A Class Shift

"The imperialist war is crushing the people and threatens to crush them completely. The petty-bourgeois democrats can perhaps stave off disaster for a while. But it is only the revolutionary proletariat that can prevent a tragic end."

Every revolution, if it is a real revolution, amounts to a class shift. Therefore, the best way of enlightening the people, and of fighting those who deceive the people by invoking the revolution, is to analyse the class shift that has taken or is taking place in the present revolution.

From 1904 to 1916, in the last years of tsarism, the relative positions of the classes in Russia became particularly clear. A handful of semi-feudal landowners, headed by Nicholas II, was in power and maintained the closest alliance with the financial magnates who were reaping profits unheard of in Europe and for whose benefit predatory treaties were concluded with foreign countries.

The liberal bourgeoisie, led by the Cadets, were in opposition. They were more afraid of the people than of reaction and were moving closer and closer to power by compromising with the monarchy.

The people, i.e., the workers and peasants, whose leaders had been driven underground, were revolutionary. They constituted the “revolutionary democrats”—proletarian and petty-bourgeois.

The revolution of February 27, 1917, swept away the monarchy and put the liberal bourgeoisie in power, who, operating in direct concord with the Anglo-French imperialists, had wanted a minor court revolution. Under no circumstances were they willing to go beyond a constitutional monarchy with an electoral system conditioned by various qualifications. And when the revolution actually went further, completely abolishing the monarchy and establishing Soviets (of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies), the entire liberal bourgeoisie became counter-revolutionary.

Now, four months after the revolution, the counter-revolutionary character of the Cadets, the main party of the liberal bourgeoisie, is as clear as day. Everyone sees that. And everyone is compelled to admit it. But not nearly everyone is willing to face up to it and think about what it implies.

Russia today is a democratic republic governed by a free agreement between political parties which are freely advocating their views among the people. The four months since February 27 have fully consolidated and given final shape to all parties of any importance, showed them up during the elections (to the Soviets and to local bodies), and revealed their links with the various classes.

In Russia, the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie are in power today, while the petty-bourgeois democrats, namely, the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties, have be come “His Majesty’s opposition”.[1] The policy of these parties is essentially one of compromise with the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. The petty-bourgeois democrats are rising to power by filling local bodies to begin with (just as the liberals did under tsarism—by first winning places in the zemstvos[2]). These petty-bourgeois democrats want to share power with the bourgeoisie but not overthrow them, in exactly the same way as the Cadets wanted to share power with the monarchy but not overthrow it. The petty-bourgeois democrats (the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks) compromise with the Cadets because of the close class kinship between the petty and the big bourgeoisie, just as the class kinship between the capitalist and the landowner, living in the twentieth century, made them embrace each other at the feet of their “adored” monarch.

It is the form of compromise that has changed. Under the monarchy it was crude, and the tsar allowed a Cadet no further than the Duma backyard. In a democratic republic, compromise has become as refined as in Europe, the petty bourgeoisie being permitted, in a harmless minority, to occupy harmless (for capital) posts in the Ministry.

The Cadets have taken the place of the monarchy. The Tseretelis and Chernovs have taken the place of the Cadets. Proletarian democracy has taken the place of a truly revolutionary democracy.

The imperialist war has hastened developments fantastically. Had it not been for this war, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks might have sighed for decades for ministerial posts. The same war, however, is hastening further developments. For it poses problems in a revolutionary rather than a reformist manner.

The Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties could have given Russia many a reform by agreement with the bourgeoisie. But the objective situation in world politics is revolutionary and it cannot be dealt with by reforms.

The imperialist war is crushing the peoples and threatens to crush them completely. The petty-bourgeois democrats can perhaps stave off disaster for a while. But It is only the revolutionary proletariat that can prevent a tragic end.


[1] The expression “His Majesty’s Opposition” was used by P. N. Milyukov, the Cadet leader. Speaking at a luncheon given by the Lord Mayor of London on June 19 (July 2), 1909, Milyukov said: “So long as Russia has a legislative chamber controlling the budget, the Russian opposition will remain an opposition of, and not to, His Majesty.”

[2] Zemstvos—rural self-government bodies set up in the central gubernias of tsarist Russia in 1864. They were dominated by the nobility, and their jurisdiction was limited to purely local economic and welfare matters—hospital and road building, statistics, insurance, etc. They functioned under the control of the governors of the gubernias and the Minister of the Interior, who could block any decisions the government found undesirable.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.