The Anonymous Writer in Vorwärts and the State of Affairs in the RSDLP
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 17, pages 533-546.
The pamphlet is a reply to an anonymous, scurrilous article by Trotsky in Vorwärts against the Prague Conference and its decisions.
Vorwärts of March 26 carried an official statement on the Conference of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and an anonymous article whose author, in line with a resolution adopted by Russian Social-Democratic groups abroad, heaps abuse on the Conference. The Conference was the culmination of the four years’ struggle of the RSDLP against the liquidators, and it was held in spite of all the intrigues of the liquidators who endeavoured at all costs to hinder the rebuilding of the Party. The Conference placed the liquidators outside the Party. It is therefore quite natural that the liquidators and their supporters should now attack the Conference.
Since Vorwärts refuses to print our reply to the infamous lying article of the anonymous writer and continues its campaign in favour of the liquidators, we are publishing this reply as a separate pamphlet for the information of the German comrades. It is devoted, mainly, to a brief statement of the significance, course and results of the fight against the liquidators.
Editorial Board of Sotsial-Demokrat, Central Organ of the RSDLP
P.S. Our pamphlet had already been sent to the printer when we received Plekhanov’s Diary of a Social-Democrat No. 16 (April 1912). This issue provides the best proof that Vorwärts was deceived by the anonymous writer and, in its turn, misled the German workers.
Plekhanov, while definitely stating that he is still no supporter of the Conference held in January 1912, says in so many words that what the Bund is convening is not a conference of existing Party organisations but a “constituent” conference, i.e., one which is expected to found a new party; that the organisers of the conference follow a “typical anarchist principle”; that they adopted a “liquidationist resolution”; that this new conference “is being convened by liquidators
Some German comrades displayed an amazing naïveté in taking seriously all those dreadful words like “usurpation”, “coup d’état”, etc., which tiny groups of Russian Social-Democrats abroad like to use in their attacks on the Conference of the Russian organisations of the RSDLP Still, we must not forget the saying that a man who has been condemned to death may abuse his judges for 24 hours.
The article in the March 26 issue of Vorwärts entitled “Russian Party Life” reproduces the official statement of the Conference, which says that the liquidators have been expelled from the Party. It is a perfectly clear statement: the Russian organisations of the RSDLP have taken the viewpoint that it is impossible to work jointly with the liquidators. One may, of course, have a different point of view on this matter, but in that case the author should have dealt in greater detail with the motives leading to the decision and with the entire history of the four years’ fight against the liquidationist trend! The anonymous author of the article in Vorwärts, however, has not a single word to say on the merits of this fundamental issue. It is, indeed, a sign of a very low opinion of the readers when an author completely ignores the substance of the matter but unburdens himself with melodramatic outpourings. How helpless, then, is our anonymous author if his reply to the fact that the Party has broken with the liquidationist trend contains nothing but abuse.
It is only necessary to quote at random several curious passages from the article of the unknown author. He says that the “trends” or “groups” represented by Vperyod, Pravda, Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, etc., did not take part in the Conference. We should like to ask, what would you say of a German Social-Democrat who lamented the fact that the “group” or “trend” of Friedberg or of the Sozialistische Monatshefte was not represented at a Party congress? We, in our Party, also adhere to the custom that organisations functioning in Russia are entitled to take part in Party conferences, but not all sorts of “trends” or “groups” abroad. If such “groups” are at variance with the Russian organisations, that alone constitutes their severest condemnation, their death sentence which they have justly deserved. The history of the Russian political exiles, like that of exiles from all other countries, abounds in cases of such “trends ” or “groups” having become divorced from the activity of the Social-Democratic workers in Russia and dying a natural death.
Don’t the cries of our author sound absurd when he alleges that the pro-Party (i.e., anti-liquidationist) Mensheviks who took part in the Conference have been disavowed even by Plekhanov? The Kiev organisation could, of course, disavow the foreign “Plekhanovites” (i.e., Plekhanov’s followers); but no writer abroad, no matter who he is, can “disavow” the Kiev organisation. The organisations of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Moscow District, Kazan, Saratov, Tiflis, Baku, Nikolayev, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, Wilno, and Dvinsk have “disavowed” all groups abroad which assisted the liquidators or flirted with them. The outcries and abuse of the “disavowed” are hardly likely to change anything in this respect.
Further, surely it is strange for the author to declare in so many words that the “national” Social-Democratic organisations in Russia (the Polish, Latvian, and the Bund) and the Transcaucasian Regional Committee represent “the oldest and strongest organisations of our Russian Party, those which, to all intents and purposes, constitute the backbone of the movement”? The problematical existence of the Transcaucasian Regional Committee is something generally known and was proved by the character of its representation at the conference in 1908. The Polish and Latvian organisations, during the first nine years of the RSDLP (1898–1907), led an existence entirely apart, and, in fact, remained isolated from it in the 1907–11 period as well. The Bund seceded from the Party in 1903 and remained out side it until 1906 (or, to be more exact, 1907). Nor have its local branches fully rejoined the Party to this day, as was officially established at the conference of the RSDLP in 1908. Within the Latvian organisation and the Bund at one time the liquidationist, at another the anti-liquidationist elements gained the upper hand. As for the Poles, they sided with the Mensheviks in 1903, with the Bolsheviks in 1905, and in 1912 made an unsuccessful attempt at a “reconciliation” with the liquidators.
This latter failure the author diffidently tries to cover up with the following phrase: “At the beginning a representative of the Social-Democrats of Poland and Lithuania also attended this Conference”. Why only at the beginning? We find the explanation of this diffident silence in the official communiqué of the Bund about this Conference. There it says in black and white that the representative of the Poles withdrew from the Conference and submitted a written statement, which said that it had become impossible for him to collaborate with the Conference because it revealed a spirit of bias and a partiality for the liquidators!
To be sure, it is much easier to heap up hollow and meaningless phrases about “unity” (with the liquidators?), as the author is fond of doing, than to study the real essence of the trend of the liquidators, their refusal to help rebuild the Party, and their work of disrupting the Central Committee of the Party. And it is all the more easy to indulge in phrase-mongering if at the same time silence is maintained regarding the fact that the representative of the Poles refused to work jointly (because such work would be fruit less), not with the Bolsheviks or Leninists, God forbid, but with the Bundists and Latvians.
But what, really, is the origin of liquidationism, and why was it necessary for the Conference of 1912 to constitute it self the supreme Party authority and to expel the liquidators?
The counter-revolution in Russia gave rise to a very pronounced process of disintegration in the ranks of our Party. Persecutions of unparalleled fury rained down upon the proletariat. Defection assumed wide proportions in the ranks of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois fellow-travellers, who had naturally joined the proletariat as the leader of our bourgeois revolution in 1905, began to turn their backs on the Social-Democratic Party. This defection took two forms—that of liquidationism and of otzovism. The nucleus of the former was made up of the majority of Menshevik writers (Potresov, Levitsky, Larin, Martov, Dan, Martynov, etc.). They declared that the illegal Party had already been liquidated and that any attempt to revive it was a reactionary utopia. Their slogan was: an open labour party. Obviously, under the political conditions prevailing in Russia, where even the party of the liberals, the Cadets, has no legal status, the formation of an open Social-Democratic working-class party can only remain wishful thinking. The liquidators repudiated the illegal party, but did not fulfil their obligation to found a legal party. In the long run, all they did was to write articles in the legal press in which they ridiculed the “underground”, declared, in unison with the liberals, that it was dead, and extolled the virtues of a liberal labour policy. Plekhanov was absolutely right when he compared the liquidationist Nasha Zarya to the German Sozialistische Monatshefte. The Menshevik Plekhanov (to say nothing of the Bolsheviks) declared ruthless war on the liquidationist trend, refused to contribute to any of their publications and broke off relations with Martov and Axelrod. “A man for whom our Party does not exist,” wrote Plekhanov in the Central Organ about Potresov, “does not himself exist for our Party.” As far back as December 1908, a Party conference emphatically condemned liquidationism, which it described as “an attempt on the part of a group of Party intellectuals to liquidate the existing organisation of the RSDLP and to replace it [note this well!] by a loose association that is legal, no matter what it costs”. It is obvious that, far from denying that it is essential to make use of all legal opportunities, the RSDLP has stressed this point in no unmistakable terms. However, an open legal party in Russia is out of the question, and only opportunist intellectuals can speak about such a party. The type of our Party organisation may to a certain extent, of course, be compared to the German type of Party organisation at the time the Anti-Socialist Law was in operation: a legally functioning group in Parliament, all sorts of legally existing workers’ associations, as an indispensable condition, but with the illegal Party organisation as the foundation.
The “otzovists” wanted to recall the Social-Democratic group from the Third Duma, and issued the slogan calling for a boycott of that Duma. The otzovists were joined by a section of the Bolsheviks, on whom Lenin and others declared implacable war. The otzovists and their defenders formed the Vperyod group, and the writers collaborating in the magazine of that name (Maximov, Lunacharsky, Bogdanov, Alexinsky) have been preaching various forms of the idealistic philosophy, which they describe by the grand name of “proletarian philosophy”, and the amalgamation of religion with socialism. This group has never exerted any perceptible influence, and it led some sort of existence only by pursuing a policy of compromise with various impotent groups abroad which had lost all contact with Russia. Such groups, inevitable in every split, vacillate now to one side, now to the other; they engage in cheap politics, but represent no definite trend and their activity expresses itself mainly in petty intrigue. One of these groups is represented by Trotsky’s Pravda.
It is clear, of course, to every Marxist that both liquidationism and otzovism are petty-bourgeois tendencies which attract the bourgeois fellow-travellers of the Social-Democratic Party. “Peace” or “conciliation” with these tendencies is something excluded a priori. The alternative facing the Social-Democratic Party was either to perish or to rid itself entirely of these tendencies.
That this theoretical conclusion is correct was proved by the attempt at conciliation made in January 1910, when the last Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee declared unanimously, with the liquidators and otzovists concurring, that neither of these tendencies is Social-Democratic, But things did not go further than pious wishes. True, both the liquidators and the otzovists “signed” the appropriate resolution, but they continued with all their might to conduct their anti-Party propaganda, and maintained their own organisations. All through 1910 the fight against both tendencies was steadily growing sharper. Plekhanov’s words quoted above are dated May 1910, and in May 1910 Lenin declared on behalf of the Bolsheviks that, since the liquidators had violated the January resolution there could be no question of conciliation with them.
The attempt to revive the Central Committee in Russia failed because the liquidators refused their assistance. A last means of saving the cause of “unity” was to convene a meeting of the Central Committee abroad. This attempt was made in May 1911. Of the fifteen members of the Central Committee, nine were abroad. Eight came to the meeting, but two liquidators—Igorev, adherent of Golos, and a Bundist (Ber)—immediately withdrew and thus finally wrecked the Central Committee of the Party.
The refusal of the liquidators to participate in the Central Committee meant their complete secession and the dissolution of the Central Committee. Only one central body still remained abroad at the time—the so-called Central Committee Bureau Abroad. The Bolsheviks withdrew from it when the Central Committee ceased to exist. Only the Poles, Latvians, Bundists and members of the Golos group (the liquidators abroad) remained. The reader who is familiar with the article in Vorwärts can thus see for himself that it was the same outfit as that of the notorious conference called by the Bund; for the Transcaucasian Regional Committee had commissioned Golos supporters to represent it as far back as 1908. Now, let us see what these “oldest and strongest Russian organisations”—to use the words in which our anonymous author describes this latest discovery of his—have done? They could not agree and even dissolved the Bureau Abroad themselves! Already in the autumn of 1911 the Central Committee Bureau Abroad published a statement in which it announced its own dissolution, and Plekhanov, in his Diary, commented on this in the following lines: “Requiescat in pace! This Party institution, which became a weapon in the hands of gentry who strove to liquidate the Party and therefore exposed the Russian Social-Democratic movement to grave peril, could render the revolutionary proletariat only one service: to die in good time”. (The Diary of a Social-Democrat, Part 2. Supplement to No. 15, p. 1.) This opinion, voiced by Plekhanov, of whom nobody can say that he is a supporter of the Conference, shows with sufficient cogency how ridiculous is the pretence of those who shout about “usurpation” and similar things!
One more course remained open to bring about the unity of the Party, viz., to call a conference of Russian organisations. The national organisations of the Poles, the Latvians and the Bundists, utterly divorced as they were from the work in Russia, could do absolutely nothing for such a conference.
On November 26, 1910, Trotsky issued an appeal calling for a conference. He had the support (in words) of the Vperyod and Golos groups (the liquidators abroad). But as might have been foreseen, all the efforts of these groups, owing to their impotence, were fruitless.
In June 1911 an appeal signed by the Bolsheviks, “conciliators” (otherwise known as “pro-Party Bolsheviks”) and the Poles was issued. The first step in the work was to invite the strongest organisation at the time, namely, the Kiev organisation. October 1911 saw the inauguration of the Russian (i. e., working in Russia, set up by the Russian organisations) Organising Commission for the convening of a conference. This Commission was formed by the Kiev, Ekaterinoslav, Tiflis, Baku and Ekaterinburg organisations, which were soon joined by twenty more organisations. The enlistment of representatives of the Russian organisations revealed at once the absolute preponderance of the Bolsheviks (so-called “Leninists”) and the pro-Party Mensheviks. Inde ira of the groups abroad which found themselves “disavowed”, because they had no followers in Russia.
In January 1912 the Russian Organising Commission at last convened the Conference, which all the Russian organisations, without exception, had been invited to attend. Neither the liquidators, nor the “non-Russians” (the Poles, the Latvians, and the Bund), nor the vacillating groups abroad sent delegates. When the Conference was convinced that the Russian organisations were represented as fully as possible considering the unprecedentedly difficult conditions under which the Party worked, when it established that without a central body in Russia the Party was doomed, that the split abroad was continuing and that the forthcoming elections to the Fourth Duma demanded the rebuilding of the Party without any further delay, it had to constitute itself the supreme authority of the Party, elect a Central Committee and place the liquidators outside the Party.
Such was the course and the outcome of the protracted fight. The future will show whether the liquidators will succeed in creating an “open” party, or whether they will concoct some kind of fiction of a party on the basis of a rotten compromise.
Are there any clear and easily verifiable data on the strength of the liquidators and the pro-Party people, the followers of the Conference, in Russia itself? Yes, there are. There exist two—and only two—all-Russia political organs in Russia, to which Marxist writers and members of the Social-Democratic group in the Duma contribute. These organs represent trends—not like the sheets abroad, which are full of abuse, but in the form of open and serious literary work carried on over a number of years. To be sure, they are not Party organs; they are strictly legal and keep within the bounds fixed by the regime now existing in Russia. However, all the most important shades of theoretical thought in the ranks of the Social-Democratic movement find in these organs, on the whole, an unquestionably correct expression. Only two “trends”—liquidationism and anti liquidationism (the followers of the Conference)—are represented; for no other more or less serious “trends” exist. All those tiny groups, such as the Pravda, Vperyod, “pro-Party Bolsheviks” (or “conciliators”, inclining to conciliatory sentiments), etc., count for nothing. The views of the liquidators find expression in Russia in the monthly Nasha Zarya (founded in 1910) and in the weekly Zhivoye Dyelo (last issue No. 8). The views of the Party people (Bolsheviks and pro-Party Mensheviks) find expression in the monthly Prosveshcheniye (founded in 1911—previously appeared under the name of Mysl) and in the newspaper Zvezda (last issue No. 53). There is nothing more erroneous than the view that the pro-Party Social-Democrats repudiate “legal” activity. The very opposite is the truth, since in this activity too they are stronger than the liquidators. The sole undisputed all-Russia open organisation of legally functioning Social-Democrats is the Social-Democratic group in the Duma. It is strictly legal and is not directly connected with the Party. But all its members are known, and it is also known which trend each of them represents.
The liquidationist Zhivoye Dyelo counts among its permanent contributors two members of the group in the Duma—Astrakhantsev and Kuznetsov. In the anti-liquidationist Zvezda there are eight members of the group—Voronin, Voiloshnikov, Yegorov, Zakharov, Pokrovsky, Predkaln, Poletayev, and Surkov. Two members of the Duma, Chkheidze and Gegechkori, contribute to neither of these organs. One (Shurkanov) contributes to both.
The ratio is 2 to 8! These are indeed indisputable, easily verifiable and clear data enabling us to judge of the relation of forces between the liquidators and the anti-liquidators.
This being so it is unnecessary to waste words on the unknown author’s tall talk to the effect that the overwhelming majority follows the liquidators, etc. These phrases à la Tartarin de Tarascon are all too reminiscent of Trotsky, so that it is not worth while discussing them seriously.
The struggle within the RSDLP at times assumes very bitter forms. Nothing else could be expected under the conditions of life in exile; nothing else could ever be expect ed in any other country whose lot it was to endure counter revolution and exile.
It is nothing but frivolous on the part of anyone to “condemn” these forms of the struggle in high-sounding phrases, to brush them aside and merely indulge in philistine and unctuous reflections on the “merits of unity”. Anyone who seriously intends to study the history of the RSDLP in the trying period 1908–11 will find at his disposal plenty of illegal and even more of legal literature. This literature contains highly instructive material on the nature of the trends, the fundamental significance of the differences, the roots of the fight, the circumstances and conditions of its development, etc.
No Social-Democratic Party in the world was ever formed—particularly in the period of bourgeois revolutions—with out a hard struggle and a number of splits with the bourgeois fellow-travellers of the proletariat. The same is true of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, which ever since 1898 has been taking shape, growing, gaining in strength and becoming tempered, despite all obstacles, in the hard struggle against such fellow-travellers.
- This refers to the anti-Party, slanderous resolution adopted on March 12 (N. S.), 1912 in Paris at the meeting of the representatives of the Bund Committee Abroad, the Vperyod group, Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, Trotsky’s Vienna Pravda, and of the pro-Party Mensheviks and conciliators. This resolution was adopted in opposition to the All-Russia (Prague) Party Conference and its decisions. It was published as a separate leaflet in the Vienna Pravda, and in Informatsionny Listok No. 4 of the Bund. Lenin, as the representative of the RSDLP on the International Socialist Bureau wrote an official statement on this and then a letter to Huysmans, Secretary of the International Socialist Bureau (see pp. 547–50 of this volume).
- This refers to the resolution, of the Fifth Conference of the RSDLP (All-Russia Conference of 1908) “On the Amalgamation of Local National Organisations”.
- See V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 16, “Notes of a Publicist, II”.—Ed.
- Hence the ire.—Ed.
- Prosveshcheniye (Enlightenment)—a monthly theoretical, legal, Bolshevik magazine, published in St. Petersburg from December 1911 to June 1914. It was founded on Lenin’s initiative to replace the Moscow Bolshevik magazine Mysl, suppressed by the tsarist government. The circulation of the new magazine reached 5,000 copies. V. V. Vorovsky, A. I. Ulyanova-Yelizarova, N. K. Krupskaya, M. S. Olminsky, M. A. Savelyev contributed to its columns. In response to Lenin’s request, Maxim Gorky assumed the responsibility for the literary section of the magazine. While in Paris, and later in Cracow and Poronin, Lenin took an active part in the work of the magazine, edited articles published in it and regularly corresponded with the members of the Editorial Board. Among his articles published in the magazine, are the following: “Fundamental Problems of the Election Campaign”, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”, “Critical Remarks on the National Question”, “The Right of Nations to Self-Determination”, “Disruption of Unity Concealed by Shouts for Unity”, “The Methods of Struggle of the Bourgeois Intellectuals Against the Workers”, and others.
The magazine exposed the opportunist-liquidators, otzovists, Trotskyites, and also bourgeois Nationalists, and threw light on the struggle of the working class in the conditions of a new revolutionary upsurge; popularised the Bolshevik, slogans in the election campaign to the Fourth Duma; it attacked revisionism and centrism in the parties of the Second International and gave news of the international working-class movement. The magazine played an outstanding role in the international Marxist education of the advanced workers in Russia.
On the eve of the First World War the magazine was suppressed by the tsarist government. Its publication was renewed in the autumn of 1917, but only one double number appeared; it carried Lenin’s articles “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?” and “A Review of the Party Programme”
- Until recently there was also Belousov. Now this extreme liquidator—a Russian Bissolati—has resigned from the group in the Duma. The latter has publicly warned all the voters of this; and has demanded his resignation from the Duma. A minor example showing to what lengths consistent liquidationism goes at times! —Lenin
- At the time of the Copenhagen Congress Trotsky published in Vorwärts an anonymous article full of such vile attacks upon the RSDLP that not only Lenin, but Plekhanov and Warski as well, both members of the Russian delegation, felt obliged to send a written protest to the Executive Committee. —Lenin