A Letter to G. Myasnikov
|Written||5 August 1921|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, 1st English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 32, pages 504-509
Lenin wrote the letter in connection with Myasnikov's article "Vexed Questions", his memo to the Central Committee of the RCP(b) and his speeches in the Petrograd and Perm Party organisations. Myasnikov had set up an anti-Party group in the Motovilikha District of Perm Gubernia which fought against Party policy. A Central Committee commission investigated his activity and proposed his expulsion from the Party for repeated breaches of discipline and organisation of an anti-Party group contrary to the resolution "On Party Unity" of the Party's Tenth Congress. His expulsion was approved by the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) on February 20, 1922.
August 5, 1921
I have only just managed to read both your articles. I am unaware of the nature of the speeches you made in the Perm (I think it was Perm) organisation and of your conflict with it. I can say nothing about that; it will be dealt with by the Organisation Bureau, which, I hear, has appointed a special commission.
My object is a different one: it is to appraise your articles as literary and political documents.
They are interesting documents.
Your main mistake is, I think, most clearly revealed in the article “Vexed Questions”. And I consider it my duty to do all I can to try to convince you.
At the beginning of the article you make a correct application of dialectics. Indeed, whoever fails to understand the substitution of the slogan of “civil peace” for the slogan of “civil war” lays himself open to ridicule, if nothing worse. In this, you are right.
But precisely because you are right on this point, I am surprised that in drawing your conclusions, you should have forgotten the dialectics which you yourself had properly applied.
”Freedom of the press, from the monarchists to the anarchists, inclusively” . . . . Very good! But just a minute: every Marxist and every worker who ponders over the four years’ experience of our revolution will say, “Let’s look into this-what sort of freedom of the press? What for? For which class?”
We do not believe in “absolutes”. We laugh at “pure democracy “.
The “freedom of the press” slogan became a great world slogan at the close of the Middle Ages and remained so up to the nineteenth century. Why? Because it expressed the ideas of the progressive bourgeoisie, i.e., its struggle against kings and priests, feudal lords and landowners.
No country in the world has done as much to liberate the masses from the influence of priests and landowners as the RSFSR has done, and is doing. We have been performing this function of “freedom of the press” better than anyone else in the world.
All over the world, wherever there are capitalists, freedom of the press means freedom to buy up newspapers, to buy writers, to bribe, buy and fake “public opinion” for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.
This is a fact.
No one will ever be able to refute it.
And what about us?
Can anyone deny that the bourgeoisie in this country has been defeated, but not destroyed? That it has gone into hiding? Nobody can deny it.
Freedom of the press in the RSFSR, which is surrounded by the bourgeois enemies of the whole world, means freedom of political organisation for the bourgeoisie and its most loyal servants, the Memisheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries.
This is an irrefutable fact.
The bourgeoisie (all over the world) is still very much stronger than we are. To place in its hands yet another weapon like freedom of political organisation (= freedom of the press, for the press is the core and foundation of political organisation) means facilitating the enemy’s task, means helping the class enemy.
We have no wish to commit suicide, and therefore, we will not do this.
We clearly see this fact: “freedom of the press” means in practice that the international bourgeoisie will immediately buy up hundreds and thousands of Cadet, Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik writers, and will organise their propaganda and fight against us.
That is a fact. “They” are richer than we are and will buy a “force” ten times larger than we have, to fight us.
No, we will not do it; we will not help the international bourgeoisie.
How could you descend from a class appraisal-from the appraisal of the relations between all classes-to the sentimental, philistine appraisal? This is a mystery to me.
On the question: “civil peace or civil war”, on the question of how we have won over, and will continue to “win over”, the peasantry (to the side of the proletariat), on these two key world questions (= questions that affect the very substance of world politics), on these questions (which are dealt with in both your articles), you were able to take the Marxist standpoint, instead of the philistine, sentimental standpoint. You did take account of the relationships of all classes in a practical, sober way.
And suddenly you slide down into the abyss of sentimentalism!
”Outrage and abuses are rife in this country: freedom of the press will expose them.”
That, as far as I can judge from your two articles, is where you slipped up. You have allowed yourself to be depressed by certain sad and deplorable /acts, and lost the ability soberly to appraise the forces.
Freedom of the press will help the force of the world bourgeoisie. That is a fact, “Freedom of the press” will not help to purge the Communist Party in Russia of a number of its weaknesses, mistakes, misfortunes and maladies (it cannot be denied that there is a spate of these maladies), because this is not what the world bourgeoisie wants. But freedom of the press will he a weapon in the hands of this world bourgeoisie. It is not dead; it is alive. It is lurking nearby and watching. It has already hired Milyukov, to whom Chernov and Martov (partly because of their stupidity, and partly because of factional spleen against us; but mainly because of the objective logic of their pettybourgeois-democratic position) are giving “faithful and loyal” service.
You took the wrong fork in the road.
You wanted to cure the Communist Party of its maladies and have snatched at a drug that will cause certain deathnot at your hands, of course, but at the hands of the world bourgeoisie (+Milyukov+Chernov-J--Martov).
You forgot a minor point, a very tiny point, namely: the world bourgeoisie and its “freedom” to buy up for itself newspapers, and centres of political organisation.
No, we will not take this course. Nine hundred out of every thousand politically conscious workers will refuse to take this course.
We have many maladies. Mistakes (our common mistakes, all of us have made mistakes, the Council of Labour and Defence, the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee) like those we made in distributing fuel and food in the autumn and winter of 1920 (those were enormous mistakes!) have greatly aggravated the maladies springing from our situation.
Want and calamity abound.
They have been terribly intensified by the famine of 1921.
It will cost us a supreme effort to extricate ourselves, but we will get out, and have already begun to do so.
We will extricate oirselves, for, in the main, our policy is a correct one, and takes into account all the class forces on an international scale. We will extricate ourselves because we do not try to make our position look better than it is. We realise all the difficulties. We see all the maladies, and are taking measures to cure them methodically, with perseverance, and without giving way to panic.
You have allowed panic to get the better of you; panic is a slope-once you stepped on it you slid down into a position that looks very much as if you are forming a new party, or are about to commit suicide.
You must not give way to panic.
Is there any isolation of the Communist Party cells from the Party? There is. It is an evil, a misfortune, a malaise.
It is there. It is a severe ailment.
We can see it.
It must be cured by proletarian and Party measures and not by means of “freedom” (for the bourgeoisie).
Much of what you say about reviving the country’s economy, about mechanical ploughs, etc., about fighting for “influence” over the peasantry, etc., is true and useful.
Why not bring this out separately? We shall get together and work harmoniously in one party. The benefits will be great; they will not come all at once, but very slowly.
Revive the Soviets; secure the co-operation of non-Party people; let non-Party people verify the work of Party members: this is absolutely right. No end of work there, and it has hardly been started.
Why not amplify this in a practical way? In a pamphlet for the Congress?
Why not take that up?
Why be afraid of spade work (denounce abuses through the Central Control Commission, or the Party press, Pravda)? Misgivings about slow, difficult and arduous spade work cause people to give way to panic and to seek an “easy” way out: “freedom of the press” (for the bourgeoisie).
Why should you persist in your mistake-an obvious mistake-in your non-Party, anti-proletarian slogan of “freedom of the press”? Why not take up the less “brilliant” (scintillating with bourgeois brilliance) spade work of driving out abuses, combating them, and helping non-Party people in a practical and business-like way?
Have you ever brought up any particular abuse to the notice of the CC, and suggested a definite means of eradicating it?
No, you have not.
Not a single time.
You saw a spate of misfortunes and maladies, gave way to despair and rushed into the arms of the enemy, the bourgeoisie (”freedom of the press” for the bourgeoisie). My advice is: do not give way to despair and panic.
We, and those who sympathise with us, the workers and peasants, still have an immense reservoir of strength. We still have plenty of health and vigour.
We are not doing enough to cure our ailments.
We are not doing a good job of practising the slogan: promote non-Party people, let non-Party people verify the work of Party members.
But we can, and will, do a hundred times more in this field than we are doing.
I hope that after thinking this over carefully you will not, out of false pride, persist in an obvious political mistake (”freedom of the press”), but, pulling yourself together and overcoming the panic, will get down to practical work: help to establish ties with non-Party people, and help non-Party people to verify the work of Party members.
There is no end o work in this field. Doing this work you can (and should) help to cure the disease, slowly but surely, instead of chasing after will-o’-the-wisps like “freedom of the press”.
With communist greetings,