A Stubborn Defence of a Bad Case
|7 December 1913
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 522-524
Those gentlemen, the liquidators, are stubbornly defending the Octobrist clause that “slipped” into their Bill on liberties. This is Clause 5, which by a legal twist limits freedom of association by stating that the workers shall not be liable to criminal prosecution for their actions “if, in general, they are not actions of a nature that renders them criminally-liable”.
The reactionary nature of this clause is obvious. It is obvious that genuine Social-Democrats would say the very opposite of this pettifoggery, i.e., they would say that acts committed in the course of a strike, for the purpose of assisting oppressed fellow workers, should not be liable to punishment, or at least, that the penalty should be reduced.
It is obvious that the liquidators will have to delete this reactionary clause from their Bill; the workers will compel them to do so.
But instead of straightforwardly admitting their mistake the liquidators (guided by Burenin-Gamma) twist and turn and resort to petty lying. Mr. Gorsky assures us in Novaya Likvidatorskaya Gazeta that the conferences held abroad (three or four years ago) “with the closest co-operation of N. Lenin” adopted similar clauses in a Bill on strikes.
All this is a downright falsehood.
At these conferences abroad the work was divided as follows. Subcommittees drafted the bills, while the general committee discussed certain fundamental questions. Lenin was not even a member of the Strike Subcommittee (he was a member of the Eight-Hour-Day Subcommittee); and on the general committee, Lenin opposed every point that conceded or recognised criminal liability!
Mr. Gorsky wants to throw the blame for a Bill drafted by a certain Mr. F. D. (an ex-member of the Strike Subcommittee!) on Lenin. That trick won’t work, gentlemen.
In defending this bad case Mr. Burenin-Gamma advanced another bad argument. He wrote:
“They [the Social-Democrats] should keep their class struggle within certain limits, not out of respect for ‘bourgeois law’, but out of respect for the legal and moral consciousness of the broad masses of the people.”
Now this is an argument that is indeed worthy of a philistine!
Out of considerations of expediency we wage our class struggle within certain limits, Mr. Liquidator, and avoid everything which may (under certain circumstances) disrupt our ranks or facilitate the enemy’s onslaught upon us at a time when this is to his advantage, etc. Failing to understand these real reasons, the liquidator falls into the opportunist morass. What are the broad masses of the people? Those masses are the undeveloped proletarians and petty-bourgeois who are full of prejudices—philistine, nationalist, reactionary, clerical and so on, and so forth.
How can we, for example, “respect” the “legal and moral consciousness” of anti-Semitism, which, as everybody knows, has very often proved to be a dominant feature of the consciousness of the “broad masses of the people” even of Vienna (a city that is more cultured than many Russian cities).
The “legal and moral consciousness” of the broad masses of philistines will condemn, let us say, a blow struck at a blackleg, when it was struck in the heat of defending a strike called for an increase of a starvation wage. We shall not advocate violence in such cases because it is inexpedient from the point of view of our struggle. But we shall not “respect” this philistine “consciousness”; on the contrary, we shall steadily combat it by all the means of persuasion, propaganda and agitation at our command.
Mr. Burenin-Gamma’s appeal for “respect” for the legal and moral consciousness of the broad masses of the people is the appeal of a philistine for respect for philistine prejudices.
It is further proof (in addition to a thousand others) of the philistinism of the liquidators.
- Burenin, V. P.—staff employee of the reactionary newspaper Novoye Vremya (New Times); engaged in libelling and besmearing all progressive social and political trends. Lenin uses the name as a synonym for those who conduct polemics by dishonest methods. Gamma—pseudonym of L. Martov.
- Novaya Likvidatorskaya Gazeta (New Liquidators’ Gazette)—Lenin’s ironical appelation for the Menshevik Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta (New Workers’ Newspaper).
- This refers to a committee to assist the Social-Democratic group in the Third Duma in preparing bills for the Duma; it was set up in Paris in 1909, both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks participating. The committee had subcommittees to elaborate bills on the eight-hour day, on the right to strike and on trade unions. The bill on strikes was drawn up by the Menshevik Dan; it included a point recognising the criminality of participation in strikes. When the bill was discussed by the committee Lenin spoke vehemently against this point.