Lenin on “Municipal Socialism”

The bourgeois intelligentsia of the West, like the English Fabians, elevate municipal socialism to a special “trend” precisely because it dreams of social peace, of class conciliation, and seeks to divert public attention away from the fundamental questions of the economic system as a whole, and of the state structure as a whole, to minor questions of local self-government. In the sphere of questions in the first category, the class antagonisms stand out most sharply; that is the sphere which, as we have shown, affects the very foundations of the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Hence it is in that sphere that the philistine, reactionary utopia of bringing about socialism piecemeal is particularly hopeless. Attention is diverted to the sphere of minor local questions, being directed not to the question of the class rule of the bourgeoisie, nor to the question of the chief instruments of that rule, but to the question of distributing the crumbs thrown by the rich bourgeoisie for the “needs of the population”. Naturally, since attention is focused on such questions as the spending of paltry sums (in comparison with the total surplus value and total state expenditure of the bourgeoisie), which the bourgeoisie itself is willing to set aside for public health (Engels pointed out in The Housing Question that the bourgeoisie itself is afraid of the spread of epidemic diseases in the towns[3]), or for education (the bourgeoisie must have trained workers able to adapt themselves to a high technical level!), and so on, it is possible, in the sphere of such minor questions, to hold   forth about “social peace”, about the harmfulness of the class struggle, and so on. What class struggle can there be if the bourgeoisie itself is spending money on the “needs of the population”, on public health, on education? What need is there for a social revolution if it is possible through the local self-governing bodies, gradually, step by step, to extend “collective ownership”, and “socialise” production: the horse tramways, the slaughter-houses…

The philistine opportunism of that “trend” lies in the fact that people forget the narrow limits of so-called “municipal socialism” (in reality, municipal capitalism, as the English Social-Democrats properly point out in their controversies with the Fabians). They forget that so long as the bourgeoisie rules as a class it cannot allow any encroachment, even from the “municipal” point of view, upon the real foundations of its rule; that if the bourgeoisie allows, tolerates, “municipal socialism”, it is because the latter does not touch the foundations of its rule, does not interfere with the Important sources of its wealth, but extends only to the narrow sphere of local expenditure, which the bourgeoisie itself allows the “population” to manage. It does riot need more than a slight acquaintance with “municipal socialism” in the West to know that any attempt on the part of socialist municipalities to go a little beyond the boundaries of their normal, i. e., minor, petty activities, which give no substantial relief to the workers, any attempt to meddle with capital, is invariably vetoed in the most emphatic manner by the central authorities, of the bourgeois state.

And it is this fundamental mistake, this philistine opportunism of the West-European Fabians, Possibilists, and Bernsteinians that Is taken over by our advocates of municipalisation.

“Municipal socialism” means socialism in matters of local government. Anything that goes beyond the limits of local interests, beyond the limits of state administration, i. e., anything that affects the main sources of revenue of the ruling classes and the principal means of securing their rule, anything that affects not the administration of the state, but the structure of the state, thereby goes beyond   the sphere of “municipal socialism”.

Lenin 1907