Plekhanov and Vasilyev
|Written||7 January 1907|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 419-425.
The attitude of the Menshevik Social-Democratic press towards Plekhanov’s well-known Herostratian articles in Tovarishch deserves the attention of the whole party of the working class. The most prominent representative of the Menshevik trend, the leader of the Mensheviks, as all the liberal newspapers openly and constantly call him, is publicly proposing a joint platform for the Social-Democrats and Cadets.
And the Mensheviks are silent!
One would think that they had no newspapers, magazines, leaflets, institutions, collegiums, not a single Party organisation. One would think that they were not in the least concerned by what their leader says about their policy in the hearing of all Russia....
But we are all perfectly aware that the Mensheviks possess both organisations—even such influential ones as the Central Committee—and organs of every type. Their silence, therefore, is only another proof of the utter falsity of their position. The Bundists alone stand out among the mass of the Mensheviks. They have protested against the slogan of “a Duma with full power” in their Volkszeitung, which unfortunately is almost unknown among the Russians. They have poured ridicule on Plekhanov in their Nasha Tribuna, published in the Russian language. They have thus proved, at any rate, that they have the courage of their convictions, the courage to recognise in deed and not only in words their own Party organisation, whose obligation it is openly and straightforwardly to express its opinion on all political questions, and to place its political duty to the proletariat above all considerations of personal sympathy, friendship and respect of persons....
What a disgraceful thing to happen in a workers’ party! The trend which predominates in the Party and controls the Central Committee does not dare to mention the mistakes of one of its members. At all meetings, at all debates at which workers are present, at all discussions with the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks solemnly avow that they disagree with Plekhanov. But they are silent about it in their press: not a single official declaration from any Party unit. What is this? Repudiation in secret and confirmation by official silence? Abuse the master ... behind his back and be silent in his presence. Such things are done only by .. well, gentlemen, we’ll leave you to guess who does such things.
But to the workers and the whole Party membership we say: You cannot trust political leaders who disappear, bag and baggage, at the first surprise attack from whatever quarter. They are not to be trusted. Whenever any final decision is to be taken, all these “leaders” will act not as they say but as some third person says for them.
By the way, the behaviour of Plekhanov and the Mensheviks in the present incident is a good illustration of the current talk about the “intellectualist” character of our Party. Yes, it is true that the non-proletarian intelligentsia has far too much influence on the proletariat in our Party. If that were not the case, would the proletarian party tolerate Plekhanov’s antics and the Mensheviks’ attitude towards them even for a week? How clearly this reveals the true nature of the talk about a non-party labour congress. If only our Party were superseded by a legal labour (simply labour, not Social-Democratic) party, as Larin and the publicists of Nashe Dyelo and Sovremennaya Zhizn desire, there would be a wide field for actions like Plekhanov’s. Write for any newspapers you please, enter into any literary or political blocs with anyone you please, propose your own slogans in your own name, completely ignoring any Party organisation! Complete freedom for intellectualist individualism, while the mass of non-party workers remains an amorphous mass. Is this not the ideal of the old Prokopovich Credo (for which Plekhanov and I, in 1899-1900, attacked Prokopovich and drove him and all his fraternity out of the Social-Democratic Party)? The Credo—that quintessence of Social-Democratic opportunism—advocated non-political, non-party labour unions for the economic struggle, and political struggle through liberal channels. Blocs with the Cadets and a non-party labour congress are nothing but a 1906-07 edition of the Credo of 1899.
Plekhanov’s articles in Tovarishch are simply Larin’s proposal put into practice: free propagandist societies for all and sundry “socialists”—if they can be called socialists— against a background of non-party labour organisations. In actual fact, Plekhanov wrote in Tovarishch not as a member of the Party, not as a member of one of the Party organisations. This is a fact which cannot be explained away by any sophistry; and no “hushing up” of this fact by the Menshevik Central Committee can save a certain faction in our Party. In fact, Plekhanov wrote exactly as Larin wrote, as a non-party socialist in a non-party “socialist” organ; and he put forward a non-party, non-socialist and even anti-socialist proposal.
Vasilyev has followed in Plekhanov’s footsteps. Switzerland, owing to its freedom from the traditions of the Russian revolutionary proletariat, is supplying us with more and more “advanced” opportunists.
Vasilyev is a prominent Menshevik. He has worked with Mensheviks; not with Mensheviks casually met in some remote provincial town, but with the most prominent and most responsible Mensheviks. Hence, the Mensheviks have no right to treat Vasilyev with disdain.
And Vasilyev directly refers to Plekhanov. More than that, he refers to him in support of his own case. He calls Plekhanov’s disgraceful (for the Social-Democratic Party) article in the Cadet press prop:sing a joint platform with the Cadets “a courageous call”. He “regrets” that “there are no Plekhanovs in the other parties”.
Vasilyev displays much zeal but little intelligence. He wanted to praise Plekhanov, and in praise of him he blurt ed out: “Unfortunately there are no Plekhanovs in the other parties.” This is matchless! Good Vasilyev was the first to use the word “Plekhanovs” as a generic term for politicians who act on their own account, and independently of their party. From now on people xviii probably begin to speak of: “the Plekhanovs in the Vasilyev sense of the word....”
Slapping “the Plekhanovs” on the back, the Vasilyevs dot the i’s and cross the t’s. In 1899, the authors of the Credo, Prokopovich & Co., spoke of a pure labour movement free from the germs of revolution. The Vasilyevs talk of a revolution which must give birth to a “constitution” and nothing more, and give birth to it without the aid of mid wives, without revolutionaries. No midwives, no revolutionaries, no revolutionary people—such is Vasilyev’s slogan.
Shchedrin once poured classic ridicule on the France that was shooting the Communards, the France of the bankers who were cringing before the Russian tyrants. He called her a republic without republicans. It is time a new Shchedrin was born to ridicule Vasilyev and the Mensheviks, who are advocating revolution with the slogan of “no” revolutionaries, “no” revolution.
Are we right in interpreting Vasilyev’s “pronouncement” in this way? Are we right in putting him on a par with the Mensheviks?
Of course, we are! Vasilyev’s whole article, all his ideas, all his proposals are imbued with the “plan” to facilitate the birth of a constitution by killing the revolution. To “temporarily relinquish” all programmes, to merge all Social-Democrats, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and suchlike with the Cadets in one liberal party, to unite them all for the struggle for a “political constitution” “without the simultaneous solution of economic programmes"(this is exactly what the letter says—“without solution of programmes”. The Swiss advisers of the Russian proletariat are not always able to express themselves in good Russian)—does not all this evince a desire to save the constitution by renouncing the revolution?
A revolution in the real, serious sense is inconceivable without “solution of economic programmes”. A revolution can only be made by the masses, actuated by profound economic needs. The fall of absolutism in Russia, its real fall, would inevitably mean an economic revolution. Only those who are virginally innocent of socialism can fail to under stand this. To abandon economic programme means abandoning the fundamental economic causes of revolution, abandoning the economic interests which impel the masses of downtrodden, cowed, ignorant people to wage a great and unprecedentedly selfless struggle. It means abandoning the masses, leaving only a gang of intellectual spouters, and substituting liberal spouting for socialist policy.
“What benefit was it to the peasants that their cause was espoused by the Duma that was dissolved mainly on account of the agrarian question?” Does not this argument entitle Vasilyev to have a monument erected to him in his lifetime for socialist opportunism unsurpassed in the world?
And is this not (we now pass to the second of the two questions raised above) a Menshevik argument?
Ride in the same compartment with the Cadets as far as Tver without disturbing each other, says Plekhanov. Ride with the Cadets to the Duma, allying ourselves with a non-revolutionary party (for a time! “for a short time!” says Vasilyev, supplementing the Menshevik formula) for revolutionary objects—say the Mensheviks. Ride together as far as a Cadet Cabinet, said our Central Committee recently.
Yes, let’s ride, agrees Vasilyev, “without jostling or frightening each other”. “Now, at this moment, it [the struggle of classes and groups] is fatal and criminal.”
To wage the class struggle is criminal; to jeopardise the constitution by revolutionary demands (such as: a Duma with full power, a constituent assembly, etc.) is criminal. however much the Mensheviks may repudiate Vasilyev (they have not done so yet, by the by) they will never be able to obliterate the fact that it is this idea that underlies blocs with the Cadets, support for the demand for a Duma Cabinet, and all these joint trips as far as Tver, etc., etc.
Vasilyev, of course, is unique. But even unique phenomena of nature occur only in a definite environment and spring only from definite conditions. Vasilyev. of course, is the Mont Blanc of opportunism. But one does not find Mont Blancs in the steppes. They exist only among Alpine peaks. Vasilyevs can only appear in company with the “Plekhanovs”, Cherevanins, and tutti quanti down to Prokopovich.
And thanks to “the Plekhanovs in the Vasilyev sense” Mr. Struve is able to say, as be did at a meeting in Solyanoi Gorodok on December 27 (Tovarishch of December 28) that “all the present opponents of the Cadets will in the near future become Cadets themselves. Tovarishch is already being called a Cadet paper. The Popular Socialists are being called Social-Cadets, the Mensheviks—semi-Cadets. Many people regard G. V. Plekhanov as a Cadet, and indeed, many of his present utterances can be welcomed by the Cadets. It is a pity only that he did not say these things when the Cadets stood alone. The Bolsheviks alone may prove incorrigible, hence their fate will be to end up in a museum of history.”
Thank you for the compliment, clumsy Mr. Struve! Yes, we shall end up in the museum of history that is called “the history of the revolution in Russia”. Our Bolshevik slogans, the Bolshevik boycott of the Bulygin Duma, the Bolshevik calls for a mass strike and uprising (as early as the Third Congress) will be inseparably and forever associated with the October Revolution in Russia. And we shall use our place in this museum even during long years or (if it comes to the worst) decades of reaction to teach the proletariat to hate the treacherous Octobrist-Cadet bourgeoisie, to despise intellectualist phrases and petty-bourgeois sentimentality. We shall use our place in this museum under all political conditions, even the worst, to preach relentless class struggle to the workers, to teach them how to prepare for a new revolution—one that will be more independent of the half-hearted and flabby bourgeoisie, and closer to the socialist revolution of the proletariat.
And your place in the museum, worthy Mr. Struve, will be the place assigned to those who rejoice and make fine speeches when counter-revolution triumphs. You will always be able to rejoice at such times over the fact that the revolutionaries have fallen in battle and the stage is occupied by the liberals, who lay down voluntarily, lay down at the enemy’s feet, so as to “crawl into infamy”.
If, contrary to our expectations, the revolution is not destined to rise again and wrest power from the tsar and his gang, you will long remain the hero of the counter-revolution. We will have a “place in the museum”, but a good place—that of the October struggle of the people. If, however, the revolution rises again, as we believe it will, every trace of the miserable Cadets will disappear within a week, and the struggle of the masses of the proletariat and the ruined peasantry will once again go forward under Bolshevik slogans. Under the hegemony of the Cadets, the revolution can only lie in the dust. It can be victorious only under the hegemony of the Bolshevik Social-Democrats.
- We have just received an extract from the Georgian Social-Democratic organ of the Tiflis Mensheviks, “Tsin” (“Forward”), of December 8. The Tiflis Mensheviks emphatically challenge Plekhanov’s views and declare that his arguments in favour of the slogan: “a Duma with full power” are erroneous, that the Social-Democrats cannot take this slogan to mean a constituent assembly. The slogan of “a Duma with full power”, they write, “would mean the curtailing of our programme”. Further on they argue that this slogan is also unacceptable to the Cadets, and that in general a joint platform for the Social-Democrats and Cadets is quite out of the question. A joint platform means “clipping the wings of our Party’s independence, blurring the differences between the views of the Social-Democrats and those of the bourgeois parties”.
You are right, Tiflis Menshevik comrades! We note with satisfaction that in spite of the Central Committee and the majority of Russian Mensheviks, the Bundists and the Caucasians have not swerved from their duty to state plainly that Plekhanov’s view and his whole statement are wrong. —Lenin
- Lenin is referring to N. Shchedrin’s sketches From Abroad printed in the January issue of Otechestvenniye Zapiski (Fatherland Notes) for 1881.