Heroes of “Reservation”

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Author(s) Lenin
Written December 1910

Mysl No. 1, December 1910. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the text in Mysl.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 16, pages 368-373.
Collection(s): Mysl

The article “Heroes ofReservation’” was published in the magazine Mysl (Thought).

Mysl—a Bolshevik legal monthly of a philosophical and socio-economic nature published in Moscow from December 1910. The magazine was founded by Lenin as a counter to the liquidationist journals and for the struggle against them. He edited the magazine from abroad. Lenin wrote six articles for the first four issues of Mysl, including the large work “Strike Statistics in Russia”. V. V. Vorovsky, M. S. Olminsky and I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov were close collaborators in the magazine, to which pro-Party Mensheviks (G. V. Plekhanov and others) also contributed. The magazine was published until April 1911; five issues appeared. The last, fifth, issue was confiscated.

The tenth issue of Nasha Zarya, the magazine of Mr. Potresov and Co., which we have just received, provides striking examples of carelessness or, rather, unprincipledness in the evaluation of Leo Tolstoy, which need to be dealt with at once, if only in brief.

Here is an article by V. Bazarov, a new warrior in Potresov’s ranks. The editors are not in agreement with “certain propositions” in this article, without of course mentioning which propositions they are. That is so much more convenient for covering up confusion! As for ourselves, we find it difficult to point out any propositions in this article that would not arouse the indignation of anyone who has the least bit of regard for Marxism. “Our intelligentsia,” V. Bazarov writes, “beaten and dispirited, turned into a sort of amorphous mental and moral slough, and now at the extreme limit of spiritual demoralisation, has unanimously accepted Tolstoy—the whole of Tolstoy—as its conscience.” That is not true. It is mere phrase-mongering. Our intelligentsia in general, and particularly that of Nasha Zarya, certainly looks very “dispirited”, but it neither did nor could display any “unanimity” in its appraisal of Tolstoy, and it never did or could appraise correctly the whole of Tolstoy. It is precisely the absence of unanimity that is concealed behind the utterly hypocritical talk about “conscience”, a catchword fully worthy of Novoye Vremya. Bazarov does not fight the “slough”—he encourages the slough.

Bazarov “would like to recall certain instances of injustice [!!] with regard to Tolstoy, of which the Russian intellectuals in general, and we radicals 6f various persuasions in particular, are guilty”. The only thing that is true in this statement is that Bazarov, Potresov and Co. are indeed “radicals of various persuasions”, dependent on the universal “slough” to such an extent that, at a time when the fundamental inconsistencies and weaknesses of Tolstoy’s world outlook are being hushed up in the most unpardonable fashion, they rush after “everybody” in a challenging fashion, yelling about “injustice” to Tolstoy. They do not want to yield to the intoxication of “that narcotic particularly wide spread among us, which Tolstoy describes as ‘the virulence of controversy’”. This is the very kind of talk, the kind of tune, that suits the philistines, who turn their backs with supreme contempt on a controversy over principles that are defended consistently and in full.

“The main power of Tolstoy lies in the fact that, having passed through all the stages of demoralisation typical of modern educated men, he succeeded in finding a synthesis....” This is not true. The very thing that Tolstoy did not succeed in finding, or rather could not find, either in the philosophical foundations of his world outlook or in his social-political doctrine, is a synthesis. “Tolstoy was the first [!] to objectivise, i. e., to create not only for himself but for others as well, that genuinely human [Bazarov’s own italics throughout] religion, of which Comte, Feuerbach, and other representatives of modern culture could only dream subjectively [!],” etc., etc.

This kind of talk is worse than common philistinism. It is an attempt to adorn the “slough” with spurious flowers, capable only of deluding people. More than half a century ago Feuerbach, unable to “find a synthesis” in his world outlook, which represented in many respects “the last word” of German classical philosophy, became embroiled in those “subjective dreams”, the negative role of which has long since been appraised by the really progressive “representatives of modern culture”. To declare now that Tolstoy “was the first to objectivise” these “subjective dreams” is to join the camp of the retrograde, to flatter the philistines, to echo the Vekhists.

Bazarov writes:

“It goes without saying that the movement [!?] founded by Tolstoy must undergo a profound change if it is really destined to play a great world-wide historic role: the idealisation of the patriarchal-peasant mode of life, the attraction towards a natural economy, and many other utopian features of Tolstoyism, which loom large [I] at the present Lime and, seem to be its most essential features, are actually nothing but subjective elements not necessarily connected with the basis of Tolstoy’s ‘religion’.”

So it turns out that Tolstoy “objectivised” Feuerbach’s “subjective dreams”, whereas that which Tolstoy reflected both in his brilliant literary works and in his extremely contradictory doctrine, namely, the special economic features of Russia of the past century, noted by Bazarov, are “nothing but subjective elements” of his doctrine. That is what is called being wide of the mark. But then, there is nothing the “intelligentsia, beaten and dispirited” (etc., as quoted above), enjoys, desires and likes more, there is nothing that humours its dispiritedness more than this exalting of Feuerbach’s “subjective dreams” which Tolstoy “objectivised”, and this diversion of attention from the concrete historical economic and political problems “which loom large at the present time”!

It is obvious that Bazarov is particularly displeased with the “sharp criticism” which the doctrine of non-resistance to evil evoked among the “radical intelligentsia”. To Bazarov it is “clear that there is no reason to speak here of passivity and quietism”. By way of explaining his thought, Bazarov refers to the well-known tale of “Ivan the Fool” and suggests that the reader “imagine that it is not the Tarakan (Cockroach) tsar who sends soldiers against the Fools, but their own ruler Ivan, now become wise; and that Ivan wants to use these soldiers, whom he recruited from the ranks of the Fools themselves and who are therefore akin to the latter by their entire way of thinking, in order to compel his subjects to comply with some unrighteous demands. It is quite obvious that the Fools, practically unarmed and unfamiliar with military formation, cannot even dream of gaining a physical victory over Ivan’s troops. Even if they resort to the most vigorous ‘resistance by force’, the Fools cannot defeat Ivan physically, but only by means of moral influence, i. e., only by means of the so-called ‘demoralisation’ of Ivan’s troops....” “The Fools’ resistance by force achieves the same result (only worse and at the cost of great sacrifice) as resistance without force....” “Non-resistance to evil with force or, to use a more general term, harmony of means and ends [!!] is an idea that is by no means characteristic only of moral preachers who live secluded from society. This idea is an essential component part of every integral world outlook.”

Such are the arguments of the new warrior in Potresov’s ranks. We cannot stop to analyse them here. It is perhaps sufficient—on this first occasion—just to reproduce his main argument and to add five words: Vekhism of the purest water.

From the final chords of the cantata on the theme that ears do not grow above one’s head: “There is no need to describe our weakness as strength, as superiority over Tolstoy’s ‘quietism’ and ‘narrow rationalism’ [and over the inconsistency of his reasoning?]. We should not say that, not only because it is at variance with the truth, but also because it hinders us from learning from the greatest man of our times.”

Well, well. But, then, there is no reason why you should be getting angry, gentlemen, and answer with ridiculous bravado and abuse (as Mr. Potresov did in Nos. 8-9 of Nasha Zarya) if people like Izgoyev bless, praise and kiss you. Neither the old nor the new Warriors in Potresov’s ranks can cleanse themselves of these kisses.

The general staff of this host provided Bazarov’s article with a “diplomatic” reservation. But the leading article by Mr. Nevedomsky, printed without any reservations, is not much better. “While he absorbed,” writes this bard of the present-day intelligentsia, “and embodied in a consummate form the fundamental aspirations and strivings of the great epoch of the fall of slavery in Russia, Leo Tolstoy proved to be also the purest and most consummate embodiment of the ideological principle of humanity in general—the principle of conscience.”

Boom, boom, boom.... While he absorbed and embodied in a consummate form the fundamental manner of declamation characteristic of liberal-bourgeois journalism, Mr. Nevedomsky proved to be also the purest and most consummate embodiment of the ideological principle of humanity in general—the principle of rant.

One more—and final—statement:

“All those European admirers of Tolstoy, all those Anatole Frances by whatever name they are called, and the Chambers of Deputies, which recently voted by an enormous majority against the abolition of capital punishment and today pay homage to the great integral man—the whole of that kingdom of intermediateness, half-heartedness, reservationism—compared with them, how magnificent, how powerful towers the figure, cast of a single pure metal, of Tolstoy, that living embodiment of an integral principle.”

Phew! What eloquence—and not a word of truth. The figure of Tolstoy is cast neither of a single nor a pure metal, nor of metal at all. And it is precisely not for his “integrality”, but for his deviation from integrality, that “all those” bourgeois admirers “pay homage” to his memory.

There is only one apt word that Mr. Nevedomsky blurted out inadvertently. That is the word “reservationism”, which fits the gentlemen of Nasha Zarya just as perfectly as V. Bazarov’s above-quoted characterisation of the intelligentsia fits them. Throughout it is heroes of “reservation” that confront us. Potresov makes the reservation that he is not in agreement with the Machists, although he defends them. The editors make the reservation that they are not in agreement with “certain propositions” of Bazarov’s, although it is obvious to everyone that it is not a question here of certain propositions. Potresov makes the reservation that he has been slandered by Izgoyev. Martov makes the reservation that he is not entirely in agreement with Potresov and Levitsky, although they are the very people whom he renders faithful political service. All of them make the reservation that they are not in agreement with Cherevanin, although they approve more of his second liquidationist pamphlet, in which the “spirit” of his first brain-child is greatly in creased. Cherevanin makes the reservation that he is not in agreement with Maslov. Maslov makes the reservation that he is not in agreement with Kautsky.

The only thing they all agree on is that they are not in agreement with Plekhanov, and that he slanders them by accusing them of liquidationism, while himself being allegedly unable to explain his present rapprochement with his former opponents.

There is nothing simpler than the explanation of this rapprochement, which is only inexplicable to people with reservations. When we had a locomotive we differed very strongly on the question as to whether the power of that locomotive, the stock of fuel, etc., warranted a speed of, let us say, 25 or 50 miles an hour. The controversy over this question, as over any question which stirs the opponents deeply, was conducted with passion and often with bitterness. That controversy—and this refers to absolutely every question over which it arose—was carried on in the open, in full view of everyone, it was thoroughly thrashed out, without being glossed over by any “reservations”. And none of us ever thought of retracting anything or of whining over the “virulence of the controversy”. But today, when the locomotive has broken down, when it is lying in a bog, surrounded by “reservationist” intellectuals who sneeringly declare that there is “nothing to liquidate” because there is no longer any locomotive in existence, we, the “virulent controversionalists” of yesterday, are drawn closer together by our common cause. Without renouncing anything, without forgetting anything, without making any promises about setting aside differences, we are working together for the common cause. We are devoting all our attention and all our efforts to raise the locomotive, to renovate, strengthen and reinforce it, to put it on the rails—as to its speed, or which way to turn one switch or another, we shall discuss that in due time. In these difficult days the immediate task is to create something that will be capable of giving a rebuff to the people “with reservations” and the “dispirited intellectuals”, who directly or indirectly promote the prevailing “slough”. The immediate task is to dig—even under the most difficult conditions—for ore, to extract iron, and to cast the steel of the Marxist world outlook and of the superstructures corresponding to this world outlook.