Constitutional Illusions



When lashing the petty-bourgeois “Social-Democrats” of 1848, Marx was particularly severe in his condemnation of their unrestrained use of empty phrases about “the people” and the majority of the people in general.[4] It is well to recall this in examining the second idea, in analysing constitutional illusions about a “majority”.

For the majority in the state to really decide, definite conditions are required, one of which is the firm establishment of a political system, a form of state power, making it possible to decide matters by a majority and guaranteeing the translation of this possibility into reality. That is one thing. Another is that the class composition of this majority and the interrelation of classes inside (and outside) it should enable it to draw the chariot of state concertedly and effectively. Every Marxist knows that these two concrete conditions play a decisive part in the question of a popular majority and of the direction of state affairs in line with the will of the majority. And yet the political literature of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and their political conduct even more so, betray a complete lack of understanding of these conditions.

If political power in the state is in the hands of a class whose interests coincide with those of the majority, that state can be governed truly in line with the will of the majority. But if political power is in the hands of a class whose interests diverge from those of the majority, any form of majority rule is bound to become deception or suppression of the majority. Every bourgeois republic provides hundreds and thousands of examples of this kind. In Russia, the bourgeoisie rule both the economic and political life. Their interests, particularly during the imperialist war, violently conflict with the interests of the majority. Hence, from a materialist and Marxist, and not from a formally juridical point of view, we must expose this conflict, and combat bourgeois deception of the people.

Our Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, on the contrary, have fully demonstrated and proved that their true role is to be an instrument of the bourgeoisie for deceiving the people (the “majority”), to be the vehicle of that deception and contribute to it. However sincere individual Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks may be, their fundamental political ideas—that it is possible to break free of the imperialist war and gain “peace without annexations and indemnities” without the dictatorship of the proletariat and the triumph of socialism, and that it is possible to secure the transfer of land to the people without compensation and establish “control” over production in the people’s interests without the same condition—these fundamental political (and, of course, economic) ideas of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks are, in practice, nothing but petty-bourgeois self-deception, or deception of the masses (the “majority”) by the bourgeoisie, which is the same thing.

That is our first and main “amendment” to the majority issue as understood by the petty-bourgeois democrats, socialists of the Louis Blanc type, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. What, in fact, is the value of a “majority” when a majority is in itself only a formal thing and when materially, in actual fact, that majority is a majority of the parties through which the bourgeoisie deceive the majority?

And, of course—and this leads us to our second “amendment”, to the second of the above-mentioned fundamental conditions—this deception can only be properly understood by ascertaining its class roots and class meaning. This is not self-deception, not (to put it bluntly) a “swindle”, but an illusory idea arising out of the economic situation in which a class finds itself. The petty-bourgeois is in such an economic position, the conditions of his life are such that he cannot help deceiving himself, he involuntarily and inevitably gravitates one minute towards the bourgeoisie, the next towards the proletariat. It is economically impossible for him to pursue an independent “line”.

His past draws him towards the bourgeoisie, his future towards the proletariat. His better judgement gravitates towards the latter, his prejudice [5] (to use a familiar expression of Marx’s) towards the former. For the majority of the people to become an actual majority in state administration, the actual servant of the interests of the majority, and the actual protector of its rights, and so on, a certain class condition is required, namely, that the majority of the petty bourgeoisie should join forces with the revolutionary proletariat, at least at the decisive moment and in the decisive place.

Without this, a majority is mere fiction which may prevail for a while, may glitter and shine, make a noise and reap laurels, but is absolutely and inevitably doomed to failure nonetheless. This, incidentally, was where the majority of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks came to grief, as the Russian revolution showed in July 1917.

Further, a revolution differs from a “normal” situation in the state precisely because controversial issues of state life are decided by the direct class and popular struggle to the point of armed struggle. It cannot be otherwise when the masses are free and armed. This fundamental fact implies that in time of revolution it is not enough to ascertain the “will of the majority”—you must prove to be stronger at the decisive moment and in the decisive place; you must win. Beginning with the Peasant War in the Middle Ages in Germany, and throughout all the big revolutionary movements and epochs, including 1848, 1871 and 1905, we have seen innumerable examples of the better organised, more politically-conscious and better armed minority forcing its will upon the majority and defeating it.

Frederick Engels particularly stressed the lesson to be drawn from experience, a lesson which to some degree is common to the peasant revolt of the sixteenth century and to the Revolution of 1848 in Germany, namely, disunity of action and lack of centralisation on the part of the oppressed owing to their petty-bourgeois status in life.[6] Examining the matter from this point of view, we come to the same conclusion, namely, that a simple majority of the petty-bourgeois masses does not and cannot decide anything, for the disunited millions of rural petty proprietors can only acquire organisation, political consciousness in action and centralisation of action (which is indispensable for victory) when they are led either by the bourgeoisie or by the proletariat.

In the long run we know that the problems of social life are resolved by the class struggle in its bitterest and fiercest form—civil war. In this war, as in any other war—a fact also well known and in principle not disputed by anyone—it is economics that decide. It is quite typical and significant that the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, while not denying this “in principle” and while realising perfectly the capitalist character of Russia today, dare not face the truth soberly. They are afraid to admit the truth that every capitalist country, including Russia, is basically divided into three main forces: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The first and third are spoken of and recognised by all. Yet the second—which really is the numerical majority!—nobody cares to appraise soberly, neither from the economic, political nor military point of view.

Truth does not flatter. That is why the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks shrink from recognising themselves.