The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in the Russian Revolution

Lenin’s two-and-a-half-hour lecture consisted of two parts. In the first, Lenin surveyed the historical conditions which could, and did, produce such a “miracle” as the collapse of the tsarist monarchy in a matter of eight days. The most important of these was the “great rebellion” of 1905–07, so vilely denounced by the Guchkovs and Milyukovs, the present masters of the situation, who are moved to admiration by the “glorious revolution” of 1917. But had the really profound Revolution of 1905 not “ploughed up the ground”, had it not exposed to view all the parties and classes in action, had it not exposed the tsarist clique in all its barbarism and savagery, the swift victory of 1917 would not have been possible.

In 1917 a very exceptional conjuncture of circumstances made it possible to merge together the attacks of the most diverse social forces against tsarism. First, Anglo-French finance capital, which more than any other dominates and robs the whole world, opposed the Revolution in 1905 and helped the tsar crush it (the 1906 loan). But it took a very active and direct part in the present revolution, organising the conspiracy of the Guchkovs, Milyukovs and part of the army high command to depose Nicholas II or force him to make concessions. From the standpoint of world politics and international finance capital, the Guchkov-Milyukov government is no more than an agent of the banking firm “England and France”, an instrument for continuing the imperialist slaughter. Second, as a result of the military defeats sustained by tsarism, the old officer corps was replaced by new, young, predominantly bourgeois, officers. Third, the entire Russian bourgeoisie, which between 1905 and 1914, and particularly between 1914 and 1917, had intensively organised its forces, joined with the land lords in a common struggle against the decadent tsarist regime in the hope of enriching itself by seizing Armenia. Constantinople, Galicia, etc. Fourth, to these imperialist forces was added the deep-going and rapidly unfolding proletarian movement. The proletariat, which performed the revolution, demanded peace, bread and freedom. It had nothing in common with the imperialist bourgeoisie, and it gave leadership to the majority of the army, composed of workers and peasants. The conversion of the imperialist war into civil war has begun.

Hence, the basic contradiction of the present revolution—one that reveals it merely as the first stage of the first revolution brought about by the imperialist war. The Guchkov-Milyukov landlord and capitalist government can give the people neither peace, bread, nor freedom. It is a government for continuing the predatory war. It has openly declared that it will abide by the tsar’s international treaties, and these are all predatory treaties. At best, it might postpone the crisis, but it cannot ward off famine. Nor can it give the country freedom, no matter how many “promises” it makes (promises are cheap), because it is bound by the interests of landlordism and capital. From the very start it tried to arrange a deal with the dynasty, the object being to restore the monarchy.

That is why it would be the height of folly to adopt tactics of “supporting” the new government in the interests, supposedly, of “combating reaction”. That struggle requires the arming of the proletariat—the only serious, effective guarantee both against tsarism and attempts by the Guchkovs and Milyukovs to restore the monarchy.

Deputy Skobelev is therefore right in saying that Russia is “on the eve of a second, real [wirklich] revolution”.

The people’s organisation for this revolution already exists and is growing. That organisation is the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. And it is not for nothing that the agents of Anglo-French capital, the correspondents of The Times and Le Temps, are so anxious to discredit it.

A close study of the press reports relating to the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies led Lenin to conclude that there were three distinct trends in it. The first comes nearest to social-patriotism. It puts its trust in Kerensky, that hero of the empty phrase, that pawn in the hands of Guchkov and Milyukov, that representative of the worst type of “Louis Blanc politics”, past master of the empty promise and of the sonorous phrase in the spirit of the European social-patriots and social-pacifists à la Kautsky and Co. In reality, however, he “reconciles” the workers to the continuation of the predatory war. Through Kerensky the imperialist bourgeoisie tells the workers: We shall give you a republic, the eight-hour day (which has already been established in St. Petersburg), we promise you all the freedoms—but all this for the express purpose that you will help us rob Turkey and Austria, snatch from German imperialism its booty, and assure Anglo-French imperialism its booty.

The second trend is represented by the Central Commit tee of our Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The papers have published an extract from the Manifesto of our Central Committee, issued in St. Petersburg on March 18. It demands a democratic republic, the eight-hour day, confiscation of the landed estates and their transfer to the peasants, confiscation of grain stocks, immediate peace negotiations, conducted not by the government of Guchkov and Milyukov, but by the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. This Soviet, in the view of the Manifesto, is the real revolutionary government (Lenin added that The Times correspondent, too, speaks or two governments in Russia). Peace negotiations are to be conducted not with the bourgeois governments, but with the proletariat of all the warring countries. The Manifesto calls upon all workers, peasants and soldiers to elect delegates to the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.

These are the only really socialist, really revolutionary tactics.

The third trend is represented by Chkheidze and his friends. They are vacillating, and this is reflected in remarks of The Times and Le Temps, one minute praising, the next execrating them. When Chkheidze refused to enter the second Provisional Government, when he declared that the war was an imperialist war on both sides, etc., he was pursuing a proletarian policy. When, however, Chkheidze took part in the first Provisional Government (the Duma Committee); when, in §3 of his proclamation, he demanded “ausreichende Teilnahme der Vertreter der russischen Arbeiterschaft an der Regierung” (participation of internationalists in the government of the imperialist war!); when (together with Skobelev) he invited this imperialist government to open peace negotiations (instead of explaining to the workers that the bourgeoisie is bound hand and foot by the interests of finance capital which cannot break with imperialism); when friends of Chkheidze—Tulyakov and Skobelev—on the instructions of the Guchkov and Milyukov government try to “pacify” the soldiers who are rising against the liberal generals (the murder of Admiral Nepenin, bemoaned even by the German imperialists!)—then Chkheidze and his friends fall into the worst kind of “Louis Blanc politics”, follow a bourgeois policy and harm the revolution.

Lenin also attacked Gorky’s social-pacifist appeal and deplored the fact that the great writer was indulging in politics and reiterating petty-bourgeois prejudices.

The second part of his lecture Lenin devoted to an exposition of proletarian tactics. He described the peculiar historical situation of the present moment as a moment of transition from the first to the second stage of the revolution, from revolt against tsarism to revolt against the bourgeoisie, against the imperialist war, or transition to a Convention, into which the Constituent Assembly might he turned, if the government keeps its “promise” to convene it.

The special task of the moment, one that conforms to this transitional situation, is organisation of the proletariat. Not the routine type of organisation, to which the betrayers of socialism, the social-patriots and opportunists of all countries, as well as the Kautskyites, confine themselves, but a revolutionary organisation. It must, first, embrace the entire people and, second, combine military and government functions.

The opportunists, who hold sway in the Second Inter national, have distorted the doctrine of Marx and Engels on the state in the period of revolution. Kautsky likewise departed from Marx’s views[5] in his debate with Pannekoek (1912). Marx teaches us, on the basis of the experience of the Commune of 1871, that “die Arbeiterklasse nicht die fertige Staatsmaschine einfach in Besitz nehmen und sie für ihre eigenen Zwecke in Bewegung setzen kann”. Das Proletariat soll (mu&Bwhatthe;?) diese Maschine (Armee, Polizei, Bürokratie) zerbrechen[6]. Das ist es, was die Opportunisten (Sozialpatrioten) und Kautskyaner (Sozialpazifisten) entweder bestreiten oder vertuschen. Das ist die wichtigste praktische Lehre der Pariser Kommune und der russischen Revolution von 1905.

Wir unterscheiden uns vonden Anarchisten dadurch, da&Bwhatthe; wir die Notwendigkeit des Staates fur die revolutionäre Umwälzung anerkennen. Wir unterscheiden uns aber von den Opportunisten und Kautskyanern dadurch, da&Bwhatthe; wir sagen: Wir brauchen nicht die “fertige” Staatsmaschinerie, wie sie in den demokratischsten bürgerlichen Republiken existiert, sondern die unmittelbare Macht bewaffneter und organisierter Arbeiter. Das ist der Staat, den wir brauchen. Das sind, ihrem Wesen nach, die Kommune von 1871 und die Arbeiterdelegiertenräte von 1905 und 1917. Auf diesem Fundament müssen wir weiterbauen.[1] Prevent the re-establishment of the police! Build up the people’s militia into a genuine all people’s militia led by the proletariat, into “our state”, with the capitalists paying the workers for tune served in the militia. Supplement themiracles of proletarian heroism” which the proletariat displayed yesterday in battle with tsarism and will display tomorrow in battle with the Guchkovs and Milyukovs, with “miracles of proletarian organisation”. That is the slogan of the moment! That is the earnest of success!

The workers are being impelled onto that path by objective conditions: famine, the need to distribute grain stocks, the inevitability of “Zivildienstpflicht”[2] the need to secure peace. Our peace terms, Lenin said, are as follows: (1) The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, as a revolutionary government, declares forthwith that it is not bound by any treaties concluded by the tsarist government or the bourgeoisie; (2) it publishes at once all these vile, predatory treaties; (3) it openly proposes an immediate truce to all countries in the war; (4) it proposes the liberation of all colonies and of all oppressed nations as a condition of peace; (5) it declares that it has no confidence in any of the bourgeois governments and calls on the workers of all countries to overthrow them; (6) it declares that, since the war loans were contracted by the bourgeoisie, they must be paid by the capitalists.

This policy would attract to the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies the majority of workers and poor peasants. Confiscation of the landed estates would be assured. This would not yet be socialism. It would signify this victory of the workers and poor peasants, one that would assure peace, freedom and bread. For such peace terms we, too, would be prepared to fight a revolutionary war! Lenin recalled the statement made in No. 47 of Sotsial-Demokrat (October 13, 1915) that the Social-Democratic movement does not in advance renounce such a revolutionary war.[3] Assistance from the socialist proletariat of all countries would be assured. The foul appeals of the social-patriots (such as Guesde’s disgraceful letter: “First victory, then a republic”) would vanish like smoke.

The lecturer concluded with the words: “Long live the Russian Revolution! Long live the world workers’ revolution, which has already begun!”


[1] “The working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machine and wield it for its own purposes.” The proletariat must smashthis machine (the army, the police, the bureaucracy). It is this that the opportunists (the social-patriots) and Kautskyites (social pacifists) are denying or minimising. This is the most important practical lesson to be learned from the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution of 1905.

We differ from the anarchists in that we recognise that the state is necessary to carry out revolutionary transformations. But we differ from the opportunists and the Kautskyites in that we say: we do not need a “ready-made” state machine,such as exists in the most democratic bourgeois republics, but direct power of the armed and organised workers. That is the state that we need. In their essence the Commune of 1871 and the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies in 1905 and 1917 are just such a state. On this foundation we must build further.—Ed.

[2] “Civilian-service duty”.—Ed.


[4] The lecture “The Tasks of the R.S.D.L.P. in the Russian Revolution” (“The Russian Revolution, Its Significance and Tasks”) was delivered in German on March 14 (27), 1917 at a meeting of Swiss workers in the Zurich People’s House. Lenin gave a summary to Volksrecht, and later, on March 31 (April 13), when he was passing through Stockholm en route to Russia, also to the editors of the Swedish Left Social-Democratic Politiken, in which it appeared, slightly abridged, on April 15 (No. 86) under the heading: “Lenin on the Russian Revolution. Direct Peace Negotiations Between Peoples, Not Governments”.

[5] This is discussed in more detail in The State and Revolution, Chapter VI, §3, “Kautsky’s Controversy with Pannekoek” (see present edition, Vol. 25).

[6] See Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, The Civil War in France, Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association, and Engels’s Letter to L. Kugelmann, April 12, 1871; Marx and Engels, Preface to the German edition of the Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1962, pp. 332–33, 516–17; Vol. II. Moscow, 1962, pp. 463–64; Vol. I, p. 22).