Fine Words Butter No Parsnips

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 14 January 1905

Vperyod, No. 2, January 14 (1), 1905. Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 56-62.
Collection(s): Vperyod

We draw the attention of our readers to the pamphlet Workers and Intellectuals in Our Organisations, by “A Worker”, which the new-Iskrists have just issued with a foreword by Axelrod. We shall probably have occasion more than once to refer to this edifying tract, which illustrates beautifully what fruits the demagogic preaching of the “Minority”, or new Iskrists, has borne and continues to bear, and how the latter are now trying to get out of the verbal mess into which they have talked themselves. For the present we shall merely note the main points in the pamphlet and the foreword.

“A Worker” had the misfortune to believe the rantings of the new-Iskrists. Hence we find so many Rabocheye Dyelo phrases d Ia Akimov in his pamphlet. “Our leaders from among the intellectuals ... did not set themselves the task ... of developing the class-consciousness and initiative of the workers....” Any endeavour to display initiative was “systematically persecuted”. “In no single type of organisation has there been room for developing independent activity of the workers....” “The economic struggle was wholly neglected”; “workers were not admitted” even to agitation and propaganda meetings (who would have believed it!). Demonstrations “have outlived themselves”—all these horrors (which the old Rabocheye Dyelo used to cast in the teeth of the old Iskra long ago) are, of course, the work of “the bureaucratic centralists”, viz., the majority at our Second Congress, which fought against Rabocheye Dyelo-ism. Set on against the Party Congress by the sulky minority, the poor “Worker” attacks this Congress because it was held “without us” (without the workers), “without our participation”, because there was “hardly a single worker” there. Of course, the fact that all the real worker delegates at the Congress—Stepanov, Gorsky, and Braun—staunchly supported the majority and opposed the spinelessness of the intellectuals is discreetly passed over. But this does not matter. What matters is the depth of depravity that results from the rantings of these new-Iskra people, who “attack” the Congress after being defeated at the elections, who attack it before those who did not participate in the Congress, inciting them to treat all Social-Democratic congresses with contempt; who attack it at the very time when they have so nobly wormed their way into the central bodies which act exclusively by authority of the Congress. Is not Ryazanov’s stand far more honest? (See his pamphlet Shattered Illusions.) He bluntly declared that the Congress was packed; but at least he has not been invested by this “packed congress” with any title or office.

It is highly characteristic of the psychology of a worker, even though his mind has been turned against the “Majority”, that he is not satisfied with phrases about autonomy, workers’ independent activity, etc. He repeats these words like every new-Iskrist or Rabocheye Dyelo-ist; but with sober proletarian instinct he insists on deeds in confirmation of words, he does not want his parsnips buttered with fine words. “With out a change in the composition” (“A Worker’s” italics) of the leadership, fine words remain but words, he declares. It is necessary to demand the admission of workers to all important. Party bodies, to secure for them equal rights with the intellectuals. With the deep distrust of a true proletarian and a true democrat towards all bombast, “A Worker” exclaims: What guarantee is there that the committees will not have only intellectuals sitting on them? This hits the nail on the head as far as our new-Iskrists are concerned. This excellent question shows that the Rabocheye Dyelo incitements have so far failed to befuddle the clear mind of the proletarian. He states bluntly that the committee in which he worked “remained a committee of the Minority only in principle, on paper [mark this!], while in its actions it differed in no way from a committee of the Majority. We workers have had no access to any important, that is to say leading, Party body (let alone the Committee)”.

No one could have shown up the Mensheviks better than this Menshevik worker has done. He understands that without guarantees all this ranting about autonomy and independent activity of the proletariat remains what it is—cheap phrase mongering. But what guarantees are possible in Social-Democratic organisations—have you ever thought of that, Comrade “Worker”? What guarantees are there that revolutionaries who gathered at a Party congress, resentful over the fact that the Congress did not elect them, will not after wards shout that the Congress was a reactionary attempt to put over the viewpoint of the Iskrists (see Trotsky’s pamphlet issued under the editorship of the new “Iskra”), that its decisions are not sacred, that there were no workers from among the masses at the Congress? What guarantees are there that the general decision concerning the forms and guiding rules of Party organisation, a decision called the Organisational Rules of the Party and which cannot exist except in the form of such Rules—that this decision is not broken eventually by characterless people, with regard to that part of it which they find distasteful, on the pretext that such things as Rules are bureaucratic and formalistic? What guarantees are there that people who have broken the collectively adopted Rules of organisation will not afterwards begin to argue that organisation is a process, that organisation is a tendency, that organisation is a form that keeps in step with its content, and that it is therefore absurd and utopian to demand observance of the Rules of organisation? “A Worker”, the author of the pamphlet, did not ponder over any one of these questions. But he approached them so closely, so very closely, he put them so bluntly, so candidly and boldly to the phrase-mongers and politicians, that we heartily recommend his pamphlet. It shows admirably how the knights of the “fine phrase” are ex posed by their own followers.

“A Worker”, acting on second-hand information, objects to Lenin’s “organisational plan”, but as usual he does not indicate a single clear and precise ground for his objection. He mentions Panin and Cherevanin[1] (who have contributed nothing but angry words), but he does not so much as take a glance at Lenin’s much-talked-of letter to a St. Petersburg comrade. If “A Worker” had not taken his abettors at their word, but had looked at that letter, he would have read, to his great surprise, the following:

“We should particularly see to it that as many workers as possible become fully class-conscious and professional revolutionaries and members of the committee. We must try to get on the committee revolutionary workers who have the greatest contacts and the best ’reputation’ among the mass of the workers. The committee should, therefore, include, as far as possible, all the principal leaders of the working-class movement from among the workers themselves.” (“Letter”, pp. 7-8).[2]

Read and re-read these lines, Comrade “Worker”, and you will see how you have been hoodwinked by the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists and new-Iskrists, who are attacking the old Iskra and its followers, the “majority” of the Second Congress. Read the lines carefully and see if you will accept the challenge I put forth. Find me another passage in our Social-Democratic literature where the question you raised about “the workers and intellectuals in our organisations” is presented so clearly, directly, and decidedly,and where, moreover, the necessity is pointed out of getting as many workers as possible on the committee, of getting to the extent possible all leaders of the labour movement from among the working class on the committee. I say that you will not be able to point to another such passage. I say that anyone who takes the trouble to study our Party differences from documents, from Rabocheye Dyelo, from Iskra, and from the pamphlets—and not from tales spread by gossips—will see the falsity and the demagogic nature of the new Iskra’s preaching.

You will perhaps answer: Lenin may have written this, but his advice was not always taken. Of course, that is possible. No Party writer will vouch that all who call themselves his adherents always actually follow his counsels. But, in the first place, would not a Social-Democrat who called himself an adherent of the “Letter” while at the same time not following its counsels be exposed by that very letter? Was the letter printed for intellectuals only, and not for workers as well? Has a writer any means of stating his views other than a printed statement? Secondly, if these counsels were not heeded, as “A Worker”, for instance, testifies, either by the Mensheviks or by the Bolsheviks, does it not clearly follow that the Mensheviks had no right to invent such a “disagreement” with the Bolsheviks, that their incitement of the workers against the Bolsheviks on the grounds that the latter ignored the workers’ independent activity was sheer demagogy?

Wherein, then, lies the real difference on this point between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks? Is it not in the fact that the Bolsheviks came forward much earlier and much more directly with clear and definite advice to place workers on the committee? Is it not in the fact that the Bolsheviks have always despised “fine phrases” about the workers’ autonomy and independent activity, when such utterances remain mere words (as they do with the Mensheviks)?

See now how the respectable, worthy, patriarchal Axelrod wriggles in his foreword when he is driven into a corner by the proletarian bluntness and boldness of a worker, who has imbibed so much Rabocheye Dyelo wisdom from Axelrod’s “admirable” feuilletons, Martov’s unforgettable articles, and (from the point of view of the interests of the “Majority”) Trotsky’s excellent pamphlet.

“A Worker” tries to question Ryadovoi’s[3] assertion that since the time of Economism the membership of our Party organisation has become relatively more proletarian. “A Worker” is obviously wrong. Anyone who has observed the activities of our Party at close range for any length of time knows this. Most curious of all, however, is the sight of our old Axelrod changing front. Who does not remember his stout assertions, so skilfully utilised by the enemies of Social-Democracy, the Osvobozhdeniye liberals, that the Social-Democratic Party is an organisation of intellectuals? Who does not remember how the new-Iskrists, with their grudge against the Party, harped on this slander of the Party? And now the selfsame Axelrod, frightened by the direct and honest conclusions which “A Worker” has drawn from this slander, tries to dodge the issue:

“During the period of the inception and early development of Social-Democracy,” he says in his foreword, “the Russian revolutionary party was purely a party of the intelligentsia.... Now the class-conscious revolutionary workers form the main body [mark this! I of the Social-Democratic Party” (op. cit., p. 15).

Poor “Worker”! How severe his punishment is for having believed Axelrod’s “fine words”! Such punishment is the inevitable consequence of trust in writers who for a year and a half have been saying first one thing then another to suit the exigencies of “co-optation”.

See how Axelrod dodges the question of “guarantees” when he has to meet it outright. Why, it is a positive delight, a gem of new-Iskra literature. “A Worker” speaks of the relation between the workers and the intellectuals within the organisations. “A Worker” is profoundly correct in declaring that without guarantees, without equal rights, i.e., without the principle of elective office, all fine words about non-bureaucratic centralism are mere phrase-mongering. And what does Axelrod say in answer? “Over-zealousness for the idea of change in the status of the workers in our organisations is one-sidedness.” The author erroneously shifts the issue of eradicating evil “into the sphere of formal organisational relations”; he forgets that “the particular question of equalisation of rights” can be solved only “in the process of the further development of our experience in a Social-Democratic direction”. “The problem that particularly engages the author of the pamphlet can be radically dealt with only in the process of consciously collective work by our Party.”

Truly a gem! Why, it was none other than Axelrod who was the first to raise this very question of organisation, and only of organisation, at the League Congress[4] and in the new Iskra (No. 55); but when “A Worker” writes a special pamphlet on organisation, he is told pontifically that it is not formality that counts, but the process of work!

It is not the principles of organisation that matter to the new Iskra and to Axelrod, but the process of twaddle to justify an unprincipled stand. There is no meaning except a defence of unprincipledness in the whole notorious organisation-as-process theory (see particularly Rosa Luxemburg’s articles), a theory that vulgarises and prostitutes Marxism.

We repeat, “A Worker’s” admirable pamphlet cannot be recommended too highly as evidence of the utter falseness of the new-Iskrist position on the organisational question. We recommend this pamphlet particularly to workers whom the Mensheviks are trying to turn against the Bolsheviks by preaching the elective principle.[5] The workers are splendid at exposing phrase-mongers and liars. They put the question excellently: either the elective principle or only the advice to place workers on the committees. If it is to be the elective principle, give us formal guarantees, guarantees of equality embodied in the Rules. The workers will see the new-Iskrists running from a solution of this question as the devil runs from holy water. If advice to place workers on the committees is desirable, if the old Iskra was right in maintaining that democracy, i.e., the universal application of the elective principle in Russian secret organisations, is incompatible with the autocratic police-ridden regime, then nowhere will you find such direct and instructive advice to place workers on the committees as that given by the Majority.

  1. Panin—pseudonym of M. S. Makadzyub; Cherevanin— pseudonym of F. A. Lipkin. Both Menshevik publicists.
  2. A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks”. See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 237.—Ed.
  3. Ryadovof—pseudonym of A. A. Malinovsky.
  4. See Note 52.—Ed.
  5. See N. Lenin, Statement and Documents on the Break of the Central Institutions with the Party [see present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 529-39.—Ed.] The letter by the leader of the Mensheviks quoted in this pamphlet reads as follows: “... the workers are demanding the system of office by election. That is a clear symptom of the agony of the Stone-Hards”. I belong to the Stone-Hards, but this agony satisfies me very well. The workers’ demand that offices be elective shows plainly that the new-Iskrists did not succeed in buttering the workers’ parsnips with fine words, and that no evasions can now save Axelrod from complete exposure. —Lenin