Should We Organise the Revolution?
|Written||25 February 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 167-176.
It happened a long, long time ago, more than a year ago. According to the testimony of the not unknown German Social-Democrat, Parvus, “fundamental differences” had arisen in the Russian Party. It had become the primary political task of the party of the proletariat to combat the extremes of centralism, the idea of “giving orders” to the workers from some obscure Geneva and the over-estimation of the idea of an organisation of agitators, of an organisation of leaders. Such was the deep, firm, and unshakable conviction of the Menshevik Parvus, expressed in his weekly German news-sheet Aus der Weltpolitik for November 30, 1903.
It was pointed out at the time to the estimable Parvus (see Lenin’s letter to the editors of Iskra, December 1903 ) that he was the victim of a piece of scandal-mongering, that what he took for fundamental differences were at bottom mere squabbles, and that the shift in the new Iskra’s ideas, which was becoming noticeable, was a shift towards opportunism. Parvus fell silent, but his “ideas” on over-estimating the importance of an organisation of leaders were taken up and worked to death by the new-Iskrists.
Fourteen months went by. The disruptive work of the Mensheviks within the Party and the opportunist nature of their propaganda became perfectly clear. January 9, 1905, fully revealed the vast reserve of revolutionary energy possessed by the proletariat, as well as the utter inadequacy of Social-Democratic organisation. Parvus came to his senses. He wrote an article in Iskra, No. 85, which, in fact, was a volte-face from the new ideas of the opportunist new Iskra to the ideas of the revolutionary old Iskra. “There was a hero,” Parvus exclaims, referring to Gapon, “but no political leader, no programme of action, no organisation.... The lack of organisation produced tragic results.... The masses are disunited, everything is without plan, there is no coalescing centre, no guiding programme of action..... The movement has declined for lack of a coalescing and guiding organisation.” And Parvus proposes the slogan which we suggested in issue No. 6 of Vperyod—“Organise the Revolution!” The lessons of the revolution have convinced Parvus that “under present political conditions we cannot organise the hundreds of thousands” (the reference is to the masses ready for revolt). “But,” he says, repeating with good reason an idea expressed long ago in What Is To Be Done?, “we can create an organisation that would serve as a combining ferment, and, at the moment of revolution, rally the hundreds of thousands to its side. We must organise workers’ circles which shall have a clearly defined task, namely, to prepare the masses for the uprising, to rally them to our side at the time of the uprising, and to launch the uprising when the slogan is issued.”
At last! we exclaimed with relief, when we came across these old truths buried amid the rubbish of the new Iskra. At last the revolutionary instinct of a functionary of the proletarian party has prevailed, if only temporarily, over Rabocheye Dyelo opportunism. At last we hear the voice of a Social-Democrat who does not cringe before the revolution’s rearguard but fearlessly points to the need for supporting the van of the revolution.
The new-Iskrists, of course, could not agree with Parvus. “We do not share all the views expressed by Comrade Parvus,” says the editors’ note.
We should say not! Catch them “sharing” views which hit out at all the opportunist nonsense they have been spewing for the last eighteen months!
“Organise the Revolution!” But have we not our wise Comrade Martynov, who knows that a revolution is caused by a complete change in social relations, that a revolution cannot be timed? Martynov will point out to Parvus his mistake and prove that even if the latter had in mind the organisation of the vanguard of the revolution, it is nevertheless a “narrow” and noxious “Jacobin” idea. Besides, our wise Martynov has a Tryapichkin on a string in the shape of Martov, who is capable of rendering his teacher more profound and who can well substitute the slogan “Unleash the Revolution!” for the slogan “Organise the Revolution!” (see No. 85; the author’s italics).
Yes, dear reader, this is the slogan we are given in Iskra’s leading article. These days, apparently, it is enough to “unleash” one’s tongue for a free chatter-process, or for the process of chatter, in order to be able to write leading articles. The opportunist invariably requires slogans that, on closer scrutiny, are found to be nothing but high-sounding phases, nothing but decadent word-jugglery.
“Organise, and again organise!” Parvus urges, for all the world as if he had turned Bolshevik. He does not understand, poor fellow, that organisation is a process (Iskra, No. 85, as well as all the previous numbers of the new Iskra, particularly the magnificent feuilletons of the magnificent Rosa). He does not know, poor devil, that according to the whole spirit of dialectical materialism, tactics are as much a process as organisation is. Like a “conspirator” he runs about with his organisation-as-plan. Like a “utopian”, he imagines that one can simply up and organise the thing offhand at some, God forbid, Second or Third Congress.
The “Jacobin” Pillars of Hercules this Parvus talks him self up to! “To launch the uprising when the slogan is is sued”—imagine that! It is even worse than the idea of “timing” the uprising, which has been exploded by our redoubtable Martynov. Really, Parvus ought to take a lesson or two from Martynov. He should read Iskra, No. .62; the leading article will tell him of the harmful “utopian” ideas about preparing the insurrection, which were spread so prematurely in our Party in 1902 and 1904. He should read Axelrod’s foreword to “A Worker’s” pamphlet to learn what “a deep-seated, harmful canker [sic!], downright destructive to the Party”, Social-Democracy is threatened with on the part of people who “pin all their hopes on spontaneous revolts of the most backward, least class-conscious, and positively uncivilised [!] elements of the masses”.
Parvus admits that it is impossible at present to organise the hundreds of thousands, and he considers it our primary task “to create an organisation that would serve as a combining ferment”. How can the new-Iskrists help squirming when such things appear in the columns of their paper? Obviously, an organisation that will serve as a combining ferment is simply an organisation of professional revolutionaries, at the mere mention of which our new Iskrists go off into a swoon.
We are grateful indeed to Iskra for its leading article, which it has printed alongside Parvus’s. How marked is the contrast between this empty, muddled phrase-mongering of the tail-ender and the clear, distinct, forthright, and bold revolutionary slogans of the old Iskra. Is it not sheer bombast to say that “the policy of confidence is quitting the stage never again to fool Russia or Europe”? As a matter of fact, any issue of a European bourgeois newspaper shows that this fooling is still being carried on with success. “Moderate Russian liberalism has been dealt its death-blow.” It is childish political naivete to believe liberalism dead when it is merely trying to be “politic” and to lie low. Liberalism is very much alive, it has taken on a new lease of life. Indeed, it is now on the threshold of power. The reason it is lying low is that it wants to make its bid for power at the right moment with the greatest certainty of success and the least risk. For this reason it is so assiduously making up to the working class. One must be hopelessly short sighted to take this flirtation (a hundred times more dangerous for being practised at the moment) seriously and to declare boastfully that “the proletariat—the liberator of the country, the proletariat—the vanguard of the whole nation, has now had its heroic role recognised by the public opinion of the progressive elements of the liberal-democratic bourgeoisie.” Gentlemen of the new Iskra, when will you under stand that the liberal bourgeoisie acknowledges the proletariat as hero for the very reason that this proletariat, though dealing a blow at tsarism, is not yet strong enough, not yet Social-Democratic enough, to win for itself the kind of freedom it wants. When will you understand that what we must do is not to boast about the present bowing and scraping of the liberals, but to warn the proletariat against it and show up what lies behind it. You do not see that? Then look at what the industrialists, merchants, and stockbrokers are saying about the necessity of a constitution. How plainly these declarations speak of the death of moderate liberalism! The liberal windbags prate about the heroism of the proletarians, while the industrialists weightily and imperiously demand a skimpy constitution— that is how matters stand, dear “leaders”!
But nothing can compare with Iskra’s arguments on the question of arming. “The work of arming the proletariat and systematically building up the organisation which shall guarantee that the people’s attack upon the government shall take place simultaneously everywhere” is declared to be a “technical” (?!) job. And we, of course, are above such trivialities as technique, we go to the root of things. “Important though they are (the ’technical’ jobs), it is not upon them that our efforts should be concentrated in preparing the masses for revolt.... All the efforts of the underground organisations will count for nothing if they fail to arm the people with the one indispensable weapon—a sense of the burning necessity to attack the autocracy and to arm for the purpose. It is on propaganda among the masses to arm themselves for the purpose of revolt that we should concentrate our efforts.” (The italics in the last two passages are the author’s.)
This is indeed a profound way of stating the issue, nothing like the narrow-minded Parvus, who almost reached the point of “Jacobinism”. The crux of the matter is not in the work of arming or in the systematic building up of the organisation, but in arming the people with a sense of the burning necessity to arm. What a painful feeling of shame for Social-Democracy comes upon one at the sight of these philistine platitudes, which seek to drag our movement back! To arm the people with a sense of the burning necessity to arm is the constant, common duty of the Social-Democrats always and everywhere, and it can be applied equally to Japan as it can to England, to Germany as it can to Italy. Wherever there are oppressed classes struggling against exploitation, the doctrine of the socialists, from the very start, and in the first place, arms them with a sense of the burning necessity to arm, and this “necessity” is present when the labour movement begins. Social-Democracy has only to make this burning necessity a conscious one, to bring home to those who are conscious of it the need for organisation and planned action, the need for considering the whole political situation. Dear Editor of Iskra! Please drop in at any meeting of German workers and see the hatred towards, let us say, the police, that burns in the faces there; what bitter sarcasms and clenched fists you will hear and see there! What is the force that holds in check this burning necessity to mete out summary justice to the bourgeoisie and its servitors who ill-use the people? It is the force of organisation and discipline, the force of consciousness, the consciousness that individual acts of assassination are absurd, that the hour for the serious revolutionary struggle of the people has not yet struck, that the political situation is not ripe for it. That is why, under such circumstances, no socialist will ever bid the people arm, but he will always make it his duty (otherwise he is no socialist, but a mere windbag) to arm them with a sense of the burning necessity to arm and attack the enemy. However, the conditions in Russia today differ from these everyday conditions of work; therefore, the revolutionary Social-Democrats, who until now have never issued a call to arms but have always equipped the workers with a sense of the burning necessity to arm—therefore, the revolutionary Social-Democrats, following the initiative of the revolutionary workers, have now issued the slogan, To arms! At such a time, when this slogan has at last been issued, Iskra delivers itself of the statement that the main thing is not arming, but the burning necessity to arm. What is this but sterile intellectualist logic-chopping and hopeless Tryapichkin-ism? Are not these people dragging the Party back, away from the pressing tasks of the revolutionary vanguard to the contemplation of the proletariat’s “posterior”? This unbelievable vulgarisation of our tasks is due not to the individual qualities of one or other Tryapichkin, but to their entire position, which has been so inimitably formulated in the catchwords organisation-as-process and tactics-as-process. Such a position in itself necessarily condemns a man to fear all definite slogans, to shy at all “plans”, to back away from bold revolutionary initiative, to philosophise and chew the cud, to be in fear of running too far ahead—and this at a time when we Social-Democrats are obviously lagging behind the proletariat in revolutionary activity. Truly the dead are clutching at the living; the dead theories of Rabocheye Dyelo lie like a dead hand upon the new Iskra too.
Let us consider Iskra’s arguments regarding “the politically leading role of Social-Democracy as the vanguard of the class destined to emancipate the nation”. “We can neither attain that role,” we are told, “nor firmly establish our title to it even if we take over full control of the technical organisation and conduct of the uprising.” Think of it! We cannot attain the role of vanguard even if we succeed in taking full control of the conduct of the uprising! And these people presume to speak of vanguard! They fear history will impose upon them the leading role in the democratic revolution, and they are terrified at the thought of having “to conduct the uprising”. The thought lurks at the back of their minds—only they do not yet dare to voice it outright in the columns of Iskra—that the Social-Democratic organisation must not “conduct the uprising”, that it must not strive to take full control over the revolutionary transition to the democratic republic. They scent in this, these incorrigible Girondists of socialism, monstrous Jacobinism. They do not understand that the harder we strive to take full control of the conduct of the uprising, the greater will our share in the undertaking be, and that the greater this share is, the less will the influence of the anti-proletarian or non-proletarian democrats be. They are determined to be at the tail-end; they have even invented a philosophy of their own to prove that the tail-end is the right place for them. Martynov has actually begun to expound this philosophy, and tomorrow, no doubt, he will dot the i’s in the columns of Iskra.
Let us try to follow the argument step by step:
“The class-conscious proletariat, governed by the logic of the spontaneous process of historical development, will utilise for its own purposes all the elements of organisation, all the elements of ferment which the eve of the revolution creates....”
Fine! But to utilise all elements means to assume full leadership. Iskra defeats its own purpose and, realising this, hastens to add:
“...wholly undismayed by the fact that· all these elements rob it of a share in the technical leadership of the revolution itself and thus involuntarily help to carry our demands to the most backward sections of the masses.”
Can you make anything of this, dear reader? To utilise all elements, undismayed by the fact that they rob us of a share in the leadership?! But, hold on, gentlemen, if we really utilise all elements, if it is really our demands that are adopted by those we utilise, then they do not rob us of the leadership, but accept our leadership. If, on the other hand, all these elements really rob us of the leadership (and of course not only “technical” leadership, because to separate the “technical” side of a revolution from its political side is sheer nonsense), then it is not we who utilise them, but they us.
“We should be only too glad if, following the priest who popularised among the masses our demand for the separation of the Church from the State, if, following the monarchist workers’ society which arranged the popular procession to the Winter Palace, the Russian revolution would find it self the richer by a general, who would be the first to lead the masses in the last fight against the tsar’s troops, or by a government official who would be the first to proclaim the formal overthrow of the rule of the tsars.”
Yes, we too should be glad of it, but we should not want a feeling of joy over pleasant prospects to overshadow our sense of logic. What is meant by the Russian revolution finding itself the richer by a priest or a general? What is meant is that the priest or the general will become an adherent or leader of the revolution. These “tyros” may be fully or not quite fully conscious adherents of the revolution. In the latter event (which is the more probable with tyros) we must deplore, not welcome, their lack of consciousness and do our utmost to cure and fill this lack. As long as we leave this undone, as long as the masses follow a leader who is lacking in consciousness, we have to admit that it is not the Social-Democrats who utilise these elements, but vice versa. Yesterday’s priest, general, or government official who becomes an adherent of the revolution, may be a prejudice-ridden bourgeois democrat, and insofar as the workers will follow him the bourgeois democrats will be “utilising” the workers. Is this clear to you, gentlemen of the new Iskra? If it is, then why do you fear the assumption of leadership by the fully conscious (that is, Social-Democratic) adherents of the revolution? Why do you fear lest a Social-Democratic officer (I purposely select an analogous example) and member of the Social-Democratic organisation assume, “completely take over”, the functions and tasks of your hypothetical general at the initiative and on the instructions of that organisation?
To return to Parvus. He concludes his excellent article with the excellent advice to get rid of the disorganisers by “throwing them overboard”. To get rid of the disorganisers is, as the items in our Party News column show, the most impassioned and emphatic slogan of the majority of the Russian Social-Democrats. Precisely, Comrade Parvus, they must be “thrown overboard” in the most ruthless fashion, and the throwing must start with those heroes of the Social-Democratic press who have, been sanctioning disruption by their organisation-as-process and organisation-as-tendency “theories”. The thing is not merely to talk of it, but to do it. We must convene immediately a congress of all Party workers who wish to organise the Party. We must not confine ourselves to persuasion and to appeals, but must put a direct and inexorable ultimatum to all who hesitate, to all who waver, vacillate, and doubt: “Make your choice!” From the first issue of our newspaper we have sounded that ultimatum on behalf of the Editorial Board of Vperyod, on behalf of the mass of Russian Party workers who have been driven to intense exasperation by the disorganisers. Make haste, then, and throw them overboard, comrades, and let us settle down to the work of organisation with a hearty good will. Better a hundred revolutionary Social-Democrats who have accepted organisation-as-plan than a thousand intellectuals of the Tryapichkin tribe who prattle about organisation-as-process.
- See present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 122-23.—Ed.
- See pp. 148-57 of this volume.—Ed.
- Tryaptchkin—a type of unscrupulous journalist mentioned in Gogol’s comedy The Inspector-General.
- The above lines bad been written when we received from the liberal camp the following information, which is not without interest. The St. Petersburg special correspondent of the German bourgeois-democratic newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung (February 17, 1905) quotes a liberal St. Petersburg journalist on the political situation: “The liberals would be fools to let a moment like the present slip by. The liberals now hold all the trumps, for they have succeeded in hitching the workers to their cart, whereas the government has no one, since the bureaucracy does not give anyone a chance to get ahead.” What sublime simplicity must be reigning in the new Iskra for them to be writing about the death of liberalism at such a moment!—Lenin
- The Mountain and the Gironde—designation of the two political groupings of the bourgeoisie at the time of the French bourgeois revolution towards the end of the eighteenth century. The Mountain, or Jacobins, was the name given to the more consistent representatives of the revolutionary class of the time, the bourgeoisie, who advocated the abolition of absolutism and feudalism. Unlike the Jacobins, the Girondists wavered between revolution and counter-revolution, and entered into deals with the monarchy.
Lenin called the opportunist trend in Social-Democracy the “Socialist Gironde”, and the revolutionary Social-Democrats—proletarian Jacobins, the “Mountain”. After the RSDLP split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Lenin frequently stressed that the Mensheviks were the Girondist trend in the working-class movement.
- Lenin has in view the item “Disorganisation of the Local Commit tees” and the resolutions of the Minsk and Odessa groups of the Social-Democrats published in Vperyod, No. 7, February 21(8), 1905, in the Party News column.