Some Features of the Present Collapse
|Written||2 July 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 148-157.
We have repeatedly had occasion to comment on the ideological and organisational collapse on the right, in the camp of the bourgeois democrats and the socialist opportunists, a collapse which is inevitable among parties and trends where petty-bourgeois intellectuals predominate, in a period when counter-revolution is rampant. But the picture of collapse would be incomplete if we did not also dwell on collapse “on the left”, in the camp of the petty-bourgeois “Socialist-Revolutionaries
Of course one can use the expression “on the left” in this case only in a very relative sense, to characterise those who are inclined to play at Leftism. We have already pointed out in Proletary more than once that it was ’just the period of the Russian revolution at its highest peak which brought out particularly clearly, in open mass politics, all the instability, lack of firmness and of principle of S.R. “revolutionism”. It is sufficient to recall only the most outstanding events. The autumn ’upswing in 1905; the S.R.s are in a secret bloc with the Popular Socialists, who are all for. a legal “Popular Socialist Party”. The congress of the S.R. Party in December 1905 rejects the “plan” to form such a double of the S.R. Party, but in the spring and summer up swing of 1906 we again see the S.R.s in the daily papers, i. e., in the main mouthpieces for agitation among the people, working in a bloc with the Popular Socialists. The latter openly renounce the revolution in the autumn of 1906, after the Sveaborg and Kronstadt defeat, and come out openly as opportunists—yet nevertheless the elections to the Second Duma in St. Petersburg (in the spring of 1907) again revive the “Narodnik bloc” of S.R.s, Popular Socialists and Trudoviks. In short, the revolution has fully and finally revealed the absence of any definite class foundation for the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, reduced it in practice to the role of an adjunct or wing of the petty-bourgeois peasant democrats and forced it constantly to waver between verbal revolutionary, impulses and Popular Socialist arid Trudovik diplomacy. The separating out of the Maximalists, who all through the revolution were constantly separating out of the Socialist-Revolutionaries but could not get fully separated, only confirmed the class instability of Narodnik revolutionism. There remains nothing for the S. B. Centre, the “pure” S.R.s, to do—we had written in issue No. 4 of Proletary, in the article entitled “Socialist-Revolutionary Mensheviks"—but to defend themselves against both the “new” trends in Socialist-Revolutionism with arguments borrowed from the Marxists. While the Social-Democrats emerged from the revolution with one definite class, the proletariat, rallied securely behind it, and with two trends, characteristic of all international Social-Democracy—opportunist and revolutionary—sharply defined, the Socialist— Revolutionaries emerged without any direct basis, without any defined border-line to divide them on the one hand from the Trudoviks and the Popular Socialists, linked with a mass of petty proprietors, or on the other hand from the Maximalists, as a terrorist group of intellectuals.
And now, when Maximalism has disappeared (possibly only for a time) we see the revival of a kindred trend in a new dress. Revolutsionnaya Mysl, the mouthpiece of a “group of Socialist-Revolutionaries”, draws apart (No. 1, April 1908, No. 2, June 1908) from the “official organ of the S. B. Party”, i. e., from the central organ, Znamya Truda, and announces the “revision of our [i.e., S.R.] theoretical out look, our S. B. methods of struggle and organisation”. Of course all this “revision”, all this “critical creative work” promised by the new paper is sheer phrase-mongering. In reality there is no question of any revision of theory, nor can there be, since the new paper has no theoretical outlook whatever—all it has is the re-echo, in a thousand different keys, of appeals for terrorism, and a clumsy, inexpert, naïve adaptation of their views on revolution, on the mass movement, on the meaning of parties in general, etc., to this allegedly new but in reality old, and indeed very old, method. The amazing poverty of such “theoretical” acquirements stares one in the face when comparing them wish the bombastic promises to revise, criticise and create. The complete confusion of theoretical views both of the “new” and of the “old” tendencies in Socialist-Revolutionism is all the more striking in that Revolutsionnaya Mysl itself underlines “the evolution taking place in the views of those in charge of the official organ of the ’S.R. Party"—an evolution consisting in the most intensified emphasising of “systematic central political terror” in order “to precipitate events”. That is a quotation from No. 8 of Znamya Truda. And in No. 10–11 (February-March 1908) we find exactly the same talk about “straining the. efforts of the whole party” for “central political terror”, about the necessity of finding “large funds” for this purpose, and together with this a “delicate hint” as to the possible source of such funds. “All parties,” writes Znamya Truda, pp. 7–8; “including the Cadets and the Peaceful Renovators, will enjoy the immediate benefits of this activity. And therefore the party has the right to count on the very widest public aid in this its struggle."
The reader can see that there is nothing new in what the new paper says. The only characteristic thing about it is that it provides instructive material for the assessment of political collapse, covered up by “Left” and supposedly revolutionary phrases. The Mensheviks in Golos Sotsial-Demokrata (No. 1) justify their collection of funds among the liberals on the grounds that there is a certain political solidarity in their aims. The S.R.s in Znamya Truda say to the Cadets and the Peaceful Renovators: why, you will enjoy the benefits. Extremes meet. Both petty-bourgeois opportunism and petty-bourgeois revolutionism, albeit from different sides, “make eyes” at the Cadets and the Peaceful Renovators.
And it is not only in this that the extremes meet. The revolution has brought disillusionment to both the Mensheviks and the “revolutionary” Narodniks. Both are ready to dismiss the Party principle, the old Party traditions, and the revolutionary mass struggle. “The mistake common to nearly all the revolutionary parties,” writes Revolutsionnoye Nedomyslie, “a mistake which has played a harmful role in the present crisis, consists in an exaggerated belief in the possibility and necessity of a mass rising of the people. Events have not justified the expectations of the party.” In vain, it appears, did the Socialist-Revolutionaries build “a socialist programme according to the Marxist model”, build up “a conception of the revolution which identified it with a mass movement and mass insurrection caused by economic needs, with a correction being made, however, for a minority with initiative”. Instead of corrections, one must develop “the theory and practice of the active functioning of an initiating minority” (No. 1, pp. 6–7). One must exalt the significance “of the spontaneous feeling which grips the revolutionary and the ideals which inspire him” (No. 2, p. 1); as for theoretical questions, philosophy, scientific socialism—all these are nonsense, in the opinion of the “new’ social-revolutionary obscurantists. “Is there hope of an armed uprising in the more or less immediate future?” (that’s how they put it: “more or less immediate”)—asks Revolutsionnoye Nedomyslie, and answers itself: “All are agreed that there is no such hope” (No. 2, p. 2). The conclusion is that in Russia “a political revolution cannot be carried out except by a revolutionary minority” (p. 7). “The reasons for the failure of the revolutionary parties during the last three years were not accidental, and depended in our view not only on objective conditions and not only on tactical mistakes, but lay also in the very conception of their organisation” (p.,IO). The revolutionaries, you see, set themselves the “impossible tasks” of really leading the masses. The Social-Democrats confused the S.R.s and induced them, to the detriment of their real job of terrorist struggle, to think about organising the peasantry and preparing it for a universal armed uprising (p. 11). Extreme centralisation of the parties—"rule by generals”, “the spirit of authoritarianism” (p. 12)—there is the evil. “In a large and strong party ’the revolutionaries saw the only means and guarantee for achieving the object aimed at, and did not notice either the practical impossibility in our Russian conditions of creating such a party or all its dark sides” (p. 12).
This is enough, we think! The mental chaos that reigns in Revolutsionnaya Mysl, the obscurantism it preaches, the mean philistine despair, timidity and disheartenment in face of the first encountered difficulties on which its allegedly revolutionary programme is built, are not worth wasting words on. The quotations we have made speak for themselves.
But let not the reader think that these arguments are pure nonsense, accidentally blurted out by an unknown and insignificant little group. No, such a view would be mistaken. There is logic here, the logic of disillusionment in their party and in a people’s revolution, disillusionment in the capacity of the masses for direct revolutionary struggle. It is the logic of the keyed-up intellectual, of hysteria, of incapacity for steady, stubborn work, of inability to apply the basic principles of theory and tactics to altered circumstances, of inability to carry on the work of propaganda, agitation and organisation in conditions sharply differing from those which we recently experienced. Instead of exerting every effort to fight the spirit of philistine chaos which is penetrating not only the upper classes but the lower classes as well; instead of gathering together more firmly the scattered party forces to defend tried revolutionary principles; instead of this, unbalanced people, detached from any class connection with the masses, throw overboard all they ever learned, and proclaim “a revision”, i. e., a return to the old rubbish-heap, to revolutionary rule-of-thumb methods, to the sporadic petty group activities. No heroism on the part of these groups or individuals in the terrorist struggle will alter the fact that their activity as members of a party is an expression of collapse. And it is extremely important to grasp the truth, confirmed by the experience of all countries which have undergone the defeat of a revolution, that one and the same psychology, one and the same class peculiarity (that of the petty bourgeoisie, for example) is displayed both in the dejection of the opportunist and in the desperation of the terrorist.
“All are agreed that there is no hope of an armed uprising in the more or less immediate future.” Meditate over this flashy and hackneyed phrase. These people have evidently never stopped to consider the objective conditions which at first give rise to a full-scale political crisis, and then, when the crisis becomes acute, to civil war. These people have learned by heart the “slogan” of armed uprising, without having understood the meaning of this slogan or its applicability. That is why, after the first defeats of the revolution they so lightly throw aside their ill-digested slogans, taken on trust. Whereas if these people valued Marxism as the only revolutionary theory of the twentieth century, if they had studied the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, they would have seen the difference between phrase-mongering and the development of really revolutionary slogans. The Social-Democrats did not put forward the “slogan” of insurrection either in 1901, when demonstrations caused Krichevsky and Martynov to begin shouting about “the assault”, or in 1902 and 1903, when the late Nadezhdin called the plan of. the old Iskra “literary exercises”. They put forward the slogan of insurrection only after January 9, 1905, when not a single person could doubt any longer that a general political crisis had broken out, that it was growing more acute daily and hourly, by the direct movement of the masses. And within a few months this crisis led to insurrection.
What lesson follows from this? The lesson that we must now carefully follow the new political crisis that is now brewing, teach the masses the lessons of 1905 and the inevitability of every acute crisis developing into an insurrection, and strengthen the organisation that will release this slogan at the moment the crisis arrives. But it is a barren occupation to ask, “is there hope in the immediate future"? The state of affairs in Russia is such that no thoughtful socialist will venture to prophesy. All that we know and can say amounts to this, that without reconstructing agrarian relations, without completely breaking up the old land system, Russia cannot live—but live she will. The struggle is about whether Stolypin will succeed in breaking it up the landlords’ way, or whether the peasants, under the leadership of the workers, will do it themselves to suit their own purpose. The business of the Social-Democrats is to imbue the masses with a clear understanding of this economic foundation of the growing crisis, and to train up a serious party organisation which could help the people to assimilate the abundant lessons of the revolution, and would be capable of leading them in struggle, when the maturing forces become fully ripe for a new revolutionary “campaign”.
But this reply, of course, will seem “vague” to people who regard “slogans”, not as a practical conclusion from a class analysis and assessment of a particular moment in history, but as a charm with which a party or a tendency has been provided once and for all. Such people don’t understand that incapacity to adapt their tactics to the differences between fully defined and not yet defined moments is the result of political inexperience and narrowness of outlook. To strengthen organisation, indeed! Our heroes of the revolutionary “screech” turn up their noses at such a humble, innocent task, which does not promise “immediately”, at once, tomorrow morning, to provide a roar and a crash. “Events have not justified the expectations of the party.” And this is said after three years of. revolution, which gave unexampled confirmation of the role and significance of strong parties. It was the Russian revolution which in its very first period demonstrated that it was possible even under the Plehve regime to create a party that was really capable of leading classes. In the spring of 1905 our Party was a league of underground circles; in the autumn it became the party of the millions of the proletariat. Did this happen “all at once”, gentlemen, or did it take ten years of slow, steady, unobtrusive and quiet work to prepare and ensure such a result? And if at such a moment as the present one, the official and unofficial S.R. gentlemen are putting regicide to the fore and not the task of setting up a party organisation among the peasant masses capable of hammering out something more solid, more ideologically consistent, something more firm and staunch, out of the jelly-like revolutionism of the Trudovik current of opinion, we shall say that Narodnik socialism in Russia is dying, that it has long since died, that its leaders are dimly aware of their “bankruptcy” as Narodniks after the very first campaign of a people’s revolution.
We did not expect that peasants would display capacity for a leading role, or even an independent role, iii the revolution; and we shall not lose heart at the failure of the first campaign, which revealed the vast extent to which revolutionary-democratic ideas had spread among the peasantry, even though these ideas were extremely hazy and’ sloppy. And we will be able to work again as consistently and stubbornly as we did before the revolution in order that the Party tradition should not be broken, in order that . the Party should grow stronger and be able in the second campaign to lead, not two or three million proletarians, but five times or ten times as many. You don’t believe in this task? You find it dull? Well, the door is open, worth-y friends; you are not revolutionaries, you are simply ranters!
And your official organ treats the question of taking part in the Third Duma in the same hysterical way. In Znamya Truda, No. 10–11, one such hysterical writer sneers at the mistakes of our Social-Democratic deputies in the Third Duma, and exclaims about their statements: “Who knows anything about these statements, about these votings and abstentions?” (p. 11).
We say to this: “Yes, our Social-Democratic deputies in the Third Duma have made many mistakes. And this very example the S.R.s chose to quote demonstrates the difference in the attitude of a workers’ party and a group of intellectuals. A workers’ party understands that in a period of political lull and collapse the latter must inevitably show itself in the Duma group too, since in the Third Duma it was even less capable than in the Second of assembling large party forces. Therefore the workers’ party criticises and corrects the mistakes of its deputies. Every organisation, by discussing each speech and arriving at the conclusion that such- and-such a statement or speech was a mistake, provides material for political action by the masses. Don’t worry, gentlemen of the S.R. Party: at the moment when the political crisis becomes acute, our group—and in any case members of our Duma group—will know how to do their duty. And our criticism of their mistakes is done publicly, and openly, before the masses. Our deputies learn from this criticism, the classes learn, the Party learns—the Party which has seen hard times, and knows that it is not by ranting but only by the stubborn and steadfast work of all organisations is it possible to emerge with honour from a difficult situation. Even Proletary, which, as a newspaper published abroad, realised that it was under an obligation to give its advice from afar with care, openly proposed measures for improving the work of the group. Our open Party criticism, added to the work of the group, achieves the result that the masses know both the Duma statements and the nature of the Party’s corrections to them. And failure to appreciate the Duma word at a time when Party organisations and the Party press are facing the effects of the deep collapse, is a sign of boundless intellectualist irresponsibility.
The S.R.s don’t understand the importance of open socialist speeches which are frankly criticised and corrected in the Party press. The S.R.s prefer to hush up the mistakes of their representatives: one more reminder of this was in No. 10–11 of Znamya Truda, when it abused us for making “philistine” statements about Gershuni’s love of the Cadets. We long ago expressed our opinion on this question, and would not start repeating it now, so soon after the death by torture at the hands of the tsar’s executioners of a man who earned deep respect by his loyalty to a revolutionary organisation. But since the S.R.s have raised the question, we shall give our reply. You can answer us in no way except by abuse, gentlemen; you cannot say, frankly and openly, which of you approves or does not approve of Gershuni’s stand at the February (’1907) Congress of the S.R. Party. You cannot reply on the substance of the matter and show up the mistakes of your leaders, the number of their supporters, etc., because you do not have a party, you attach no value to educating the masses by open criticism of persons, statements, tendencies and shades of opinion.
The working class will know how to t.rain up and harden its organisations by open criticism of its representatives. Not .all at once, not without friction, not without struggle and not without hard work—but we shall solve the difficult problem which the difficult turn of events has confronted us with, namely, to combine open speeches in the Duma with illegal Party activity. In the working out of this problem will be revealed the maturity of a party which has gone through the first campaign of the revolution. And the working out of this problem will provide a guarantee that in the second campaign the proletariat will be able, under the leadership of Social-Democracy, to fight more ably and more unitedly, and to gain more decisive victories.
- This refers to the uprisings in Sveaborg (see present edition, Note 42) and Kronstadt. The uprising of sailors and soldiers in Kronstadt started on July 19 (August 1), 1906, after news had been received of the uprising in Sveaborg. In the spring and summer of 1906, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, preparations had gone forward for an armed uprising of workers, soldiers and sailors in Kronstadt. These preparations, however, were considerably complicated by the arrest on July 9 (22) of most of the members of the military and workers’ organisation of the RSDLP Nevertheless, with the support of the St. Petersburg Committee and its representative, D. Z. Manuilsky, the Bolsheviks went forward with their preparations for an armed uprising, while at the same time rebuffing the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who had been provoking a premature uprising. When the spontaneous Sveaborg rising broke out the preparations for an armed uprising in Kronstadt had not been completed, but in view of the events in Sveaborg the uprising in Kronstadt had to be begun prematurely. The Bolsheviks took the lead in order to make the action as organised as possible. At a pre-arranged signal the struggle was started almost simultaneously by minemen, sappers, soldiers of the electric-mine company, and sailors of the First and Second Naval Divisions, who were joined by some of the armed workers. The government, however, had received information from agents provocateurs of the time fixed for the uprising, and had prepared in advance for the fight. Another factor that worked against the uprising was the disruptive activities of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. By the morning of July 20 (August 2) the uprising was suppressed.
The St. Petersburg Committee of the RSDLP passed a decision on July 20 (August 2) to carry out a political general strike in support of the Kronstadt and Sveaborg risings, but on news being received the next day that the uprising had been suppressed this decision was revoked.
The tsarist government took savage reprisals against the insurgents. More than 2,500 participants in the Kronstadt uprising were arrested. Sentenced by courts martial, 36 men were executed, 130 were sent to penal servitude, 316 were imprisoned and 935 transferred to corrective battalions.
- See present edition, Vol. 11, p. 199.—Ed.
- Revolutsionnaya Mysl (Revolutionary Thought)—the organ a group of S.R.s, published abroad from April 1908 to December 1909. Six issues appeared.
- Znamya Truda (Banner of Labour)—central organ of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, published in Paris from July 1907 to April 1914.
- Lenin is sarcastically calling Revolutsionnaya Mysl (“Revolutionary Thought”) by this title, which means “Revolutionary Thoughtlessness, Stupidity”.—Ed.
- Iskra (Spark)—the first all-Russian illegal Marxist newspaper, founded by Lenin in 1900. After the Second Congress of the RSDLP the Mensheviks seized control of Iskra. From November 1903, beginning with issue No. 52, Iskra became the mouthpiece of the Mensheviks. From then on the "old” Iskra was referred to in the Party as the Lenin, Bolshevik Iskra, and the “new” Iskra as the Menshevik, opportunist Iskra.
- January 9, 1905—the day on which, by order of the tsar, the troops fired on a peaceful procession of St. Petersburg workers headed by the priest Gapon, who marched to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the tsar. This massacre of unarmed workers started a wave of mass political strikes and demonstrations all over Russia under the slogan “Down with the autocracy!” The events of January the Ninth marked the beginning of the 1905-07 Revolution.
- The Plehve regime— the harsh political regime introduced in Russia in 1902 by the Minister of the Interior, V. K. Plehve, with the object of combating the revolutionary movement.
- For a detailed analysis of S.R. boycottism, see the article on “Parliamentary Cretinism Inside Out” in Proletary, No. 18. In the autumn of 1907, seemingly appealing to a genuinely revolutionary boycottist tradition, the S.R.s were already in practice degrading this tradition, cancelling it out, replacing the revolutionary boycott- assault by pitiful and impotent “refusal to participate”. They were already assuring a credulous public then that to “turn one’s back” on the reactionary Duma meant inflicting “a big moral” defeat on the government, and taking “the first serious step to changing the general political picture”.
Then, too, we already exposed the true character of these “revolutionary rhetorics ... of gentry who do not scruple to muddle the heads of the masses for the sake of naive self-advertisement of their party”. —Lenin
- See present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 153–60.—Ed.