On the Article “Questions of the Day”
|Written||12 February 1909|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 356-359.
The splendid article reprinted here from issue No. 7 of Rabocheye Znamya, the organ of the Central Industrial Region, is a reply to an otzovist article published in issue No. 5 of the same newspaper. The otzovist article was published for the purpose of discussion, with a note by the editors of Rabocheye Znamya stating that they disagreed with the author. The present article appeared in No. 7 without any comment, so we may take it that the editors agree with the views expressed.
We in Proletary have long been strongly opposing otzovism, and have definitely stated that otzovism—to the extent that it is evolving from a mere mood into a trend, a system of politics—is departing from revolutionary Marxism and breaking completely with the principles of Bolshevism. After the appearance of this article in the Moscow organ of the Bolsheviks, however, we must admit that we have not raised the question of otzovism sharply enough hitherto, and that we have underestimated the danger which threatened the principles of our Bolshevik wing on the part of those who wish to wed this otzovism to Bolshevism. We record the fact that Comrade Muscovite, the author of the article we reprint, has put the case as strongly, as definitely and with as firm regard for principle as we have done in private discussions with otzovists. Meeting living representatives of otzovism every day, witnessing locally practical examples of otzovist propaganda, which day by day threatens to depart still more from the path of revolutionary Social-Democracy, our Moscow organ was quite justified in presenting the issue in the sharp and uncompromising terms it did. Either revolutionary Marxism, i. e.—in Russia—Bolshevism; or otzovism, i. e., the renunciation of Bolshevism; this is how the Moscow comrade put the question. Thereby he fully supported the way we formulated the question in our preliminary arguments with the otzovist comrades before the general Party conference.
We are aware that some Bolshevik working men at present sympathise with otzovism, but in the majority of cases their “otzovism” is nothing more than a passing mood, fostered by the gross mistakes which our Duma group committed; and the remarks of the author of the article and ourselves do not, of course, apply to them. But inasmuch as otzovism is being erected into a theory, reduced to a complete system of politics—by a small group imagining itself to be the representative of “true” revolutionism—a relentless ideological war must be launched against it. The author of the article here reproduced is quite right when he defines the arguments of the otzovist in No. 5 of Rabocheye Znamya (whose article we reprinted in Proletary, No. 39) and the otzovist trend in general with its advocacy of a “labour congress”, etc. as equivalent to Menshevism turned inside out. And he is even more right when he says that the principles which certain otzovists urge in support of their trend objectively—whether they are politically conscious of it or not—threaten to lead them to anarcho-syndicalism or to just plain anarchism.
Moscow’s way of stating the issue shows how politically short-sighted—for all their good intentions—are those Bolsheviks who refuse to regard otzovism as a danger on grounds of principle, who view the matter merely as “disagreements on practical points”, and who see in otzovism a “sound core”, and not the germ of ideological liquidationism on the left. The Moscow comrade’s article should convince them that in screening the otzovists ideologically, or even maintaining friendly neutrality towards otzovist ideas, they are bringing grist to the otzovist mill, becoming their prisoners of war, damaging the cause of Bolshevism.
Otzovism is not Bolshevism, but the worst political travesty of Bolshevism its worst political enemy could in vent. There must be absolute clarity on this point. We think that all Bolsheviks, down to the smallest circle, should be perfectly clear in their minds what otzovism stands for, should study it thoroughly and ask themselves: is this not obvious renunciation—under the flag of “revolutionariness” and “Leftism"—of the fine traditions of the old Bolshevism, as it came into being in the period before the revolution and in the fire of the revolution?
That is why we have initiated a discussion on these questions in Proletary. We have published everything that was sent to us, and reprinted all that Bolsheviks in Russia have written on the subject. So far, we have not rejected a single contribution to the discussion, and we shall continue to pursue the same course. Unfortunately, the otzovist comrades and those who sympathise with them have, so far, sent us little material, and, in general, have avoided making a frank and complete statement of their theoretical credo in the press. They prefer to talk “among themselves”. We invite all comrades, otzovists and orthodox Bolsheviks alike, to state their views in the columns of Proletary. If necessary we shall publish these contributions in pamphlet form. Ideological clarity and consistency—this is what we need, particularly in these difficult times.
We shall leave it to the gentlemen of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party to play down their dissensions, and to congratulate themselves on their “unanimity” at a moment when people are justly saying about them: “You can find anything you like among them—from Popular-Socialist liberalism to liberalism with a bomb."
We shall leave the Mensheviks to their ideological hob-nobbing with Cherevanin and Co. Let them practise their double dealing (renouncing Cherevanin in the German press, and embracing him in the Russian); let them cohabit with the ideological liquidators of the fundamental principles of revolutionary Marxism; let them play down their disagreements, and display all their virtuosity in the paste-pot art as they did in Golos Sotsial-Demokrata (No. 10–11), where they “resolved” their differences with Plekhanov by the simple device of papering them over.
Our supporters should not be afraid of an internal ideological struggle, once it is necessary. They will be all the stronger for it. It is our duty to bring our disagreements out into the open, the more so since, in point of fact, the whole Party is beginning to line up more and more with our trend. We call on our Bolshevik comrades for ideological clarity and for the sweeping away of all backstairs gossip, from whatever source it may come. There are no end of people who would like to see the ideological struggle on momentous cardinal issues side-tracked into petty squabbles, like those conducted by the Mensheviks after the Second Congress. Such people must not be tolerated in the ranks of the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik working men should strongly discourage such attempts and insist on one thing, and one thing alone: ideological clarity, definite opinions, a line based on principle. Once this complete ideological clarity is achieved, all Bolsheviks will be able on matters of organisation to display the unanimity and solidarity that our wing of the Party has always displayed hitherto.
- This alludes to Plekhanov’s statement announcing his resignation from the editorial board of the liquidators’ newspaper Golos Sotsial Demokrata. It was printed in No. 10-11 of this newspaper, which was being prepared for release. After further talks with Plekhanov the statement was withdrawn and the mention of it in the “con tents” was pasted over. This did not put an end to the conflict, however. In May 1909 (issue No. 14), Golos Sotsial-Demokrata published a letter from Plekhanov informing readers that he had officially resigned from the editorial board.