A Letter to Comrades Julius, Vanya, Savely, Ivan, Vladimir, Stanislav and Foma, Students at the Capri Party School
|Written||30 August 1909|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 472-478
August 30, New Style, 1909
After receiving the curriculum of the school and two letters, in the last of which you ask my reasons for declaring the school to be a new faction, I consider it my duty to ex plain my view to you once more. “That there is anything factional behind this school is the purest fiction,” you write. “A hegemony over the school is inconceivable, for we are the majority on the Council."
I maintain that this is a clear case of self-deception on your part. Whether or not you are being accused of “downright factionalism” is quite beside the point; so is the question of who has the majority on the Council. The point is that the school has been organised (1) on the initiative of the new faction, (2) exclusively with the funds of the new faction, (3) in a place where only lecturers from the new faction are present, (4) in a place where lecturers from other sections of.. the Party, with very rare exceptions, cannot be present.
These conditions are not of your making. You are powerless to change them. But these conditions predetermine the character of the school, so much so that no good intentions on your part, no decisions of your Council, can make a jot of difference.
In any school,. the most important thing is the ideological and political trend of the lectures. What determines the trend? The lecturing personnel, entirely and exclusively. You understand perfectly well, comrades, that “control”, “leadership”, “curricula”, “rules”, etc., as applied to the lecturing personnel are just so many meaningless words. No control, no curricula, nor anything of that sort, can make the studies take. any other trend than that determined by the lecturing personnel. And no self-respecting organisation in the world, no section or group will undertake to share responsibility for a school whose trend is already predetermined by the lecturing personnel, if that trend is hostile.
Now look at the lecturing personnel, the factor that has determined the character of the school and its trend. You comrades signed your names in the letter which you sent to me, but the one that you sent to the Central Committee (I received a copy, together with the curriculum of the school) on behalf of the pupils and lecturers is not signed by any of the lecturers. Hence I cannot claim to know exactly who the lecturers are. But I know enough to form an opinion about them as a body.
The local organisations in the Central Industrial Region have written us from Russia that the most energetic, if not the only agitator for the Capri school, was Comrade Stanislav, who had already been chosen as one of the lecturers by certain Social-Democratic groups who had heard him read a paper. This Comrade Stanislav is a most ardent otzovist and “critic” of Marxism in philosophy. I need only remind you (1) how he lambasted Kautsky in his well-known booklet on philosophy, (2) how at the Party Conference in December 1908 he formed an otzovist faction with the St. Petersburg otzovist vs., (3) how the article by “Worker"—an otzovist—edited by him and published in Rabocheye Znamya, No. 5, was, on the admission of Rabocheye Znamya itself, imbued with anarchistic ideas.
Next, look at the lecturers you now have over there in Capri. There are no Bolsheviks among them, while all the adherents of the new faction (the faction of the advocates of otzovism and god-building) are represented almost in full,. I will not be very far wrong if I say that you see Comrades Maximov, Lunacharsky, Lyadov and Alexinsky among the lecturers at Capri. That is the identical group of comrades who have formed an opposition to Proletary ever since the spring of 1908, agitated against it in Russia and abroad, displayed (or supported) tendencies to form a separate faction at the Party Conference in December 1908, and ultimately broke away completely as a separate faction.
To deny that this entire group of comrades are agitating against Proletary, supporting and defending the otzovists, would be flouting facts which are known to every member of the Party. To deny that the Island of’ Capri has won fame even in general Russian literary circles as the literary centre of god-building, would be deriding facts. The whole Russian press reported long ago that Lunacharsky was preaching the word of god-building from the Island of Capri; Bazarov helped him in Russia. Bogdanov has advocated similar philosophical views in a dozen books and articles published by the legal press in Russia, and a dozen papers read abroad. I was on Capri in April 1908 and told all these three comrades that my views on philosophy were unconditionally opposed to theirs (I proposed at the time that our common re sources and energies should be used on counterblasting the Menshevik-liquidationist version of the history of the revolution with a Bolshevik history of the revolution, but these Capriotes turned down my proposition, preferring to disseminate their own special philosophical views rather than to work for the common cause of the Bolsheviks). The majority of your lecturers on Capri are writers, yet. not one of them has made a single attack in the press on the god-building propaganda of Lunacharsky and Bazarov.
If, in spite of all this, you comrades write that it is a “misapprehension” and a “gross” one on my part to think that the school has any association with god-building and otzovism, because “such aims were never contemplated here in this school, and were even out of the question”, I can only wonder at your extraordinary naivete. I repeat: the real character and trend of the school is determined not by the good intentions & the local organisations, not by decisions of the “Council” of students, not by “curricula” and so forth, but by the lecturing personnel. And since the lecturing personnel is and has been determined entirely by membership of the new faction, it is simply ridiculous to deny the factional character of the school.
To finish with the question of the lecturing personnel, I shall draw your attention to one more fact communicated to me by Comrade Innokenty, which shows how obvious to everyone in the Party is the thing you are trying to deny, namely: the separatist factional character of the Capri school. Shortly before the last meeting of the extended editorial board of Proletary, Comrade Maximov in Paris approached Trotsky and invited him to become a lecturer at the school on Capri. Trotsky told this to Comrade Innokenty, saying: “If this is a Party affair I shall be glad to take part in it; if it is a private concern run by the Capri literati—Maximov, Lunacharsky and Co.—I shall have nothing to do with it.” Innokenty replied: “Wait for the decisions of the editorial board of Proletary,’ I’ll see that you get them.” Thus, even a man like Trotsky, who does not belong to our group, understood immediately (as any Party functionary would, with any experience) that to organise a school on Capri is tantamount to hiding it away from the Party, to connecting the school beforehand with a special faction— the new one.
Now I shall go on to the question of Paris. I told you in my letter that if you are really interested in having lectures from myself and my comrades-in-idea you should come to Paris. You reply: “Considering the expense, travelling to Paris is quite unreasonable.”
Let us see which of us is really being unreasonable.
You went to Capri via Vienna. If you go back the same way you will have to make a detour to Paris from Northern Italy, then straight on to Vienna. This will involve in all probability an additional expense of 60 francs per person (I am judging by the fact that a ticket to Paris from Geneva., where I lived for a long time, costs 30 francs). Your letter is signed by eight persons, one of whom declares that he “will have no further correspondence”, which obviously means that he is not even interested in hearing my talks. That leaves seven comrades. Expenses=7×60=420 francs.
You invited four lecturers from Paris (Leva, myself, Grigori and Innokenty). Travelling expenses from Paris to Capri and back—about 140 francs. Total 4×140=560 francs.
It will be cheaper for the eight students to come to Paris than to send the four lecturers to Capri.
But the financial aspect, as I have already told you in my last letter, is not by any means the most important. Think: for whom is it easier to choose a place—the visiting students, or the local lecturers? You went abroad specially to attend the school. That means there can be nothing to prevent you from going where there is a large number of lecturers, where it is possible to organise things on real Party lines.
But the lecturers cannot leave the Party centre to go to the Island of Capri. I shall speak for myself. I cannot leave my editorial work on Proletary. I cannot leave my editorial work on the Central Organ. I cannot leave my work on the Promotion Commission for the Duma Social-Democratic group, which has its headquarters in Paris. I have to speak at the Proletary club in the working-class districts of Paris, where hundreds and thousands of Russian workers are living, and so on. It is absolutely impossible for Party writers to leave Paris to go to Capri.
But for the school, as a Party concern, Bolshevik lecturers are not the only important factor. Paris is the largest emigrant centre, where papers are regularly read in public under the auspices of all Party trends, where debates are held and all kinds of study circles are conducted, where there are two or three quite decent Russian libraries, where there are scores of Social-Democratic organisers with long experience of activity in the Party, and so on and so forth. Three Russian Social-Democratic newspapers are published in Paris. In a word, it is clear, as clear as daylight, to anyone who knows anything at all about life abroad, that anyone who goes to Paris to study Social-Democracy is going where he can learn it properly. Anyone who goes to Capri is going there to study a separatist factional “science”.
Whoever holds a school in Paris is holding a real Party school. Whoever holds a school on the Island of Capri is hiding the school away from the Party.
The school on Capri is a school deliberately hidden away from the Party.
Absolutely no control, no “ideological leadership” of the Capri school is possible either by the Central Committee to which you appeal today, or by the editorial board of Proletary to which you appealed yesterday. To speak of control and ideological leadership here is idle talk. No one would think of doing such an absurd thing as to send Party “inspectors” to Capri to superintend the school; to send real Party lecturers to Capri (with the rarest exceptions) is out of the question at any time. The local organisations in Russia may not have known this, but the organisers of the school knew it perfectly well. That was just why they organised the school on Capri—to mask its factional character and to hide it away from the Party.
Take the Russian Social-Democrats, eminent for their knowledge of the labour movement abroad, who do not belong to any factions: Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg (Germany), Ch. Rappoport (France), Rothstein (England). Take unattached Social-Democratic writers like Ryazanov, and you will see at once (unless you deliberately close your eyes in order not to see) that they could in the majority of cases, with a bit of effort from the Party, read lectures in Paris; while to go to Capri is absolutely out of the question for them. The money which the organisers of the school have thrown away in sending people to study and lecture in such a remote foreign spot as Capri would have been quite sufficient to organise readings by at least some of these lecturers in Paris.
Further, take the new groupings among the Social-Democrats, groupings which it is so important that the Russian comrades should know about (the struggle between the pro-Party element and the liquidationists in the Bund; the struggle between the Bolshevik section of the Letts and the Menshevik; between the Polish Social-Democratic Party and the Left wing of the P.S.P.; the split in Menshevism, Plekhanov’s publication of his Dnevnik, exposing the liquidationism of Potresov and the official Mensheviks; the attempts to create a “revolutionary Menshevism”, and so on). It is impossible to study these important Party events properly in Capri. In Paris there Is every possibility of learning the state of affairs at first hand, and not by mere hearsay.
Take finally the syllabus of the Capri school. Of the four sections, one (the third) is headed: “The Philosophy of the Proletarian Struggle”. In the international Social-Democratic movement there are tens and hundreds (if not thousands) of syllabuses for propaganda classes of the same type. But nowhere will you find: “The Philosophy of the Proletarian Struggle”. There is the philosophical materialism of Marx and Engels, but nowhere is there the “Philosophy of the Proletarian Struggle”. And no Social-Democrat in Europe will understand what it is all about. The only people who will understand are those who are conversant with the works of the philosophers Stanislav (A. Volsky), Bogdanov, Lunacharsky and Bazarov. Before teaching the “Philosophy, of the Proletarian Struggle”, such a philosophy must be invent- NOTES ed. ˜To invent this special philosophy, which swears more and more often by the word “proletarian” the further away it is from the proletarian world-outlook, has been and is the occupation only of the above-mentioned group of members of the new faction.
To conclude. If you comrades insist on you unwillingness to come to Paris (assuring me at the same time that you want to hear my lectures), this will be conclusive proof that not only the lecturers but some of the students at the Capri school have been infected with the sectarianism of the new god-building-otzovist faction.
With Social-Democratic greetings, N. Lenin
- See pp. 468–69 of this volume.—Ed.