Constitutional Illusions



When I was just beginning this article, the closing down of Pravda was merely an “incident”, one that had not yet been legalised by the government. But now, after July 16, the government has formally closed Pravda down.

If viewed historically and as a whole, throughout the process of its preparation and realisation, this measure casts a remarkably bright light on the “nature of the constitution” in Russia and on the danger of constitutional illusions.

It is known that the Cadet Party, headed by Milyukov and the newspaper Rech, has been demanding repressive measures against the Bolsheviks ever since April. This demand for repression, presented in various forms—from “statesman-like” articles in Rech to Milyukov’s repeated cries “Arrest them” (Lenin and other Bolsheviks)—has been one of the major components, if not the major component, of the Cadet political programme in the revolution.

The Cadet Party had been systematically, relentlessly and continuously demanding repressive measures against the Bolsheviks long before Alexinsky and Co. in June and July invented and fabricated the foully slanderous charge that the Bolsheviks were German spies or were receiving German money, and long before the equally slanderous charge—running counter to generally known facts and published documents—of “armed uprising” or of “rebellion”. Since this demand has now been met, what are we to think of the honesty or intelligence of those who forget, or pretend to forget, the true class and party origin of this demand? How on earth can we help describing as crude falsification or incredible political stupidity the futile efforts of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks to make out they believe the “occasion” which presented itself on July 4 for the repressive measures against the Bolsheviks was an “accident” or an “isolated” incident? There must surely be a limit to the distortion of indisputable historical facts!

You have only to compare the movement of April 20–21 with that of July 3–4 to realise immediately that they are alike in character: both contained such objective facts as the spontaneous popular outburst of discontent, impatience and indignation, the provocative shots from the right, the killings on Nevsky, the slanderous outcries from the bourgeoisie, particularly the Cadets, to the effect that “it was the Lenin people who fired the shots on Nevsky”, the extreme aggravation and exacerbation of the struggle between the workers and the bourgeoisie, the utter confusion of the petty-bourgeois parties, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, and the tremendous range of vacillation in their policy and in their approach to the issue of state power generally. June 9-10 and June 18 give us just the same class picture in a different form.

The course of events is as clear as can be: it shows growing popular discontent, impatience and indignation and an increasing aggravation of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, particularly for influence over the petty-bourgeois masses. Linked with this are two very important historical developments which have made the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks dependent on the counter-revolutionary Cadets. These developments are, first, the formation on May 6 of a coalition Cabinet in which the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks turned out to be the hangers-on of the bourgeoisie, getting them selves more and more into a tangle by making deals and agreements with the latter, rendering them thousands of “services”, delaying the most essential revolutionary measures time and again; and secondly, the offensive at the front. The offensive inevitably implied the resumption of the imperialist war, a vast increase in the influence, weight and role of the imperialist bourgeoisie, the most widespread chauvinism among the people, and, last but not least[1] , the transfer of power—first military power and then state power generally—to the counter-revolutionary high-ranking army officers.

This was the course of historical events which between April 20–21 and July 3–4 deepened and sharpened class antagonisms, and which after July 4 enabled the counter revolutionary bourgeoisie to accomplish what on April 20–21 had stood out very clearly as their programme and tactics, their immediate aim and their “clean” methods, which were to lead to the achievement of that aim.

Nothing could be more pointless historically, more pitiful theoretically or more ridiculous practically than the philistine whining (echoed, incidentally, by L. Martov as well) over July 4, to the effect that the Bolsheviks “contrived” to defeat themselves, that this defeat came from their own “adventurism”, and so on, and so forth. All this whining, all these arguments to the effect that we “should not have” participated (in the attempt to lend a “peaceable and organised” character to the perfectly legitimate popular discontent and indignation!!), are either sheer apostasy, if coming from Bolsheviks, or the usual expression of the usual cowed and confused state of the petty bourgeoisie. In actual fact, the movement of July 3–4 grew out of the movement of April 20–21 and after as inevitably as summer follows spring. It was the imperative duty of the proletarian party to remain with the masses and try to lend as peaceable and organised a character as possible to their justified action rather than stand aside and wash its hands like Pontius Pilate, on the pedantic plea that the masses were not organised down to the last man and that their movement some times went to excesses—as though there had been no excesses on April 20–21, as though there had ever in history been a serious popular movement free of excesses!

The defeat of the Bolsheviks after July 4 followed with historical inevitability from the whole preceding course of events because on April 20–21 the petty-bourgeois masses and their leaders, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, were not yet tied by the offensive and had not yet got themselves into a tangle by their deals with the bourgeoisie in the “coalition Cabinet”, whereas by July 4 they had become so tied and entangled they could not but stoop to co-operation (in repressive measures, in slander, in butchery) with the counter-revolutionary Cadets. On July 4 the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks slid for good into the cesspool of counter-revolution; they had been steadily sliding towards it throughout May and June due to their role in the coalition Cabinet and their approval of the policy of offensive.

We may appear to have digressed from our subject, the closing down of Pravda, to a historical estimation of the events of July 4. But this only appears so, for the one can not be understood without the other. We have seen that, if we look into the matter and the interconnection of events, the closing down of Pravda, and the arrests and the other forms of persecution of the Bolsheviks are nothing but the realisation of the long-standing programme of the counter-revolutionaries, the Cadets in particular.

It would now be highly instructive to see who specifically carried out this programme, and by what means.

Let us have a look at the facts. On July 2–3 the movement was growing; the people were seething with indignation at government inaction, the high cost of living, economic dislocation and the offensive. The Cadets withdrew, playing a give-away game and presenting an ultimatum to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, leaving them, tied to power but lacking power, to pay for the people’s defeat and indignation.

On July 2–3 the Bolsheviks were trying to restrain the masses from action. This has been acknowledged even by an eyewitness from Dyelo Naroda, who reported on what took place in the Grenadier Regiment on July 2. On the evening of July 3, the movement overflowed its banks and the Bolsheviks drew up an appeal stressing that the movement must be “peaceable and organised”. On July 4, provocative shots from the right increased the number of victims of the firing on both sides. It should be pointed out that the Executive Committee’s promise to investigate the incidents, to issue bulletins twice a day, etc., etc., has remained an empty promise! The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks did nothing whatsoever, they didn’t even publish a complete list of the dead on both sides!!

On the night of July 4 the Bolsheviks drew up an appeal to stop the action and Pravda printed it that same night. But that same night, firstly, counter-revolutionary troops began to arrive in Petrograd (apparently upon the summons or with the consent of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, of their Soviets—a “delicate” point regarding which, of course, the strictest silence is maintained even now when every bit of need for secrecy is past!). Secondly, that same night military cadets and suchlike, clearly acting upon instructions from Polovtsev, commanding, and from the General Staff, began raids on the Bolsheviks. On the night of July 4–5, Pravda’s office was raided. On July 5 and 6, its printers’, “Trud”, was wrecked; a worker named Voinov was murdered in broad daylight for carrying Listok “Pravdy” from the printers’; house searches and arrests were made among the Bolsheviks and the revolutionary regiments were disarmed.

Who started it all? Not the government or the Soviet, but the counter-revolutionary military gang grouped around the General Staff and acting in the name of the “counter intelligence service”, circulating the lies of Pereverzev and Alexinsky in order to stir up the army, and so on.

The government is absent. So are the Soviets; they are trembling for their own fate as they receive message after message that the Cossacks may come and smash them up. The Black Hundred and Cadet press, which led the hounding of the Bolsheviks, is beginning to hound the Soviets.

The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have bound themselves hand and foot by their entire policy. Being bound, they called (or tolerated the calling of) counter revolutionary troops to Petrograd. And that bound them even more. They have sunk to the very bottom of the foul counter-revolutionary cesspool. They cravenly dismissed their own commission, appointed to investigate the “case” of the Bolsheviks. They basely betrayed the Bolsheviks to the counter-revolutionaries. They abjectly participated in the funeral procession of the Cossacks who were killed, and so kissed the hand of the counter-revolutionaries.

They are completely bound. They are at the bottom of the cesspool.

They try this, that and the other; they hand Kerensky the Cabinet, they go to Canossa to the Cadets, they organise a “Zemsky Sobor” or a “coronation” of the counter-revolutionary government in Moscow.[7] Kerensky dismisses Polovtsev.

But nothing comes of all those efforts. They in no way change the actual state of affairs. Kerensky dismisses Polovtstev, but at the same time gives shape and legality to Polovtsev’s measures and to his policy; he closes down Pravda, he introduces capital punishment for the soldiers, he bans meetings at the front, he continues to arrest Bolsheviks (even Kollontai!) in accordance with Alexinsky’s programme.

The “nature of the constitution” in Russia is coming out with striking clarity: the offensive at the front and the coalition with the Cadets in the rear have cast the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks into the cesspool of counter-revolution. In reality, state power is passing into the hands of the counter-revolutionaries, the military gang. Kerensky and the government of Tsereteli and Chernov are only a screen for it; they are compelled to legalise its measures, actions and policies post factum.

The haggling going on between the Cadets and Kerensky, Tsereteli and Chernov is of secondary importance, if not entirely unimportant. Whether the Cadets win in this haggling, or whether Tsereteli and Chernov hold out “alone”, will have no effect on the actual state of affairs. The fundamental, the main and decisive fact is that the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have swung over to the counter-revolutionaries (a swing forced by the policy they have been pursuing since May 6).

The cycle of party development is complete. The Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks have slid steadily downwards—from their expression of “confidence” in Kerensky on February 28 to May 6, which bound them to the counter revolutionaries, and then to July 5, when they touched rock bottom.

A new period is coming in. The victory of the counter revolutionaries is making the people disappointed with the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties and is paving the way for the masses to adopt a policy of support for the revolutionary proletariat.


[1] These four words are given in English by Lenin.–Ed. —Lenin

[2] The article “Constitutional Illusions” was first published in Rabochy i Soldat in 1917 and then appeared in pamphlet form under the title of “The Current Situation”. To prevent the suppression of the newspaper and ensure the secrecy of the Bolshevik Party’s preparations for an armed uprising, the editors substituted “ including its drastic forms” for “including armed struggle”.

[3] Lenin is referring to the Frankfurt Parliament, a national assembly convened in Germany in May 1848, after the March revolution. The majority in it was held by the liberal bourgeoisie, which engaged in fruitless talk on a draft constitution, while leaving power in the king’s hands.

[4] Reference is to Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1973, pp. 394–487).

[5] See Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1973, p. 480).

[6] See Frederick Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, Moscow, 1965.

[7] Reference is to the State Conference planned by the Provisional Government. It was called in Moscow on August 12 (25), 1917. Most of the delegates were landowners, members of the bourgeoisie, generals, officers and Cossack leaders. The Soviet delegation was composed of Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. The conference was expected to rally the counter-revolutionary forces of the bourgeoisie and landowners to defeat the revolution. Kornilov, Alexeyev, Kaledin and others put forward a programme for crushing the revolution. Kerensky threatened in his speech to put down the revolutionary movement and prevent seizures of the landed estates by the peasants. The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party called on the working class to join in a protest action against the conference. On the opening day of the conference the Bolsheviks organised a one-day general strike in Moscow involving over 400,000 people. Protest meetings and strikes took place in several other cities.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.