Good Demonstrations of Proletarians and Poor Arguments of Certain Intellectuals
|Written||22 December 1904|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 29-34.
The present-day constitutional movement among the propertied classes in our country differs sharply from former movements of the same type at the end of the fifties and seventies. The constitutional demands of the liberals are essentially the same. The speeches of the radical orators reiterate the familiar propositions of Zemstvo liberalism. The proletariat’s participation in the movement provides a significant and very important new factor. The Russian working class, whose movement was the pivot of the entire revolutionary movement of the past decade, has long since reached the stage of open struggle, of street demonstrations, of popular mass meetings in defiance of the police, and of head-on clashes with the enemy in the streets of the southern cities.
And the liberal-bourgeois movement is at this moment marked by the bold, determined, incomparably sharper and more daring entry of the proletariat upon the scene. We would mention, first, the demonstration in St. Petersburg, in which the workers’ participation was unfortunately weak, owing to the disorganising activity of the “Mensheviks”, and the demonstration in Moscow. Next we would mention the presence of workers at a liberal-bourgeois banquet in Smolensk; at a meeting of the Educational Society in Nizhni-Novgorod; and at conferences of scientific, medical, and other societies in various cities. Further, there were the large meeting of workers in Saratov, the demonstration of November 6 in the Kharkov Law Society, that of November 20 in the Ekaterinodar Municipal Council, that of November 18 in the Odessa Health Protection Society, and, again in Odessa, somewhat later, in the Regional Law Court. We would add that both demonstrations in Odessa and the one in Kharkov were accompanied by street demonstrations of workers, by processions with banners through the streets, by the singing of revolutionary songs, and so forth.
The last four demonstrations are described, incidentally, in Iskra, No. 79, under the heading “Proletarian Demonstrations”, to which descriptions I should like to draw the reader’s attention. First, I shall indicate the facts according to Iskra, following which I shall give Iskra’s comments.
Kharkov. The Committee organises the participation of workers in a meeting of the Law Society. Over two hundred workers are present; some of the workers felt embarrassed about attending such an august assembly, while others could not enter because “muzhiks were not admitted”. The liberal chairman takes to his heels after the first revolutionary speech. Then follows the speech of a Social-Democrat, leaflets are tossed into the air, the Marseillaise is sung, and the participants pour out into the street, and together with a crowd of close on 500 workers march along with a red flag, singing labour songs. Towards the end some are beaten up and arrested.
Ekaterinodar. A large crowd flocks to the hall of the municipal council (attracted by rumours of liberals’ speeches to be delivered there). The telephone is cut off. A speaker from the committee makes his way into the hall with 30 or 40 workers and delivers a short, fully revolutionary Social-Democratic speech. Applause. Leaflets. consternation among the councillors. The Mayor protests unavailingly. At the conclusion, the demonstrators leave the hall calmly. That night—numerous house searches by the police.
Odessa. First demonstration. A meeting attended by about two thousand people, the mass of them workers. A number of revolutionary speeches (Social-Democratic and Socialist-Revolutionary), thunderous applause, revolutionary outcries, leaflets. Marching through the streets with revolutionary songs. Dispersing without a clash.
Odessa. Second demonstration. A gathering of several thousand. A similarly vast revolutionary public rally and march through the streets as in the previous demonstration. A clash. Many hurt, some seriously. One woman worker dies. Sixty arrests.
Such are the facts of the case. Such are the demonstrations of the Russian proletarians.
Now, as to the line of reasoning of certain Social-Democratic intellectuals. It relates to the demonstration in Ekaterinodar, to which an entire article has been devoted. Read attentively: “In this demonstration for the first time the organised Russian proletariat came face to face with our liberal-minded bourgeoisie!”... The demonstration “is a further step in the development of forms of political struggle”; it is, “when all is said and done, a really new method of political struggle which yields very evident fruitful results”; the workers in such demonstrations “feel that they are acting as definite political units”, they acquire “a sense of competence to act as the political fighters of the party”. We see spreading “in the broadest social circles the idea of the party as of some thing quite definite, something that has taken shape, and, what is most important, something that has the right to put forth demands”. People are beginning to look upon the whole party “as an active, fighting political force which states its demands clearly and definitely”. It is necessary “to make wider use of the new method of struggle—in the councils, in the Zemstvos, and at every kind of assembly of public figures”. And the editors of Iskra, in unison with the author of these views, speak of “the idea of demonstrations of a new type”, of the fact that “in Ekaterinodar in particular our comrades were able to show ’society’ that they were acting as an independent party which feels capable of influencing the course of events and endeavours to do so”.
Well, well. “In Ekaterinodar in particular.” ... A new step, a new method, a new practice, face to face for the first time, very evident fruitful results, definite political units, a sense of political competence, the right to put forth demands.... To me these pompous attempts at profound reasoning smacked of something stale, passé, and almost forgotten. But be fore accounting to myself how I sensed the staleness, I involuntarily asked: Pardon me, gentlemen, but why “in Ekaterinodar in particular”? Why indeed is it a new method? Why is it that the Kharkov and Odessa comrades do not brag (excuse the vulgar expression) about the newness of the method and the evident fruitful results, about meeting face to face for the first time, and a sense of political competence? Why are the results of a meeting of a few dozen workers together with several hundred liberals within the four walls of a council hall more evident and fruitful than the meetings of thousands of workers, not only in medical and law societies, but in the streets? Can it really be that street meetings (in Odessa, as well as those previously held in Rostov-on-Don and other cities) are less likely to develop a sense of political competence and the right to put forth demands then meetings in municipal councils?... True, I must admit that I feel rather uncomfortable in quoting this last expression (the right to put forth demands); it is so stupid. But you can’t throw the words out of a song.
In one instance, however, this expression acquires some meaning, and not only this expression, but Iskra’s entire line of reasoning, namely, if we presume the existence of parliamentarism, if we visualise for a moment that the Ekaterinodar Municipal Council has been transplanted to the banks of the Thames, next to Westminster Abbey. On this slight assumption it becomes clear why, within the four walls of a delegates’ meeting hall one can have more “right to put forth demands” than in the streets; why struggle against a Prime Minister, that is, the Mayor of Ekaterinodar, is more fruitful than struggle against a policeman; why the sense of political competence and the knowledge of oneself as a definite political unit is heightened precisely in the hall of a parliament or in the hall of a Zemstvo Assembly. Indeed, why not play at parliamentarism for lack of a real parliament? One can obtain here such a vivid mental picture of “a meeting face to face”, of “a new method”, and all the rest of it. True, these mental pictures will inevitably divert our thoughts from the issues of a real mass struggle for parliamentarism, instead of playing at parliamentarism; that, however, is a trifle. But then what evident, tangible results....
Tangible results.... The expression immediately reminds me of Comrade Martynov and Rabocheye Dyelo. Without reverting to the latter it is impossible to appraise the new Iskra correctly. The arguments about “a new method of struggle” in connection with the Ekaterinodar demonstration are a repetition of the arguments used by the editors in their “Letter to Party Organisations” (incidentally, is it wise to keep the original a secret, stacked away, and to circulate only a copy openly for general information?). The editors’ arguments follow Rabocheye Dyelo’s usual trend of thought, but in another connection.
Wherein lay the error and the harmfulness of the Rabocheye Dyelo “theory” of imparting a political character to the economic struggle itself, the “theory” of the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government, of the need to present to the government concrete demands which promise certain tangible results? Should we not impart a political character to the economic struggle? We certainly should. But when Rabocheye Dyelo deduced the political aims of a revolutionary party of the proletariat from the “economic” (trade-unionist) struggle, it unjustifiably narrowed and vulgarised the Social-Democratic conception, it detracted from the tasks of the proletariat’s all-round political struggle.
Wherein lie the error and the harmfulness of the new Iskra’s theory of a new method, of a higher type of mobilisation of the proletarian forces, of a new way of developing the sense of political competence among the workers, their “right to put forth demands”, and so on, and so forth? Should we not organise workers’ demonstrations both in the Zemstvo Assemblies and on the occasion of these assemblies? We certainly should. But in speaking of good proletarian demonstrations we should not talk highbrow nonsense. We shall only demoralise the class-consciousness of the proletariat, we shall only divert the proletariat from the tasks, increasingly pressing, of the real, serious, open struggle, if we extol as a new method those very features of our ordinary demonstrations which least resemble active struggle and which it would be ludicrous to declare as productive of excellent results or as heightening the sense of political competence, etc.
Both our old acquaintance, Comrade Martynov, and the new Iskra are guilty of the sin peculiar to the intelligentsia— lack of faith in the strength of the proletariat; in its ability to organise, in general, and to create a party organisation, in particular; in its ability to conduct the political struggle. Rabocheye Dyelo believed that the proletariat was still incapable, and would be incapable for a long time to come, of conducting the political struggle that goes beyond the limits of the economic struggle against the employers and the government. The new Iskra believes that the proletariat is still incapable, and will be incapable for a long time to come, of independent revolutionary action, and so it calls a demonstration of a few dozen workers before the Zemstvo people a new method of struggle. Both the old Rabocheye Dyelo and the new Iskra religiously repeat the phrases about the independent activity and self-education of the proletariat only because this religious fervour screens the intellectualist incomprehension of the real forces of the proletariat and of the urgent tasks that confront it. Both the old Rabocheye Dyelo and the new Iskra talk absolute nonsense with an air of profundity about the special significance of tangible and evident results, and about a concrete contraposition of bourgeoisie and proletariat, thereby diverting the attention of the proletariat from the increasingly pressing task of a direct onset upon the autocracy, at the head of a popular uprising, towards playing at parliamentarism. In undertaking to revise the old organisational and tactical principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy and fussily searching for new formulas and “new methods”, both the old Rabocheye Dyelo and the new Iskra are in fact dragging the Party back, proposing superseded, at times even downright reactionary, slogans.
We have had enough of this new revision that leads to the old rubbish! It is time to go forward and stop covering up disorganisation with the notorious organisation-as-process theory; it is time, in workers’ demonstrations, to accentuate and advance to the foreground those features that tend to bring them closer to the real, open struggle for freedom.
- Iskra (The Spark) was the first all-Russian underground Marxist newspaper; it was founded by Lenin in 1900.
Iskra became the centre for the unification of Party forces, for the rallying and training of Party workers. It played a decisive role in the struggle for a Marxist party, in the defeat of the “Economists”, and in the unification of the scattered Social-Democratic circles.
On the initiative and with the direct participation of Lenin, the Iskra Editorial Board drew up a draft programme of the Party and prepared the Second Congress of the RSDLP, held in July-August 1903. After the Second Congress the Mensheviks, with the aid of Plekhanov, seized control of Iskra. Beginning with November 1903 (with issue No. 52), Iskra became the organ of the Mensheviks and was published up to October 1905. Since then Lenin’s Iskra be came known as the old Iskra and the Menshevik opportunist organ as the new Iskra. The reference here is to the new, Menshevik Iskra.
- Rabocheye Dyelo (The Workers’ Cause)—publication of the “Economists”, appeared irregularly in Geneva between April 1899 and February 1902 as organ of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad. It was edited by B. N. Krichevsky, P.F. Teplov (Sibiryak), and V.P. Ivanshin and subsequently by A. S. Martynov. Twelve numbers appeared (in nine issues). Tile Editorial Board was the centre abroad of the “Economists” (Rabocheye Dyelo-ists). Rabocheye Dyelo supported the Bernsteinian slogan of “freedom to criticise” Marxism and took an opportunist stand on the questions of the tactics and organisational tasks of Russian Social-Democracy; it rejected the revolutionary potentialities of the peasantry, etc. The Rabocheye Dyelo-ists propagated opportunist ideas of the subordination of the political struggle to the economic struggle; they bowed to the spontaneity of the labour movement and denied the leading role of the Party. At the Second Congress of the RSDLP the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists represented the extreme Right, opportunist, Wing of the Party. A critique of the views of the Rabocheye Dyelo group is to be found in Lenin’s work What Is To Be Done? (See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 347-529.)