Excerpts from the Classics: Theory of the Struggle for Progress and Socialism

November 9, 2002


Theory of the Struggle for Progress and Socialism

The quotations in this section deal with the subjective side, human activity, the theory of socialist revolution, what policies, activities, issues of struggle, forms of struggle and organizations are required to win progress and socialism. Such policies are treated as needing to be and ‘scientifically based and artfully applied.’ The sequence of sections in Part 3 goes from the most general and essential to the most particular.

1. Strategy & Tactics

This section begins with Lenin’s classic formulations of the theory of strategy and tactics and the methodology for working out a sound strategy. Marx and Engels did not use the term “strategy” and seldom spoke of “tactics”, though they certainly approached events using the main content of these concepts. Lenin spoke of “the tactic” for a historic period such as in the quote from “Two Tactics” on the Revolution of 1905. His first use of “strategy” came in 1920 in “Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder: An Essay in Marxian Strategy & Tactics.” After the basic theory is discussed, subsequent quotes deal with particular principles of methodology and their application, such as the role of elections, use of divisions in the ruling class, and the nature of a revolutionary situation. Engels has the last word with a brief quotation on how social reforms are won.

“It is particularly necessary to recognize the struggle against the autocracy for political liberties as the first political task of the working-class political party; this task should, in our opinion, be explained by an exposition of the class nature of the present-day Russian autocracy and of the need to overthrow it, not only in the interests of the working class, but also in the interests of social development as a whole. Such a description is essential both in regard to theory, because, from the standpoint of the basic ideas of Marxism, the interests of social development are higher than the interests of the proletariat – the interests of the working-class movement as a whole are higher than the interests of a separate section of the workers or of separate phases of the movement; and in regard to practice, the elucidation is essential because of the need to characterize the focal point to which all the variety of Social-Democratic activity – propaganda, agitation and organization – must be directed and round which it must be concentrated…”

Lenin, A Draft Programme of Our Party, end of 1899, CW, Vol.4, p.235-36

“The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, attracting to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the autocracy’s resistance by force and paralyze the bourgeoisie’s instability. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, forming an alliance with the mass of semi- proletarian elements of the population so as to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance by force and paralyze the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie.”

Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, 1905, CW, Vol.9, p.100

“Only an objective consideration of the sum total of reciprocal relations of all the classes of a given society without exception and consequently, a consideration of the objective stage of development of that society and of the reciprocal relations between it and other societies, can serve as a basis for correct tactics of the advanced class. At the same time, all classes and all countries are regarded not statically but dynamically, i.e., not in a state of immobility but in motion (the laws of which are determined by the economic conditions of existence of each class.).”

Lenin, Karl Marx, 1913, Forward, 1918, CW, Vol.21, p.75

“The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in different countries. It cannot be otherwise under commodity production. From this it follows irrefutably – that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will for some time remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois.”

Lenin, The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution, Sept.1916, CW, Vol.23, p.79

“‘We are Communists’ [the Blanquist communards wrote in their manifesto], ‘because we want to attain our goal without stopping at intermediate stations, without any compromises, which only postpone the day of victory and prolong the period of slavery.’ The German Communists are Communists because, through all the intermediate stations and all compromises created, not by them but by the course of historical developments, they clearly perceive and constantly pursue the final aim…The thirty-three Blanquists are Communists just because they merely imagine that, merely because they want to skip the intermediate stations and compromises, the matter is settled, and if “it begins” in the next few days – which they take for granted – and they take over power, “communism will be introduced” the day after tomorrow. If that is not immediately possible, they are not Communists. What childish innocence it is to present one’s own impatience as a theoretically convincing argument!’ (Engels, Programme of the Blanquist Communards, 1874)”

Lenin, quoting Engels, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.66-67

“The more powerful enemy can be vanquished only by exerting the utmost effort, and by the most thorough, careful, attentive, skilful and obligatory use of any, even the smallest, rift between the enemies, any conflict of interests among the bourgeoisie of the various countries and among the various groups or types of bourgeoisie within the various countries, and also by taking advantage of any, even the smallest, opportunity of winning a mass ally, even though this ally is temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional…Those who have not proved in practice, over a fairly considerable period of time and in fairly varied political situations, their ability to apply this truth in practice have not yet learned to help the revolutionary class in its struggle to emancipate all toiling humanity from the exploiters. And this applies equally to the period before and after the proletariat has won political power.”

Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.70-71

“The working class would, of course, prefer to take power peacefully.”

Lenin, A Retrograde Step in Russian Social-Democracy, End of 1899, CW, Vol.4, p.276

“…only an alliance of the Bolsheviks, with the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, only an immediate transfer of all power to the Soviets would make civil war in Russia impossible, for a civil war begun by the bourgeoisie against such an alliance, against the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, is inconceivable; such a ‘war’ would not last even until the first battle…

“The peaceful development of any revolution is, generally speaking, extremely rare and difficult, because revolution is the maximum exacerbation of the sharpest class contradictions; but in a peasant country, at a time when a union of the proletariat with the peasantry can give peace to people worn out by a most unjust and criminal war, when the union can give the peasantry all the land, in that country, at that exceptional moment in history, a ‘peaceful’ development of the revolution is possible and probable if all power is transferred to the Soviets. The struggle of parties for power within the Soviets may proceed peacefully, if the Soviets are made fully democratic…”

Lenin, The Russian Revolution & Civil War, Sept.29, 1917, CW, Vol.26, pp.36-7

It is not enough to be a revolutionary and an adherent of socialism or a Communist in general. You must be able at each particular moment to find the particular link in the chain which you must grasp with all your might in order to hold the whole chain and to prepare firmly for the transition to the next link; the order of the links, their form, the manner in which they are linked together, the way they differ from each other in the historical chain of events, are not as simple and not as meaningless as those in an ordinary chain made by a smith.”

Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, April 1918, CW, Vol.27, pp.272-73

“Revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters.)”

Lenin, Left-Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder, 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.85

“To the Marxist it is indisputable that a revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, it is not every revolutionary situation that leads to revolution. What, generally speaking, are the symptoms of a revolutionary situation? We shall certainly not be mistaken if we indicate the following three major symptoms: (1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes’, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way; (2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; (3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peace time’, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the ‘upper classes’ themselves into independent historical action.

“Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible. The totality of all these objective changes is called a revolutionary situation. Such a situation existed in 1905 in Russia, and in all revolutionary periods in the West; it also existed in Germany in the sixties of the last century, and in Russia in 1859-61 and 1879-80, although no revolution occurred in these instances. Why was that? It was because not every revolutionary situation gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over.”

Lenin, The Collapse of the 2nd International, June 19915, CW, Vol.21, p.213-14

“Elections are only one of the fields, and by no means the most important, most essential one (particularly in a revolutionary period) in which the socialist proletariat wages the struggle for liberty and for the abolition of all exploitation… “Therefore, for the class-conscious proletarian, election tactics can only be an adaptation of his general tactics to a particular struggle, namely, the election struggle; under no circumstances does this imply a change in the principles of his tactics, or the shifting of the ‘centre’ of these tactics.”

Lenin, “When You Hear the Judgement of a Fool…”, Jan.15, 1907, CW, Vol.11, p.457

“It is very easy to show one’s ‘revolutionary’ temper merely by hurling abuse at parliamentary opportunism, or merely by repudiating participation in parliaments; its very ease, however, cannot turn this into a solution of a difficult, a very difficult problem…

“It is because, in Western Europe, the backward masses of the workers and – to an even greater degree – of the small peasants are much more imbued with bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices than they were in Russia; because of that, it is only from within such institutions as bourgeois parliaments that Communists can (and must) wage a long and persistent struggle, undaunted by any difficulties, to expose, dispel and overcome these prejudices.”

Lenin, Left-Wing “Communism”, 1920, CW Vol.31, pp.63-65 Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare, Sept. 30, 1906 (Excerpt)

“What are the fundamental demands which every Marxist should make of an examination of the question of forms of struggle? In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognizes the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not ‘concoct’ them, but only generalizes, organizes, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class- consciousness of the masses grow, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognizing as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim whatever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by ‘systematizers’ in the seclusion of their studies….

“In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism. At different stages of economic evolution, depending on differences in political, national-cultural, living and other conditions, different forms of struggle come to the fore and become the principal forms of struggle; and in connection with this, the secondary, auxiliary forms of struggle undergo change in their turn. To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.

“These are the two principal theoretical propositions by which we must be guided. The history of Marxism in Western Europe provides an infinite number of examples corroborating what has been said.”

Lenin, Guerrilla Warfare, Sept. 30, 1906, CW, Vol.11, p.213-14

“Social reforms are never carried by the weakness of the strong, but always by the strength of the weak.”

Engels, The Free Trade Congress at Brussels, Sept. 1847, MECW, Vol.6, p.288

Experience of Struggle

This is a subsection of Strategy & Tactics about the role of mass struggle (or “organization” as Lenin often termed it), as distinct from the role of agitation and propaganda. Lenin discusses the tactical principle that asserts mass struggle is the main source of higher levels of consciousness for the millions. Quotations are given in chronological order.

“Of course, there is no suggestion in this that the ordinary day to day work of the Social Democrats should be abandoned. The Social Democrats will never give up that work, which they regard as the real preparation for the decisive fight. For they rely wholly and exclusively on the activity, the class consciousness and the organization of the proletariat, on its influence among the laboring and exploited masses.”

Lenin, The Aristocracy & the Proletariat, Jan.1905, CW, Vol.8, p.27

“It is our duty always to intensify and broaden our work and influence among the masses… Without this work political activity would eventually degenerate into a game.”

Lenin, On Confounding Politics with Pedagogics, 1905 CW Vol.8, p.453

“The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary, struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will.”

Lenin, Lecture on the 1905 Revolution, Jan. 1917, CW Vol.23,p.241

“..the millions of people will never heed the advice of parties if this advice does not coincide with what the experience of their own lives teaches them.”

Lenin, First All-Russia Congress of Peasant Deputies, May 17-June 10, 1917, CW, Vol 24, p.503

“For an entire class, the broad masses of the working people, those oppressed by capital, to take up … a position either of direct support for the vanguard, or at least of sympathetic neutrality toward it and of precluded support for the enemy … propaganda and agitation alone are not enough. For that, the masses must have their own political experience. Such is the fundamental law of all great revolutions.”

Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, 1920, CW Vol.31. p.92-93

“Revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone.”

Lenin, Left-Wing Communism, 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.84, LLL Ed, p.66

“If you want to help ‘the masses’ and to win the sympathy, confidence and support of ‘the masses,’ you must not fear difficulties, you must not fear the pin-pricks, chicanery, insults and persecution of the ‘leaders’ …, but must imperatively work wherever the masses are to be found.”

Lenin – Left-Wing Communism, 1920, CW, Vol.31, p.53, LLL Ed p.37

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