Fundamental Problems of the Election Campaign

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Author(s) Lenin
Written December 1911


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Prosveshcheniye, Nos. 1 and 2, December 1911 and January 1912. Signed: K. Tulin. Published according to the Prosveshcheniye text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 17, pages 397-423
Collection(s): Prosveshcheniye


I[edit source]

The elections to the Fourth Duma are close at hand, and naturally, the question of the election campaign is on the order of the day. It is clear that any wavering as to the advisability, from the point of view of Marxism, of our participation in the elections, is impermissible. It is not within the bounds of Marxism and the working-class party, but only outside them, that views, hostile or indefinite, or even merely indifferent to our participation in the elections, can be regarded as “legitimate” shades of opinion. It may even seem somewhat embarrassing to repeat this elementary truth, proved and corroborated by experience many years ago (beginning with the end of 1907), but we nevertheless have to repeat it, for the worst evil we have to contend with now, is confusion and disintegration. And it is not only those who give vague or evasive answers to elementary questions that contribute to this confusion and disintegration, but also those who, for reasons of diplomacy or through lack of principles, etc., defend vagueness and evasion.

The elections to the State Duma naturally impose upon all Marxists, upon all members of the working-class movement, the duty to bend all their efforts to develop the most energetic, persistent activity and initiative in every field of that movement. The answers to the questions on the principles and the programmatic, political and organisational content and line of this activity which were elaborated during recent years, must now be directly applied in practice to the special sphere of “election” activity.

We deliberately speak of answers already formulated. It would be ridiculous indeed to suppose that now, several mouths, or, for that matter, even a year before the elections, you could manage to “find” the answers, if they had not yet been found, if they had not been thought out and tested by the practical experience of several years. After all, it is a matter of providing answers to all the “vexed questions” relating to our world outlook in general, to our appraisal of the previous, extremely eventful period of Russian his tory, to our estimate of the present period (which, in its main features, became defined as far back as 1908), and to the political and organisational problems which had to be solved, one way or another, by everyone who took part in the working-class movement during the last, say, four years. At present it can only be a matter of applying formulated answers and methods of work to the present particular field of activity, the elections to the Fourth Duma. To say that “in the course of the election campaign”, i.e., of one branch of activity, we can work out the answers to the questions relating to all branches of activity, relating not only to 1912, but also to “the entire period beginning with 1908”, would mean comforting ourselves with illusions, or concealing, justifying the reigning confusion and disintegration.

We are concerned, in the first place, with answers to programme questions. What have developments in the past four years in Russia given us in this respect? It must be admitted by each and all that during these four years no attempts have been made to revise, or amend, or further elaborate the old programme of the Marxists as far as its principles are concerned. Characteristic of the “current period”, or more correctly in many respects it could be called the “stagnation” or “rotten” period, is the scornful attitude to the programme, and the desire to abridge and reduce it without the least attempt at definite and down right revision. In our epoch “revisionism”, in its specific role of bourgeois emasculation of Marxist truths, is not of the militant variety which raises “the banner of revolt” (as, for instance, Bernstein’s in Germany some ten years ago, Struve’s in Russia some fifteen years ago, or Prokopovich’s somewhat later); it is merely a cowardly and furtive renunciation, often defended on the ground of “practical”, mainly only allegedly practical, considerations. The successors and continuers of the “cause” of Struve and Prokopovich—people like Potresov, Maslov, Levitsky and Co.—“took part” in the reigning disorder and contributed to it (as also did Yushkevich, Bogdanov, Lunacharsky, etc.), mostly by means of timid and unsystematic attempts to throw the “old” Marxism overboard and to replace it by a “new”, bourgeois doctrine. It was no mere chance, nor was it due to the caprice of “groups”, that questions of theory have attracted so much attention during the past four years. Such questions have been treated as “trivialities”, even if only in part, by those who timidly renounce the old Marxism, and by them alone. If we speak today of the defence of the Marxist programme and the Marxist world outlook in connection with and in the course of the election campaign—if we speak of them not merely as an official duty or with the intention of saying nothing, we must take into account the experience of the past foul years and not mere words, promises, or assurances. These four years have actually brought to light quite a number of “unreliable fellow-travellers” of Marxism among our intellectuals (who often desire to be Marxists), they have taught us to distrust such fellow-travellers, they have served to enhance in the minds of thinking workers the importance of Marxist theory and of the Marxist programme in its uncurtailed form.

There is a range of questions in which the programme comes close to or actually merges with tactics. Naturally, these problems assume a considerably greater immediate and practical significance during the election campaign. It is in respect of these problems that the spirit of renunciation and confusion has expressed itself in by far the sharpest form. Some said that the old tasks were no longer valid, because the system of government in Russia had, in essence, already become bourgeois. Others maintained that from now on Russia’s development could proceed, like that of Germany or Austria after 1848, without any “leaps”. Others again insisted that the idea of the hegemony of the working class had outlived its day, and that Marxists must aspire “not to hegemony, but to a class party”, etc.

It goes without saying that, literally, not a single problem of tactics can be solved or explained to any extent completely, fully, and coherently, without an analysis of these ideas, justly described as “liquidationist”, and which form an inseparable part of the broad stream of bourgeois public opinion which is turning back and away from democracy. Anyone who has kept his eyes open to what is going on in practical life knows that confusion in these problems is a hundred times more pronounced than might be judged from what has been written, on this subject. Nor, of course, could it be otherwise in the years following the events at the end of 1905 and of 1906–07. But the more “natural” this disintegration (in a bourgeois environment), the more urgent and vital is the Marxists’ task of waging a comprehensive and unremitting fight against it.

Periods of renunciation and, disintegration similar to those of the past four years in Russia have been known to all countries. There were cases when not even groups remained, but only isolated individuals who in similar circumstances managed for ten or more years to “keep the banner flying”, to keep the ideas of continuity alive, and subsequently to apply these ideas in a materially changed social and political situation. In Russia matters are not so bad as that; for our “heritage” includes both a programme which has remained intact, and formulated answers to the fundamental tactical and organisational problems of the “moment”. The liquidationist trend, which has renounced this answer, can not replace it by anything resembling an explicit and clear answer of its own.

An election campaign implies the application of a definite solution of political problems to complicated propaganda, agitational, organisational, etc., activity. You cannot em bark upon such a campaign without a definite answer to the problems. And the answer which the Marxists formulated in 1908 has been fully corroborated by the experience of the past four years. The new, bourgeois content of the, government’s agrarian policy; the organisation of the landowners and the bourgeoisie in the Third Duma; the behaviour of even the most “Left” bourgeois party, the Cadets, so vividly illustrated by the trip to London, and not only by that trip; The ideological currents of the Vekhi type, which enjoyed such immense success among “educated” society—all these facts clearly indicate that the old problems have not been solved but have to be tackled now under new conditions, in a more bourgeois atmosphere, when the bourgeoisie is systematically turning away from democracy and assuming the role of a responsible, party, “loyal”, etc., “opposition”. A new situation and new methods of preparing for the old solution of the old problems, a more evident split between democracy and the anti-democratic liberal bourgeoisie, such are the main features of the answer formulated by the Marxists to the fundamental political questions of the present period.

The answer to the problems of organisation is inseparably connected with the entire world outlook of the Marxists, with their estimate of the political meaning and significance of the June Third period. In the main the old methods are to be preserved and adapted to the new circumstances with their so-called “opportunities” of all sorts, such as open associations, unions, etc. Nuclei, and a network of organisations around them, connected with them, and directed by them, are to be formed. The “nuclei” are to show greater flexibility, using more adaptable methods of work which do not in every particular resemble the old forms. It is also obligatory to take advantage, not only of the platform provided by the Duma, but of all sorts of similar “opportunities”. It is an answer that does not in the least tie our hands by any uniform standards or obligatory forms of work; it leaves vast scope for working out the most suitable ways and means of combining various forms of activity. But it is a “firm” answer, based on unshakable principles, and as such it counters the prevailing disorder, spirit of renunciation, and confusion, not only by a verbal proclamation of loyalty to the old, but also by setting up a fundamental organisational principle, which enables us to secure ideological stability in real life. Those who have “accumulated a reserve”, even if they are few in number, are uniting and systematically upholding the “hierarchy”—its spirit, its teachings, its principles and traditions, but not, of course, its forms.

The liquidationist trend, on the other hand, succumbs to the prevailing amorphousness (prevailing not only among us, by no means only in the working class, but to an even greater extent among other classes and parties); it abandons the work for the old, and uses the quest for “something new” as an excuse for justifying confusion. The liquidationist trend among the Marxists is but one rivulet joining the broad ideological stream of bourgeois society, the stream directed against democracy in general, against the mass movement in particular, and especially against the recent forms of the organisation and leadership of the movement.

Such are the general propositions of Marxism, its attitude to the tasks and problems of the present period, an attitude, we repeat, of long standing, which ought now to be translated into an “election campaign” with an integral ideological, programmatic, tactical, and organisational content.

II[edit source]

Let us now examine the stand taken on the question of the election campaign by Nasha Zarya, leading organ of the liquidationist trend.

There is nothing more repugnant to the spirit of Marxism than phrase-mongering. And the most unpleasant feature that strikes one in Nos. 6 and 7–8 of Nasha Zarya is the in credible orgy of phrase-mongering that might truly be that of a Tartarin. The Tartarins of our liquidationist trend have converted an election campaign, something customary for Marxists in all lands, and which even in Russia has already been conducted twice on a large scale, into something wrapped up in so many pompous words, words and words, that it is simply unendurable.

Mr. Yuri Chatsky, in his article “Time to Begin”, begins an exposition of the views of the liquidators, and, to all intents and purposes, finishes the exposition of these views and does so as the mastermind, leaving it to L. Martov to provide the trimmings, the gloss, the literary ornamentation.

Here is a sample of the writings of Yuri-Tartarin:

“It is hardly possible to expect with any certainty that the election campaign will b e conducted, organisationally, in an absolutely centralised manner, although we must strive for this by all those ways we have spoken of ... by organisationally consolidating the results of the political amalgamation of the worker Social-Democrats in the course of the political campaign

For mercy’s sake, dear man—why compete with Trotsky? Why try to stun the readers in general, and the workers in particular, with all that verbiage about the results of political amalgamation in the course of the political campaign? Or about consolidating those results? After all, it is nothing but words, merely giving yourself airs by the ponderous repetition of a simple idea. Organisational “consolidation” is always essential, before, as well as after, elections. You call the elections a political campaign, then—“to add weight”—you speak of a “series [!] of all-Russian [!] political campaigns”, and by all this din and clatter of words you obscure the really urgent, vital, and practical question: how to organise. Do we need “nuclei” and a network of more or less open, if unstable, unions around them? Yes or no? If we do need them, we need them both before and after the elections—since the elections are but one of our jobs, one of many. If no systematic work has been carried on for a long time, you will not succeed in “consolidating” anything in the course of the election campaign. Any practical worker will tell you it is nonsense. High-sounding phrases are used only to cover up the absence of an explicit answer to the fundamental question, viz., how to organise for every form of activity, and not just for the election campaign.

To speak, apropos of the elections, about “the fighting mobilisation of the proletariat” (sic! see p. 49), or about a “broad and open mobilisation of the worker masses” (p. 54), and so on and so forth, means not only to lack any sense of proportion, but plainly to harm the modest, necessarily modest, work by fostering phrase-mongering of exactly the same quality as that of the “otzovists”, “ultimatumists”, etc. According to the latter, a boycott is needed as a means of especially stressing that the “spirit” is not dead (but the “spirit” of the work must permeate all spheres of activity, including the elections); the barkers of liquidationism, on the other hand, maintain that the elections will solve everything—“the fighting mobilisation” (one merely wonders how this Russian quasi-“Marxist” can unblushingly put down such things on paper!) and “organisational consolidation of the results of the political amalgamation in the course of a political campaign”! We all know perfectly well that the elections of 1912 (unless conditions arise which will radically change the situation that existed in 1908 and exists in 1911) will not, and cannot, bring about either a “broad” or an “open” “mobilisation of the masses”. All they will give is a modest opportunity for activity that is not very broad and not very open, and this opportunity should be made use of. But there is no point in imitating Trotsky’s inflated phrases.

The cry about “open” organisations in connection with the elections is just a bit of plain stupidity. What we say is: better let us do the work not quite so openly, fellow-workers, that will be safer, more proper, saner, and more useful as a means of influencing wider sections of the population than the twaddle about existing “openly”. In times such as ours, only utterly stupid or utterly frivolous people can shout and brag: “We can do everything openly”.

“A party (a class party) will appear only as a product of the organised creative efforts of the independently active vanguard of the workers” (p. 41).

Phew! Have mercy on us! Don’t you know that in all countries it took the advanced workers and real Marxist “intellectuals”, who whole-heartedly threw in their lot with the workers, decades to form and train their parties? Nor can it be different in our country, and there is no point in this attempt to scare away the Russian working-class reader by that pompous bunk about “creative efforts” (when it is a question of teaching the ABC and of carrying small ordinary stones to lay the foundation), about the “independently active” vanguard, etc. Under the spell of Chatsky-Tartarin, Mr. Martov also lets his tongue run away with him, and he speaks of “independently conscious elements of the working class” (No. 7–8, p. 42), who are coming forward to replace the old personnel now going through a process of

They are laying it on thick: “independently active”, “independently conscious”, “creative”, “fighting mobilisation”, “the broadest”, “most open”.... One wonders how it is these gentlemen are not nauseated by all this “verbal incontinence”, to use Shchedrin’s expression.

The whole point is that they have to resort to florid, laboured phrases which are meant to stun and stupefy the workers (and still more so the intellectual, because workers laugh at a style like Yuri Chatsky’s, and it is mostly high-school boys who “tall” for it), because they have no plain, direct, and clear answer to the plain, clear, and immediate questions. The question of the election platform enables us to give a particularly vivid illustration of the truth regarding the conversion of vague thoughts into vague, bombastic, and pompous phrases.

III[edit source]

In referring to the importance of an election platform, Mr. Yuri Chatsky again speaks with great eloquence. The question of a platform is “one of the most cardinal questions”. Splendid! “To the worker Social-Democrats it [the platform] must be a product of feeling [!], of deep thought; they must consider it their own.” (Yuri Chatsky’s italics.)

It is true that the workers ought to give deep thought to the platform. Nor would it be at all amiss for intellectuals writing in near-Marxist magazines to give the platform some thought. But the statement that the platform must be “a product of feeling” is more than we can understand. Perhaps Nevedomsky and Lunacharsky will treat us in the next issue of Nasha Zarya to “feeling” articles on how the in dependently active vanguard of the independently conscious masses that are being mobilised is to “feel” an election platform.

And here, if you please, is a gem from an article by Mr. F. Dan: “... the sense and the political content of election tactics change completely depending on who creates and applies these tactics: a self-governing collective of the Social-Democratic working-class vanguard, with all its proletarian and intellectual forces, or various petty groups of intellectuals, be they even ‘Social-Democrats’, but not backed up by such a collective, not acting under its control and pressure...”. Who, indeed, can doubt that Potresov and Dan are by no means a “petty group of intellectuals”, but men “backed up by the self-governing collective of the vanguard” and “acting under its control”! 0, these Tartarins of the liquidationist trend!

Have Yuri Chatsky, L. Martov, and F. Dan given any thought to the platform? “It’s a shame to admit and a sin to conceal,” writes Yuri Chatsky, “but it has also happened that for some of us the platform was one thing, and other things were said in election speeches and articles, everyone pulling his own way.

The truth cannot be denied. “For some of us” such things have indeed often happened.

For instance, Yuri Chatsky, after indulging in words full of feeling about a platform which is a product of feeling, begins to talk at extremely great length, and in words no less full of feeling, about the importance and the indispensability of a single platform. The words full of feeling are deliberately used to obscure the simple question as to whether there can be a single platform where there is no unity of political opinion. If there is among us unity of opinion, why waste words and go to the trouble of breaking down an open door when a platform represents an exposition of opinion!

Yuri Chatsky, however, after a lot of beating about the bush apropos of a “single” platform, very clumsily gives away his own “secret”. “We attach the greatest importance,” he writes, “to the sanction [of the platform] by the Social-Democratic group in the Duma; but at the same time we absolutely insist on the condition that the latter does not follow the line of least resistance by sanctioning a platform imposed upon it by circles abroad.” (P. 50.)

This is described thus: Der König absolut, wenn er unseren Willen tut—the king is absolute ruler so long as he does our bidding. It is desirable to have a single platform—provided it is not a platform “imposed by circles abroad”. Surely this means that actually there are two platforms? One is the platform which you are abusing as being “imposed from abroad” (truly a language worthy of Purishkevich. Just think of it: Yuri Chatsky, working hand in glove with Martov and Dan, writes in Potresov’s magazine about something being imposed from abroad! How low one must have fallen to resort to such methods of inciting ignorant people against “abroad”!). The other platform, apparently, does not come from abroad, but from the self-governing collective of the broad and open organisations of the mobilised masses. In plainer words and without any flourishes: “the other element of possible centralisation is the group of Social-Democratic [?] functionaries who are closely connect ed with the open workers’ movement and are acquiring ever greater stability and prestige in the process of conducting political campaigns. We refer particularly to St. Petersburg and its leading role in the political campaigns of the past year”. That is what Yuri Chatsky writes.

It is all quite simple: the “group” of St. Petersburg liquidators, well known for their work in Mr. Potresov’s magazine—that is the “element of centralisation”. Clear, very clear, indeed, friend Yuri Chatsky!

There must be a single platform, but ... it must not be one “imposed by circles abroad”, and it must satisfy the “group” of St. Petersburg liquidators.... What an ardent advocate of “unity” he is—this Yuri Chatsky!

IV[edit source]

Let us now take a look at L. Martov’s “fundamental platform propositions”.... As the basis of the platform he takes the programme—and that is as it should be, of course. Martov gives a paraphrase of sections of the programme. Only it is not clear whether Martov is advocating that programme which he outlined in No. 7–8 of Nasha Zarya. That particle of the old programme is acceptable even to Larin and Levitsky, and, probably, to Prokopovich. Or, does Martov subscribe to the whole of the old programme?

In fairness it must be noted that there is one passage in Martov’s article which indicates the latter to be the case. It is the passage on p. 48 in which he states that sometimes they are compelled to “refrain from speaking out in clear terms” (that is true), but, they must not renounce. Nobody can make them reduce the content of their demands, he says. These are very fine words. Unfortunately, the deeds do not correspond to these words, for we know perfectly well, for instance, that Larin, whom Martov does “not suspect of reformism”, does reduce and renounce. We shall very soon have occasion to see that Martov, too, in that very same article, while promising not to “reduce”, and not to “renounce”, actually does both.

Consequently, the actual situation is that, on the question of using the programme as a component part and basis of a platform, we have not one but two platforms: without reduction and renunciation, and with reduction and renunciation, the purport of which is clearly indicated by the nature of the sermons preached by Larin, Levitsky, and Potresov.

Then comes the question of tactics. We must assess the historical meaning of the June Third period, and this assessment ought to serve as the basis of all the definitions of our tasks, of all the opinions we “express” on any general and particular problems of current politics. Martov himself is obliged to admit—despite the liquidators’ characteristic habit of sneering at “assessments of current events”—that this is a cardinal question. And so, this is what Martov declares with regard to the “old”, formulated answer to that question:

“Attempts were made to define the historical meaning of the ‘June Third’ period by an inept formula, inept because it is liable to lead to misconceptions, which referred to ‘a step toward the transformation [“in the transformation” would be the exact quotation] into a bourgeois monarchy’.”...

An “inept” formula.... How mild that sounds! Yet it is only recently that Martov’s colleagues saw in this formula a complete negation in principle of the viewpoint which seems to them to be the only salvation. It is only recently that F. Dan spoke of those who “want to shove in where they have once been defeated”. Why, then, this change of tone? Is there a fundamental divergence on the question of the historical meaning of the June Third period, or not?

Listen further:

“This formula fails to account for the actual step back toward division of power between the protagonists of absolutism and the landed nobility. It follows from the above that after the events of 1905 the forms in which alone it was possible for this division to be effected, created favourable conditions for the mobilisation and organisation of the social forces whose historical mission it is to work for the creation of a ‘bourgeois monarchy’.”...

According to Martov, these social forces are represented by the bourgeoisie that was “given the right to act as a legal or tolerated opposition” by the June Third period.

Now, examine Martov’s reasoning. On the face of it, he reproaches the “inept formula” only of overlooking the step back taken by the government. But, in the first place, this is factually incorrect. Martov has amazingly bad luck with the “formula” of 1908: whenever he sets out to speak of it he immediately reveals a strange inability (or reluctance?) to give an exact reproduction of the “formula” which is so well known to him. The “formula” speaks plainly and explicitly about the preservation of the “power and revenue” of the feudal landowners (and not of bourgeois landowners, as Larin would have us say)! Consequently, if this sort of division of power is to be regarded as a “step back”, then this step back, far from being overlooked in our formula, is referred to in the most explicit terms. And, secondly, and this is the main point, while speaking of the step, back taken by the government, Martov obscures, glosses over, the step back taken by the liberal bourgeoisie. There’s the rub! That is the essence of the arguments, which Martov obscures.

The step back taken by the liberal bourgeoisie consists in the Vekhi sentiments of this bourgeoisie, its renunciation of democracy, its drawing closer to the “parties of law and order”, its support (direct and indirect, ideological and political) for the attempts of the old regime to maintain itself at the cost of minimum “steps in the transformation into a bourgeois monarchy”. Without the counter-revolutionary (Vekhi type) liberal bourgeoisie, it is not only impossible for the bourgeois monarchy to take shape, it cannot even begin to take shape. Martov “forgets” this primarily and mainly for the simple reason that he himself is a Vekhi man among Marxists.

In evaluating the June Third period, the liberal is entirely concerned with the fact that the government took a “step back” towards the Purishkeviches. Had the same government, with the same fundamental features of the regime (and of its policy of suppression with regard to democracy) left intact, taken a “step” towards him, towards the liberal, that would have been all he required. What the liberal says, in effect, is the following: I have proved by Vekhi and its policy (Milyukov’s “London”) that I, the liberal, am a sincere, serious, implacable enemy of democracy—of the democracy that is “anti-state”, apostate, infantile, criminal, “thievish”, immoral, godless, and what not, as stated in Vekhi. Yet, notwithstanding all this, power is shared not with me but with Purishkevich! That is the meaning of the policy of the liberals after June 3, 1907, that is the meaning of the “Stolypin liberalism” of Struve, Milyukov, and their like. I offer you my very soul, says the liberal lifting up his eyes to the government, yet you prefer Purishkevich!

On the other hand, the standpoint of proletarian democracy in regard to the June Third period, is fundamentally and radically different. The government took its “step back” to the Purishkeviches at a different, considerably higher, stage of development than before. A “step back” to the nobility was taken in the eighties too. But that was a step back taken in post-Reform Russia, in a Russia a long way advanced beyond the era of Nicholas I, when the noble landowner had ruled in the absence of a “plutocracy”, in the absence of railways, and in the absence of a growing third element. And so today, the “step back” to the Purishkeviches is combined with a bourgeois agrarian policy and with the bourgeoisie organised and firmly entrenched in the representative institutions. It is Purishkevich’s hegemony in the common (both Purishkevich’s and Milyukov’s) turn against democracy, against the movement of the masses, against so-called “excesses”, against the so-called “high-brow [Vekhi] revolution”, etc.

The liberal’s job is to “threaten” Purishkevich so as to get him to “move over” a bit, to make more room for the liberals, but making sure at the same time that this does not obliterate from the face of the earth all the economic and political foundations of Purishkevichism. The task of a democrat in general, and of a Marxist, a representative of proletarian democracy, in particular, is to take advantage of any sharp conflict to bring the masses into the arena for the very purpose of effecting this obliteration. From the point of view of the task of the general transformation of Russia, the historical meaning of the June Third period, is precisely that the new step in the transformation into a bourgeois monarchy is a step towards a greater separation of the classes in every respect and, especially, towards a greater separation of the liberals (the “responsible” opposition to the Purishkeviches) from the democrats (working for the elimination of all the foundations of Purishkevichism).

Hence it is obvious that Martov, while apparently criticising only the “inept formula”, actually puts forward the platform of a liberal labour policy. He sees the “step back” taken by the old regime towards the Purishkeviches, but he refuses to see the step back taken by the liberal bourgeoisie towards the old regime. He sees that the events of 1905 created favourable conditions “for the mobilisation and organisation” of the liberal bourgeoisie against the Purishkeviches and alongside the Purishkeviches, but he re I uses to see that those events created “favourable conditions” for the mobilisation and organisation of the Vekhi type, counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie against democracy, against the movement of the masses. From the passage quoted from Martov’s article it, therefore, follows inevitably that the workers ought to “support” the liberals in the latter’s struggle against the Purishkeviches, that they ought to leave the hegemony to the liberals; but it does not by any means follow that, in spite of the Vekhi sentiments of the liberals, in spite of the aspirations of the Milyukovs to get a seat next to the Purishkeviches, the workers ought to rouse the masses to the job of doing away entirely with the deepest roots (and the loftiest pinnacles) of Purishkevichism.

Hence it is obvious, further, why Martov can and should agree with Larin on the basic points, differing from him only in details, only in the manner of formulating the tasks of a liberal labour policy. We already have a bourgeois monarchy in Russia, says. Larin, our landowners are no longer “feudal lords” but agrarians, i.e., bourgeois entrepreneurs in the countryside. Therefore, we are not facing any historical “leaps”, and what we need is “not hegemony, but a class party” (Levitsky), our task is to sup port the liberal constitutionalists, while preserving our own independence.[1] So far we still have no bourgeois monarchy, objects Martov, but it is “ample” for us to know that the combination of absolutism and constitutionalism is contradictory, and therefore it is necessary for us to strike at the old regime “through the Achilles heel of its contradictions”. Neither of the two disputants sees the connection between the bourgeois monarchy that has been born or is being born and the counter-revolutionary nature of the liberal bourgeoisie; both of them fail to take account of the activity of the “leader” in determining not only the extent but also the type of bourgeois transformation in Russia; according to both of them, whether they say so or not, the “arrangements are made” for the working class in the new, bourgeois Russia, but the workers do not do the arranging and secure for themselves a democratic following capable of repudiating all the foundations of Purishkevichism

V[edit source]

It is interesting to note that Martov’s further arguments defeat him even more glaringly.

“Thus,” Martov continues, “the Bourbons who were restored to power in 1815 did not create a bourgeois monarchy, but were compelled to cloak their rule, and the rule of the nobility that backed them, in political forms which hastened the organisation of the bourgeoisie and enabled it to grow into the force that was capable of creating the bourgeois monarchy of 1830.”

Splendid. Prior to the Bourbons of 1815 and prior to 1789, France had a feudal, patriarchal monarchy. After 1830 France had a bourgeois monarchy. But what kind of monarchy did Martov set out to discuss (to his own discomfiture), i.e., the monarchy of 1815–30? It is obvious that it was “a step toward the transformation into a bourgeois monarchy”. The example cited by Martov is a splendid refutation of his arguments! Further, the French liberal bourgeoisie already began to reveal its hostility to consistent democracy during the movement of 1789–93. As Martov knows perfectly well, democracy did not by any means set itself the task of creating a bourgeois monarchy. In the face of the vacillations, betrayals, and counter revolutionary sentiments of the liberal bourgeoisie, France’s democrats, with the working class at their head, created, after a long series of trying “campaigns”, the political system which became consolidated after 1871. At the beginning of the era of bourgeois revolutions, the French liberal bourgeoisie was monarchist in outlook; at the end of a long period of bourgeois revolutions, and to the extent to which the actions of the proletariat and of the bourgeois-democratic elements (the “Left bloc” elements, in spite of all that L. Martov may say to the contrary!) be came increasingly determined and independent, the French bourgeoisie in its entirety was recast into a republican bourgeoisie, retrained, re-educated, reborn. In Prussia, and in Germany in general, the landowner never relinquished his hegemony during the whole period of bourgeois revolutions and he “educated” the bourgeoisie in his own image, after his own likeness. In France, during all the eighty years of bourgeois revolutions, the proletariat, in various combinations with the “Left bloc” elements of the petty bourgeoisie, won for itself hegemony at least four times, and as a result the bourgeoisie had to create a political system more acceptable to its opposite.

Bourgeoisies differ. Bourgeois revolutions provide a vast variety of combinations of different groups, sections, and elements both of the bourgeoisie itself and of the working class. To “deduce” an answer to the concrete problems of the Russian bourgeois revolution of the first decade of the twentieth century from “the general concept” of bourgeois revolution in the narrowest sense of the term is to debase Marxism to liberalism.

“Thus,” Martov continues, “after it suppressed the Revolution of 1848, the Prussian government found itself compelled to introduce a constitution and a legislative representative body, organised in the interests of the landowners; these paltry rudiments of a constitutional-parliamentary system served as the basis for the political organisation of the bourgeoisie, which, however, to this day has not succeeded in transforming the state into a ‘bourgeois monarchy’.

“Hence the above-mentioned formulation errs in making no mention of the decisive collision between the classes, without which the objective tendency revealed in acts of the June Third type cannot be translated into reality!”

That is truly magnificent, isn’t it? Martov is positively a virtuoso when it comes to disguising reformist arguments, theories, and platforms with catchwords which create the impression of being Marxist and revolutionary! Apropos of the same “formula” which Martov is criticising, F. Dan poured scorn on people who want “to shove in where they have once been defeated”. Y. Larin wrote that the working class must organise, not “in expectation of a revolution”, but simply for the purpose of “firmly and systematically defending its special interests”. Now Martov makes the discovery that the formula errs because it makes no mention of the decisive collision between the classes. Simply charming!

But Martov’s phrase is not merely comical, it has another feature to it. Martov expressed himself with consummate evasiveness. He did not say to which classes he was referring. In the preceding sentences he spoke of the landowners and the bourgeoisie. It might be conjectured that Martov here refers to a decisive collision only between the landowners and the bourgeoisie. Only on this assumption may Martov’s words be “taken seriously”. But if this assumption is correct, then that shows him up with particular clarity as an advocate or defender of a liberal labour policy.

Our formula “makes no mention of the decisive collision” between the classes of the landowners and the bourgeoisie! But, hold! Our formula speaks plainly, definitely and explicitly of “petty dissensions” between these classes. From our viewpoint the dissensions between these classes are petty. Great importance attaches to the collision, not between these classes, but between other classes, of which the “formula” speaks further on in just as plain and unmistakable terms.

Consequently the question is as follows. No one who shares the Marxist viewpoint can expect Russia’s salvation from the “June Third period” to come from anything other than a “decisive collision between the classes”. We must be clear on the historical meaning of the “June Third period” if we want to know which classes in contemporary Russia can and must (in the sense of objective necessity, not of a subjective “must”) come into decisive collision. Martov, apparently, thinks, as do all the liquidators, that in Russia a decisive collision is bound to take place between the landed nobility and the liberal bourgeoisie. (Be it noted in parenthesis that the liquidators will render the working-class movement a real service if they openly set forth this view in the draft platform of Nasha Zarya and Dyelo Zhizni, because they will thereby explain the matter to the workers; if, however, the platform of these publications does not openly express this view, it will be shown that the purpose of their platform is to conceal their real views, that the platform is at variance with the real ideological content of the propaganda carried on by these two magazines.)

We think, and this is plainly stated in our “formula”, that no decisive collision is to be expected between the old type of landed nobility and the liberal bourgeoisie in Russia. Clashes between these two classes are inevitable, but they will be mere “petty dissensions” which will “not decide” anything in Russia’s destiny and cannot bring about any decisive, real change for the better.[2]

A really decisive collision is still to come between other classes—a collision on the basis and within the framework of bourgeois society, i.e., of commodity production and capitalism.

What ground is there for this opinion? It is justified both by theoretical considerations and by the experience of 1905–07. In these three years Russia experienced a sharp collision of classes that ranks as one of the greatest class collisions in world history. Nevertheless, even in those three years, in a bourgeois society which lacked even the most elementary conditions and guarantees of bourgeois liberty, the collision between the landed nobility and the liberal bourgeoisie, between the latter and the old regime, was neither sharp nor decisive. On the other hand, the sharp and decisive collisions, collisions that could in any way be described as sharp and decisive, were those between the peasants and the landowners, between the workers and the capitalists.

How is this phenomenon to be explained? In the first place, by the fact that the liberal bourgeoisie is so closely linked with the landed nobility economically, their mutual interests are so closely intertwined, that from the standpoint of the former the safest and most desirable course is to re form the latter, but by no means to abolish it. The slowest, even imperceptibly slow, reform is better than abolition, that is how the overwhelming majority of the liberal bourgeois reason, and with Russia’s economic and political situation as it is at present this class cannot reason otherwise.

Further, if we take for instance the strike movement, we find that in Russia, during the three years referred to, it developed to a point never achieved in any of the most advanced and most developed capitalist countries in the world. That is why it was inevitable for the liberal bourgeoisie to reason that the slowest, the most imperceptibly slow, reform of the antiquated conditions of labour was better than a resolute breach with the old, that it was better to preserve the old than to make a decisive break with it. On the other hand, the economic condition of the workers and peasants made it impossible for them to reason along those lines; here the economic conditions gave rise to really sharp and really decisive collisions. It Is wrong to think, as the Narodniks think with regard to the peasantry, and Trotsky with regard to the workers, that those collisions went beyond the limits of bourgeois society. But there can be no shadow of doubt that it is by such, and only by such, collisions (provided they lead to a definite outcome) that all the old, the threadbare, the pre-bourgeois can be fully eradicated, can be abolished without leaving a trace.

The Russian landlords, from Purishkevich to Dolgorukov, have trained our liberal bourgeoisie in a spirit of servility, inertia, and fear of change unparalleled in history. The Russian peasants, under the economic and political conditions at present obtaining in Russia, represent that bourgeois stratum of the population out of which the era of “collisions”, the era of bourgeois revolutions (in the historico-methodological meaning of the term), with the workers taking a leading part, is educating a bourgeoisie that is free of the above-mentioned pleasant qualities. But will it complete this education? This question can only be answered when the era of bourgeois revolutions in Russia is at an end. Until that time all the progressive trends of political thought in Russia will inevitably be divided into two main types, depending on whether they are gravitating to the hegemony of the liberals who are striving to remake and renovate Russia in a manner that will not be injurious to the Purishkeviches, or to the hegemony of the working class with the best elements of the peasantry as its following.

I said “are gravitating”, because we cannot expect all the progressive trends to be conscious of, i.e., to under stand, the class roots of the various policies. But Marxists would not be worthy of the name if they failed to delve down to those roots, and if they failed to understand that both the defence of the special interests of the working class and the training of the working class for its future role in bourgeois Russia will inevitably, owing to the objective interrelation of the social forces, follow the same two main channels: it will either trail along behind the liberals (who are marching behind the Purishkeviches or alongside of them), or lead the democratic elements forward in spite of the vacillations, desertions, and Vekhi sentiments of the liberals.

VI[edit source]

We have now come face to face with the question of the celebrated “Left bloc” policy. Yuri Chatsky and F. Dan, it may be said without exaggeration, rave and fulminate against a Left bloc. This is all the more natural to the second of these two politicians since he must somehow cover up his betrayal of the workers’ cause and his part in the split of the St. Petersburg workers’ organisation, for the sake of a bloc with the Cadets, in the spring of 1907! But the question of a Left bloc is an interesting and important question of principle, not only, and even not so much, from the standpoint of election agreements (under the existing electoral law the “Left bloc” has seldom been realised in practice), but from the point of view of the general character and content of election propaganda and agitation. To “compel” the most numerous democratic masses in the country (the peasants and sections of the non-agricultural petty bourgeoisie akin to them) “to choose between the Cadets and the Marxists”, and to pursue a line of “joint action” of the workers and the peasant democrats both against the old regime and against the vacillating counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie, is the basis and substance of the tactics of a “Left bloc”. These tactics were sanctioned by the course of events in 1905 (the working-class and peasant movement), by the votes of the “Trudovik” and workers’ groups in the First and the Second Dumas, by the attitude of the press of the different parties to the cardinal questions of democracy, and even by the stand on the agrarian question taken by the “peasant group” in the Third Duma (considering that there are many Right elements in that group!). It is a well-known fact that the agrarian bill introduced by forty-three peasant members of the Third Duma[3] is far more democratic than the liberal bill of the Cadets, a fact the Cadets themselves admit!

There is no doubt that it is precisely in this sense, on general principles, that the liquidators repudiate the “Left bloc” policy. And there is just as little doubt that their repudiation of the Left bloc policy constitutes treason to the cause of democracy. Not a single bourgeois-liberation movement the world over has ever failed to provide examples and instances of “Left bloc” tactics, and wherever these movements triumphed, in all such cases, it was always as a result of these tactics, a result of the struggle being directed along these lines in spite of the vacillations and treachery of the liberals. It was the “Left bloc” tactics—the alliance between the urban “plebs” (==the modern proletariat) and the democratic peasantry that lent sweep and force to the English revolution in the seventeenth century and the French revolution iii the eighteenth century. Marx and Engels drew attention to this fact on many occasions, not only in 1848, but much later as well. In order to avoid quoting frequently quoted passages, we shall merely mention the correspondence between Marx and Lassalle in 1859. Apropos of Lassalle’s tragedy Franz von Sickingen, Marx wrote that the intended collision in the drama was “not simply tragic, but really the tragic collision that spelled the dooms and properly so, of the revolutionary party of 1848–49”. And Marx, indicating in general terms the entire line of the future differences between the Lassalleans and the Eisenachers,[4] reproached Lassalle for making the mistake of “placing the Lutheran-knightly opposition above the plebeian-Muncerian opposition”.[5]

We are not here concerned with the question whether Marx was right or wrong in making that reproach; we think he was right even though Lassalle defended himself vigorously against this reproach. The important point is that Marx and Engels considered it an obvious mistake to place the “Lutheran-knightly” opposition (the opposition of the liberals and landowners in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century) above the “plebeian-Muncerian” opposition (proletarian and peasant, in that same Russia); that both of them considered this absolutely impermissible for a Social-Democrat!

In heaping abuse upon Left bloc tactics, the liquidators try by their words to drown the inescapable fundamental issue of the principle that a “Left bloc” policy is obligatory for every workers’ party in every bourgeois-democratic movement. Since they are unable to deal with the question in terms of principle they get into curious contradictions and defeat their own case. Here is an instance. The very same Martov, who dreads a “Left bloc” like the plague, writes in formulating the agrarian programme in his “Fundamental Theses of a Platform” that “as before, the surest, most painless and most advantageous path of cultural development is ... to take the landed estates from their present owners and transfer them to the people”. Involuntarily he thus went so far as to advocate, oh horror! nationalisation! That in the first place. Secondly, in expressing this correct idea, Martov (despite his colleague Cherevanin—see the latter’s Vekhi-type book on The Present Situation in 1908) expressed a Left bloc idea; his agrarian programme is a programme of Left bloc action both against the old regime and against the liberal parties of the Cadet type! “Drive Nature out of the door, and she will fly in through the window”!

The agrarian programme formulated by L. Martov is one on which the workers and the peasant Trudoviks together with their ideological leaders, the Narodniks, are making common cause (actually making common cause, i.e., working together regardless of any “agreements”). On the other hand, this programme separates both the workers and the peasant Trudoviks, taken together, from the Cadets (and from the bourgeois liberals in general). If in addition to this absolutely indisputable political conclusion, you will bear in mind that the agrarian question (the question of democratic agrarian change) is a key question of our liberation movement, then it is obvious that Martov was compelled to formulate “Left bloc” tactics in regard to the central issue of our epoch!

How and why did this misfortune befall our opponent of the “Left bloc” policy? Very simply. It was necessary for him either to break with the old programme openly and unequivocally, which he could not make up his mind to do; he had not yet “caught up” with the courageous (in their renegacy) Cherevanin and Larin. Or else it was necessary to reproduce, at least more or less correctly, the old programme—from which the “Left bloc” policy follows as an inescapable conclusion. Such is the bitter lot of our liquidators.

VII[edit source]

It remains for us to point out two more important pas sages in Martov’s article. “In each case,” he writes, “of such a conflict arising within the June Third system [he is speaking of conflicts and friction which disintegrate and sap this system] the workers’ party should strive to prevail upon the propertied classes to take one step or another toward the democratisation of legislation and an extension of constitutional guarantees, and, what is of the greatest independent value to us, toward an extension of the sphere of the unrestricted organisation of the popular forces” (Nasha Zarya, No. 7–8, p. 50).

Martov’s formulation is very apt, only it is a formulation of the tasks and the line of a liberal labour policy. “To prevail upon the propertied classes to take a step”, to “extend the sphere of the unrestricted organisation of labour”—these phrases of Martov’s are exactly those repeated throughout the world by all more or less educated liberal bourgeois, all liberal bourgeois imbued to any extent with the “European” spirit. The distinction between a liberal labour policy and a Marxist labour policy begins only when and where it is explained to the workers that the above-quoted liberal formulation is inadequate, unsatisfactory, and a deception. To prevail upon the non-propertied classes to take a step toward changing the very “sphere” which the liberals are promising to “extend”, and to substitute for it a fundamentally different “sphere”—that (approximately) is how the tasks and aspirations of the workers’ party should be defined, if there is no desire to build up a liberal labour party.

It should be remarked,, as a curiosity, that in a note to the quoted passage L. Martov makes the following observation: “As a matter of course, this formulation is sure to give rise to charges of opportunism and ‘legalism at all costs’”. And how do you think he refutes these charges? By referring to an article by N. Rozhkov printed in the Obskaya Zhizn,[6] No. 171. From that article Martov quotes five lines of extremely inept and unintelligible statements about “open political associations”. We have not read that article. But, assuming that Rozhkov advocates an “open party”, what is this supposed to prove when we are dealing with Martov’s formulation of a liberal labour policy? Since when has it become customary for anyone to justify one mistake of his own by pointing to another mistake committed by another writer?

But the entire spirit of Martov’s article is best and most vividly conveyed by the following tirade in the concluding section of the last paragraph:

“We must conduct the entire election campaign under the banner of the struggle of the proletariat for the freedom of its political self-determination, of the struggle for its right to have a class party of its own and to develop its activities freely, for the right to take part in political life as an independent organised force. This principle [mark this!] must govern both the content and tactics of the election campaign and the methods to be used for organisational work.”

Those are words that correctly express the “principle” which determines the “content” of the entire election agitation (and of the entire policy) of the liquidators! As for the fine words about “reducing nothing and renouncing nothing”, with which Martov tried to console the Marxist readers, they are nothing but words, hollow words, so long as this is how the “principle” is formulated. For the crux of the matter is that the principle itself turns out to be that of a liberal labour policy.

The liberal bourgeois tells the workers: you are justified in fighting, indeed, you must fight, for the freedom of your own political self-determination, for the right to have a class party of your own, for the right freely to develop your activities, for the right to take part in political life as an independent organised force. It is these principles of the liberal, educated, radical, to use the English or French term, bourgeoisie that Martov is offering the workers in the guise of Marxism.

The Marxist tells the workers: in order really and success fully to fight for the freedom of your “own” political self-determination, you must fight for the free political self-determination of the entire people, you must show the people what the successive democratic forms of its political existence should be, and win the masses and the undeveloped sections of the working people away from the influence of the liberals. If your party is really to attain a full understanding of the tasks of the class, and if its activity is actually to be of a class nature and not of a guild nature, it is necessary for it not only to take part in political life, but, in spite of all the vacillations of the liberals, to direct the political life and initiative of the broad strata on to a greater arena than that indicated by the liberals, toward more substantial and more radical aims. He who confines the class to an “independent” corner of “activity” in an arena, the bounds, form, and shape of which are determined or permitted by the liberals, does not understand the tasks of the class. Only he understands the tasks of the class who directs its attention (and consciousness, and practical activity, etc.) to the need for so reconstructing this very arena, its entire form, its entire shape, as to extend it beyond the limits allowed by the liberals.

Wherein lies the difference between the two formulations? In the very fact, among other things, that the first excludes the idea of the “hegemony” of the working class, whereas the second deliberately defines this very idea; the first is the modern, latest variation of old Economism (“the workers should confine themselves to the economic struggle, leaving the political struggle to the liberals”), whereas the second strives to leave no room in the minds of the workers either for the old Economism or for its new variety.

Now it remains but to answer the concluding question: In what way does Levitsky differ from Martov? The former is one of the younger liquidators, one of the new generation, unaffected by the traditions and memories of the past. He does not beat about the bush, but says plainly, with the eagerness and straightforwardness of youth: “not hegemony, but a class party”! Martov, however, is “a man of the world”, he once belonged to the old Iskra group, he represents a mixture of the old traditions, which have not yet completely vanished,[7] and of the new liquidationism which has not yet mustered a sufficient amount of courage. That is why he first swears and vows to—“reduce nothing, renounce nothing”—and then, after long and devious circumlocutions, blurts out that the “principle” of the entire election campaign must be a liquidationist one.

But, then, it is precisely the “principle” of the election campaign that constitutes the whole crux of the matter.

  1. As Larin wrote; “to stand up for itself ... during the coming constitutional reform”. —Lenin
  2. Naturally, it does not follow from this that the liberal bourgeoisie, together with the landed nobility, represents “one reactionary mass”, that the conflicts between these two are of no political significance, that they cannot give rise to a democratic movement, or that it is permissible to ignore these conflicts. To draw such conclusions would be tantamount to reducing a correct proposition to an absurdity, it would betray a lack of understanding of the limits within which this proposition is correct. For it is a well-known fact that “the greatest justice”, if reduced to an absurdity because of a failure to understand the limits and conditions of the just and unjust, becomes “the greatest injustice”: summum jus—summa infuria. We should remember the following fact in the history of Russian Marxism. The appraisal of the liberal-bourgeois parties in Russia (with the Cadet Party at their head) given at the well-known London Congress was exactly the same as that outlined in the present article; but that did not prevent the Congress from recognising the necessity “to make use of the activity of these parties to further the political education of the people”. —Lenin
  3. This refers to the agrarian bill of the independent and Right peasant deputies, introduced into the Third Duma on May 10 (23), 1908. The bill envisaged the compulsory alienation with compensation at average market prices of the landed estates not being exploited by their owners. It was proposed to implement the land reform through local land committees elected by a general vote. For Lenin’s appraisal of this bill see his articles “The New Agrarian Policy” and “The Agrarian Debates in the Third Duma”
  4. Eisenachers—members of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany founded in 1869 at the Eisenach Congress. The leaders of the Eisenachers were August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, who were under the ideological influence of Marx and Engels. The Eisenach programme stated that the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany considered itself “a section of the International Working Men’s Association and shared its aspirations”. Thanks to the regular advice and criticism, of Marx and Engels, the Eisenachers pursued a more consistent revolutionary policy than did Lassalle’s General Association of German Workers; in particular, on the question of German unification, they followed “the democratic and proletarian path and struggled against any concessions to Prussianism, Bismarckism or nationalism”
  5. Lenin is quoting from a letter written by Marx to Lassalle on April 19, 1859. When Lenin wrote this article, Marx’s letter had not yet been published, and he availed himself of extracts from it which Lassalle had quoted in his reply to Marx and Engels dated May 27, 1859 (see Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 138–40).
  6. Obskaya Zhizn (Ob Life)—daily newspaper of a liberal-bourgeois trend, published in Novonikolayevsk (Novosibirsk) from 1909 to 1912.
  7. It would be more correct to say: The substance of these traditions, their ideological core, has completely vanished as far as Martov is concerned, but the words have remained, the habit of carrying the “decent label” of an “unswerving internationalist” still makes itself felt. —Lenin