G. Sinoviev

The Bolsheviki and the Hegemony
of the Proletariat

(12 April 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 32 [14], 12 April 1923, pp. 267–268.
On-line Publication: Zinoviev Internet Archive, October 2021.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Should we wish to express in a single phrase the essential character of Bolschevism, and the role played by it in the history of the Russian revolution, we should say: it stands for the hegemony of the proletariat. The real line of division between revolutionary Marxism and every description of “popular” policy, and later on the difference between the two currents within the so-called legal Marxism, between Bolshevism and Menshevism, between “Pravdism” and “liquidatorism” lies in this question of the hegemony of the proletariat. This has been the fundamental antagonism from which have sprung all other antagonisms. This has formed the actual knotty point of all antagonisms. The question of the hegemony of the proletariat has been the problem of problems.

The present formula is: Democracy or dictatorship? But the essential question asked in this formula is again solely, the problem of the hegemony of the proletariat, it is nothing more nor less than the reverse side of this problem.

In the Russian revolution, the founders of the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat were Plechanov and Lenin. The “slight” difference existing between Plechanov and Lenin lies only in the fact that Plechanov, who appeared earlier in the political arena than Lenin, was the first to proclaim the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the Russian revolution, but afterwards betrayed this idea at the most important moment in Russia’s political history, while Lenin remained true to this fundamental idea for 30 years, pursued it through all the difficult stages of the Russian struggle for emancipation, and founded a party which has realised the idea.

At the Paris international congress of the 2nd International, held in 1889, Plechanov, then the undisputed leader of all revolutionary Marxists in Russia and the intellectual ruler of the then Marxian intelligenzia, uttered the historical truth: “The Russian revolution conquers either as a revolution of the working class, or it does not conquer at all.”

This was the shortest and most clear-out formulation of the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat. The present generation of Bolsheviki, the working youth of today, may find this thesis of Plechanov’s a platitude. Is there any conscious revolutionist today who does not realize that it was only the working class who could be the main power accomplishing the victorious Russian revolution? But at the end of the eighties, Plechanov’s words were a discovery, not only for international socialism, but for the Russian labor movement of that time. Plechanov “discovered” the working class in Russia just as Marx and Engels “discovered” the working class in all the capitalist countries in Europe. During the period preceding the historical declaration made by Plechanov, the then revolutionary or rather the popularly inclined intelligenzia leant for support on the “people”, that is, on the ‘peasantry.’ For these, popularly inclined elements the working class existed at best as an auxiliary force, as a group of the population which might contribute to the victory over despotism. It was a very great concession when one of the greatest leaders of the “ Narodnayavolya” (The will of the people), Lev Tichomirov, admitted that even the working class was of great importance “for the revolution”, And Plechanov had to demonstrate in detail that if this formula were to be made correct, it was necessary to reverse it, to say that “the revolution was of great importance for the working class ”.

In 1903 Plechanov was still faithful to the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat; he betrayed it for the first time in 1905, that is, precisely at the moment when the great revolution approached, the revolution which served as a full dress rehearsal for the events of the year 1917; precisely at the moment when the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat had to pass through the fiery test of an actual revolution.

The discussion which arose at the 2nd congress of our party in 1903, on the occasion of the drafting of the program, served to thoroughly acquaint all conscious workers with this idea. It was no other than Plechanov who settled accounts with the fetish of “democracy”. The life of a parliament, universal suffrage – all these depend on circumstances. If any parliament (thus also any constitutional assembly. – G.S.) takes up a hostile attitude to the interests of the working class, we should endeavor to shorten its life, to send it to the devil within two days if possible, but not to tolerate it for two years. Theoretically, the case is possible in which a victorious proletariat would deprive its opponents of the franchise. All this was said by none other than Plechanov. And the abolition of capital punishment? But in the case of Nicholas the Bloody? What other punishment was suitable here? Everything depends on the circumstances, on the place and the hour. The interests of the revolution – this is the supreme law. This declared Plechanov amidst the hisses of the future Mensheviki. One part of the congress applauded loudly, while some delegates began to hiss in token of their disapprobation: “If such speeches can meet with approval at a social democratic congress, it is our duty to hiss”, declared these delegates. One of these latter was the Menshevist leader Rosanov, whom the Soviet power in 1920 was obliged to sentence for belonging to the party of landowning counter-revolution.

Lenin first formulated the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the Russian revolution, in 1894. The comrades who are engaged in the work of publishing comrade Lenin’s complete works, recently discovered a hitherto unpublished and magnificent work written by comrade Lenin in 1894. The title of this work is: Who are the friends of the people, and how d they fight against the social democrats? It will appear shortly, and will naturally be studied with the utmost care by every thinking worker. This work is in reply to articles by N.K. Michailovsky and S. Kryvenko, published against lhe Marxists at the end of 1893 and the beginning of 1894, in the popular periodical Russian Wealth. We give the following detailed extracts from this excellent work, which formulates the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat with classic clarity and simplicity.

“It is impossible for the worker not to see that capital is oppressing him, that he has to struggle against the class of the bourgeoisie. And this struggle, which he carries on for the satisfaction of his most immediate economic needs, for the improvement of his material position, inevitably becomes a fight which is not directed against one person, but against the class, that same class which subjugates and oppresses the workers everywhere and in every respect, and not only in lhe factories and workshops. Thus the factory worker is nothing else than the advanced representative of the whole exploited population (the italics are mine. – S.). And if he is to act as such a representative in an organized and obstinate struggle, it is necessary that he receives a simple enlightenment as to his position, an enlightenment on the politico-economic constitution of the system which oppresses him, an enlightenment on the necessity and [illegible] bility of class antagonism.”

The bourgeoisie is that class which oppresses the worker everywhere and in every respect, not only in the factories and workshops. The working class, the factory proletariat, is nothing else than the advanced representative of all the exploited, that is, of the landless peasant as well. Therefore the working class must place itself at the head of all the exploited, that is, it must undertake the hegemony in the fight for emancipation. Vladimir Ilyitsch gives further a still more exact economic substantiation of the idea of the proletarian hegemony. He writes:

“This position taken by the factory worker in the collective system of capitalist relations, renders him the sole champion for the emancipation of the working class, for if is only the most highly evolved stage of capitalism, the great machine industry, which can create the material conditions and social forces needed in the struggle. Everywhere else, where less developed forms of capitalism exist, these material conditions are not present: production is scattered among thousands of small producers. The exploited are generally themselves owners of some small property, and thus belong to the same bourgeois system against which they should struggle. This scattered and individual exploitation binds the workers to one place, separates them from one another, and prevents them from perceiving their class solidarity; it does not enable them to unite by causing them to realize that the cause of their subjection is not this or that person, but the whole economic system. The concentration of capital, on the other hand, inevitably destroys every tie connecting the exploited to the old state of society, to a definite place, to a definite exploiter; it unites the exploited, induces them to think, and creates the conditions rendering an organized struggle possible.”

He closes with the following:

“If the advanced representatives (of the working class) appropriate to themselves the idea of scientific socialism, the idea of the historical role of the Russian worker; if these ideas become widely spread, and stable workers’ organizations arise, which convert the present scattered economic struggle of the workers into a conscious class war, then the Russian worker, having raised himself to the position of leader of all democratic elements, will overthrow absolutism and lead the Russian proletariat (side by side with the proletariat of all countries), on the straight path of open political struggle, to the victory of communist revolution.” [1]

These words, written almost 30 years ago, sound today as if they had just been written. His knowledge of Marxian theory, his profound devotion to the working class, and his personal genius, enabled comrade Lenin to make a prophetic declaration 30 years ago.

“In Russia the man of the future is the musjik – so thought the representatives of peasant socialism, the Narodniki, in the broadest sense of the word. The man of the future in Russia is the worker – so say the social democrats. Thus in one manuscript was formulated the standpoint of the Marxists.”

In this short observation, the essence of the matter is thoroughly grasped. In order to give expression to the present views of the Bolsheviki, in order to exhaustively formulate the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat, it is now necessary to alter the formula as follows. “In Russia the man of the future is the worker who carries the peasantry along with him.”

The whole history of Bolshevism is nothing more nor less than a struggle for the realization of the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat. Bolshevism has always carried on the same fight, since the days of the Friends of the People (1894), until the present day. And during the whole time the struggle has been led by V.I, Lenin. “Kornilov or Lenin’’ – this was the title given to a whole volume of his History of the Second Russian Revolution by the most eminent leader of that party, which fought against the hegemony of the proletariat and for the hegemony of the bourgeoisie in the revolution. We speak of Milyukov; and he was right. The whole character of the year 1917, which decided the fate of Russia, could not have been more briefly and clearly expressed than by these three words: “Kornilov or Lenin”.

Those who really desired a hegemony of the proletariat in the revolutionary movement, naturally desired the dictatorship of the proletariat after the victory until the end of the fight. In this respect Menshevism was not consistent. When the movement was at its height during the second half of 1915, the influence of prevailing events led the Mensheviki occasionally to acknowledge, in words, the necessity of the hegemony of the working class during the fight against despotism. But on one point the Mensheviki never doubted for a minute – this was a fixed principle – that tomorrow, after the victory, the working class had to offer the power to the liberal bourgeoisie on a salver. And why should it not? A revolution can only be a bourgeois revolution, that is, power has to belong to the bourgeoisie, and the working class must be content with burning its fingers in fetching the chestnuts out of the fire for other people. The famous five volumed Menshevist history of the revolution of 1905, written by the main pillars of Menshevism after the first defeat of the revolution, is based on a clearly formulated “philosophy of history”. The revolution of the year 1905 was shattered because the workers suddenly introducea the eight hour day, and altogether went beyond the limits acceptable to the liberal bourgeoisie. Indeed, the whole “tactics” of the Mensheviki, during the first period of the February revolution of 1917, were based on this same “philosophy”: You may take upon yourselves the whole burden of street and barricade fighting, you workers, but after the victory you must immediately hand over the power into the hands of Miliyukov and Outschkov, for it is a bourgeois revolution ...

The idea of the hegemony of the proletariat during the movement for emancipation, is the companion idea to a dictatorship of the proletariat during the transition period to the aboliton of the state. This is the essence of revolutionary Marxism, and therefore also of Bolshevism. It has been the destiny of our party to carry this great idea into practice. A great part of the difficult road lies behind us

Through all obstacles, through all the cross-roads and blind alleys of the new economic policy we carry forward the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat; for the proletariat is the sole class able to abolish capitalism and build up the socialist state of society.



1. In his Friends of the people V.I. Lenin draws in many respects, a line of separation between himself and the “ Marxist ” P. Struve (at that time still claiming the title), but still they both remained in one camp, so to speak, in 1894, and even until the end of the nineties. The opposing poles of this one camp are best characterized on the one hand by the book Critical Remarks by Struve, and on the other hand by the concluding words of the Friends of the People given above. “Let us learn from capitalism” propounds Struve; “let us lead the Russian proletariat to communist revolution ’’ – thus Lenin. Two classes, two worlds.

Last updated on 18 October 2021