Angry Embarrassment

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The Question of the Labour Congress[edit source]

The second part (B) of the resolution under examination[1] deals with the question of the labour congress.

The Mensheviks have written so much and said so much on this question that it would not be a bad thing to get a resolution that really summed up matters and removed all misunderstanding and differences in explaining the idea, a resolution that gave a clear and definite Party directive. Suffice it to say that the latest list of Russian literature on the labour congress (the above-mentioned pamphlet The All-Russian Labour Congress) names fifteen pamphlets and journals that treat the subject in a Menshevik light.

Let us see what this “discussion” has yielded.

Point One of the preamble:

“Mass workers’ organisations, coming into being and growing on the soil only of trade union, local [?] and group [?] needs and requirements in general [?], if not under the influence of proletarian Social-Democratic parties or organisations, have, when left to themselves, a direct tendency to narrow the mental and political horizons of the working-class masses to the narrow sphere of trade and, in general, of the particular interests and day-to-day requirements of separate strata or groups of the proletariat.”

What mass organisations can grow on the soil of group needs, the Lord alone knows. By group, something small is always meant, something diametrically opposed to the mass. The authors of the resolution string words together without thinking of concrete, definite content.

What then does this mean—mass organisations on the soil of local needs? What sort of organisation the authors have in mind is again not clear. If they are talking about such organisations as consumers societies, co-operatives, etc., their distinctive feature is certainly not their local character. The Mensheviks’ love of platitudinous phrases, their evasion of the concrete exposition of a question, is a purely intellectualist trait. It is at root alien to the proletariat, and harmful from the standpoint of the proletariat.

In their literal meaning the words “mass workers’ organisations on the soil of local needs and requirements” include Soviets of Workers’ Deputies. This is a type of mass workers’ organisation well known in Russia in a revolutionary epoch. We may say in all truth that an article on the labour congress, and on mass working-class organisations in general, rarely manages without mention of that type of organisation. As if ridiculing the demand for a precise and concrete ex position of definite ideas and slogans, the resolution does not say a word about Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, not a word about Soviets of Workers’ Delegates, etc.

But what we are being offered is some sort of incomplete criticism of some sort of local mass organisations, criticism that does not touch on the question of their positive significance, the conditions under which they function, etc.

Furthermore, no matter how you may correct, piece by piece, this monstrously clumsy first point of the preamble, there will still remain the general, fundamental error. Not only trade union, not only local, not only group, but also mass political organisations that are not local “have a tendency to narrow the political horizon of the workers”, if they are not “under the influence of proletarian Social-Democratic parties”.

It was the authors’ idea that the first point of the preamble should explain the transition to “the all-Russian labour congress”; local, trade union and other organisations, they wanted to say, narrow the horizon, but now we have the all-Russian labour congress, etc. The highly-respected “writers and Mensheviks engaged in practical work” have, however, lost all touch with logic, because the influence of Social-Democracy, or the absence of such influence, is possible in both cases! Instead of a comparison we get confusion....

Point Two of the preamble:

“The idea of convening an all-Russian labour congress for the purpose of initiating the political association of Russian workers, an idea that has met with sympathy in working-class circles, will introduce an element of unity into the organisational activities of the working-class masses, and will bring into the foreground of their field of vision the common interests of the working class and its tasks in the present Russian revolution.”

In the first place, is it true that the notorious “idea” has met with sympathy in working-class circles? Point Five of the preamble to the same resolution says that “the urge of the workers themselves towards its [the labour congress] convocation has not yet been manifested by any serious practical steps on their part by way of preparation for it”.

Here the truth has slipped out. We have a heap of intellectualist writings about the labour congress, and no serious practical steps on the part of the workers themselves. The attempt to blame this intellectualist invention on to the workers is a failure.

Let us go on. What is the labour congress? Its aim is to “initiate the political association of Russian workers”.

And so the RSDLP has not initiated such an association, nor did the Rostov demonstration of 1902, or the October strikes of 1903, or January 9,1905, or the October strike in 1905 initiate it! Up to now we have had some history, now we have none! Association has only been “initiated” by Axelrod & Co. having thought up a labour congress. Can you beat that?

What is meant by a “political” association of the workers? If the authors have not invented some new terminology specially for the present resolution, it means association around a definite political programme and tactics. Around which specifically? Surely our intellectuals must know that all over the world there have been political associations of the workers under the banner of bourgeois politics. Perhaps this does not apply to Holy Russia? Perhaps in Holy Russia any political association of workers is automatically a Social-Democratic association?

The poor authors of the resolution are floundering so helplessly because they have not dared say straight out what idea really underlies the labour congress, an idea that has long been postulated by its more sincere or younger and more hot-headed champions. The idea is that the labour congress is to be a non-party labour congress. Would it, after all, have been worth while talking about a party labour congress?

Our Mensheviks, however, were afraid to tell the truth openly and forthrightly—“a non-party, political association of workers...”.

The end of this point reads: the idea of calling the congress “will introduce an element of unity into the organisational activities of the working-class masses, and will bring into the foreground of their field of vision the common interests of the working class and its tasks...". First organisational activities and then tasks, i.e., programme and tactics! Don’t you think you should argue the other way round, comrades “publicists and Mensheviks engaged in practical work”? Think it over—can you unify organisational activities if there is no unified conception of the interests and tasks of the class? When you have thought it over, you will see that you cannot.

Different parties have a different understanding of the common interests of the working class and its tasks in the present revolution. Even in the single RSDLP these tasks are differently understood by the Mensheviks, by Trotsky’s supporters, and by the Bolsheviks. Think it over, comrades: how can these differences not affect the labour congress? how can they not come out there? how can they not be complicated by differences with the anarchists, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Trudoviks, etc., etc.? Can the “idea of convening a labour congress” or its convocation eliminate those differences?

And so the promise made by the authors of the resolution that “the idea of convening a labour congress will introduce an element of unity, etc.” is either the innocent dreaming of a very young intellectual who is carried away by the latest book he has read, or else demagogy, i.e., the luring of the masses by promises that cannot be fulfilled.

You are wrong, comrades. It is the real struggle that unites. It is the development of parties, their continued struggle inside parliament and outside of it that unites, it is the general strike, etc., that unites. But the experiment of convening a non-party congress will not introduce any real unity, or establish uniformity in the understanding of “interests and tasks”.

It can, of course, be said that the struggle of different parties at the labour congress would lead to a wider field of action for the Social-Democrats and to their victory. If that is the way you look at the labour congress, you should say so straight out, and not promise t.he milk and honey of “an element of unity”. If you do not say this in straight forward fashion, you run the risk of workers, misled and blinded by promises, coming to the congress for the unification of politics and actually finding gigantic, irreconcilable differences in politics, finding that the immediate unity of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, Social-Democrats, etc., s impossible, and then going away disappointed, going away cursing the intellectuals who have deceived them, cursing “politics” in general, cursing socialism in general. The inevitable outcome of such disappointment will be the cry, “Down with politics! Down with socialism! They disunite and do not unite the workers!” Some sort of primitive forms of pure trade-unionism or naive syndicalism will gain strength from this.

Social-Democracy, of course, will in the end overcome everything; it will withstand all tests, and will unite all workers. Is that, however, an argument in favour of a policy of adventurous risk?

Point Three of the preamble:

“By introducing into the disunited organisational attempts of the socially active [what loud-sounding words they use!] masses of the proletariat such a unifying concrete aim as the convention of a general labour congress [no longer an all-Russian but a general congress! i.e., general party or non-party? Don’t be afraid, comrades!], propaganda and agitation in favour of the convention will, in its turn, give a strong impetus to the urge of those strata towards self organisation [i.e., that means without the influence of Social-Democracy, doesn’t it? otherwise it would not be self-organisation], and will increase their activity in that direction.”

That is known as running from Pontius to Pilate. Point Two: the labour congress will introduce an element of unity. Point Three: unity for the concrete aim of a labour congress will give an impetus to self-organisation. What is this self-organisation for? For the labour congress. What is the labour congress for? For self-organisation. What is this super-literary resolution against the rule of the intelligentsia for? For the self-satisfaction of the intelligentsia.

Point Four:

“In view of the growing popularity of the idea of the labour congress in working-class circles, a passive and, in particular, a hostile attitude on the part of parties [?? a misprint? the Social-Democratic Party?] towards attempts to put it into effect would open up the widest vistas for unprincipled adventurers to lead the workers onto a false path, and would force them into the embraces of demagogues.

An exceptionally irate point. Its content speaks of angry embarrassment. They themselves are not certain whom they should attack, so they are directing their fire against their own ranks.

I take the fifth, the latest issue of Otgoloski.[2] E. Charsky writes against Y. Larin: Y. Larin “has suddenly discovered an organisational panacea ... an unexpected recipe” ... “a muddle”.... “Y. Larin does not notice that he is proposing, by a ’conscious’ act, to perpetuate the sporadic nature of the revolution, which is directly hostile to the cause of the class unification of the working masses. And it is in the interests of the labour congress that all this is being done...”. “In any case, we have before us very favourable soil for all sorts of ’land demagogy’.... The conclusion of Comrade Larin’s confused thinking.”

That would seem to be enough. Larin is accused by the Mensheviks of both demagogy and adventurism, since “recipe”, “panacea” and similar compliments denote precisely adventurism.

So they were aiming at one, and hit another. Verily, his own received him not. And please note further, that if the authors of the resolution qualify Larin as adventurist and demagogue, El & Co. go further than Larin. El writes frankly (All-Russian Labour Congress, Moscow, 1907) that there are two tendencies on the labour congress question, and that they, the Moscow Mensheviks, agree neither with the St. Petersburg Mensheviks (p. 10) nor with Larin. The St. Petersburg Mensheviks want a congress only of the working-class vanguard, and that is simply “a variation of a party congress” (pp. 10-11). In St. Petersburg, Larin “is considered a heretic and conniver” (p. 10). Larin wants an “all-Russian labour party”. The Moscow Mensheviks want an all-Russian workers union.

We may well ask: if Larin has received such “handling” from Otgoloski, how are we to qualify El, Ahmet Ts., Arkhangelsky, Solomin & Co.? It turns out that both Larin and the Moscow Mensheviks come under the irate fourth point!

But if you are angry, comrades, and your resolution condemns the “false path”, it is at least your duty to show where the true path lies. Otherwise your angry embarrassment will become quite ridiculous. However, after rejecting both the “all-Russian workers’ union” and “the all-Russian labour party” you do not say a single word about the practical purposes for which you want a labour congress!

Demagogues and adventurers are capable of convening a labour congress for false purposes. Therefore we Social-Democrats must show a sympathetic attitude towards the labour congress, setting that congress no aims at all.... In all truth, that Menshevik resolution is a real collection of all manner of incongruities.

Point Five:

“on the other hand, questions of the tasks of the labour congress, and of ways and means of preparing it, are still little explained in Social-Democratic circles [but they have been explained sufficiently for Larin and the Moscow Mensheviks to have indicated clearly the tasks of the congress and the ways and means. It’s no use hiding your head under your wing, comrades from St. Petersburg. That won’t make the ducklings hatched by Axelrod come out of the puddle on to dry land!], that the urge of the workers themselves towards its convocation has not yet been manifested by any serious practical steps on their part by way of preparation for it, and that the congress will only be a real and not a sham expression of the collective will of the politically conscious strata of the proletariat and serve the cause of their class unity in the event of its convocation being prepared by their own independent organisational activity with the increased planned co-operation of the Party.”

That is called descending from the sublime to the ridiculous. Larin and the young Moscow Mensheviks were just beginning to display “independent activity” when the St. Petersburg Mensheviks shouted: Hold on! You are not yet the one who expresses the collective will! You have not yet done enough explaining! The convocation of the (non-party) congress has still not been prepared by greater co-operation from the Party!

Poor Comrades El, Ahmet Ts. & Co.! They were getting along so well, with such attractive youthful verve; they published two whole collections of articles on the labour congress, analysed the problem from all angles, explained its “general-political” and its organisational significance, the attitude to the Duma, the attitude to the Party, and the attitude to the “petty-bourgeois elemental force”— when suddenly Axelrod’s help brought such a change about!

We are afraid that if, until now, Larin alone revolted (remember: “heretic and conniver”) against hidebound Menshevism,[3] the revolt will now develop into an insurrection.... Axelrod promised independent action and a genuinely labour congress against the rule of the intelligentsia—and now the St. Petersburg publicists are taking decisions and explaining that this independent action must be understood as being permitted by that selfsame much maligned “intellectualist” party!

* *


It is not to be wondered at that the conclusions drawn from such a preamble should be of the strangest:

“Proceeding from all these premises, the RSDLP congress proposes to workers and intellectuals [really? how kind that is on the part of the fighters against “domination” by the intelligentsia!] to engage [but not in the way Larin and Ahmet did!] in an all-round discussion of questions relating to the programme and tasks of the labour congress, to propaganda, agitational and organisational work for its preparation, and to ways and means of convening it.

“The Party congress at the same time considers it the duty of Party institutions to render every support to propaganda, agitational and organisational attempts at pre paring the labour congress; it considers hostile agitation against such attempts to be impermissible in principle, since such hostility strives to preserve and strengthen the obsolete Party regime in Russian Social-Democracy that is no longer compatible with the present level of development, the demands of the proletarian elements grouped inside and around the Party, and the demands of the revolution.”

What can you call that if not angry embarrassment? What can you do but laugh at such a resolution?

The Party congress forbids the defence of the obsolete Party regime, which regime the congress itself confirms!

The Party congress does not propose any reform of the obsolete regime, it even postpones the notorious “labour congress” (for the purpose of an inconceivable “political association”) and at the same time makes it a duty to support “attempts”!

This is genuine, impotent, intellectualist grumbling; I am not satisfied with the present obsolete Party regime; I do not want to preserve and strengthen it! Excellent. You don’t want to preserve it, so propose definite changes and we shall willingly discuss them. Please be kind enough to say what sort of labour congress you think desirable. This has not yet been made clear—the urge has not been manifested—the convocation has not been prepared. We must get down to a discussion. Excellent. It really is not worth while writing resolutions about “getting down to a discussion”, my dear comrades, since we have already been discussing for too long a time. But a workers’ party is not a club for the exercise of intellectualist “discussions”—it is a fighting proletarian organisation. Discussions are all right in their way, but we have to live and act. In which sort of party organisation is it permitted to live and act? in the old kind? Don’t you dare defend the former obsolete organisation; don’t you dare preserve and strengthen it! Excellent, etc.

It is a tale without an end. The intellectual is peeved and angry at his own irresoluteness, his own embarrassment.

Such is “hidebound Menshevism’s” last word.

* *


While wandering all round it, the Menshevik publicists have safely avoided the issue that has become urgent enough to be raised in practice and in literature—an independent Social-Democratic workers’ party, or its replacement by (variant: its subordination to) a non-party political organisation of the proletariat?

Our Bolshevik resolution poses the question openly and gives a direct and definite answer to it. It is useless to evade the issue, no matter whether you do so because of embarrassment or because of well-meaning “reconciliation”. It is useless to evade the issue because the substitution has been proposed, and work to effect that substitution is going on. The intellectualist Menshevik hens have hatched out ducklings. The ducklings have swum away. The hens must choose—on water or on land? The answer they have given (that answer could be accurately translated as: neither on water nor on land but in the mud) is no answer; it is postponement, procrastination.

Axelrod could not hold Larin back. Larin could not hold back El, Ahmet Ts. & Co. This latter company cannot hold back the anarcho-syndicalists.

On water or on land, gentlemen?

We want to keep on dry land. We can prophesy for you, that the greater the zeal, the greater your determination in crawling through the mud, the sooner will you return to dry land.

“To extend and strengthen the influence of the Social-Democratic party among the broad masses of the proletariat” we do not propose replacing Social-Democracy by “a labour party” of the non-partisan type, or “an all-Russian workers’ union” that is above all parties, or a labour congress for unknown aims, but something simple and modest, something to which all project-mongering is alien—“efforts must be increased, on the one hand, to organise trade unions and conduct Social-Democratic propaganda and agitation within them, and, on the other hand, to draw still larger sections of the working class into the activities of all types of Party organisations” (the final point of the Bolshevik resolution).

This has become too “obsolete”, too boring, for our blasé intellectuals. Let them get on with their projects; we shall go with the workers, even at the “labour congress” (if it is held), and will show them in practice the correctness of our forecasts and—and then we shall return with the disappointed workers (or rather those who have become disappointed in certain intellectualist leaders) to “obsolete” work in trade unions and in Party organisations of all types.

* *


How is this “labour congress” tendency in our Party to be explained? Here we can only briefly mention three reasons that are, in our opinion, fundamental: (1) intellectualist-philistine weariness with the revolution; (2) a peculiarity of Russian Social-Democratic opportunism that is developing historically towards subordinating the “purely working- class” movement to the influence of the bourgeoisie; (3) the undigested traditions of the October revolution in Russia.

Re Point One. Some of the labour congress champions reveal weariness with the revolution, and a desire, at all costs, to legalise the Party and discard anything like a republic, the dictatorship of the proletariat and so on. A legal labour congress is a convenient means of attaining this. Hence (and also to some extent for the second reason) the sympathy of the Popular Socialists, the Bez Zaglaviya Bernsteinians (from Tovarishch, etc.) and the Cadets for such a congress.

Re Point Two. Take the first historical form adopted by Russian Social-Democratic opportunism. The beginning of a mass working-class movement (the second half of the nineties of the last century) gave rise to this opportunism in the shape of Economism and Struvism. At that time, Plekhanov and Axelrod and all the old Iskra supporters explained the connection between them time and again. The famous Credo by Prokopovich and Kuskova (1899-1900) expressed this connection very clearly—let the intelligentsia and the liberals conduct the political struggle, and the workers the economic struggle. The political working-class party is an invention of the revolutionary intellectual.

In this classic Credo there is a clear expression of the historical, class meaning of the intellectualist infatuation with a “purely working-class” movement. Its meaning is the subordination of the working class (for the sake of “purely working-class” tasks) to bourgeois politics and bourgeois ideology. This “infatuation” of the intellectuals expressed the capitalist tendency to subordinate immature workers to the liberals.

Today, at a higher stage of development, we see the same thing again. Blocs with the Cadets, in general, the policy of supporting the Cadets, and a non-party labour congress are two sides of the same medal, connected in the same way as liberalism and the purely working-class movement are connected in the Credo. In effect, the non-party labour congress expresses the same capitalist tendency to weaken the class independence of the proletariat and subordinate that class to the bourgeoisie. This tendency is clearly displayed in the plans to replace Social-Democracy with a non-party workers’ organisation, or its subordination to the latter.

Hence the sympathy of the Popular Socialists, the Bez Zaglaviya group, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and others, for the idea of a “labour congress

Re Point Three. The Russian bourgeois revolution has created a specific type of mass organisation of the proletariat that does not resemble the usual European organisations (trade unions or Social-Democratic parties). These organisations are the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies.

By schematically developing similar institutions into a system (as Trotsky has done), or sympathising in general with the revolutionary enthusiasm of the proletariat and being infatuated with the “fashionable” phrase “revolutionary syndicalism” (as some Moscow supporters of the labour congress are), it is easy to approach the idea of a labour congress in the revolutionary and not in the opportunist way.

That, however, is an uncritical attitude to great and glorious revolutionary traditions.

The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies and similar institutions were actually organs of the insurrection. Their strength and their success depended entirely on the strength and success of the insurrection. Only when the insurrection developed, was their inception no mere bagatelle, but a great exploit of the proletariat. In the event of a new upsurge of the struggle, in the event of its transition to that phase, such institutions, of course, are inevitable and desirable. But their historical development must not consist in a schematic development of local Soviets of Workers’ Deputies up to an all-Russian labour congress, but in the conversion of embryonic organs of revolutionary power (for the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were such) into central organs of victorious revolutionary power, into a revolutionary provisional government. Soviets of Workers’ Deputies and their unification are essential for the victory of the insurrection. A victorious insurrection will inevitably create other kinds of organs.

* *


Russian Social-Democracy, of course, should not for swear non-participation in a labour congress because the revolution is developing in a highly zigzag fashion and may produce the most varied and unusual situations. It is, however, one thing to study attentively the conditions of the revolution as it ebbs and flows and to attempt to use those conditions, and quite another to engage in confused or anti-Social-Democratic project-mongering.

  1. See the analysis of the first part in Nashe Ekho, No. 5.[4] (See pp. 316-19 of this volume.—Ed.)—Lenin
  2. Otgoloski (Echoes)—Menshevik pamphlets (collections of articles) published in St. Petersburg in 1907.
  3. See present edition, Vol. 11, p. 359-60.—Ed.