Letter to Georgi Plekhanov, January 30, 1901

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Plekhanov, Georgi Valentinovich (1856-1918)—an outstanding leader of the Russian and international labour movement, the first propagandist of Marxism in Russia, founder of the first Russian Marxist group, the Emancipation of Labour group (Geneva 1883). At the beginning of the twentieth century Plekhanov, together with Lenin, edited the newspaper Iskra and the journal Zarya, took part in drafting the Party Programme and preparing the Second Congress of the RSDLP After this Congress he stood for a conciliatory attitude towards opportunism and eventually joined the Mensheviks. In 1908-12 Plekbanov came out against the liquidators and headed the pro-Party Mensheviks. During the First World War (1914-18) he adopted a social-chauvinist stand. His attitude to the October Socialist Revolution was hostile, but he took no part in anti-Soviet activities.

Lenin thought highly of Plekhanov’s philosophical works and his role in disseminating Marxism in Russia; at the same time he sharply criticised Plekhanov for his deviations from Marxism and the serious mistakes in his political activities. p. 55

January 30, 1901

I have received your letter just now, dear G. V., immediately on my return from a “final” talk with Judas.[1] The matter has been settled and I am terribly displeased with the way in which it has been settled. I hasten to write to you while my impressions are still fresh.

Judas did not argue about the “democratic opposition”; he is no romantic and not one to be frightened with words. But, as far as “item 7” is concerned (the utilisation of material for Iskra, material reaching Sovremennoye Obozreniye ),he outsmarted our people, all of whom, P.B. y compris ,stood up for him, against me. He, Judas—you see—expected that Iskra would be more popular, more “working-class”; he finds that our free use of material received by Sovremennoye Obozreniye could create competition.... He demands that material for Iskra should be used only by agreement with the representative of Sovremennoye Obozreniye—agreement ceases to be necessary only if it is impossible to communicate with this representative, a condition that, obviously, will rarely operate, for Judas says frankly that he proposes either the existence of a representative im Auslande[2] “(not more than 12 hours from Munich”) or very punctual correspondence. He would like to publish each month five sheets—that is to say, about 200,000 characters—just as much as in two sheets of Iskra. That he will be able to supply so much material is hardly to be doubted, for he is well-to-do, writes a great deal and has good connections. The thing is clear: the competition is aimed not so much against Zarya[3] as against Iskra; the same preponderance of political material, the same newspaper character—review of current events, short articles (Judas with very true intuition attaches very great importance to the frequent publication of booklets with smallish articles). We shall be swamped with material of this kind. we shall be running around carrying out errands for Judas, who by his control of Sovremennoye Obozreniye (it is obvious that he will be master and complete master there for he has the money and 99 per cent of the materials—it is rarely, if ever, that we shall be in a position to give them even a very little) will make a magnificent liberal career and try to shoulder aside not only the heavyish Zarya, but Iskra as well. We shall be running around, keeping ourselves busy with proof-reading and transportation, while His Highness Mr. Judas will be rédacteur-en-chef of the most influential (in broad circles of so genannten[4] public opinion) little journal. But “romantic” comfort can be offered these rechtgläubigen: let it be called “Supplement to the Social-Democratic journal Zarya”, let them console themselves with catchwords, but meanwhile I shall take the whole affair into my hands. One is entitled to ask—will not the famous “hegemony” of Social-Democracy prove under the circumstances to be mere cant? In what will it find expression other than in the catchword “Supplement to the Social-Democratic journal”? That he will overwhelm us with material is indubitable, for we can’t manage as it is to write enough both for Zarya and Iskra.

Either the one or the other: either Sovremennoye Obozreniye is a supplement to the journal Zarya (as arranged) and then it should appear not more frequently than Zarya ,with complete freedom to use material for Iskra. Or we sell our birthright for a mess of pottage and prove genasfĂźhrt[5] by Judas, who feeds us with catchwords.

If it is our destiny and if it is possible for us to achieve real hegemony, it will be exclusively by means of a political newspaper (reinforced by a scientific organ), and when we are told with infuriating insolence that the political section of our newspaper must not compete with the political enterprise of the liberal gentlemen, our pitiful role becomes as clear as daylight.

I have made a copy of this letter, and am appending it to the Minutes of today’s meeting as a statement of my protest and of my “dissenting opinion”, and I invite you too to raise the banner of revolt. Better a break than this factual subordination to the Credo programme alongside loud phrases against Credo-ism.

If the majority expresses itself in favour—I shall, of course, submit, but only after having washed my hands of it beforehand.

  1. ↑ This refers to the negotiations between the editorial board of Iskra and the liberals concerning the publication of a supplement Sovremennoye Obozreniye to the journal Zarya. The talks, in which Lenin, Zasulich, Potresov, and Struve took part, started on December 29, 1900, and continued through January 1901. Struve rejected Point 7 of the draft agreement proposed by the Iskra and Zarya group concerning full freedom for the editors of Iskra to use all the political material received by Sovremennoye Obozreniye. Statements concerning the issue of Sovremennoye Obozreniye were written by Plekhanov on behalf of Iskra and Zarya and by Struve on behalf of the “democratic opposition” group. The publication, however, did not materialize in view of Dietz’s refusal to publish the statements, which did not fulfil censorship requirements. The talks between Iskra representatives and Struve were broken off and not resumed. p. 55
  2. ↑ Abroad.—Ed.
  3. ↑ Zarya (Dawn)—a Marxist scientific and political journal, published in Stuttgart in 1901-02 by the Iskra editorial board. Only four numbers (three books) were issued. Zarya criticised international and Russian revisionism, came out in defence of the theoretical premises of Marxism; it published the following writings of Lenin dealing with this question; “The Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism” (see Vol. 5, pp. 31-80 of this edition), the first four chapters of “The Agrarian Question and the ‘Critics of Marx’” (see Vol. 5 of this edition) and “The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy” (see present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 107-50), as well as Plekhanov’s “Criticism of Our Critics. Part 1. Mr. Struve as Critic of Marx’s Theory of Social Development”, “Cant versus Kant, or Herr Bernstein’s Spiritual Testament” and others. p. 56
  4. ↑ So-called.—Ed.
  5. ↑ Led by the nose.—Ed.