Plekhanov, Who Knows Not What He Wants

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 25 May 1914

Rabochy No. 4, May 25, 1914. Published according to the text in Rabochy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 309-312
Collection(s): Rabochy

Plekhanov, as we know, has often found himself in an awkward fix on questions of tactics and organisation. During the past eleven years (since the autumn of 1903, when he went over from the Bolsheviks to the Mensheviks) he has repeatedly and comically made a muddle of these questions.

He is beginning to get muddled again, a sad circumstance we feel obliged to acquaint our readers with. But first of all, we will recall the great service that Plekhanov rendered during the difficult years (1909–11). He praised the “underground” and staunchly supported the Party decisions on combating liquidationism. He exposed the, opportunism of the liquidators and their revival of Economism (a bourgeois trend in Marxism in 1894–1902). He showed that, by repudiating the “underground”, the liquidators were betraying the Party. He quite rightly explained that “Mr. Potresov” was a Judas, and that the apostles were stronger without Judas than with him.

These were clear, definite and integral ideas, fully in keeping with the decisions of 1908 and 1910.

But look at Plekhanov’s new volte-face. In the newspaper Yedinstvo[1] he now denounces the Pravdists for their “factionalism” and “usurpation”, and asserts that we have “not one working-class press but two”.

This is not very literate, but the meaning is clear. A liquidationist newspaper is declared a working-class newspaper! Fancy that! And yet this selfsame Plekhanov had argued that the resolution declaring liquidationism to be a manifestation of bourgeois influence on the proletariat was a correct one.

It is useless for Plekhanov to try to forget this. The workers will only ridicule such forgetfulness.

The liquidationist press is not a workers’ press, but one that serves as a vehicle of bourgeois influence on the proletariat. This has been definitely and clearly stated in the decision of the “entire Marxist body”,[2] and the liquidators are to this day strikingly corroborating it (see, for example, the concordant remarks of Bulkin and Martov against the “underground” in Nasha Zarya, 1914, No. 3).

What is the meaning of Plekhanov’s appeals for unity with the liquidators? Unity with the group of publicists who repudiate the “underground” in true Potresov style? To advocate such unity one must advocate repudiation of theunderground”!

Plekhanov has got into such a muddle that he does not know where he stands.

The liquidators have made it abundantly clear in Nasha Zarya, in Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta (run by F. D. and L. M.) and through the agency of Chkheidze and Co., that they stand their ground, i. e., they defend Potresov and tolerate abuse of the “underground”. They defend the idea of a legal workers’ party.

But Plekhanov condemns liquidationism as a crime against the Party while at the same time advocating “unity” with the liquidators.

We can only smile at this.

The Pravdists warmly welcome all workers who really want to recognise the “form” which Potresov rejects; as for the empty phrases about “unity” with the opponents of the “underground”, they regard them as empty phrases from people who know not what they want.

The Pravdists calmly meet the charge of being “usurpers” by saying: Does not one who is fond of declaiming, who is fond of phrases and dreads the facts, resemble a usurper and impostor? Plekhanov lives abroad; why is he so modestly reticent about the fact that from August 1912 to May 1914 the liquidators have not published a single issue of their newspaper abroad? Neither have they published a single factual reference to “organisations” which Plekhanov too has defended.

The opponents of the liquidators, however, have published a number of factual references to all localities in Russia, in a number of issues.

Plekhanov says nothing about these facts, because the facts refute his phrases.

Take the openly verifiable data published in Russia. During two full years, 1912 and 1913, the Pravdists united (and proved this by group collections) 2,801 workers’ groups; the liquidators united 750. If we add 1914, from February 1 to May 6 (preliminary estimate), we shall have 5,302 as against 1,382.

The Pravdists have a majority of about four-fifths!

Naturally, the only thing that people who dread the facts can do is to keep on uttering phrases.

Around the precise and clear decisions, thrice supplemented and verified by the representatives of the workers (in January 1912 and in February and the summer of 1913), the Pravdists united four-fifths of the class-conscious workers in Russia. These decisions have been amplified in hundreds of articles and have been put into effect.

Now these are not phrases, not fables, not anecdotes about goitres and savages (Plekhanov is still retailing old jokes!) but facts. This is real unity, unity of the workers, who have tested their tactics by experience.

To slightingly call these tactics “Leninist”—tactics which have been approved by thousands of workers—is only a compliment to Lenin, but it does not do away with the 5,000 workers’ groups, with their unity, or with their Party.

The catchwords “factionalism”, “fragmentation”, “disintegration”, and so forth, apply to Plekhanov and his present-day friends. Look at the list of contributors to the intellectualist Narodnik journal Sovremennik, published on page 1 of Plekhanov’s Yedinstvo. Here we have Himmer and Co. who preach anti-Marxist ideas. Plekhanov was right when he described them as the ideas of “socialist-reactionaries”. Here we have the god-builders and Machists: Bogdanov, Bazarov and Lunacharsky. Here we have the liquidators: Dan, Martov and Cherevanin (for some reason Potresov, mentioned in No. 66 of Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta, is missing from the list). Here also we have the liberal Bogucharsky, and so forth.

And in this Sovremennik, which lacks the faintest trace of anything working-class, Mr. Himmer openly boasts that Plekhanov is in favour of unity with him! But Plekhanov is silent.

Is it not time to doff the mask, before the workers tear it off, perhaps rudely! Among intellectualist anti-Marxist circles, among the flotsam of bourgeois democracy—this is where poor Plekhanov has accidentally landed. This is where you will find chaos, disintegration and tiny factions, which are opposing the unity achieved in the course of two years by thousands of workers’ groups of the Pravdist trend.

We are sorry for Plekhanov. Considering the struggle he waged against the opportunists, Narodniks, Machists and liquidators, he deserves a better fate. We shall, however, continue to build up the unity of the workers’ groups—already built to the extent of four-fifths—which pursue definite tactics tested by experience.

We shall accept anybody and everybody who renounces liquidationism; the door is not locked.

With the example of Trotsky’s Borba and Plekhanov’s Yedinstvo before our eyes, we shall show the deplorable and ridiculous vacillations of the intellectualist grouplets which, cut off from the working-class movement, keep on vacillating, swing to one side one day and to the other side the next, from the weak-kneed intellectual Potresov to the weak kneed intellectual Himmer.

This is a sad spectacle, but one that is inevitable in a petty-bourgeois country in the epoch of bourgeois-democratic transformations.

  1. Yedinstvo (Unity)—a legal newspaper published by a group of pro-Party Mensheviks headed by Plekhanov and Bolshevik conciliators in St. Petersburg from May to June 1914. Four issues appeared.
  2. Lenin is referring to the resolution “Liquidationism and the Group of Liquidators” adopted by the Sixth (Prague) All-Russia Conference of the RSDLP in January 1912. The resolution was drafted by Lenin. (See present edition, Vol. 17, pp. 480–81.)