‘Democracy’ and Dictatorship: Choice between accepting people’s will and facing a violent revolution
Written: December 23, 1918
First Published: January 3, 1919 in Pravda No. 2
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Volume 28 (p. 368-72)
Transcription\Markup: Brian Baggins
Online Version: Lenin Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2000
A few numbers of the Berlin Red Banner and the Vienna Call (Weckruf) , organ of the Communist Party of German Austria, that have reached Moscow, showed that the traitors to socialism — those who supported the war of the predatory imperialists — the Scheidemanns and Kautskys, Austerlitzes and Renners [All who were far right German Social-Democrats] — are getting the rebuff they deserve from these genuine representatives of the revolutionary workers of Germany and Austria. We extend warm greetings to both papers, which epitomise the vitality and growth of the Third International.
Apparently the chief question of the revolution both in Germany and Austria now is: Constituent Assembly or Soviet government? The spokesmen of the bankrupt Second International, all the way from Scheidemann to Kautsky, stand for the first and describe their stand as defense of “democracy” (Kautsky has even gone so far as to call it “pure democracy”) as distinct from dictatorship. In the pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and Renegade Kautsky , which has just come off the press in Moscow and Petrograd, I examine Kautsky’s views in detail. I shall try briefly to give the substance of the point at issue, which has become the question of the day for all the advanced capitalist countries.
The Scheidemanns and Kautsky’s speak about “pure democracy” and “democracy” in general for the purpose of deceiving the people and concealing from them the bourgeois character of present-day democracy. Let the bourgeoisie continue to keep the entire apparatus of state power in their hands, let a handful of exploiters continue to use the former, bourgeois, state machine! Elections held in such circumstances are lauded by the bourgeoisie, for very good reasons, as being “free”, “equal”, “democratic” and “universal”. These words are designed to conceal the truth, to conceal the fact that the means of production and political power remain in the hands of the exploiters, and that therefore real freedom and real equality for the exploited, that is, for the vast majority of the population, are out of the question. It is profitable and indispensable for the bourgeoisie to conceal from the people the bourgeois character of modern democracy, to picture it as democracy in general or “pure democracy”, and the Scheidemanns and Kautskys, repeating this, in practice abandon the standpoint of the proletariat and side with the bourgeoisie.
Marx and Engels in their last joint preface to the Communist Manifesto (in 1872)[A] considered it necessary to specifically warn the workers that the proletariat cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made (that is, the bourgeois) state machine and wield it for their own purpose, but that they must smash it, break it up. The renegade Kautsky, who has written a special pamphlet entitled dictatorship of the proletariat, concealed from the workers this most important Marxist truth, utterly distorted Marxism, and, quite obviously, the praise which Scheidemann and Co. showered on the pamphlet was fully merited as praise by agents of the bourgeoisie for one switching to the side of the bourgeoisie.
It is sheer mockery of the working and exploited people to speak of pure democracy, of democracy in general, of equality, freedom and universal rights when the workers and all working people are ill-fed, ill-clad, ruined and worn out, not only as a result of capitalist wage slavery, but as a consequence of four years of predatory war, while the capitalists and profiteers remain in possession of the “property” usurped by them and the “ready-made” apparatus of state power. This is tantamount to trampling on the basic truths of Marxism which has taught the workers: you must take advantage of bourgeois democracy which, compared with feudalism, represents a great historical advance, but not for one minute must you forget the bourgeois character of this “democracy”, it’s historical conditional and limited character. Never share the “superstitious belief” in the “state” and never forget that the state even in the most democratic republic, and not only in a monarchy, is simply a machine for the suppression of one class by another.
The bourgeoisie are compelled to be hypocritical and to describe as “popular government”, democracy in general, or pure democracy, the ( bourgeois ) democratic republic which is, in practice, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the dictatorship of the exploiters over the working people. The Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Austerlitzes and Renners (and now, to our regret, with the help of Friedrich Adler) fall in line with this falsehood and hypocrisy. But Marxists, Communists, expose this hypocrisy, and tell the workers and the working people in general this frank and straightforward truth: the democratic republic, the Constituent Assembly, general elections, etc., are, in practice, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and for the emancipation of labor from the yoke of capital there is no other way but to replace this dictatorship with the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The dictatorship of the proletariat alone can emancipate humanity from the oppression of capital, from the lies, falsehood and hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy — democracy for the rich — and establish democracy for the poor, that is, make the blessings of democracy really accessible to the workers and poor peasants, whereas now (even in the most democratic — bourgeois — republic) the blessings of democracy are, in fact, inaccessible to the vast majority of working people.
Take, for example, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. The Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Austerlitzes and Renners assure the workers that the present elections to the Constituent Assembly in Germany and Austria are “democratic”. That is a lie. In practice the capitalists, the exploiters, the landowners and the profiteers own 9/10 of the best meeting halls, and 9/10 of the stocks of newsprint, printing presses, etc.. The urban workers and the farm hands and day laborers are, in practice, debarred from democracy by the “sacred right of property” (guarded by the Kautskys and Renners, and now, to our regret, by Friedrich Adler as well) and by the bourgeois state apparatus, that is, bourgeois officials, bourgeois judges, and so on. The present “freedom of assembly and the press” in the “democratic” (bourgeois democratic) German republic is false and hypocritical, because in fact it is freedom for the rich to buy and bribe the press, freedom for the rich to befuddle the people with venomous lies of the bourgeois press, freedom for the rich to keep as their “property” the landowners’ mansions, the best buildings, etc.. The dictatorship of the proletariat will take from the capitalists and hand over to the working people the landowners’ mansions, the best buildings, printing presses and the stocks of newsprint.
But this means replacing “universal”, “pure” democracy by the “dictatorship of one class”, scream the Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Austerlitzes and Renners (together with their followers in other countries — the Gomperses, Hendersons, Renaudels, Vandervelde and Co.).
Wrong, we reply. This means replacing what in fact is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie (a dictatorship hypocritically cloaked in the forms of the democratic bourgeois republic) by the dictatorship of the proletariat. This means replacing democracy for the rich by democracy for the poor. This means replacing freedom of assembly and the press for the minority, for the exploiters, by freedom of assembly and the press for the majority of the population, for the working people. This means a gigantic, world historic extension of democracy, its transformation from falsehood into truth, the liberation of humanity from the shackles of capital, which distorts and truncates any, even the most “democratic” and republican, bourgeois democracy. This means replacing the bourgeois state with the proletarian state, a replacement that is the sole way the state can eventually wither away altogether.
But why not reach this goal without the dictatorship of one class? Why not switch directly to “pure” democracy? So ask the hypocritical friends of the bourgeoisie for the naive petty-bourgeois and philistines gulled by them.
And we reply: Because in any capitalist society the powerful tell lies to either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat, while the small proprietors, inevitably, remain wavering, helpless, stupid dreamers of “pure”, i.e., nonclass or above class, democracy. Because from a society in which one class opposes another there is no way out other than through the dictatorship of the oppressed class. Because the proletariat alone is capable of defeating the bourgeoisie, of overthrowing them, being the sole class which capitalism has united and “schooled”, and which is capable of drawing to its side the wavering mass of the working population with a petty-bourgeois way of life, of drawing them to its side or at least “neutralizing” them. Because only mealy-mouthed petty-bourgeois and philistines can dream — deceiving thereby both themselves and the workers — of overthrowing capitalist oppression without a long and difficult process of suppressing the resistance of the exploiters. In Germany and Austria this resistance is not yet very pronounced because expropriation of the expropriators has not yet begun. But once expropriation begins the resistance will be fierce and desperate. In concealing this from themselves and from the workers, the Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Austerlitzes and Renners betray the interests of the proletariat, switching at the most decisive moment from the class struggle and overthrow of the yoke of the bourgeoisie to getting the proletariat to come to terms with the bourgeoisie, achieving “social peace” or reconciliation of exploited and exploiters.
Revolutions are the locomotives of history, said Marx. Revolutions teach quickly. The urban workers and farm hands in Germany and Austria will quickly discern the betrayal of the cause of socialism by the the Scheidemanns and Kautskys, the Austerlitzes and Renners. The proletariat will cast aside these “social traitors” — Socialists in word and betrayers of socialism in practice — as it did in Russia with the same kind of petty-bourgeois and philistines — the Mensheviks and ” Socialist Revolutionaries “. The more complete the domination of the above minded “leaders”, the quicker the proletariat will see that only the replacement of the bourgeois state, be it the most democratic bourgeois republic, by a state of the type of the Paris Commune (about which so much was said by Marx, who has been distorted and betrayed by the Scheidemanns and Kautskys) or by a state of the Soviet type, can open the way to socialism. The dictatorship of the proletariat will deliver humanity from capitalist oppression and war.
Moscow, December 23, 1918