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Lenin, the revolutionary movement and parliamentarism

Translation of quotes of Lenin on the subject from the book by Shishkin and Znamensky 

Note; The dialectical connection between the aforementioned  two is that the necessity of the destruction of parliament without rejecting the use of it and benefiting from its contribution. Failing in the grasp of Marxist dialectics  results in seeing these two as " contradiction." The reformist embraces the first (parliamentarism)rejects the second (revolution), " far-left" embraces the second, rejects the first. In order to support their deviations, they quote Lenin's writings  without any regard to concrete conditions and situations of that given time and phase; the balance of powers between the proletariat and bourgeoisie, existence of objective and subjective conditions for the revolution. They generalize quotes from Lenin in a way that fits the justification of their deviation. Left tendency quotes Lenin where the conditions for revolution is ripe, or in some cases even  when the proletariat already toppled the bourgeoisie and they apply these quotes to conditions where there is no objective and subjective conditions for revolutions, even when the vast majority of population is reactionary and almost all have parliamentary illusion. The Right tendency, however to justify their tendency hand picks the quotes from Lenin where he writes for the situations where the revolutionary conditions do not exist, and apply that to the situations where there are revolutionary conditions. 

Although the quotes below mostly from february revolution and after October revolution, it contains important information on the attitude of Marxist Leninists toward parliamentarism.



... the struggle for reforms, for partial transformations does not in the least contradict the Marxist teaching. The point is that the struggle for reforms should be subordinated to the struggle for the victory of the revolution, should contribute to the development of the mass revolutionary movement, and not replace it. It was here that the fundamental differences came to light, the opposition of the tactics of revolutionaries and reformists.

.. In this regard, the question arose again about the possibility of a "peaceful" movement to the ultimate goal, movement by consistently winning back a long series of reforms, ultimately transforming the political and economic foundations of society and ensuring the transfer of power to the working class.

As already noted, V. I. Lenin categorically rejected the possibility of achieving success with the help of reforms that were not a by-product of the revolutionary movement and did not serve the development of this movement.

As for the question of peaceful development and the peaceful victory of the revolution, Lenin did not rule out that after the liquidation of autocracy and the conquest of political freedom, the proletariat would be able to take power by peaceful means, without resorting to revolutionary seizure, that is, to an armed uprising. However, such an outcome seemed highly unlikely.

Here is what Lenin wrote about this in 1899:

The working class would, of course, prefer to peacefully take power into its own hands ... but it would be on the part of the proletariat to renounce the revolutionary seizure of power, both from a theoretical and from a practical political point of view, recklessness would only mean a shameful concession to the bourgeoisie and all possessing classes.

It is very possible - even the most probable - that the bourgeoisie will not make a peaceful concession to the proletariat, but will resort to the defense of its privileges by force at the decisive moment. Then the working class will have no other way to achieve its goals, except for the revolution. 

... We note, Lenin wrote, that 

it would be ridiculous to renounce in the future a struggle on the basis of the Duma. We know that not only parliament, but also a parody of parliament, when there are no conditions for an uprising, can become the main center of all agitation for the entire period of time when there is no question of a popular uprising. 

... "In all countries of the world," wrote Lenin, 

there is, as a general rule, a more opportunistic composition of parliamentary representatives of workers 'parties in comparison with the composition of the workers' parties themselves.

Lenin found an explanation for this in various restrictions on the electoral rights of the most class-conscious and active part of the proletariat ...and also in the fact that “the non-proletarian elements of the workers 'parties - the officials of the workers' unions,  small proprietors, employees and, in particular, the "intelligentsia" - with any electoral right in a bourgeois society, it is easy (due to their occupation, position in "society", training, etc.) to specialize in the "parliamentary" profession. 

... With the connivance of the Socialist-Revolutionary-Menshevik leadership of the Petrograd Soviet, the preparation of the Constituent Assembly and the bills fell into the hands of officials and bourgeois, mainly Cadet, jurists. And the bourgeois jurists saw their task in the fact that the Constituent Assembly worked out such legal norms that would knit the revolution hand and foot, would prohibit by law the "secret", revolutionary solution of issues that worried the masses. ...

To discuss with the law professors a little longer, because, firstly, Bebel said that lawyers are the most reactionary people in the world; and, secondly, the experience of all revolutions teaches that the cause of people's freedom perishes when it is entrusted to professors. 

... Later, Lenin noted that

 in Russia in September-November 1917, the working class of cities, soldiers and peasants were, due to a number of special conditions, extremely prepared for the adoption of the Soviet system and for the dispersal of the most democratic bourgeois parliament, this is absolutely indisputable and a well-established historical fact.

... The petty bourgeoisie, Lenin wrote, 

does not have and cannot have an independent "line", since its dual, intermediate position in society determines the inevitability of fluctuations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

“In order for the majority of the people to become a real majority in governing the state, to really serve the interests of the majority, to really protect their rights, and so on, a certain class condition is needed for this. This is the condition: the joining of the majority of the petty bourgeoisie, at least at the decisive moment and in the decisive place, to the revolutionary proletariat. " 

... and, among other things, noted this feature of the Soviet state apparatus: 

... it makes it possible to combine the benefits of parliamentarism with the benefits of direct democracy,  that is, to unite in the person of the elected representatives of the people both the legislative function and the implementation of laws. Compared to bourgeois parliamentarism, this is a step forward in the development of democracy, which has a world-wide historical significance. 

"If the people's creativity of the revolutionary classes did not create the Soviets," concluded Lenin, 

then the proletarian revolution in Russia would be a hopeless affair, for with the old apparatus the proletariat, undoubtedly, could not retain power, and the new apparatus cannot be created immediately.

... And on October 27, 1917, the Council of People's Commissars published, signed by Lenin, a resolution on holding elections to the Constituent Assembly at the appointed time - in November 1917.

... The lag of the political consciousness of the broad, primarily petty-bourgeois, masses from the actual course of the revolution was ultimately inherited from the period of the domination of the bourgeoisie, predetermined by the duality of the class nature of the petty bourgeois, the inevitability of his vacillation between the demands of "reason" and "prejudice."

 “These strata of working and exploited people,” wrote V. I. Lenin, 

provide the vanguard of the proletariat with allies with whom it has a solid majority of the population, but the proletariat can win these allies only with the help of such an instrument as state power, that is, only after the overthrow the bourgeoisie and the destruction of its state apparatus . ... To think that we will not be thrown back is a utopia. Historically it cannot be denied that Russia created the Soviet Republic. We say that in every leaning back, without abandoning the use of bourgeois parliamentarism,- if class, hostile forces drive us to this old position, - we will go to what has been gained by experience, -to Soviet power, to the Soviet type of state ... 

... Lenin consistently exposed the anti-popular essence of the pseudo-parliamentarism of various regimes created mainly by the Social Revolutionaries, members of the dispersed Constituent Assembly, who sought to establish a petty-bourgeois dictatorship on behalf of the so-called "third force", which allegedly fought on two fronts: both against Soviet power and against reaction.

Lenin convincingly showed the inconsistency of this "third way", which served as a cover for the counter-revolutionary plans of the bourgeoisie, landlords, and White Guards, who at first could not come up with their own slogans, which did not enjoy any support from the people.

Describing various "representative institutions" and "democratic governments" that arose on the outskirts of the country at the Tenth Congress of the RCP (B.), V. I. Lenin said:

All of them came with slogans of equality, freedom, constituent members, and they not once, but many times turned out to be a simple step, a bridge for the transition to White Guard power."

Such were, for example, the Socialist Revolutionary Committee of the Constituent Assembly members in Samara (Komuch), the West Siberian Commissariat, the Siberian Regional Duma, the Provisional Government of Autonomous Siberia, the Provisional Government of the Northern Region, etc. speeches in Saratov, Kozlov, Tambov (May - June 1918) clearly saw an attempt to establish "the power of landowners, capitalists and their friends, hiding behind the beautiful slogans of the Constituent Assembly ...

Even earlier, the "Constituent illusion" of the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries was used as a cover for the counter-revolutionary mutinies of Krasnov, Dutov, Kaledin. However, the failure of a kind of "intermediate parliamentarism", the futility of attempts by petty-bourgeois leaders to create bourgeois-democratic parliamentary regional state formations amid a fierce struggle between two antagonistic classes, was most fully manifested in the activities of the Committee of Members of the Constituent Assembly (Samara Constituent Assembly), as well as "democratic governments" in Siberia.

On July 4, 1919, in a report on the current situation and the immediate tasks of Soviet power, V. I. Lenin gave a clear class assessment of the institutions of "democracy" and "parliamentarism" generated by the middle line of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks in the revolution.

Here they talked about the“ middle, ”and I know perfectly well that the Right Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks dream about this middle, that the best people from these intermediate parties dream quite sincerely about this middle, but we know from the experience of entire countries, from the experience of peoples that these are empty dreams, because there is no middle ground in this realm of the Constituent Assembly, where the Chernovs and Maiskys once again began their ministerial careers and where a complete collapse occurred. Is this an accident or a Bolshevik slander? ..

This once again confirms that the Bolsheviks are right when they say: either the dictatorship of the working class, the dictatorship of all working people and the victory over capitalism, or the dirtiest and bloodiest rule of the bourgeoisie up to the monarchy that Kolchak established, as it was in Siberia.

By the end of September 1918, in this peculiar dwarf parliament of a predominantly one-party Socialist-Revolutionary composition, there were a little less than a hundred members of the former All-Russian Constituent Assembly, who had gathered in the Volga region. The "democracy" of the Socialist-Revolutionaries immediately gave the first misfire as soon as it was recognized that the publicity and publicity of Komuch's meetings "should be recognized as impossible under the present conditions." The bourgeois-democratic freedoms declared by Komuch soon came into clear contradiction with his practical policy, and the constituent assembly itself slipped more and more onto the path of restoring the power of the capitalists and landowners. The Social Revolutionaries legally liquidated the rights of the Soviets, abolished all decrees adopted in the interests of the people: on peace, on land, court, on the separation of school from church, on the press, nationalization of industry and banks. Contrary to the promises to establish genuine "democracy" and "popular rule", a decision was made "On the restriction of the electoral rights of employees of Soviet institutions and the Red Army"; trade unions, factory committees and other public organizations have lost their former significance. Freedom of speech and press was restored only for the White Guards and the bourgeoisie, while the newspapers of the Bolsheviks, Left SRs, Maximalists and Anarchists were closed. ...

By the fall of 1918, all the Socialist-Revolutionary governments and "representative" institutions on the territory of Russia, all these fragments of parliamentarism did not stay in the notorious "middle" and, as Lenin pointed out, gave way and power to the open White Guard dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and landowners. Thus, the attempts of the "third force" to create the newly minted parliamentary state formations of "pure" democracy have failed completely. 

... By a resolution of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of November 30, 1918, the decree on the removal of Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries from the Soviets was canceled, they were allowed to put up lists for elections to the Soviets, conduct legal activities of party organizations and publish the central organ of the Mensheviks - the newspaper "Always Forward."

... At the turn of 1918-1919, the IX Soviet of Socialist-Revolutionaries made a decision to change the position of its party and to renounce an armed struggle against Soviet power. At the same time, the All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP (Mensheviks) also revised the political line of the party. The resolution of the conference rejected all plans for the violent overthrow of Soviet power and ... it was recognized that "at present the slogan of the Constituent Assembly could be used as a banner and cover for direct counter-revolution, and that even new elections held in such an environment would threaten to make the Constituent Assembly not an organ of revolution, but an organ of counter-revolution," and therefore the party should temporarily accept "the Soviet system as a fact of reality, and not as a principle", while remaining still a supporter of "democracy".

... This form was perfected in countries with old parliamentary traditions, where capitalist propaganda for decades has implanted myths about representative institutions as the conquest of "democracy in general", "pure democracy" with the capitalists, using the corrupt press and by all means using the power of money, the power of capital. "

... The most important issues: war, peace, diplomatic issues are resolved by an insignificant handful of capitalists who deceive not only the masses, but even often deceive the parliament. There is no parliament in the world that would ever say anything serious about the issue of war and peace! 

... the parliamentary activity of socialist parties, according to V.I. Lenin, 

cannot be turned into an end in itself. Socialists must use bourgeois parliamentarism and all other forms of bourgeois democracy in the broadest possible form only in order to "prepare the masses for the revolution.

Therefore, the parliamentary activity of socialist parties in the conditions of a more or less "calm" development of bourgeois society was viewed by Lenin as an additional tactical weapon that, along with other forms of party work, served the task of the revolutionary education of the masses.

Socialists, fighters for the liberation of workers from exploitation, had to use the bourgeois parliaments as a platform, as one of the bases for propaganda, agitation, organization, while our struggle was limited to the framework of the bourgeois system... “Bernsteinians accepted and accept Marxism with the exception of its directly revolutionary side. They see the parliamentary struggle not as one of the means of struggle, suitable especially in certain historical periods, but as the main and almost exclusive form of struggle, making "violence", "seizure", "dictatorship" unnecessary. 

... At the end of 1919, Lenin wrote:

... to limit the struggle of the classes to the struggle within parliament, or to regard this latter as the highest, decisive, subordinating to itself the other forms of struggle, means in fact to go over to the side of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat ..... in a class society only one dictatorship is possible: either the dictatorship of the proletariat or the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

The attempt to combine both of these dictatorships was, in Lenin's opinion,

a complete renunciation of both Marxism and socialism in general. ... Now that world history has placed on the order of the day the question of the destruction of this entire system, of the overthrow and suppression of the exploiters, of the transition from capitalism to socialism, now we confine ourselves to bourgeois parliamentarism ...it means shamefully betraying the proletariat, going over to the side of its class enemy, the bourgeoisie, being a traitor and a renegade.

... V. I. Lenin in his article "One of the fundamental questions of the revolution" (September 1917) wrote:

... it always turns out such a thing, with all kinds of“ coalition ”ministries with the participation of“ socialists ”, that these socialists, even under the condition of the complete conscientiousness of certain individuals from among them, in fact turn out to be an empty decoration or a screen for the bourgeois government, a lightning rod of popular indignation from of this government, an instrument of deceiving the masses by this government. 

...V. I. Lenin, recognizing some of the positive aspects of bourgeois parliamentarism and noting that representative institutions provide certain opportunities for intensifying the political struggle of the proletariat against capitalism, nevertheless considered the parliamentary activity of the socialists only as an auxiliary and additional tactical weapon of the class struggle of the proletariat and its parties.

Moreover, any slippage from this point of view, any exaggeration of the role of parliament and bourgeois democracy in the revolutionary movement and enthusiasm for an exclusively parliamentary opposition struggle (brought by the reformists to the level of "parliamentary cretinism" and "parliamentary idiocy") he qualified as a direct betrayal of the interests of the working class principles and ideals of socialism.

Lenin saw the path to the victory of socialism primarily in the organization of the class struggle of the proletariat in its most effective mass forms (strike, political demonstration and  armed uprising, etc.).

The development and support of precisely these forms was to be served by the genuinely revolutionary parliamentary activity of the parties of the working class, cleansed of the vulgarization of opportunists.

... according to Lenin: 

In no case should we refuse (except in special cases, in the form of an exemption) from the use of parliamentarism and all the“ freedoms ”of bourgeois democracy, not refuse reforms, but consider them only as a by-product of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat 

... Anti-parliamentarism as one of the manifestations of "leftism", firstly, was a naive reaction of revolutionary-minded workers to parliamentary cretinism and venality of the reformist leaders of social democracy and was caused by an ardent desire for a revolutionary struggle; secondly, it reflected the instability of the petty-bourgeois elements in the communist movement, inclined to display "revolutionary impatience" and revolutionaryism in spite of the real situation;

finally, thirdly, it testified to the political inexperience, partly even the sectarianism of some leaders of the communist parties, to the lack of understanding that the mobilization of the masses to overthrow the bourgeois system is impossible without comprehensive preparation, the use of all forms of legal and illegal work, including parliamentary activity.

.. The work of the communists within or "from within" the parliament, as V. I. Lenin put it, had to pursue two main goals.

First, by oppositional activities within reactionary and even counterrevolutionary bourgeois representative institutions, to support the mass actions of the proletariat, which were seen as the main ones; secondly, to use the parliamentary tribune to overcome the parliamentary prejudices of the masses and educate them in a revolutionary spirit.

... However, the use of parliament in the conditions of the peaceful development of the revolution can in no way be equated with the parliamentary path to socialism, since such a formulation is not much different from the "parliamentary socialism" of opportunists who see the whole meaning of the revolutionary struggle in parliamentary fuss around reforms that are supposedly capable of gradually leading to "growing capitalism into socialism."

If during Lenin's lifetime "parliamentary socialism" was expressed mainly in the theoretical exercises of the reformists, whose inconsistency and incompatibility with Marxism were brilliantly shown and has been fully confirmed in practice.

 "The most convincing proof of the inconsistency of the theory of" gradual growth into socialism ", - Ib Nörlund writes, - is that, in practice, in no case has it led to socialist transformations of society, even there,  where the Social Democratic parties have for many years been part of governments and have a majority in parliament. By this, they only proved that such a majority did not lead the working classes to the possession of real political power in society, it only allowed these parties to assume the functions of administrators in the state apparatus, which still served as an instrument of power for monopoly capital. "

... Member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Finland E. Tuominen, describing the post-war revolutionary process in Europe, writes:

In 1947-1948. the communists were removed from the governments of a number of capitalist countries, including Finland, as they failed to timely organize sufficiently strong actions of the working people. Representatives of the Communist Parties in governments and parliaments boldly defended the interests of the working people, but then relied too much on the success of their speeches, on the possibility of resolving controversial issues by parliamentary means, and hesitated to mobilize the masses for new actions in the struggle. 

Of no small importance for the international communist movement is the Chilean experience associated with the three-year tenure of the Government of Popular Unity headed by S. Allende (1970-1973). This experience, on the one hand, confirmed the possibility of the victory of the democratic revolution by peaceful constitutional means and partial use of the legislative power (the president) and the executive power subordinate to him (the government) in the interests of the working people.  On the other hand, in the opinion of the leaders of the Communist Party of this country themselves, they "made one of the most serious mistakes, overestimating the democracy of the state system in Chile, and did not take timely measures to transform it."

... at the beginning of the 70s, V. Teitelboim, a member of the Political Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, writes:

If, after the victory in the elections, widespread offensive actions of the majority of the people do not unfold, aimed at transforming it into real power, which the masses would be ready and able to maintain and defend, despite all obstacles, despite all attempts by internal and external opponents not to recognize or eliminate this power - if this is not achieved, then defeat is possible and even inevitable. 

... However, despite the strengthening of the positions of the communists and left-wing parties in the parliaments of capitalist countries, the main direction of the representative institutions is still controlled by the big monopoly bourgeoisie. This is best evidenced by the powerful pressure on Italy by the imperialist circles of the United States and the NATO leadership. Their threats of economic and financial sanctions, if the communists, having achieved such an impressive success in the 1976 elections, are allowed to lead the country, once again showed that the election results are by no means the decisive condition that would ensure a turn towards democracy and socialism.

 As soon as democratic freedoms begin to threaten the interests of monopoly capital, he makes every effort to limit them.

... The main criterion of loyalty to Marxism-Leninism in the interpretation of this issue was and remains the recognition of the need for the conquest of political power by the working class and its allies through the use of the most effective mass extra-parliamentary forms of class struggle, without which parliamentarism as a factor of revolution and parliamentary activity as a tactical weapon lose  revolutionary meaning.

The success of the parliamentary work of the Communist Parties of the capitalist countries is not an end in itself.

In modern conditions, as before, they can and should be regarded only as a means of strengthening the extra-parliamentary class struggle of the proletariat, which is the only one that can pave the way for radical socio-economic and political transformations, for anti-monopoly democracy, and for socialism.

Any other assessment of the problem under consideration would inevitably lead to a slide towards the position of reformism.

Excerpts from the book

Translated by S. M

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