Conversation (1913)

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First Bystander. I am following, as closely as I can, the struggle among the workers over “the six and the seven”.[1] I try to follow both newspapers. I compare, as far as possible, the repercussions in the bourgeois and Black-Hundred newspapers.... And d’you know what I think? It seems to me that the struggle is taking grave forms, that it is degenerating into squabbles and bickerings, and that the result will, in any case, be tremendous demoralisation.

Second Bystander. I don’t understand you. Whoever heard of a struggle anywhere that did not become grave if it was over something really serious? It is because the struggle is over a serious problem that it cannot stop at “a slight quarrel”. Those who are used to denying, and who continue to deny, the principles of party organisation will not surrender without the most desperate resistance. Desperate resistance always and everywhere engenders “grave forms of struggle”, engenders attempts to shift the dispute from the sphere of principles to that of squabbles. What if it does? Because of that do you want us to reject the struggle for the fundamental principles of party organisation?

First Bystander. You are wandering away a bit from the question I raised and are in too much of a hurry to “go over to the offensive”. Every workers’ group on both sides is in a hurry to “dash off” a resolution, and there is something almost like competition developing between them to see who can outdo the other in the use of strong language. So much vituperation makes the working-class press repulsive to large numbers of working people who are seeking the light of socialism and who, perhaps, throw down the newspaper with a feeling of confusion, or even a feeling of shame for socialism.... They may even be disappointed in socialism for a long time. A slanging match creates a sort of “un-natural selection” that brings the “list-fight specialists” to the fore.... Prowess in abusing one’s opponent is encouraged on both sides. Is this the sort of education the socialist party should give the proletariat? Does this not turn out to be approval of, or at least connivance at, opportunism, since opportunism is the sacrifice of the basic interests of the working-class movement to momentary success. The basic interests of the working-class movement are being sacrificed to momentary success by both sides.... Instead of experiencing the joy of socialist work, of being inspired by it and showing a serious attitude towards it, the socialists themselves are driving the masses away from socialism. Willy-nilly, those bitter words come to mind—the proletariat will achieve socialism despite the socialists.

Second Bystander. We are both outsiders, that is, neither of us is a direct participant in the struggle. But bystanders who are trying to understand what is happening before their eyes may react to the struggle in two ways. Looking on from the outside, one may see only what one might call the outward aspect of the struggle; speaking figuratively, one may see only clenched fists, distorted faces and ugly scenes; one may condemn it all, one may weep and wail on account of it. But one can also, looking on from the outside, understand the meaning of the struggle that is going on, which is slightly, if you will excuse my saying so, more interesting and historically more significant than the scenes and pictures of the so-called excesses or extremes of the struggle. There can be no struggle without enthusiasm and no enthusiasm without extremes; and as far as I’m concerned I hate most of all people who focus their attention on “extremes” in the struggle of classes, parties and factions. I always get the impulse—pardon me again—to shout at those people: “I don’t care if you drink, as long as you understand what you are doing.”[2]

And this is about something big, historically big. A working-class party is being built up. Workers’ independence, the influence of the workers on their own parliamentary group, decisions by the workers themselves on questions of their own party—such is the great historical significance of what is going on; the mere wish is becoming fact before our very eyes. You are afraid of “extremes” and you regret them, but I watch in admiration a struggle that is actually making the working class of Russia more mature and adult, and I am mad about one thing only—that I am a bystander, that I cannot plunge into the midst of that struggle....

First Bystander. And into the midst of the “extremes”, eh? And if the “extremes” lead to the fabrication of resolutions will you also proclaim “hatred” for the people who draw attention to it, who are indignant about it and who demand that such things should be stopped at all costs?

Second Bystander. Don’t try to frighten me, please! You won’t frighten me, anyway! You really are getting like those people who are ready to condemn publicity because of some false information that has been published. I remember once in Pravda[3] a report of the political dishonesty of a certain Social-Democrat was published; some time afterwards the report was refuted. I can well imagine what that Social-Democrat’s feelings must have been in the period between publication and refutal! But publicity is a sword that itself heals the wounds it makes. There will be fabrication of resolutions, you say? The falsifiers will be exposed and thrown out, that’s all. Serious battles are not staged without a field hospital somewhere nearby. But to allow yourself to be scared, or your nerves shattered by “field hospital” scenes is something unpardonable. If you’re scared of wolves, keep out of the forest.

As to opportunism, that is, ignoring the basic aims of socialism, you’re putting the blame on the wrong side. According to you, those basic aims are some “angelic ideal” that has nothing to do with the “sinful” struggle for the cause of the day, for the urgent matters of the moment. To look on matters that way is simply to turn socialism into a sweet phrase, into saccharine sentimentalising. Every struggle for every matter of the moment must be intimately connected with basic aims. It is only this understanding of the historical meaning of the struggle that makes it possible, by deepening and sharpening it, to get rid of that negative side, that “prowess”, that “fist-fighting” which is inevitable wherever there is a crowd making a noise, shouting and shoving, but which disappears of itself.

You speak of a socialist party educating the proletariat. In the present struggle the very question at issue is that of defending the basic principles of party life. The question of what policy it wants conducted in the Duma, what attitude it has to an open party or an underground one, and whether it considers the Duma group to be above the party or vice versa, is confronting every workers’ study circle starkly, in a form that demands an immediate and direct answer. This, indeed, is the ABC of party existence, it is a question of whether the party is to be or not to be.

Socialism is not a ready-made system that will be mankind’s benefactor. Socialism is the class struggle of the present-day proletariat as it advances from one objective today to another objective tomorrow for the sake of its basic objective, to which it is coming nearer every day. In this country called Russia, socialism is today passing through the stage in which the politically conscious workers are themselves completing the organisation of a working-class party despite the attempts of the liberal intelligentsia and the “Duma Social-Democratic intelligentsia” to prevent that work of organisation.

The liquidators are out to prevent the workers from building up their own working-class party—that is the meaning and significance of the struggle between “the six and the seven”. They cannot, however, prevent it. The struggle is a hard one, but the workers’ success is assured. Let the weak and the frightened waver on account of the “extremes” of the struggle—tomorrow they will see for themselves that not a step further could have been taken without going through this struggle.

  1. See “Material on the Conflict Within the Social-Democratic Duma Group”, p. 458 of this volume.
  2. This is the concluding line of Ivan Krylov’s fable “Musicians”; it has become proverbial in Russian. The fable is about a landowner who boasted to his neighbour of the choir that he had formed from his serfs. The singers had no ear for music and no voices, but this did not bother the serf-owner, who valued them mainly for their soberness and exemplary behaviour.
  3. Pravda (Truth)—Bolshevik legal daily published in St. Petersburg. It was founded in April 1912 on the initiative of St. Petersburg workers.
    Pravda was a mass working-class newspaper maintained by funds collected by the workers themselves. Articles were contributed by a large group of worker-correspondents and worker-writers—in one year alone the paper published 11,000 items from its worker-correspondents. The average circulation was 40,000, and occasionally it reached 60,000 copies.
    Lenin directed the work of the paper from abroad, writing an article almost daily; he gave his advice to the editors and mustered the Party’s best literary forces for the paper.
    The police persecuted Pravda systematically; in the first year of publication 41 issues were confiscated and 36 summonses were made against the editors.
    In the course of two years and three months Pravda was sup pressed eight times but each time it again appeared under a new name—Rabochaya Pravda (Workers’ Truth), = Severnaya Pravda (Northern Truth), = Pravda Truda (Labour’s Truth), = Za Pravdu (For Truth), = Proletarskaya Pravda (Proletarian Truth), = Put Pravdy (The Way of Truth), = Rabochy (The Worker), = Trudovaya Pravda (Labour Truth). = The newspaper was finally suppressed on July 8 (21), 1914, on the eve of the First World War, and publication did not begin again until after the February Revolution. From March 5 (18), 1917, Pravda was published as the Central Organ of the RSDLP Lenin joined the editorial hoard on April 5 (18), 1917, on his return from abroad and guided the work of the editors. On July 5 (18), 1917, the Pravda offices were wrecked by military cadets and Cossacks. From July to October 1917, Pravda, persecuted by the Provisional Government, frequently changed its name and appeared as: Listok Pravdy (Pravda’s Sheet), Proletary (The Proletarian), Rabochy (The Worker), and Rabochy Put (Workers’ Path). Since October 27 (November 9), 1917, the newspaper has appeared regularly under its original name of Pravda.