Controversial Issues - An Open Party and the Marxists
|Written||28 April 1913|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 147-169.
I. The Decision of 1908[edit source]
To many workers the struggle that is now going on between Pravda and Luch appears unnecessary and not very intelligible. Naturally, polemical articles in separate issues of the newspaper on separate, sometimes very special questions, do not give a complete idea of the subject and content of the struggle. Hence the legitimate dissatisfaction of the workers.
Yet the question of liquidationism, over which the struggle is now being waged, is at the present time one of the most important and most urgent questions of the working-class movement. One cannot be a class-conscious worker unless one studies the question in detail and forms a definite opinion on it. A worker who wishes to participate independently in deciding the destiny of his Party will not waive aside polemics, even if they are not quite intelligible at first sight, but will earnestly seek until he finds the truth.
How is the truth to be sought? How can one find one’s way through the tangle of contradictory opinions and assertions?
Every sensible person understands that if a bitter struggle is raging on any subject, in order to ascertain the truth, he must not confine himself to the statements made by the disputants, but must examine the facts and documents for him self, see for himself whether there is any evidence to be had from witnesses and whether this evidence is reliable.
This, of course, is not always easy to do. It is much “easier” to take for granted what comes to hand, what you happen to hear, what is more “openly” shouted about, and so on. But people who are satisfied with this are dubbed “shallow”, feather-brained people, and no one takes them seriously. The truth about any important question cannot be found unless a certain amount of independent work is done, and anyone who is afraid of work cannot possibly arrive at the truth.
Therefore, we address ourselves only to those workers who are not afraid of this work, who have decided to get to the bottom of the matter themselves, and try to discover facts, documents, the evidence of witnesses.
The first question that arises is—what is liquidationism? Where did this word come from, what does it mean?
Luch says that the liquidation of the Party, i.e., the dissolution, the break-up of the Party, the renunciation of the Party, is merely a wicked invention. The “factionalist” Bolsheviks, it alleges, invented this charge against the Mensheviks!
Pravda says that the whole Party has been condemning and fighting liquidationism for over four years.
Who is right? How to discover the truth?
Obviously, the only way is to seek for facts and documents of the Party’s history in the last four years, from 1908 to 1912, when the liquidators finally split away from the Party.
These four years, during which the present liquidators were still in the Party, constitute the most important period for discovering where the term liquidationism came from and how it arose.
Hence, the first and basic conclusion: whoever talks of liquidationism, but avoids the facts and Party documents of the 1908–11 period, is hiding the truth from the workers.
What are these facts and Party documents?
First of all there is the Party decision adopted in December 1908. If the workers do not wish to be treated like children who are stuffed with fairy-tales and fables, they must ask their advisers, leaders or representatives, whether a Party decision was adopted on the question of liquidationism in December 1908 and what that decision was.
The decision contains a condemnation of liquidationism and an explanation of what it is.
Liquidationism is “an attempt on the part of a group of Party intellectuals to liquidate [i.e, dissolve, destroy, abolish, close down] the existing organisation of the Party and to replace it at all costs, even at the price of downright renunciation of the programme, tactics, and traditions of the Party [i.e., past experience], by a loose association functioning legally [i.e., in conformity with the law, existing “openly”]”.
Such was the Party’s decision on liquidationism, adopted more than four years ago.
It is obvious from this decision what the essence of liquidationism is and why it is condemned. Its essence is the renunciation of the “underground”, its liquidation and replacement at all costs by an amorphous association functioning legally. Therefore, it is not legal work, not insistence on the need for it that the Party condemns. The Party condemns—and unreservedly condemns—the replacement of the old Party by something amorphous, “open , something which cannot be called a party.
The Party cannot exist unless it defends its existence, unless it unreservedly fights those who want to liquidate it, destroy it, who do not recognise it, who renounce it. This is self-evident.
Anyone who renounces the existing Party in the name of some new party must be told: try, build up a new party, but you cannot remain a member of the old, the present, the existing Party. Such is the meaning of the Party decision adopted in December 1908, and it is obvious that no other decision could have been taken on the question of the Party’s existence.
Of course, liquidationism is ideologically connected with renegacy, with the renunciation of the programme and tactics, with opportunism. This is exactly what is indicated in the concluding part of the above-quoted decision. But liquidationism is not only opportunism. The opportunists are leading the Party on to a wrong, bourgeois path, the path of a liberal-labour policy, but they do not renounce the Party itself, they do not liquidate it. Liquidationism is that brand of opportunism which goes to the length of renouncing the Party. It is self-evident that the Party cannot exist if its members include those who do not recognise its existence. It is equally evident that the renunciation of the underground under existing conditions is renunciation of the old Party.
The question is, what is the attitude of the liquidators towards this Party decision adopted in 1908?
This is the crux of the matter, this puts the sincerity and political honesty of the liquidators to the test.
Not one of them, unless he has taken leave of his senses, will deny that such a decision was adopted by the Party and has not been rescinded.
And so the liquidators resort to evasions; they either avoid the question and withhold from the workers the Party’s decision of 1908, or exclaim (often adding abuse) that this was a decision carried by the Bolsheviks.
But abuse only betrays the weakness of the liquidators. There are Party decisions that have been carried by the Mensheviks, for example, the decision concerning municipalisation, adopted in Stockholm in 1906. This is common knowledge. Many Bolsheviks do not agree with that decision. But not one of them denies that it is a Party decision. In exactly the same way the decision of 1908 concerning liquidationism is a Party decision. All attempts to side step this question only signify a desire to mislead the workers.
Whoever wants to recognise the Party, not merely in words, will not permit any sidestepping, and will insist on getting at the truth concerning the Party’s decision on the question of liquidationism. This decision has been supported ever since 1909 by all the pro-Party Mensheviks, headed by Plekhanov who, in his Dnevnik and in a whole series of other Marxist publications, has repeatedly and quite definitely explained that nobody who wants to liquidate the Party can be a member of the Party.
Plekhanov was and will remain a Menshevik. Therefore, the liquidators’ usual references to the “Bolshevik” nature of the Party’s 1908 decision are doubly wrong.
The more abuse the liquidators hurl at Plekhanov in Luch and Nasha Zarya, the clearer is the proof that the liquidators are in the wrong and that they are trying to obscure the truth by noise, shouting and squabbling. Some times a novice can be stunned at once by such methods, but for all that the workers will find their bearings and will soon come to ignore this abuse.
Is the unity of the workers necessary? It is.
Is the unity of the workers possible without the unity of the workers’ organisation? Obviously not.
What prevents the unity of the workers’ party? Disputes over liquidationism.
Therefore, the workers must understand what these disputes are about in order that they themselves may decide the destiny of their Party and defend it.
The first step in this direction is to acquaint themselves with the Party’s first decision on liquidationism. The workers must know this decision thoroughly and study it care fully, putting aside all attempts to evade the question or to side-track it. Having studied this decision, every worker will begin to understand the essence of liquidationism, why it is such an important and such a “vexed” question, why the Party has been faced with it during the four years and more of the period of reaction.
In the next article we shall consider another important Party decision on liquidationism which was adopted about three and a half years ago, and then pass on to facts and documents that show how the question stands at present.
II. The Decision of 1910[edit source]
In our first article (Pravda No. 289) we quoted the first and basic document with which those workers who wish to discover the truth in the present disputes must make themselves familiar, namely, the Party decision of December 1908 on liquidationism.
Now we shall quote and examine another, no less important Party decision on the same question adopted three and a half years ago, in January 1910. This decision is especially important because it was carried unanimously: all the Bolsheviks, without exception, all the Vperyod group, and finally (this is most important) all the Mensheviks and the present liquidators without exception, and also all the “national” (i.e., Jewish, Polish and Latvian) Marxists accepted this decision.
We quote here in full the most important passage in this decision:
“The historical situation of the Social-Democratic movement in the period of bourgeois counter-revolution inevitably gives rise, as a manifestation of bourgeois influence over the proletariat, on the one hand, to the renunciation of the illegal Social-Democratic Party, the belittling of its role and importance, attempts to curtail the programmatic and tactical tasks and slogans of consistent Social-Democracy, etc.; on the other hand, it gives rise to the renunciation of Social-Democratic activities in the Duma and of the utilisation of legal possibilities, to failure to understand the importance of both, to inability to adapt consistent Social-Democratic tactics to the peculiar historical conditions of the given moment, etc.
“It is an integral part of Social-Democratic tactics under such conditions to overcome both deviations by broadening and deepening Social-Democratic work in all spheres of proletarian class struggle and to explain the danger of such deviations.”
This decision clearly shows that three and a half years ago all the Marxists, as represented by all the trends without exception, were obliged unanimously to recognise two deviations from Marxist tactics. Both deviations were recognised as dangerous. Both deviations were explained as being due, not to accident, not to the evil will of certain individuals, but to the “historical situation” of the working-class movement in the present period.
Moreover, this unanimous Party decision points to the class origin and significance of these deviations. For Marxists do not confine themselves to bare and hollow references to disruption and disintegration. That sense of confusion, lack of faith, despondency and perplexity reign in the minds of many adherents of democracy and socialism is obvious to all. It is not enough to admit this. It is necessary to understand the class origin of the discord and disintegration, to understand what class interests emanating from a non-proletarian environment foster “confusion” among the friends of the proletariat.
And the Party decision adopted three and a half years ago gave an answer to this important question: the deviations from Marxism are generated by “bourgeois counter revolution”, by “bourgeois influence over the proletariat”.
What are these deviations that threaten to surrender the proletariat to the influence of the bourgeoisie? One of these deviations, connected with the Vperyod line and renouncing Social-Democratic activities in the Duma and the utilisation of legal possibilities, has almost completely disappeared. None of the Social-Democrats in Russia now preach these erroneous non-Marxian views. The Vperyod group (including Alexinsky and others) have begun to work in Pravda alongside the pro-Party Mensheviks.
The other deviation indicated in the Party decision is liquidationism. This is obvious from the reference to the “renunciation” of the underground and to the “belittling” of its role and importance. Finally, we have a very precise document, published three years ago and refuted by no one, a document emanating from all the “national” Marxists and from Trotsky (better witnesses the liquidators could not wish for). This document states directly that “in essence it would be desirable to call the trend indicated in the resolution liquidationism, a trend which must be combated...
Thus, the fundamental and most important fact that must be known by everyone who wants to understand what the present controversy is about is the following—three and a half years ago the Party unanimously recognised liquidationism to be a “dangerous” deviation from Marxism, a deviation which must be combated and which expresses “bourgeois influence over the proletariat”.
The interests of the bourgeoisie, whose attitude is against democracy, and, generally speaking, counter-revolutionary, demand the liquidation, the dissolution of the old Party of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are doing everything they can to spread and foster all ideas aimed at liquidating the party of the working class. The bourgeoisie are trying to encourage renunciation of the old tasks, to “dock” them, cut them back, prune them, sap them of meaning, to substitute conciliation or an agreement with the Purishkeviches and Co. for the determined destruction of the foundations of their power.
Liquidationism is, in fact, the spreading of these bourgeois ideas of renunciation and renegacy among the proletariat.
Such is the class significance of liquidationism as indicated in the Party decision unanimously adopted three and a half years ago. It is in this that the entire Party sees the greatest harm and the danger of liquidationism, its pernicious effect on the working-class movement, on the consolidation of an independent (not merely in word but in deed) party of the working class.
Liquidationism means not only the liquidation (i.e., the dissolution, the destruction) of the old party of the working class, it also means the destruction of the class independence of the proletariat, the corruption of its class-consciousness by bourgeois ideas.
We shall give an illustration of this appraisal of liquidationism in the next article, which will set forth in full the most important arguments of the liquidationist Luch. Now let us sum up briefly what we have stated. The attempts of the Luch people in general, and of Messrs. F. Dan and Potresov in particular, to make it appear that “liquidationism” is an invention, are astonishingly mendacious subterfuges based on the assumption that the readers of Luch are completely uninformed. Actually, apart from the Party decision of 1908, there is the unanimous Party decision of 1910, which gives a complete appraisal of liquidationism as a bourgeois deviation from the proletarian path, a deviation that is dangerous and disastrous to the working class. Only the enemies of the working class can conceal or evade this Party appraisal.
III. The Attitude of the Liquidators to the Decisions of 1908 and 1910[edit source]
In the preceding article [Pravda No. 95 (299)], we quoted the exact words of the unanimous Party decision on liquidationism, which define it as a manifestation of bourgeois influence over the proletariat.
As we have pointed out, this decision was adopted in January 1910. Let us now examine the behaviour of those liquidators who are brazenly assuring us that there is not, and never has been, any such thing as liquidationism.
In February 1910, in No. 2 of the magazine Nasha Zarya, which had only just begun to appear at that time, Mr. Potresov wrote bluntly that “there is no Party in the shape of an integral and organised hierarchy” (i.e., ladder, or system of “institutions”) and that it was impossible to liquidate “what in reality no longer exists as an organised body”. (See Nasha Zarya, 1910, No. 2, 61.)
This was stated a month or even less after the unanimous decision of the Party!
And in March 1910, another liquidationist journal, namely Vozrozhdeniye, having the same set of contributors—Potresov, Dan, Martynov, Yezhov, Martov, Levitsky and Co.—stressed and gave a popular explanation of Mr. Potresov’s words:
“There is nothing, to liquidate and—we for our part [i.e., the editors of Vozrozhdeniye] would add—the dream of re-establishing this hierarchy in its old, underground form is simply a harmful, reactionary utopia indicating a loss of political intuition by members of a party which at one time was the most realistic of all.” (Vozrozhdeniye, 1910, No. 5, p. 51.)
There is no party, and the idea of re-establishing it is a harmful utopia—these are clear and definite words. Here we have a plain and direct renunciation of the Party. The renunciation (and the invitation to the workers to renounce) came from people who had deserted the underground and were “longing for” an open party.
This desertion from the underground was, moreover, quite definitely and openly supported by P. B. Axelrod in 1912, both in Nevsky Golos (1912, No. 6) and in Nasha Zarya (1912, No. 6).
“To talk about non-factionalism in the conditions now obtaining,” wrote P. B. Axelrod, “means behaving like an ostrich, means deceiving oneself and others.” “Factional organisation and consolidation is the manifest responsibility and urgent duty of the supporters of Party reform, or to be more exact, of a revolution in the Party.”
Thus P. B. Axelrod is openly in favour of a Party revolution, i.e., the destruction of the old Party and the formation of a new one.
In 1913, Luch No. 101, in an unsigned editorial stated plainly that “among the workers in some places there is even a revival and growth of sympathy for the underground” and that this was “a regrettable fact”. L. Sedov, the author of that article, admitted himself (Nasha Zarya, 1913, No. 3, p. 49) that the article had “caused dissatisfaction”, even among the supporters of Luch tactics. L. Sedov’s explanations, furthermore, were such as to cause renewed dissatisfaction on the part of a Luch supporter, namely An, who has an item in No. 181 of Luch, opposing Sedov. He protests against Sedov’s assumption that the “underground is an obstacle to the political organisation of our movement, to the building up of a workers’ Social-Democratic Party. An ridicules L. Sedov for his “vagueness” as to whether the underground is desirable or not.
In their long comment on the article the editors of Luch came out in favour of Sedov and stated An to be “mistaken in his criticism of L. Sedov”.
We will examine the arguments of the Luch editors and the liquidationist mistakes of An himself in their proper place. That is not the point we are discussing here. What we must go into carefully at the moment is the fundamental and principal conclusion to be drawn from the documents quoted above.
The entire Party, both in 1908 and in 1910, condemned and rejected liquidationism, and explained the class origin and the danger of this trend clearly and in detail. All the liquidationist newspapers and journals—Vozrozhdeniye (1909-10), Nasha Zarya (1910-13), Nevsky Golos (1912), and Luch (1912–13) all of them, after the most definite and even unanimous decisions of the Party, reiterate thoughts and arguments of an obvious liquidationist nature.
Even “Luch” supporters are forced to declare that they disagree with these arguments, with this preaching. That is a fact. Therefore, to shout about the “baiting” of liquidators, as Trotsky, Semkovsky and many other patrons of liquidationism do, is downright dishonesty, for it is an absolute distortion of the truth.
The truth proved by the documents I have quoted, which cover a period of more than five years (1908-13), is that the liquidators, flouting all Party decisions, continue to abuse and bait the Party, i.e., the “underground”.
Every worker who himself wants to examine seriously the controversial and vexed questions of the Party, who wants to decide these questions for himself, must first of all assimilate this truth, making an independent study and verification of these Party decisions and of the liquidator arguments. Only those who carefully study, ponder over and reach an independent decision on the problems and the fate of their Party deserve to be called Party members and builders of the workers’ party. One must not be indifferent to the question of whether it is the Party that is “guilty” of “baiting” (i.e., of too trenchant and mistaken attacks on) the liquidators or whether it is the liquidators who are guilty of flagrantly violating Party decisions, of persistently advocating the liquidation, i.e., the destruction of the Party.
Clearly, the Party cannot exist unless it fights with might and main against those who seek to destroy it.
Having quoted the documents on this fundamental question, we shall, in the next article, pass on to an appraisal of the ideological content of the plea for an “open party”.
IV. The Class Significance of Liquidationism[edit source]
In the preceding articles (Pravda Nos. 289, 299 and 314) we showed that all the Marxists, both in 1908 and in 1910, irrevocably condemned liquidationism as renunciation of the past. The Marxists explained to the working class that liquidationism is the spreading of bourgeois influence among the proletariat. And all the liquidationist publications, from 1909 up to 1913, have flagrantly violated the decisions of the Marxists.
Let us consider the slogan, an “open workers’ party”, or “a struggle for an open party”, which the liquidators are still advocating in Luck and Nasha Zarya.
Is this a Marxist, proletarian slogan, or a liberal, bourgeois slogan?
The answer must be sought not in the attitude or plans of the liquidators or of other groups, but in an analysis of the relation of social forces in Russia in the present period. The significance of slogans is determined not by the intentions of their authors, but by the relation of forces of all the classes in the country.
The feudal-minded land owners and their “bureaucracy” are hostile to all changes making for political liberty. This is understandable. The bourgeoisie, because of its economic position in a backward and semi-feudal country, must strive for freedom. But the bourgeoisie fears the activity of the people more than it fears reaction. This truth was demonstrated with particular clarity in 1905; it is fully under stood by the working class, but not by opportunist and semi-liberal intellectuals.
The bourgeoisie are both liberal and counter-revolutionary. Hence their ridiculously impotent and wretched reformism. They dream of reforms and fear to settle accounts in real earnest with the feudal-minded landowners who not only refuse to grant reforms, but even withdraw those already granted. They preach reforms and fear the popular movement. They strive to oust the landowners, but fear to lose their support and fear to lose their own privileges. It is upon this relation of classes that the June Third system has been built up, which gives unlimited power to the feudal landowners and privileges to the bourgeoisie.
The class position of the proletariat makes it altogether impossible for it to “share” privileges or be afraid of anyone losing them. That is why selfishly narrow, miserable and dull-witted reformism is quite foreign to the proletariat. As to the peasant masses—on the one hand they are immeasurably oppressed, and instead of enjoying privileges suffer from starvation; on the other hand, they are undoubtedly petty bourgeois—hence, they inevitably vacillate between the liberals and the workers.
Such is the objective situation.
From this situation it clearly follows that the slogan of an open working-class party is, in its class origin, a slogan of the counter-revolutionary liberals. It contains nothing save reformism; it does not contain even a hint that the proletariat, the only thoroughly democratic class, is conscious that its task is one of fighting the liberals for influence over democrats as a whole; there is not even a suggestion of removing the foundation of all the privileges of the feudal-minded landowners, of the “bureaucracy”, etc.; there is not a thought of the general basis of political liberty or of a democratic Constitution; instead, this slogan implies the tacit renunciation of the old, and consequently, renegacy and the dissolution (liquidation) of the workers’ party.
In brief. In a period of counter-revolution this slogan spreads among the workers the advocacy of the very thing the liberal bourgeoisie are themselves practising. Therefore, had there been no liquidators, the clever bourgeois Progressists would have had to find, or hire, intellectuals to advocate this to the working class!
Only the foolish people will seek to compare the words of the liquidators with their motives. Their words must be compared with the deeds and the objective position of the liberal bourgeoisie.
Look at these deeds. In 1902, the bourgeoisie was in favour of the underground. It commissioned Struve to publish the underground Osvobozhdeniye. When the working-class movement led to October 17, the liberals and the Cadets abandoned the underground, then repudiated it, and declared it to be useless, mad, sinful and godless (Vekhi). Instead of the underground, the liberal bourgeoisie favoured a struggle for an open party. This is an historical fact, confirmed by the incessant attempts at legalisation made by the Cadets (1905–07) and the Progressists (1913).
Among the Cadets we see “open work and its secret organisation”; the kind-hearted, i.e., unwitting, liquidator, A. Vlasov, has only retold the deeds of the Cadets “in his own words”.
Why did the liberals renounce the underground and adopt the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”? Was it because Struve is a traitor? No, just the opposite. Struve went over to the other side because the entire bourgeoisie took a turn. And the bourgeoisie turned (1) because it obtained privileges on December 11, 1905, and even on June 3, 1907 obtained the status of a tolerated opposition; (2) because it was it self mortally afraid of the popular movement. The slogan of “a struggle for an open party”, translated from the language of “high politics” into plain and intelligible language, means the following:
“Landowners! Don’t imagine that we want to make life impossible for you. No, just move up a little and make room for us bourgeois [an open party 1, we shall then defend you five times more ’intelligently’, ingenuously, ’scientifically’ than the Timoshkins and Sabler’s parsons did.”
The petty-bourgeois Narodniks, in imitation of the Cadets, took up the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”. In August 1906, Messrs. Peshekhonov and Co. of Russkoye Bogatstvo renounced the underground, proclaimed the “struggle for an open party”, and cut the consistently democratic “underground” slogans out of their programme.
Thanks to their reformist chatter about a “broad and open party”, these philistines have been left, as all can see, without any party, without any contact with the masses, while the Cadets have even stopped thinking of such contacts.
Only in this way, only by analysing the position of the classes, by analysing the general history of the counter revolution, is it possible to understand the nature of liquidationism. The liquidators are petty-bourgeois intellectuals, sent by the bourgeoisie to sow liberal corruption among the workers. The liquidators are traitors to Marxism and traitors to democracy. The slogan of “a struggle for an open party” in their case (as in the case of the liberals and the Narodniks) only serves to camouflage their renunciation of the past and their rupture with the working class. This is a fact that has been proved both by the elections in the worker curia for the Fourth Duma and by the history of the founding of the workers’ paper Pravda. It is obvious to all that contact with the masses has been maintained only by those who have not renounced the past and who know how to make use of “open work” and of all and sun dry “possibilities” exclusively in the spirit of that past, and for the purpose of strengthening, consolidating and developing it.
In the period of the June Third system it could not be otherwise.
“Curtailment” of the programme and tactics by the liquidators (i.e., liberals) will be discussed in our next article.
V. The Slogan of “Struggle for an Open Party”[edit source]
In the preceding article (Pravda No. 122) we examined the objective significance (i.e., the significance that is determined by the relations of classes) of the slogan “an open party” or “a struggle for an open party”. This slogan is a slavish repetition of the tactics of the bourgeoisie, for whom it correctly expresses their renunciation of the revolution, or their counter-revolutionary attitude.
Let us consider some of the attempts most frequently made by liquidators to defend the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”. Mayevsky, Sedov, Dan and all the Luch writers try to confuse the open party with open work or activity. Such confusion is downright sophistry, a trick, a deception of the reader.
In the first place, open Social-Democratic activity in the period 1904–13 is a fact. An open party is a phrase used by intellectuals to cover up renunciation of the Party. Secondly, the Party has repeatedly condemned liquidationism i.e., the slogan of an open party. But the Party, far from condemning open activities, has, on the contrary, condemned those who neglected or renounced them. In the third place, from 1904 to 1907, open activities were especially developed among all the Social-Democrats. But not a single trend, not a single faction of Social-Democracy at that time advanced the slogan of “a struggle for an open party”!
This is an historical fact. Those who wish to understand liquidationism must give thought to this fact.
Did the absence of the slogan “a struggle for an open party” hamper open activities in the 1904–07 period? Not in the least.
Why did no such slogan arise among the Social-Democrats at that time? Precisely because at that time there was no raging counter-revolution to draw a section of the Social Democrats into extreme opportunism. It would have been only too clear at the time that the slogan “a struggle for an open party” was an opportunist phrase, a renunciation of the “underground”.
Gentlemen, try to grasp the meaning of this historical change. During the 1905 period, when open activities were splendidly developed, there was no slogan of “a struggle for an open party”; during the period of counter-revolution, when open activities are less developed, a section of the Social-Democrats (following the bourgeoisie) has taken up the slogan of renunciation of the “underground” and “a struggle for an open party”.
Are the meaning and the class significance of this change still not clear?
Finally, the fourth and most important circumstance. Two kinds of open activity, in two diametrically opposite directions, are possible (and are to be seen)—one in defence of the old and entirely in the spirit of the old, on behalf of its slogans and tactics; and another against the old, on be half of its renunciation, of belittling its role, its slogans, etc.
The existence of these two kinds of open activity, hostile and irreconcilable in principle, is a most indisputable historical fact of the period from 1906 (the Cadets and Messrs. Peshekhonov and Co.) to 1913 (Luch, Nasha Zarya). Can one restrain a smile when one hears a simpleton (or one who for a while plays the simpleton) asking: what is there to argue about if both sides carry on open activities. What the argument, my dear sir, is about is whether these activities should be carried on in defence of the “underground” and in its spirit, or in belittlement of it, against it and not in its spirit! The dispute is only—only!—about whether this particular open work is conducted in the liberal or in the consistently democratic spirit, The dispute is “only” about whether it is possible to confine oneself to open work—recall Mr. Liberal Struve who did not confine himself to it in 1902, but has wholly “confined himself” to it in the years 1906–13!
Our Luch liquidators just cannot understand that the slogan “a struggle for an open party” means carrying into the midst of the workers liberal (Struve) ideas, decked out in the rags of “near-Marxist” catchwords.
Or take, for instance, the arguments of the Luch editors themselves, in their reply to An (No. 181):
“The Social-Democratic Party is not limited to those few comrades whom the realities of life force to work underground. If the entire party were limited to the underground, how many members would it have? Two to three hundred? And where would those thousands if not tens of thousands of workers be, who are actually bearing the brunt of all Social-Democratic work?”
For any man who thinks, this argument alone is enough to identify its authors as liberals. First, they are telling a deliberate untruth about the “underground”. It numbers far more than “hundreds”. Secondly, all over the world the number of Party members is “limited”, as compared with the number of workers who carry on Social-Democratic work. For example, in Germany there are only one million members in the Social-Democratic Party, yet the number of votes cast for the Social-Democrats is about five million, and the proletariat numbers about fifteen million. The proportion of Party members to the number of Social-Democrats is determined in various countries by the differences in their historical conditions. Thirdly, we have nothing that could be a substitute for our “underground”. Thus, in opposing the Party, Luch refers to the non-Party workers, or those who are outside the Party. This is the usual method of the liberal who tries to separate the masses from their class-conscious vanguard. Luch does not understand the relation between Party and class, just as the Economists of 1895–1901 failed to understand it. Fourthly, so far our “Social-Democratic work” is genuine Social-Democratic work only when it is conducted in the spirit of the old, under its slogans.
The arguments of Luch are the arguments of liberal intellectuals, who, unwilling to join the actually existing Party organisation, try to destroy that organisation by inciting the non-Party, scattered, unenlightened mass against it. The German liberals do the same when they say that the Social-Democrats do not represent the proletariat since their “Party” comprises “only” one-fifteenth of the proletariat!
Take the even more common argument advanced by Luch: “we” are for an open party, “just as in Europe”. The liberals and the liquidators want a constitution and an open party “as in Europe” today, but they do not want the path by which Europe reached that today.
Kosovsky, a liquidator and Bundist, teaches us in Luch to follow the example of the Austrians. But he forgets that the Austrians have had a constitution since 1867, and that they could not have had it without (1) the movement of 1848; (2) the profound political crisis of 1859–66, when the weakness of the working class allowed Bismarck and Co. to extricate themselves by means of the famous “revolution from above”. What then follows from the precepts of Kosovsky, Dan, Larin and all the Luch writers? Only that they are helping to solve our crisis in the spirit of “revolution from above” and in no other spirit! But such work of theirs is precisely the “work” of a Stolypin workers’ party.
No matter where we look—we see the liquidators renouncing both Marxism and democracy.
In the next article we shall examine in detail their arguments on the need to tone down our Social-Democratic slogans.
We must now consider the toning down of Marxist slogans by the liquidators. For this purpose it would be best to take the decisions of their August Conference, but for obvious reasons these decisions can be analysed only in the press published abroad. Here we are obliged to quote Luch, Issue No. 108 (194), which, in the article by L. S. gave a remarkably precise exposition of the whole essence, the whole spirit of liquidationism.
Mr. L. S. writes as follows:
“Deputy Muranov so far recognises only three partial demands, which, as is known, were the three pillars of the election platform of the Leninists: the complete democratisation of the state system, an eight-hour day and the transfer of the land to the peasants. Pravda, too, continues to maintain this point of view. Yet we, as well as the whole of European Social-Democracy [read—“we, and also Milyukov, who assures us that, thank God, we have a constitution”], see in partial demands a method of agitation which may be crowned with success only if it takes into account the everyday struggle of the working masses. We think that only things that, on the one hand, are of fundamental importance to the further development of the working-class movement, and on the other hand, may acquire urgency for the masses, should be advanced as the partial demand upon which the Social-Democrats should concentrate their attention at the present moment. Of the three demands advanced by Pravda, only one—the eight-hour day—plays and can play a part in the everyday struggle of the workers. The other two demands may at the present moment serve as subjects for propaganda, but not for agitation. Concerning the difference between propaganda and agitation, see the brilliant pages of G. V. Plekhanov’s pamphlet The Struggle Against Famine. [L. S. is knocking at the wrong door; it is “painful” for him to recall Plekhanov’s controversy in 18994902 with the Economists whom he is copying!]
“Apart from the eight-hour day, the demand for the right of association, the right to form any kind of organisation, with the corresponding freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, both the oral and the printed word, is a partial demand advanced both by the requirements of the working-class movement and by the entire course of Prussian life.”
Here you have the tactics of the liquidators. What L. S. describes by the words “complete democratisation, etc.”, and what he calls the “transfer of the land to the peasants” are not, you see, of “urgency for the masses”, they are not “advanced by the requirements of the working-class movement” and “the entire course of Russian life”! How old these arguments are and how familiar they are to those who remember the history of Russian Marxist practice, its many years of struggle against the Economists, who renounced the tasks of democracy! With what talent Luch copies the views of Prokopovich and Kuskova, who in those days tried to entice the workers on to the liberal path!
But let us examine the Luch arguments more closely. From the standpoint of common sense they are sheer madness. Can anyone in his right mind really affirm that the above-mentioned “peasant” demand (i.e., one designed to benefit the peasants) is not “urgent for the masses”, is not “advanced both by the requirements of the working-class movement and by the entire course of Russian life?” This is not only an untruth, it is an obvious absurdity. The entire history of nineteenth-century Russia, the entire “course of Russian life” produced that question, made it urgent, even most urgent; this has been reflected in the whole of the legislation of Russia. How could Luch arrive at such a monstrous untruth?
It had to arrive at it, because Luch is in bondage to liberal policy, and the liberals are true to themselves when they reject (or, like Luch, put aside) the peasant demand. The liberal bourgeoisie does so, because its class position forces it to humour the landowners and to oppose the people’s movement.
Luch brings to the workers the ideas of the liberal land owners and is guilty of treachery to the democratic peasantry.
Further. Can it be that only the right of association is of “urgency”? What about inviolability of person? or the abolition of despotism and tyranny, or universal, etc., suffrage, or a single chamber, etc.? Every literate worker, everyone who remembers the recent past, knows perfectly well that all this is urgent. In thousands of articles and speeches all the liberals acknowledge that all this is urgent. Why then did Luch declare urgent only one of these liberties, albeit one of the most important, while the fundamental conditions of political liberty, of democracy and of a constitutional system were struck out, put aside, relegated to the archives of “propaganda”, and excluded from agitation?
The reason, and the only reason is, that Luch does not accept what is unacceptable to the liberals.
From the standpoint of urgency for the masses, the requirements of the working-class movement and the course of Russian life, there is no difference between the three demands of Muranov and of Pravda (or, to put it briefly, the demands of consistent Marxists). Working-class, peasant and general political demands are all of equal urgency for the masses, are equally brought to the forefront both by the requirements of the working-class movement and by “the entire course of Russian life”. All three demands are also alike because they are the partial demands dear to our worshipper of moderation and precision; they are “partial” compared with the final aims, but they are of a very high level compared, for example, with “Europe” in general.
Why then does Luch accept the eight-hour day and reject the rest? Why did it decide on behalf of the workers that the eight-hour day does “play a part” in their everyday struggle, whereas the general political and peasant demands do not play such a part? The facts show, on the one hand, that the workers in their daily struggle advance both the general political and the peasant demands—and, on the other hand, that they often fight for more moderate reductions of the working day.
What is the trouble, then?
The trouble lies in the reformism of Luch, which, as usual, attributes its own liberal narrow-mindedness to the masses to the “course of history”, etc.
Reformism, in general, means that people confine them selves to agitating for changes which do not require the removal of the main foundations of the old ruling class, changes that are compatible with the preservation of these foundations. The eight-hour day is compatible with the preservation of the power of capital. The Russian liberals, in order to attract the workers, are themselves prepared to endorse this demand (“as far as possible”). Those demands for which Luch does not want to “agitate” are incompatible with the preservation of the foundations of the pre-capitalist period, the period of serfdom.
Luch eliminates from agitation precisely what is not acceptable to the liberals, who do not want to abolish the power of the landlords, but want only to share their power and privileges. Luch eliminates precisely what is incompatible with the point of view of reformism.
That’s where the trouble lies!
Neither Muranov, nor Pravda, nor any Marxist rejects partial demands. That is nonsense. Take insurance, for example. We reject the deception of the people by idle talk about partial demands, by reformism. We reject liberal reformism in present-day Russia as being utopian, self-seeking and false, as based on constitutional illusions and full of the spirit of servility to the landlords. That is the point which Luch tries to confuse and hide by phrases about “partial demands” in general, although it admits itself that neither Muranov nor Pravda rejects certain “partial demands”.
Luch tones down the Marxist slogans, tries to fit them to the narrow, reformist, liberal yardstick, and thus spreads bourgeois ideas among the workers.
The struggle the Marxists are waging against the liquidators is nothing but an expression of the struggle the advanced workers are waging against the liberal bourgeoisie for influence over the masses of the people, for their political enlightenment and education.
- The reference is to the Menshevik agrarian municipalisation programme adopted at the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the RSDLP Lenin criticised this programme in his “Report on the Unity Congress of the RSDLP” and “The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905–07” (see Vol. 13).
- Pro-Party Mensheviks—a small group of Mensheviks led by Plekhanov that broke with the Menshevik liquidators and opposed liquidationism in the 1908–12 period.
- Lenin quotes from the decision condemning liquidationism and otzovism adopted by the January 1910 Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the RSDLP on the question: “The State of Affairs in the Party”.
- Vozrozhdeniye (Regeneration)—a legal journal published by Menshevik liquidators in Moscow from December 1908 to July 1910.
- Nevsky Golos (Neva Voice)—a legal newspaper published by Menshevik liquidators in St. Petersburg from May to August 1912.
- In the symposium Marxism and Liquidationism Lenin substituted for this paragraph, up to the word “fundamental”, the following text (reproduced from the manuscript):
“In No. 8 of Zhivaya Zhizn (July 19, 1913) Vera Zasulich repeating dozens of liquidationist arguments wrote: ‘It is difficult to say whether the new organisation [the Social-Democratic Party]... helped or hindered the work.’ Clearly these words are tantamount to renunciation of the Party. Vera Zasulich justifies desertion from the Party by saying: the organisations lost their members ‘because at that time there was nothing to do in them’. Vera Zasulich is creating a purely anarchist theory about ‘a broad section’ instead of a party. See the detailed analysis of this theory in Prosveshcheniye No. 9, 1913. (See pp. 394–416 of this volume.—Ed.)
“What then constitutes the ...”—Ed.
- The symposium Marxism and Liquidationism adds “and Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta (1943–14)” with the following footnote:
“See, for example, Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta No. 1, 1914, the New Year’s leading article: ‘The road to an open political party of action is also the road to party unity’ [to the unity of the builders of an open party?]. Or No. 5, 1914: ‘surmounting [all the obstacles that are placed in the way of organising workers’ congresses] is nothing more nor less than a most genuine struggle for the right of association, i.e., for the legality of the working-class movement, closely connected with the struggle for the open existence of the Social-Democratic Labour Party.’”—Ed.
- In the symposium Marxism and Liquidationism the word Vekhi is omitted and the following footnote is given:
“There is a fine book Vekhi which has gone through numerous editions and contains an excellent compilation of these ideas of counter-revolutionary liberalism”.—Ed.
- Lenin refers to the law, promulgated on December 11 (24), 1905, on the convening of a “legislative” State Duma; the law was promulgated by the tsarist government when the Moscow insurrection was at its height. The First Duma, elected under this law, had a Cadet majority.
- By “Sabler’s parsons” Lenin means the orthodox priests who were drawn into active participation in the election to the Fourth Duma on instructions issued by the reactionary Sabler, Procurator General of the Synod, to ensure the election of deputies amenable to the tsarist government.
- Narodniks—supporters of Narodism, the petty-bourgeois trend in the Russian revolutionary movement in the sixties to the eighties of the last century. The Narodniks campaigned for the abolition of the autocracy and the transfer of landed estates to the peasants. They denied that in accordance with the regular laws of capitalism, capitalist relations and a proletariat were developing in Russia and, as a consequence of this, considered the peasantry to be the chief revolutionary force; they regarded the village commune as an embryonic form of socialism. The Narodniks, therefore, went out to the villages to arouse the peasants to struggle against the autocracy. The Narodniks proceeded from a false premise on the role of the class struggle in history, believing that history is made by heroes, who are passively followed by the masses. The Narodniks adopted terrorist tactics in their struggle against tsarism.
In the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century the Narodniks adopted a conciliatory policy towards tsarism, began to fight for the interests of the kulaks and conducted a stubborn struggle against Marxism.
- Stolypin—Minister of the Interior and Chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1906 to 1911. With his name are connected the suppression of the First Russian Revolution (1905–07) and the period of brutal political reaction that followed.
Stolypin workers’ party—was the name given by the Russian workers to the Menshevik liquidators who adapted themselves to the Stolypin regime and, at the cost of renouncing the programme and tactics of the RSDLP, attempted to obtain the sanction of the tsarist government to establish an open, legal, allegedly working-class party.
- L. S. (L. Sedov)—pseudonym of the Menshevik liquidator B. A. Ginsburg.