Notes on Sotsial-Demokrat, No. 1
Published: First published in 1931 in Lenin Miscellany XVI. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 232-235.
Sotsial-Demokrat—an illegal newspaper, organ of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, published in St. Petersburg from September 17 (30) to November 18 (December 1), 1906; it was virtually a Menshevik organ since at that time the Central Committee was in the hands of the Mensheviks.
The article “Guerrilla Actions” in Sotsial-Demokrat, No. I (publication of the Central Committee of the RSDLP), which has just reached us, is the best possible confirmation of what we said in Proletary, No. 5, about the stereotyped and non-historical character of the current philistine arguments on this subject. The author fulminates against banditry, anarchism, Blanquism, Tkachevism, highway robbery (“road robbers”, as the bad translation from the German reads) in exactly the same way as the liberals. The liberals are true to themselves when they repudiate as “anarchy” all armed struggle against the government. A Social-Democrat who, in words, does not reject such struggle, but who in fact does not examine the question from this point of view, has virtually gone over to the standpoint of liberalism. The following is a characteristic example. “Insofar as the revolutionary parties countenance anarchy, they turn the embitterment of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois classes against themselves and so play into the hands of reaction.” Thus, either countenance anarchic armed struggle or repudiate armed struggle altogether! There is no other way, according to the writer. He does not admit the possibility of organised, planned, ideological, politically educative armed struggle. What a poor choice lie is faced with!
“Experience has already put an end to one of the forms of revolutionary guerrilla action, viz., the expropriation of private and government property.” But this is a sheer falsehood, comrade! It is impossible that you should be unaware of Menshevik organisations which after the Unity Congress have participated, directly or indirectly, in government expropriations, in “utilising” plunder, etc. It is a very bad thing when a Social-Democrat’s words do not accord with his deeds. It leads to hypocrisy. It is due either to a bad conscience (an explanation that we reject) or to an ill-considered, illogical theory.
Comrade Axelrod makes an angry reply in Sotsial-Demokrat to our note in Proletary, No. 1. One and a half columns of small print are devoted to expressions of bewilderment, exclamations, assurances and reproaches addressed to us be cause we described his agitation for a labour congress as “concealed” from the Party. Axelrod is quite unable to understand what this means. And at the same time, he says him self: “In the near future I shall utilise it (the opportunity that I have) to bring the question of a labour congress into the arena of political discussion” (our italics). Well, that should have been done long ago! You should have begun by “bringing the question into the arena of political discussion”, and not into that of circle whispering. Then your agitation would have been correct from a party point of view, frank and worthy of the revolutionary class. Then the bourgeois press would not have been able to cause confusion among Social-Democrats and lower their prestige by publishing sensational reports of this circle whispering and giving rise to thousands of misconceptions. It is highly regrettable that even now, in his belated and extremely prolix “letter to the editors”, Axelrod evades the essence of the question, saying not a word about what congress he is proposing, and when, on what basis, who is to convene it and what precisely is its purpose. Axelrod passes over all this with phrases like the following: the work of preparing for the congress will have an invigorating effect on Social-Democracy “to the extent that this work is imbued with really Social-Democratic content, i. e., to the extent that circle interests and factional considerations are replaced by socio-political problems and tasks that are most immediately connected with the vital interests of the working class”.
For pity’s sake, comrade! This is indeed sheer emptiness clothed in high-sounding words. The preparation for the congress will invigorate Social-Democracy to the extent that it will be really Social-Democratic! How new and how wise! “Factional considerations” must be replaced by socio political problems and tasks,—but it is just different conceptions of these problems and tasks that have divided the Party into factions! It is a real cock-and-bull story.
And at Axelrod’s side Plekhanov utters gross and banal insinuations about the motives of the struggle for a Party congress and equally gross eulogies of Axelrod’s “happy idea” of convening a labour congress “as soon as possible”. Yes, yes... What indeed could be a happier idea than that real Social-Democratic work will invigorate Social-Democracy?
In an editorial article of Sotsial-Demokrat we read: “Now, as after the Second Congress, the two groups (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) are probably of equal strength numerically”, and a little lower down we read for the second time: “Now, as after the Second Congress, the two groups are equally influential in the Party.” The writer’s idea is clear. In an editorial of the official “publication of the Central Committee”, it acquires considerable significance. The party of the working class ought to know precisely what its “groups” consist of and how strong they are. What is the basis of the opinion about their equality?
There are only two alternatives: either the writer has in mind only the Russian section of the Party (plus the Caucasus) or he adds the Poles, Letts and the Bund. On the first interpretation, the writer is admitting a vast increase in the strength of the “Majority” at the expense of the “Minority” since the Fourth (Unity) Congress, for at this Congress there were represented about 13,000 Bolsheviks and 18,000 Mensheviks. But this interpretation is improbable for it is already more than a month since all the national Social-Democratic parties were amalgamated with the RSDLP Hence it is necessary to adopt the second interpretation. In that case it becomes obvious that the writer allocates the Poles and Letts to the Bolsheviks and the Bund to the Mensheviks. According to the data of the last congresses of the national Social-Democratic parties, the Poles and Letts number about 40,000 and the Bund has a membership of about 33,000; thus we actually obtain approximately equal numbers for each group.
The question arises, however, whether it is correct to allocate the Bund to the Mensheviks. Of course, if the Central Committee says so, we must believe it. But it is essential to be clear about the significance of such an alignment. In the sphere of tactics, it is not confirmed by the latest resolutions of the Bund taken in their entirety. Consequently, the explanation must be sought in the organisational position of the Bund. It is evident that the Central Committee’s publication considers as a real fact the circumstance that the Bund is not demanding an extraordinary congress. Who ever really wants to change the Party’s policy as a whole, i.e., the policy of the Central Committee, is bound to demand a congress; anyone who does not demand this does not seriously want a change—such is the essence of this line of thought.
This reasoning is irrefutable and we regard it as our duty to assist all the organisations of our Party to obtain a clear idea of it and correctly appraise it. As a matter of fact, in a democratic organisation neutrality is almost impossible and abstention is often equivalent to action. The result of this “action” is clearly evident. The Central Committee’s publication propagates the most confused ideas about a “labour congress” and definitely and consistently adopts a Menshevik position in regard to tactics. The con sequences that this threatens for the whole Party in the event of an election campaign or new calls for action have been sufficiently demonstrated by the “slogans” of the Central Committee during the Duma session and after its dissolution. By its present “abstention”, the Bund has actually made itself an accessory to the Menshevik tactics and policy of the Central Committee.
- Proletary (The Proletarian)—an illegal newspaper founded by the Bolsheviks after the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Party; it was published from August 21 (September 3), 1906 to November 28 (December 11), 1909, under the editorship of Lenin. Proletary carried the title of organ of the Moscow and St. Petersburg Committees and, for a time, also of the Moscow District, Perm, Kursk and Kazan committees. It was in fact the Central Organ of the Bolsheviks. In all 50 issues appeared; the first 20 were published in Finland. Between February 13 (26) and December 1(14), 1908, Proletary was published in Geneva, and after January 8 (21), 1909, in Paris.
More than 100 articles and items by Lenin were published in Proletary. During the years of Stolypin reaction it played a prominent role in holding together and strengthening the Bolshevik organisations. At the plenary session of the Central Committee of the RSDLP in January 1910 the “conciliators” secured the adoption of a decision to close down Proletary.
- See pp. 213-23 of this volume.—Ed.
- Tkachevism—a trend in revolutionary Narodism that was close to Blanquism, called after its ideologist P. N. Tkachev (1844-85). The Tkachevists considered political struggle to be a necessary prerequisite of revolution, hut underestimated the decisive role of the masses. In the opinion of Tkachev, the revolutionary minority should seize political power, establish a new state and put through revolutionary changes in the interests of the people who have only to make use of time ready-made results.
F. Engels criticised the petty-bourgeois revolutionism of Tkachev in his article “Emigrant Literature”.
- See p. 170 of this volume—Ed.