of the Paris Commune. And this experience, as we know, and as<"p49"> Marx proved at length in 1871 and Engels in 1891, absolutely excludes Blanquism, absolutely ensures the direct, immediate and unquestionable rule of the majority and the activity of the masses only to the extent that the majority itself acts consciously.
In the theses, I very definitely reduced the question to one of a struggle for influence within the Soviets of Workers', Agricultural Labourers', Peasants', and Soldiers' Deputies. To leave no shadow of doubt on this score, I twice emphasised in the theses the need for patient and persistent "explanatory" work "adapted to the practical needs of the masses".
Ignorant persons or renegades from Marxism, like Mr. Plekhanov, may shout about anarchism, Blanquism, and so forth. But those who want to think and learn cannot fail to understand that Blanquism means the seizure of power by a minority, whereas the Soviets are admittedly the direct and immediate organisation of the majority of the people. Work confined to a struggle for influence within these Soviets cannot, simply cannot, stray into the swamp of Blanquism. Nor can it stray into the swamp of anarchism, for anarchism denies the need for a state and state power in the period of transition from the rule of the bourgeoisie to the rule of the proletariat, whereas I, with a precision that precludes any possibility of misinterpretation, advocate the need for a state in this period, although, in accordance with Marx and the lessons of the Paris Commune, I advocate not the usual parliamentary bourgeois state, but a state without a standing army, without a police opposed to the people, without an officialdom placed above the people.
When Mr. Plekhanov, in his newspaper Yedinstvo, shouts with all his might that this is anarchism, he is merely giving further proof of his break with Marxism. Challenged by me in Pravda (No. 26) to tell us what Marx and Engels taught on the subject in 1871, 1872 and 1875,* Mr. Plekhanov can only preserve silence on the question at issue and shout out abuse after the manner of the enraged bourgeoisie.
Mr. Plekhanov, the ex-Marxist, has absolutely failed to understand the Marxist doctrine of the state. Incidentally,
* See p. 26 of this volume. --Ed.
the germs of this lack<"p50"> of understanding are also to be found in his German pamphlet on anarchism.
Now let us see how Comrade Y. Kamenev, in Pravda No. 27, formulates his "disagreements" with my theses and with the views expressed above. This will help us to grasp them more clearly.
"As for Comrade Lenin's general scheme," writes Comrade Kamenev, "it appears to us unacceptable, inasmuch as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed, and builds on the immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution."
There are two big mistakes here.
First. The question of "completion" of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is stated wrongly. The question is put in an abstract, simple, so to speak one-colour, way, which does not correspond to the objective reality. To put the question this way, to ask now "whether the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed" and say no more, is to prevent oneself from seeing the exceedingly complex reality, which is at least two-coloured. This is in theory. In practice, it means surrendering helplessly to petty-bourgeois revolutionism.
Indeed, reality shows us both the passing of power into the hands of the bourgeoisie (a "completed" bourgeois-democratic revolution of the usual type) and, side by side with the real government, the existence of a parallel government which represents the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry". This "second government" has itself ceded the power to the bourgeoisie, has chained itself to the bourgeois government.
Is this reality covered by Comrade Kamenev's old Bolshevik formula, which says that "the bourgeois-democratic revolution is not completed"?
It is not. The formula is obsolete. It is no good at all. It is dead. And it is no use trying to revive it.
Second. A practical question. Who knows whether it is still possible at present for a special "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry", de-
tached from the bourgeois government, to emerge in Russia? Marxist tactlcs cannot be based on the unknown.
But if this is still possible, then there is one, and only one, way towards it, namely, an immediate, resolute, and irrevocable separation of the proletarian Communist elements from the petty-bourgeois elements.
Because the entire petty bourgeoisie has, not by chance but of necessity, turned towards chauvinism (= defencism), towards "support" of the bourgeoisie, towards dependence on it, towards the fear of having to do without it, etc., etc.
How can the petty bourgeoisie be "pushed" into power, if even now it can take the power, but does not want to ?
This can be done only by separating the proletarian, the Communist, party, by waging a proletarian class struggle free from the timidity of those petty bourgeois. Only the consolidation of the proletarians who are free from the influence of the petty bourgeoisie in deed and not only in word can make the ground so hot under the feet of the petty bourgeoisie that it will be obliged under certain circumstances to take the power; it is even within the bounds of possibility that Guchkov and Milyukov -- again under certain circumstances -- will be for giving full and sole power to Chkheidze, Tsereteli, the S.R.s, and Steklov, since, after all, these are "defencists ".
To separate the proletarian elements of the Soviets (i.e., the proletarian, Communist, party) from the petty-bourgeois elements right now, immediately and irrevocably, is to give correct expression to the interests of the movement in either of two possible events: in the event that Russia will yet experience a special "dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" independent of the bourgeoisie, and in the event that the petty bourgeoisie will not be able to tear itself away from the bourgeoisie and will oscillate eternally (that is, until socialism is established) between us and it.
To be guided in one's activities merely by the simple formula, "the bourgeois-democratic revolution is not completed", is like taking it upon oneself to guarantee that the petty bourgeoisie is definitely capable of being independent of the bourgeoisie. To do so is to throw oneself at the given moment on the mercy of the petty bourgeoisie.
Incidentally, in connection with the "formula" of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, it is worth mentioning that, in Two Tactics (JuIy 1905),<"p52"> I made a point of emphasising (Twelve Years, p. 435) this:
"Like everything else in the world, 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. . . ."[*]
Comrade Kamenev's mistake is that even in 1917 he sees only the past of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. As a matter of fact its future has already begun, for the interests and policies of the wage-worker and the petty proprietor have actually diverged already, even in such an important question as that of "defencism", that of the attitude towards the imperialist war.
This brings me to the second mistake in Comrade Kamenev's argument quoted above. He criticises me, saying that my scheme "builds" on "the immediate transformation of this [bourgeois-democratic] revolution into a socialist revolution".
This is incorrect. I not only do not "build" on the "immediate transformation" of our revolution into a socialist one, but I actually warn against it, when in Thesis No. 8, I state: "It is not our immediate task to 'introduce' socialism. . .".[**]
Is it not clear that no person who builds on the immediate transformation of our revolution into a socialist revolution could be opposed to the immediate task of introducing socialism?
Moreover, even a "commune state" (i.e., a state organised along the lines of the Paris Commune) cannot be introduced in Russia "immediately", because to do that it would be necessary for the majority of the deputies in all (or in most) Soviets to clearly recognise all the erroneousness and harm of the tactics and policy pursued by the S.R.s, Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov, etc. As for me, I declared unmistakably that in this respect I "build" only on "patient" explaining <"fnp52">
* See present edition, Vol. 9, pp. 84-85. --Ed. [Transcriber's Note: See p. 89 of the on-line edition. -- DJR]
** See p. 24 of this volume. --Ed.
(does one have to be patient to bring about a change which can be effected "immediately"?).
Comrade Kamenev has somewhat overreached himself in his eagerness, and has repeated the bourgeois prejudice about the Paris Commune having wanted to introduce socialism "immediately". This is not so. The Commune, unfortunately, was too slow in introducing socialism. The real essence of the Commune is not where the bourgoois usually looks for it, but in the creation of a state of a special type. Such a state has already arisen in Russia, it is the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies!
Comrade Kamenev has not pondered on the fact, the significance, of the existing Soviets, their identity, in point of type and socio-political character, with the commune state, and instead of studying the fact, he began to talk about something I was supposcd to be "building" on for the "immediate" future. The result is, unfortunately, a repetition of the method used by many bourgeois: from the question as to what are the Soviets, whether they are of a higher type than a parliamentary republic, whether they are more useful for the people, more democratic, more convenient for the struggle, for combating, for instance, the grain shortage, etc. -- from this real, urgent, vital issue, attention is diverted to the empty, would-be scientific, but actually hollow, professorially dead question of "building on an immediate transformation".
An idle question falsely presented. I "build" only on this, exclusively on this -- that the workers, soldiers and peasants will deal better than the officials, better than the police, with the difficult practical, problems of producing more grain, distributing it better and keeping the soldiers better supplied, etc., etc.
I am deeply convinced that the Soviets will make the independent activity of the masses a reality more quickly and effectively than will a parliamentary republic (I shall compare the two types of state in greater detail in another letter) They will more effectively, more practically and more correctly decide what steps can be taken towards socialism and how these steps should be taken. Control over a bank, the merging of all banks into one, is not yet socialism, but it is a step towards socialism. Today such steps are being
taken in Germany by the Junkers and the bourgeoisie against the people. Tomorrow the Soviet will be able to take these steps more effectively for the benefit of the people if the whole state power is in its hands.
What compels such steps?
Famine. Economic disorganisation. Imminent collapse. The horrors of war. The horrors of the wounds inflicted on mankind by the war.
Comrade Kamenev concludes his article with the remark that "in a broad discussion he hopes to carry his point of view, which is the only possible one for revolutionary Social-Democracy if it wishes to and should remain to the very end the party of the revolutionary masses of the proletariat and not turn into a group of Communist propagandists".
It seems to me that these words betray a completely erroneous estimate of the situation. Comrade Kamenev contraposes to a "party of the masses" a "group of propagandists". But the "masses" have now succumbed to the craze of "revolutionary" defencism. Is it not more becoming for internationalists at this moment to show that they can resist "mass" intoxication rather than to "wish to remain" with the masses, i.e., to succumb to the general epidemic? Have we not seen how in all the belligerent countries of Europe the chauvinists tried to justify themselves on the grounds that they wished to "remain with the masses"? Must we not be able to remain for a time in the minority against the "mass" intoxication? Is it not the work of the propagandists at the present moment that forms the key point for disentangling the proletarian line from the defencist and petty-bourgeois "mass" intoxication? It was this fusion of the masses, proletarian and non-proletarian, regardless of class differences within the masses, that formed one of the conditions for the defencist epidemic. To speak contemptuously of a "group of propagandists" advocating a proletarian line does not seem to be very becoming.
<"en18"> Lenin's pamphlet Letters on Tactics. First Letter was issued in Petrograd in 1917 by the Bolshevik publishing house Priboi in three editions. The April Theses were given as a supplement to all three editions. [p.42]
<"en19"> See Engels's letter to F. A. Sorge dated November 29, 1886 (Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp.469-73). [p.43]
<"en20"> Lenin here quotes the words of Mephistopheles from Goethe's tragedy Faust. Erster Teil, Studierzimmer. [p.45]
<"en21"> The expression "His Majesty's Opposition" belongs to P. N. Milyukov, the leader of the Cadet Party. In a speech made at a luncheon given by the Lord Mayor of London on June 19 (July 2), 1909, Milyukov said: "So long as there is a legislative chamber in Russia which controls the budget, the Russian Opposition will remain the Opposition of His Majesty, not to His Majesty" (Rech No. 167, June 21 [July 4], 1909). [p.48]
<"en22"> "No Tsar, but a workers' government" -- an anti-Bolshevik slogan put torward in 1905 by Parvus and Trotsky. This slogan of a
revolution without the peasantry, which became one of the basic postulates of counter-revolutionary Trotskism, was sharply criticised by Lenin. [p.48]
<"en23"> See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1962 pp. 516-30, 473-74. [p.49]
<"en24"> Lenin refers to Plekhanov's pamphlet Anarchism and Socialism first published in German in 1894. [p.50]
<"en25"> Lenin here reiers to the volume of his writings published in St. Petersburg at the end of 1907: Vl. Ilyin Twelve Years. A Collection of Articles. Volume I. Two Trends in Russian Marxism and Russian Social-Democracy. [p.52]