July 28, 2019

Political Strategy and Tactics

From The Bolshevik Party and the Democratic Revolution in Russia
Yuri Klimov

Social revolution is not a spontaneous process. It is a creative movement of the people in which constructive political efforts of classes and parties play a great role. Revolution requires every political party to define clearly where it stands, i.e., to spell out its strategy and tactics with reference to the revolution. "By the party's tactics we mean the party's political conduct, or the character, direction, and methods of its political activity," (Lenin. CoL Works, VoL 9, p, 22,) The reader must bear in mind that at that time the notion of tactics embraced strategy as well, the political conduct of a party being understood in broad terms.

Political strategy is a party's general line pursued throughout a historical period and aimed at accomplishing the   principal tasks of that period. It reflects the alignment of class forces both in the country and the world.

Tactics are an expression of a party's current policy, of the methods and forms of struggle employed in specific circumstances. They are worked out on the basis of the general line, for a term during which certain immediate tasks are to be accomplished; contributing to the achievement in the long term of the principal objectives of the historical period.

Political strategy and tactics are based on an objective study of the epoch and actual situations, Political leadership is both a science and an art. A party has to work out a correct policy, and it has to translate it into practice. It takes time to learn how to organise the struggle and defeat the enemy, and how to win supporters and organise and lead them.

It is not before they have gained some political experience of their own that people will rally around a party, give it their confidence and support and fight for the victory of the revolution; ." .millions of people will never listen to the advice of parties if that advice does not fall in with their own experience". Lenin CW V24 P 495

Therefore, in order to be able to enlist the support of the people, a party should employ such means and methods as take account of their experience and degree of political understanding and are clear to them. This does not imply that the party should accommodate itself to the lowest common denominator, however. It is the aim and duty of the party to be with the people—but to be in the vanguard, leading them.

The art of political leadership also consists in mastering all forms of struggle and knowing how to select and employ the most effective of them. It is necessary to be able to single out in due time and precisely the main task of the moment the solution of which decides the success of other tasks. Finding the "main link" is not a simple matter because of the conflicting and involved nature of political developments. Lenin observed that politics are '"more like algebra than arithmetic, and still more like higher than elementary mathematics,"Lenin. Coll. Works, Vol. 31, p. 103.

Its own experience and that of the fraternal parties and of the international revolutionary movement creatively applied by it help a party to exercise real political leadership. A truly revolutionary party does not learn merely from its achievements but from its errors and setbacks too, which it boldly uncovers and overcomes.

In mastering the art of political leadership much can be gained from an examination of the strategy and tactics of the Bolshevik party at the democratic and socialist stages of the revolution.

The Bolsheviks, who wanted to have a uniform Marxist tactical plan providing for united action by the masses in the revolution that had just started, called for the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party to convene its Third Congress without delay. All party organisations, Bolshevik and Menshevik, were invited to take part. The Mensheviks, however, refused to attend the congress and called a separate conference of their own in Geneva "Two congresses- two parties," said Lenin of the situation existing in Russian Social Democracy, The Third Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (April, 1906) worked out the strategy and tactics of the party in the bourgeois democratic revolution, defined the aim of the revolution, assessed the alignment of class forces and determined the principal means and forms of the struggle for power of the proletariat and the peasantry.

The resolutions adopted by the Bolshevik congress and the Menshevik conference expressed two different political lines to be pursued in the course of the revolution. Moreover, they were expressive of two quite dififferent approaches, one being revolutionary and the other reformist. The emergence of two contrary lines not only aggravated the split in the party but impaired the unity of action of the revolutionary forces in the revolution which had already begun.

In that situation unified party tactics could not be worked out by conciliating two opposed political lines or by finding a kind of "'middle road." If the revolution were to succeed, it was essential that the work of Russian Social Democracy be based on the political resolutions adopted by the Bolsheviks at their congress.

Lenin's book Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution (1905) was of great importance in this respect. In it Lenin substantiated the Bolsheviks' course for launching the revolution, exposed the Mensheviks' opportunist tactics, and enriched Marxism with his analysis of the character, distinctive features and driving force of the first Russian revolution.


Revolution had been maturing in Russia for many years, until, at the turn of the century, conditions arose indicating that it was about to break forth. By that time capitalism in Russia, as else where in the world, had entered its highest stage, imperialism, and was characterized by a sharpening of all the social and political contradictions of the capitalist system.

Imperialism in Russia had certain features not shared by other capitalist countries. In large-scale industry, capitalist monopolies developed at a rapid rate. Side by side with highly-developed capitalism were strong feudal survivals, economic and political. The latter were responsible for the most ruthless exploitation of the proletariat, extreme poverty of the peasants and brutal oppression of the non-Russian population.

The great concentration of the working class, its growing class-consciousness and organisation, the peasants' struggle for land, national unrest, and protests by progressive intellectuals, all served to put Russia into the foreground of the international revolutionary movement.

It brought the class struggle to a particularly sharp pitch in Russia, making the country the focal point of the contradictions in the whole capitalist network. Conditions were ripe for the social revolution, and it was knocking on the door.

What character would it assume?

The character of a revolution depends on what contradictions it has to resolve, on the production relations it sets out to destroy and those it sets out to establish.

The Bolsheviks saw the prospective revolution as a bourgeois revolution, that is, one aimed at smashing the survivals of serfdom and the monarchy. It was not its objective to create a society on socialist lines. It did not seek to abolish the capitalist mode of production. On the contrary, it expressed the needs of development of capitalism in Russia and was due to the sharp conflict that had arisen between the development of the productive forces and the semi-feudal relations of production.

The social and economic changes the revolution was to bring about (the overthrow of tsarism, sweeping away of social barriers, abolition of large private landholdings and of onerous forms of exploitation in industry and farming, etc.) would do nothing at all lo loosen the foundations of capitalism hut, on the contrary, would promote its more rapid progress.

Who was to carry out the bourgeois revolution in Russia?

We know from history that on some occasions bourgeois revolutions were accomplished by the bourgeoisie, while the people took part in them without advancing any political demands of their own. But we also know that in some other instances the people emerged as active makers of the new way of life. The former are instances of revolutions carried out by the industrial and trading bourgeoisie, and the latter, of democratic revolutions in which the people take an active and independent party putting forward political and economic demands of their own, "

The Bolsheviks formulated the principal tasks to be achieved in the bourgeois democratic revolution in their Minimum Programme, adopted at the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1903. The programme was further elaborated and developed in the course of the revolution, It included the following aims, which would be clear to the people and have their support: 
an eight-hour workday to be promptly introduced and workers' other demands (slate insurance, no deductions from pay, sanitary inspection, con­trol of female and child labor, and so on) to be met;
revolutionary peasant committees to be set up to carry out democratic reforms in the  country side, including confiscation of land from the landlords;
mass political strikes to be staged, the workers lo be armed, and a revolutionary army  to be set up;
the tsarist autocracy to he overthrown and re­ placed by a democratic republic;
political rights and freedoms to be introduced (namely. universal, equal and direct suffrage, broad local self-government, freedom of con­ science, and freedom of speech, of the press and assembly, the right to strike and form unions,the right to self-determination for all nationalities, election of judges, free compulsory general education and vocational training, and so on).

As we see, the gathering revolution was democratic in its tasks.

In assessing the first Russian revolution the Bolsheviks, however, did more than just recognize its bourgeois democratic character .

The Russian revolution, Lenin pointed out, was not an ordinary bourgeois democratic revolution of' the "old type"  but was possessed of a character of its own. Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 11, p. 370.

It was the first bourgeois democratic revolution in the period of imperialism to leave its stamp on this period and determine its particular features.

Early bourgeois democratic revolutions represented separate links in the chain of struggle between capitalism and feudalism and were expressions of the general process of the rise of the bourgeoisie lo power. The bourgeoisie was the leading force in those revolutions as it represented the relations of production which were the most advanced for that time and which determined the further progress of the productive forces.

The previous bourgeois democratic revolutions were popular as regards the forces that carried them through but they were not so judging by heir results. They invariably ended up with one handful of exploiters replacing another in government and altering the country's institutions to suit their own interests. Although the proletariat and the peasantry took an active part in such revolutions, they helped the bourgeoisie—consciously or unwittingly—because capitalist contradictions were yet undeveloped. The bourgeoisie, for its part aimed to suppress the revolutionary spirit of the people and make them accept "legal development "  to be exploited "in peace." The early bourgeois democratic revolutions were but short-lived Their character was not such as to rouse the mass of the people to anything like a sustained struggle The middle of the 19th century was a turning point in the history of Europe. The productive forces created under capitalism began to outgrow the capitalist relations of production. The advance of capitalist production brought the proletariat into the political arena. The bourgeoisie began to cast about amongst its own former opponents for support against the proletariat. The interests of the bourgeoisie became ever more closely identified with those of the upper classes. Many landlords began to traffic in financial operations or became factory owners, and many capitalists bought land. The bourgeoisie would no longer support the peasants' struggle for land as this was now seen as an attack on one kind of property that could well lead lo an attack on another kind.

As capitalism entered the stage of monopoly development, the imperialist bourgeoisie became over more counter-revolutionary. The bourgeoisie, by dint of its class position, was interested in settling its differences with the old regime through reform, and certainly not through revolution. The bourgeoisie's leadership of a bourgeois revolution was sufficient to threaten the collapse of the revolution.

The explanation of this paradox was that the productive forces had now outgrown the capitalist, as well as feudal, production relations, while the system of world imperialism as a whole had become ripe for a new social revolution, A bourgeois democratic revolution in the imperialist era was no longer able to bring the relations of production into correspondence with the character of the productive forces.

In the Russian revolution—the first bourgeois democratic revolution in the imperialist era—unlike the bourgeois revolutions of Western Europe of the period of rising capitalism, the bourgeoisie was no longer the principal driving force. There was a concurrence of economic and political interests of the Russian bourgeoisie and tsarism. The bourgeoisie was not interested in the overthrow of tsarism but merely sought certain bourgeois reforms to be carried out "from above"' in line with its class interests. The bourgeoisie saw the preservation of the monarchy and surviving elements of feudalism as an advantage, for it could rely on them to support it against the proletariat, which was becoming a strong political force. As the revolution developed, the Russian bourgeoisie became more and more counter-revolutionary until it finally sided with tsarism, joining the counter-revolutionary forces.

This was why it was necessary for the proletariat to head the bourgeois democratic revolution and not the bourgeoisie, as had been the case in the West.

Owing to proletarian leadership and proletarian methods of fighting tsarism, Lenin described the first Russian revolution as a proletarian revolution. At the same time he also called it a peasant revolution, as he considered the agrarian question, i.e., the abolition of landlordism, to be the economic basis and a particular national feature of the first Russian revolution. The peasants revolutionary struggle for land was an important component of the programme of the general democratic movement.

It must be remembered, too, that the first Russian revolution aroused the people throughout the land, whatever their nationality. The local proletariat and peasantry in the oppressed, distant provinces of Russia threw in their lot with the Russian working class and with the Bolshevik party the staunch champion of the interests of the working class and of the equality of all peoples. Thus, the first Russian revolution, which was bourgeois in character but which had democratic aims, was a truly popular revolution according to its driving forces. In the epoch of imperialism, it was not an end in itself any more but an important stage in the process of struggle between socialism and capitalism.

The Bolsheviks charted their political course on the basis of the character, specific features and driving forces of the first Russian revolution.