Concluding Remarks to the Symposium Marxism and Liquidationism

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Liquidationism is an issue of vital importance, not only to labour democracy but to Russian democracy generally. When our democratic press tries to sidestep this issue, or skim over it as a “private controversy” among Marxists, it merely reveals a desire to evade an appraisal of the cardinal political problems of our day. For the question of liquidationism is one of our entire appraisal of the June Third system, and, in broader terms, of our counter-revolution generally. It is a question of the basic tasks and methods of the democrats.

No one, I believe, has questioned the fact that the latest period of Russian history, beginning approximately with 1908, has been marked not only by the extreme intensification of reaction’s persecution of everything democratic, but by profound ideological disunity and disintegration, which has affected the proletariat as well as all bourgeois-democratic elements. But whereas everyone acknowledges this obvious fact, only the Marxists have set themselves the clear and immediate task of precisely defining the class roots and class implications of this disunity and disintegration. Without such a definition there can be no conscious choice of tactics.

Work in that direction started in our Marxist press abroad in 1908, i.e., as soon as disunity became a fact. The Marxists could not accept this disunity, as the liberals had done, nor could they confine themselves to subjectively condemning it, as even the best (in the democratic sense) of the Narodniks had done. The social trends called for a socio economic, i.e., class explanation.

December 1908 saw an explanation of the substance of Liquidationism given in the Bolshevik press and endorsed by a Party decision which was binding on all. The spring of 1909 saw a formal break between the Bolsheviks (as represented by their leading body) and the so-called Vperyodists,[1] who accepted otzovism[2] or considered it a “legitimate trend” and defended “god-building” and the reactionary philosophy of Machism.[3] This break revealed the main features of “Left liquidationism”, its leaning towards anarchism, just as Right liquidationism, or liquidationism proper, leans towards liberalism.

By January 1910 this Marxist analysis of the present disunity and disintegration, nine-tenths of which had been given by the Bolshevik press abroad, was so complete and the facts so irrefutably established, that all Marxists, representatives of all trends (including both the liquidators and the Vperyodists) were compelled unanimously to acknowledge, in the decisions of January 1910, that both the liquidationist and Vperyodist “deviations” were manifestations of bourgeois influence on the proletariat.

A glance at the situation in the non-Marxist movement will be enough to make one realise the social significance of this Marxist analysis and Marxist decision. Among the liberals we find the extreme Vekhist liquidationism and confusion, which persists to this day, on the question of whether the methods of 1905 have been abandoned or not. Among the Left Narodniks we find extreme liquidationist pronouncements, beginning with the Paris publications of 1908–11, the nebulous liquidationism of Pochin[4] and ending with the liquidationist mouthings of Savinkov-Ropshin and Chernov in Zavety. On the other hand, the Left Narodniks’ official otzovism continues to erode and weaken their ranks.

The objective validity of the Marxist analysis was confirmed by the fact that in the course of the five odd years since 1908 all progressive trends of social thought have been constantly coming up against these selfsame liquidationist and Narodnik errors, these selfsame questions of applying old methods to the solution of old but still unresolved problems, and of marshalling our forces in a new situation and with new methods.

At the beginning of the June Third period, Marxist analysis helped to reveal the theoretical deviations towards liquidationism and otzovism. Now, at the close of the period, we see how, even in the open arena, in full sight of everybody, the vast majority of class-conscious workers of Russia have rallied around the Marxists, while both flanks of the democratic press, which seeks to influence the proletariat, are preoccupied with petty-bourgeois liquidationism and petty-bourgeois Narodism. Not so long ago the Left-Narodnik Severnaya Mysl (No. 1) carried the following report from a Mr. Braines on the social insurance campaign in Riga:

“The boycottist trend is a p parent only among the shoemakers, where boycottist groups have been formed. Unfortunately, the Narodniks are the leading spirits in these groups.” (Quoted in the article “Narodism and Liquidationism as Disintegrating Elements in the Working-Class Movement”,[5] in Proletarskaya Pravda No. 12, for December 20, 1913.)

The same paper had to admit that:

“To the honour of the Marxists be it said that they enjoy considerable influence at present in the unions [i.e., the trade unions] whereas we Left Narodniks work in them without a definite plan, and for that reason our influence is scarcely felt.” (Ibid.)

The doctrinal feebleness of the Left Narodniks, who combine the new-fangled opportunism of the European philistines with the purely Russian philistine defence of “labouring” proprietors, is naturally complemented by tactical feebleness and vacillation. Nothing remains of the old Left-Narodnik party except vacillation, and the same applies to the liquidators. Defeated in the working-class movement, these petty-bourgeois trends had no choice but to form a bloc against the Marxists.

It has been a steady descent. From advocacy of a legal party, from the speeches of the Potresovs and the Yushkeviches, with their renouncement of the idea of hegemony and of Marxism, the liquidators have sunk to a direct struggle against the Marxist party. Here is what a St. Petersburg Left Narodnik wrote the other day in Stoikaya Mysl (No. 5):

“As soon as we came into the hall (where the election of the Insurance Board was taking place) the narrow factional stand taken by the Pravdists at once became clear. But we do not lose hope. Together with the liquidators we are drawing up a non-factional list that will give us one seat on the Board and two alternate seats.” (Quoted from Put Pravdy No. 38, for March 16, 1914.)

Petty-bourgeois democrats of all trends who wish to corrupt the workers with bourgeois influence—unite against the Marxists! The silly word “non-factional”, which fascinates people who are incapable of thinking and learning, is so convenient and pleasing a word for the philistine! But the hoc with the Left Narodniks was no help to the poor liquidators, and never can be. The class-conscious workers elected to the Insurance Board only Marxists, opponents of liquidationism.

Grouplets of non-Party Intellectuals, who seek to subject the workers to bourgeois policy and bourgeois ideology, have now taken definite shape in Russia: the liquidators and the Left Narodniks. For nearly twenty years, ever since Economism first appeared on the scene (1894–95), the ground has been laid for this alliance of opportunists from among the near-Party Marxists with the Narodniks, against consistent Marxism. It is high time to face the facts squarely and say firmly and emphatically: the Marxist working-class movement in Russia is being built, and can be built, only in a struggle against liquidationism and Narodism.

All over the world, in every capitalist society, the proletariat is inevitably connected with the petty bourgeoisie by a thousand ties, and everywhere the period of formation of workers’ parties was attended by its more or less prolonged and persistent ideological and political subjection to the bourgeoisie. This is common to all capitalist countries, but it assumes different forms in different countries, depending on historical and economic factors: In Britain, in conditions of complete political freedom and with the country enjoying a long period of monopoly, the liberal bourgeoisie was for decades able to corrupt and ideologically enslave the majority of class-conscious workers. In France, the traditions of republican petty-bourgeois radicalism have been converting very many workers into supporters of the “Radical” bourgeois party, or of equally bourgeois anarchism. In Germany, half a century ago, the workers still followed the liberal Schulze-Delitzsch and were taken in by the “national liberal” (“Royal-Prussian”) opportunistic vacillation of Lassalle and Schweitzer, while today hundreds of thousands of workers follow the Catholic “centre”, with its sham “democracy”.

In Russia, the bourgeois-democratic solution of the peas ant question has not been completed to this day. It is therefore not surprising to see petty-bourgeois Narodism parading as “socialism”. Russia is the most petty bourgeois of all capitalist countries. Consequently, as soon as Marxism became a mass social trend in Russia, intellectualist petty-bourgeois opportunism made itself felt, first in the form of Economism and “legal Marxism” (1895-1902), later in the form of Menshevism[6] (1903-08), and finally in the form of liquidationism (1908–14).

Liquidationism has now reached full maturity, a complete break with the Marxist workers’ party. If Mr. L. M., the most “Left” of the liquidators—and the most adroit in producing evasive formulas—writes:

“experience has shown that the ‘legal workers’ party’ is not a reactionary dream, for such a party, in a certain sense, exists in Russia at present...” (L. M.’s italics; Nasha Zarya No. 2, 1914, p. 83),

then it should be clear to all that it is absurd and preposterous even to think of the possibility of “uniting” or “reconciling” such a group with the Marxist workers’ party.

Only hopelessly empty-headed people can now talk of the Marxist workers’ party “uniting” with such a group, with that of Nasha Zarya and Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta group.

Class divisions in Russia in 1914 are in every respect more politically definite and sharper than they were in 1904. At that time it was only the landed nobility that showed no cleavage, and the salon liberalism of some of its representatives frightened even the old regime. At that time, this regime considered the muzhik such a reliable pillar of law and order that it allowed him a very large measure of influence in the Bulygin and Witte Dumas.[7] At that time, Guchkov-Milyukov-Peshekhonov liberalism and democracy could still present a single and uniform school of thought. At that time Menshevism wanted to be—and in effect was—an inner-Party trend, one that sought to defend opportunist slogans in “programmatic discussions” within the workers’ party.

Present-day liquidationism has since then moved miles to the right. It has quitted the Party, shaken the dust of the “underground” from its feet, and is a closely knit anti-partyist centre of journalists writing for the legal liberal and liquidationist press, men whom the workers have removed from every office in all working-class organisations and societies. To compare this liquidationism with the Menshevism of 1903–07 is to allow oneself to be blinded and deafened by old names and catchwords, and to have absolutely no understanding of the evolution of class and party relations in Russia during the past ten years.

Present-day liquidationism, that of 1914, is the same as the Tovarishch group of 1907.[8]

It is quite natural that in exile and emigration, where people are so out of touch with real conditions, so immured in memories of the past, of the events of seven or ten years ago, one comes across dozens of these “have-beens”, who dream of “unity” between the workers’ party and the group of Messrs. L. M., F. D., Potresov, Yezhov, Sedov and Co. And there are also very many of these “have-beens”, but of a poorer moral calibre, among intellectuals associated with the workers’ party in 1904–07 and now holding “cushy jobs” in various legal organisations.

No less natural is it that among Russian working-class youth of today all these dreams and all this talk of complacent individuals about “unity” of liquidators and the workers’ party produce either Homeric and most impolite laughter, or else bewilderment and pity for these intellectualist Manilovs. This is perfectly natural, for our present-day working-class youth have seen the liquidators desert the Party, seen their flight from the “defunct Party cells”, beard their renegade speeches about the “underground” and the harmfulness of “boosting the illegal Press” (see statement in Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta, March 13, 1914), have been obliged to combat the bloc of this gentry both with the Narodniks and with the non-party element at a number of congresses, in the elections to the Fourth Duma, at a number of meetings of workers’ societies, and in the elections to the Insurance Board, and have been obliged to remove these individuals from office in every workers’ organisation.

Let Trotsky, in Borba, cast imploring looks at Skobelev and Chkheidze; let contributors to the Paris newspaper Za Partiyu[9][10] look with hope and trust to Buryanov[11]; let them reiterate all this talk about “unity”—their words now have a ring of sadness and irrelevancy.

To preach “unity” between Marxists and people who claim that a “legal workers’ party is not a reactionary dream etc,, one has to be either fantastically stupid, or else have no knowledge and no understanding whatever of the Russian working-class movement and of the position in the local organisations, or else one has to long for such a pleasant “pendulum” state of affairs in which—who knows!—Trotsky (or some other “non-factionalist”) will be invited to engineer non-factional” unity “on an equal basis” between the group that contribute to Nasha Zarya, Dyen and Kievskaya Mysl and the groups of Marxist workers. What a sweet and delightful prospect!

But real life, the real history of the attempts to “unite” with the liquidators, reveals something very far removed from this sweet and delightful prospect. There was a serious and concerted effort to unite with the liquidators in January 1910, but it was wrecked by the liquidators. There was unity of all groups and grouplets with the liquidators against the hateful Conference of January 1912. This was ardent and passionate unity based on the most passionate (and violently abusive) invective against that Conference, with both Trotsky and the Za Partiyu contributors and, of course, all the Vperyodists taking part in this “union”. If the evil Leninist splitters were really an obstacle to unity, then real unity would have blossomed forth immediately after the joint statement against the Leninists, which these groups and the liquidators published in Vorwärts in March 1912!

But, alas, these queer unity-builders have since then—since the workers in Russia, having inaugurated Pravda in April, proceeded to unite the hundreds and thousands of workers’ groups in all parts of the country on a basis of loyalty to the Party—these queer unity-builders have, ever since March 1912, displayed ever greater disunity amongst themselves! By August 1912 the famous “August bloc” of the liquidators was formed without the Vperyodists and withoutZa Partiyu”.

The next eighteen months saw the growth, maturity and ultimate consolidation o-f the unity of workers’ groups in Russia, in all legal working-class societies, in all the trade unions and organisations and in a good many newspapers and organs, with the Russian Social-Democratic Labour group in the Duma, which is prepared to carry out the will of the majority of the workers.

But what of our “unity-builders”?

Oh, their “unity” efforts have been so felicitous and successful that instead of one Vperyod group there are now two (not counting Bogdanov, the empirio-monist whom some take for a third Vperyod group[12]); instead of a single Trotsky-and-liquidator paper (Luch), there is now, in addition, Trotsky’s own organ, Borba, which this time promises genuine “non-factionalism”. And besides Trotsky’s timid withdrawal from the liquidator ranks, there has been a complete and resolute withdrawal from them of all the organised Lettish Marxists, who, despite their strict neutrality and non-factionalism, forthrightly declared at their 1914 Congress:

The conciliators (participants in the August bloc) have themselves fallen into ideological and political dependence on the liquidators”!

From March 1912, when everyone united with the liquida tots against the evil “Leninist splitters”, up to March 1914, when the fictitious “August bloc” finally fell to pieces, it became abundantly clear that the real unity of the Marxist workers (in Russia, not in Paris or Vienna) is proceeding, and will only proceed, in opposition to the liquidationist group and regardless of the empty talk about “unity” with the advocates of a “legal workers’ party”.

Thousands of workers’ groups openly and publicly rallying around the Marxist paper—here is living proof of genuine unity and its development. Based on the principles evolved by the Marxists at the beginning of the June Third period, this unity has enabled us—a hundredfold more successfully than anyone else has done—to utilise every legal opportunity, to utilise it in the spirit of a ruthless war against the ideas that condemn the “boosting of the illegal press”, or accept advocacy of “a legal party”, or renounce hegemony, or relegate to the background the “pillars”,[13] etc., etc.

And only such unity, based on these principles, indicates the correct path to the Russian working class.

  1. Alexinsky, Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, S. Volsky and others. —Lenin
  2. Otzovism (from the Russian word meaning “withdrawal”)—an opportunist trend which arose among the Bolsheviks after the defeat of the Revolution of 1905–07. The otzovists believed that under the prevailing conditions of reaction the Party should conduct only illegal activities. They demanded the withdrawal of the Social-Democratic deputies from the Duma, and refused to take p art in the work of the trade unions and other mass legal and semi-legal organisations. The otzovists’ policy tended towards divorcing the Party from the masses and turning in into a sectarian organisation.
  3. See present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 425–51.—Ed.
  4. Pochin (Initiative)—a journal of the Narodnik-liquidationist trend run by a group of Socialist-Revolutionaries. Only a single issue was published in June 1912 in Paris.
  5. See pp. 59–62 of this volume.—Ed.
  6. The liquidationist historians present a ludicrous spectacle indeed when they have to dodge and manoeuvre in order to disguise the unpleasant but irrefutable fact that Menshevism (and liquidationism even more so) emerged Thorn the very Economism, Bundism and “legal Marxism” against which the old Iskra, builder of the working-class party in Russia, fought for three years. See, for instance, Mr. Potresov’s pamphlet on Axelrod. Mr. Potresov has tried just as zealously and just as unsuccessfully to disguise and conceal the fact that in his “Zemstvo campaign plan”[14] Axelrod urged us not to frighten the liberals away. Incidentally, even the Menshevik Plekhanov has fully admitted the historical (in addition to theoretical) kinship between liquidationism, and Economism and “legal Marxism”. —Lenin
  7. The Bulygin Duma—a consultative Duma, the law for the convocation of which was drafted by A. G. Bulygin, Minister of the Interior on instructions from the tsar. The tsar’s Manifesto introducing the State Duma and the regulations governing the elections to it was published on August 6 (19), 1905. Only land lords, capitalists and a limited number of peasant householders were granted the right to vote in the Duma elections. The Bolsheviks boycotted the Bulygin Duma. The government failed to convene it—it was swept away by the October general political strike.
    The Witte Duma—the First Duma convened on April 27 (May 10), 1906, under the regulations drawn up by S. Y. Witte, Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
    Four hundred and seventy-eight deputies were elected to the First Duma, of whom 179 were Cadets, 63 Autonomists (including members of the Polish kolo, and Ukrainian, Estonian, Lettish, Lithuanian and other bourgeois-national groups), 16 Octobrists, 105 non-party people, 97 Trudoviks and 18 Social-Democrats. Thus, over a third of the seats in the Duma were held by the Cadets.
    The high point of the First Duma deliberations was the agrarian question. Two basic agrarian programmes were put forward in the Duma—the Cadets’ Bill signed by 42 deputies, and the Trudoviks’ Bill known as the “Bill of the 104”. In contrast with the Trudoviks, the Cadets wanted to preserve landlordism, allowing alienation with compensation “at a fair price” of only those landed estates which were chiefly cultivated by the peasants’ implements or were rented out.
    The First Duma was dissolved by the tsarist government on July 8 (21), 1906.
  8. Tovarishch (Comrade)—a bourgeois daily published in St. Petersburg from March 15 (28), 1906 to December 30, 1907 (January 12, 1908). Though formally the organ of no particular party, it was in fact the mouthpiece of the Left Cadets. Mensheviks also contributed to the paper.
  9. Plekhanov. —Lenin
  10. Za Partiyu (For the Party)—a paper of the pro-Party Mensheviks and conciliators published non-periodically in Paris from April 16 (29), 1912, to February 1914. Five issues were published. Among the contributors were G.V. Plekhanov, S.A. Lozovsky, and A.I. Lyubimov. The paper, which was circulated chiefly abroad, expressed the views, in the main, of the Paris group of Plekhanovites.
  11. Buryanov, A. F.—member of the Fourth Duma, and one of the Menshevik Seven.
  12. Vperyod groups—see Lenin’s article “The Vperyodists and the Vperyod group”. (See pp. 487–93 of this volume.)
  13. See Note 33.