Severnaya Pravda No. 21
Published according to
From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1972
Vol. 13, pp. 325-27.
Translated from the Russian by Bernard Isaacs
Edited by Clemens Dutt
The working-class press has already reported and given its appraisal of the appeal to the Prime Minister made by Mr. Salazkin in Nizhni-Novgorod on behalf of the merchants of Russia in respect of the "urgent necessity" for radical political reforms. It is, however, worth while returning to the subject on account of two important circumstances.
How rapidly the United Nobility and the merchants of Russia have exchanged roles! For forty years or more, prior to 1905, the nobility played at liberalism and made respectful references to a constitution, while the merchants seemed more satisfied, less oppositional.
After 1905 the situation was reversed. The nobility turned arch-reactionary. The June Third constitution left them quite satisfied and they desired changes only insofar as they were farther to the right. The merchants, on the contrary, became a definitely liberal opposition.
All at once Russia became, as it were, "Europeanised", i.e., fitted into the usual European relations between feudals and bourgeoisie. It stands to reason that this happened only because purely capitalist relations had long been the basis of political grouping in Russia. They had been maturing since 1861 and rapidly reached full maturity in the fires of 1905. All the Narodnik phraseology about Russia's fundamental exceptionalism and all attempts to argue about Russian politics and Russian economics from a supra-class or extra-class position immediately lost all their interest and became boring, inept, ridiculously old-fashioned rubbish.
A step forward has been made; the harmful self-deception has been got rid of; the childish hope of achieving anything worth while and serious without class battles has been got rid of. Take the side of one class or another, help the consciousness and development of one class policy or another -- such is the stern but useful lesson taught in an affirmative form by the year 1905 and confirmed in a negative form by the experience of the June Third system.
The extra-class nonsense of the liberal intellectuals and petty-bourgeois Narodniks has been swept aside from the path of history. And a good thing too. It should have been done long ago!
On the other hand, take a look at the reformism of the liberal merchants of Russia. They announce the "urgent necessity for the reforms" recorded in the Manifesto of October Seventeenth. Everybody knows that the Manifesto speaks of "the unshakable foundations of civil liberty", "real inviolability of person", "freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association", and also "the further development of the principle of universal franchise".
Obviously, this is really a list of radical political reforms. Obviously, the implementation of even one of those reforms alone would constitute a great change for the better.
And now all the merchants of Russia, economically the most powerful class in capitalist Russia, demand all these reforms. Why is it that these demands have been treated by everyone with complete indifference, why does everyone think they lack seriousness -- everyone, from the Prime Minister who listened to them, ate and drank, replied, expressed his thanks and went away, down to that Moscow merchant who said that Salazkin's words were excellent but would not amount to anything?
Why is this?
It is because Russia is in that peculiar historical situation, which for a long time the big European states have not experienced (but which, at some time or other, occurred in each one of them), when reformism is particularly dull, ridiculous, impotent and, therefore, repellent. There is no doubt that the implementation of any of the reforms demanded by the merchants -- either freedom of conscience or freedom of association or any other freedom -- would mean a
great change for the better. Every advanced class -- first and foremost the working class -- would grasp with both hands the slightest reformist possibility of effecting any change for the better.
That is a simple truth that the opportunists just cannot understand when they make such a fuss about their sapient "partial demands", although the example of the excellent way the workers seized upon the "partial" (though real) insurance reform should have been a lesson to everybody.
But the point is that there is nothing "real " in the reformism of the liberals as far as political reforms are concerned. In other words -- everybody knows full well, both the merchants and the Octobrist-Cadet majority in the Duma, that there is not and cannot be the tiniest reformist path to any one of the reforms demanded by Salazkin. Everybody knows, understands and feels it.
For this reason there is more historical realism, historical reality and efficacy in a simple indication of the absence of a reformist path than there is in widely-broad cast, inflated, high-sounding nonsense about any reforms you like. He who knows that there is no reformist path and passes that knowledge on to others is doing a thousand times more in deed to utilise insurance and any other "possibility" for purposes of democratic progress than those who chatter about reforms and do not believe what they themselves say.
The truth that reforms are possible only as a by-product of a movement that is completely free of all the narrowness of reformism has been confirmed a hundred times in world history and is particularly true for Russia today. That is why liberal reformism is so dead. That is why the contempt for reformism on the part of democrats and of the working class is so much alive.