The Guilty Blaming the Innocent

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 20 April 1905

Vperyod, No. 15, April 20 (7), 1905. Published according to the text In Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 306-314.
Collection(s): Vperyod

Delayed for lack of space. —Lenin

Iskra, No. 92, contains an article “The Zigzags of a Firm Course”, purporting to show that, in reality, Vperyod is not at all maintaining the principles and the line of the old Iskra firmly and consistently, but, on the contrary, is zigzagging in the wake of the new Iskra. Strictly speaking, this allegation is too ludicrous to merit serious consideration. What strikes us here is not the content of the new Iskra polemic, for it has no content, but its methods. These methods are worth considering; upon examination they reveal that there are polemics and polemics. The old Iskra was disliked for its polemics, but no one ever thought of calling them unprincipled. The new Iskra is despised for its polemics, because their unprincipled nature is evident to the mass of the Party members engaged in practical work and the consistent Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, as well as to the “conciliators” headed by Plekhanov.

It is our intention to show the reader with what methods these polemics operate.

Let us follow Iskra step by step. Vperyod is leading the Party towards a split, it says. This is not true. All who have studied the Party crisis, not from old wives’ tales, but from documents, know that it was the Minority that split the Party immediately after the Second Congress, and that it did so clandestinely by setting up a secret organisation. Iskra is engaging in hypocrisy now and is misrepresenting the facts. An open split may evoke hatred, but a secret split can evoke only contempt. Vperyod wants no secret split; that is all there is to it.

Further, they want to charge us with contradicting our selves on the question of autonomy and centralism. Lenin, they allege, asserted in Steps[1] that autonomy is a principle of opportunism, whereas now the Bureau of Committees of the Majority itself is in favour of the broadest possible autonomy for the local committees. Lenin maintained that bureaucracy stands in the same relation to democracy as the organisational principle of revolutionary Social-Democracy to the organisational principle of the opportunists, whereas now the Bureau of Committees of the Majority itself complains of bureaucracy. This is the substance of their accusation against us. This charge too is built on downright false hood. In Steps (and, before Steps, in his “Letter to Iskra[2] ), Lenin cautioned; declared, reiterated, and emphasised countless times that the phrases used against bureaucracy, for autonomy, etc., were extremely vague, that they were open to any number of different constructions and could be made to mean almost anything. Lenin declared hundreds of times that, in substance, these phrases were used exclusively to veil the desire for co-optation. These words of Lenin have now been fully borne out by the most authentic documentary evidence. If, however, we take these words in the sense of principle, said Lenin (if we take!), we shall find the following: Bureaucracy, taken in general, may denote officialism, red tape, formalism, paper answers. This sort of bureaucracy is evil, said Lenin, illustrating his remarks with Martov’s well-known draft of the Rules. It is clear to every reader who is at all conscientious that this is the kind of bureaucracy meant by the Bureau of Committees of the Majority, so that to accuse Vperyod of contradicting itself is utter childishness. Bureaucracy may mean infringement of the legitimate and, if we may say so, of the “natural” rights of every opposition, a fight waged against a minority by unfair means. Such bureaucracy is possible, said Lenin, but there is no principle involved in it. It must be combated by the establishment of constitutional guarantees of the rights of minorities. Such guarantees were proposed clearly, frankly, and openly for the first time by the Stone-Hards, or Vperyod-ists, as they are now called, in the well-known Declaration of the Twenty-Two,[3] which was issued in August, seven months ago, without having since evoked the slightest attempt on the part of the new-Iskrists unequivocally to define their attitude to wards it.

But apart from these interpretations of bureaucracy, anti-autonomy, etc., it is possible to have interpretations based on real principles—not in the form of any irregularities, extremes, etc., but as general principles governing the entire organisation. This was the interpretation the Mensheviks tried to force upon us against our will, despite our resistance. Lenin, both in his “Letter to Iskra” and in Steps, sounded innumerable warnings against such an interpretation, which obscures the actual concrete course that the crisis and the split have been taking. Lenin made a straightforward appeal in his “Letter to Iskra”: Drop this nonsense, gentlemen; nine-tenths of it is squabbling! Lenin was attacked for this, and the Central Organ tried to prove that principles were involved. Well, if that is so, Lenin replied and the Vperyod-ists always will reply, then the principle of autonomy is really an opportunist principle for a Social-Democratic organisation. If that is so, then your outcries against bureaucracy are, in principle, of a piece with those of the Jaurèsists in France, the Bernsteinians in Germany, and the reformists in Italy. That is how the matter stands; and to prove it, one has only to study the Party crisis from documents and not from the assurances of friends. Lenin had told the Bundist Lieber at the Second Congress (see proceedings) that he would defend the autonomy of “any”, even a Tula, Committee,[4] against petty centralism; Lenin did not utter a word against the guarantee of such autonomy in Clause 8 of our Party Rules. The principle of autonomy, however, was never defended either by Lenin or by the Bureau of Committees of the Majority; it was defended by Akimov, by Lieber, by the new-Iskrists. It is not difficult, of course, to confuse the issue in the mind of the unenlightened reader by tearing words from their context regardless of the circumstances under which they were used and of their original meaning; but newspapers that employ such methods in polemics can only expect to be treated like Novoye Vremya.[5]

Let us take the pamphlet by “A Worker”. What essentially is the point that Iskra confuses? It is that certain unprincipled people have only let themselves in for it with their shouting about the principle of autonomy and the like, since the only reply could be a demand for the elective principle. Thereupon these people began to beat a retreat The Vperyod-ists, on the other hand, have always held that talking big and flaunting the “principles” of autonomy and democracy is indecent; but if the Rules require serious, practical amendments along the line of democracy, as far as it is feasible under Russian conditions, let us discuss them openly and above-board. Vperyod challenged “A Worker” to produce, if he could, any passage in Social-Democratic literature where the necessity of drawing workers into the Party committees is put as clearly as Lenin put it.[6] “A Worker”, led astray by the new-Iskrists, replied in print that he accepted the challenge; it turned out, however, that he did not understand what accepting the challenge implied, for he did not point out any such passage, but only threatened to “give it” to Lenin, to “get even” with him. Naturally, Vperyod left these terrible threats unanswered.

Now let us take again the question of a single centre. Lenin, it is alleged, said in Steps that it was the opportunists who stood for a single centre, whereas now this is the position of the Bureau of Committees of the Majority. Again the same gross distortion of facts, with an eye to the uninformed or inattentive reader. Whoever wishes to read Steps will find (on page 28, mention of which is so studiously avoided by the Iskra columnist) that long before the first article written by a Bolshevik against two centres (Ryadovoi’s articles in Our Misunderstandings), Lenin had written that the idea of two centres “took into account the temporary [mark this!] and special requirements of the Russian Social-Democratic working-class movement in the existing conditions of political slavery, with the initial base of operations for the revolutionary assault being set up abroad”. “The first idea,” the author of Steps goes on to say at once in regard to the idea of centralism in general, “as the one [!] matter of principle, had [according to the plan of the old Iskra] to pervade the entire Rules; the second, being a particular idea necessitated by temporary circumstances of place and mode of action, took the form of a seeming departure from centralism in the proposal to set up two centres” (p. 28).[7] Now, we leave it to the reader to judge the methods of controversy employed by our Party’s Novoye Vremya! Iskra simply tries to mislead the reader by keeping back from him the fact (1) that Lenin pointed out long ago the temporary, particular significance of the idea of two centres; and (2) that, therefore, Lenin never explained the opportunists’ defence of a single centre by general principles, but only by “temporary circumstances of place and mode of action”, by circumstances under which the opportunist wing of the Party actually stood for and had to stand for a single centre. That the old Iskra was a bulwark in the struggle against opportunism is a fact. That it was the opportunist wing which constituted the minority at the Congress is also a fact. Why, then, should it be a matter of surprise that vow, when the new Iskra has turned out to be opportunist and when those in Russia have shown greater firmness in principle and Party consistency than those abroad, the “temporary circumstances” have changed? We should not be at all surprised now if the Rabocheye Dyelo-ists, Martynov, the “Marsh”, and the new-Iskrists all took up a stand (say, at the Third Congress) for two centres, while all the Bolsheviks (or nearly all) stood for one centre. It would only be a change, in keeping with the “temporary circumstances”, in the methods of struggle for the same principles of revolutionary Social-Democracy, the principles of the old Iskra for which Lenin and the Bolsheviks fought and continue to fight steadfastly. It is only people of the Novoye Vremya type who can see anything “miraculous” in such a change. (We said that nearly all Bolsheviks were likely to stand for one centre. We have yet to see how things will turn out at the Third Congress. There are differences of opinion among us as to the significance of “temporary circumstances of place and mode of action”. We shall compare these different opinions at the Congress and “strike a balance”.)

The new-Iskra methods of polemising would seem to have been made sufficiently clear in the foregoing, so that we can now be more brief. Iskra contends that the Bureau of Committees of the Majority violated Party discipline by calling the Congress, in contravention of the Rules, over the head of the Council. This is untrue, for the Council had broken the Rules long before by its evasion of the Congress. We openly declared this in the press quite some time ago (Orlovsky).[8] After the Mensheviks had torn the Party asunder by a secret split and dodged the Congress on all kinds of false pretexts, we had no practical way out of the preposterous situation other than to convene the Congress against the will of the centres. Iskra says that the editorial in issue No. 9 of Vperyod, “New Tasks and New Forces”, by insisting on the necessity of considerably increasing the number of Party organisations of every description, contradicts the spirit of Clause I of the Rules as formulated by Lenin, who, in defending his idea at the Congress, had urged the necessity of narrowing the concept of Party. The objection raised by Iskra can be recommended as a high-school problem in logic to train young people in debating. The Bolsheviks have always held that the Party should be limited to the sum-total of Party organisations and that the number of these organisations should then be increased (see Proceedings of the Congress and Steps, p. 40 et al., particularly pp. 40-41 and 46).[9] The new Iskra confounds extension of the Party’s framework with extension of the concept of Party, it confounds extension of the number of Party organisations with extension of the Party beyond the limits of the Party organisations! To explain this perplexing riddle, we shall give a plain, easy illustration: let us assume for the sake of simplicity an army consisting exclusively of men of a single arm of the service; the manpower of the army must be narrowed down to a total of men who have actually proved themselves able to shoot, with none allowed to get past with general phrases or verbal assurances of military fitness; after that every effort must be made to increase the number of men who can pass the rifleman’s test. Aren’t you beginning to see a glimmer of light, gentlemen of the new Iskra?

Iskra writes, accusing Vperyod: “Previously only consistent Social-Democrats, who had to be recognised as such, were wanted; now all sorts of elements are admitted to the holy of holies, except those that are avowedly non-Social-Democratic.” Take Vperyod, No. 9. There you will read: “Let all ... circles, except those that are avowedly non Social-Democratic, either directly join the Party or align themselves with the Party [author’s italics]. In the latter event we must not demand that they accept our programme or that they necessarily enter into organisational relations with us....”[10] Is it not clear that Iskra is simply juggling, confounding what was “previously needed” for joining the Party with what “is now permitted” for aligned groups? The Bolsheviks have constantly said, and say now in Vperyod, that self-enrolment in the Party is intellectualist anarchism, that Party members must accept “obligatory organisational relations” not in words alone. Only people set on creating confusion can fail to understand this. Vperyod’s slogan was: Organise new forces for the new tasks into Party organisations or, at least, into organisations aligned with the Party. Iskra’s slogan is: “Open the doors wider!” The ones say: “Take new marksmen into your regiments, organise those who are learning to shoot into auxiliary units.” The others say: “Open the doors wider! Let all comers enroll themselves in the army, any way they please!”

As to the question of organising the revolution and organising the arming, Iskra now seeks to assure us that it has no differences with Vperyod. We would ask first of all: what about Parvus? If the differences have merely been invented by the perfidious Vperyod, why don’t you have it out with the new-Iskrist Parvus, who cannot be suspected of picking on Iskra? You yourselves had to admit your disagreement with Parvus and were the first to do so. Why then this game of hide-and-seek? Essentially, the new Iskra argues here against Vperyod in the very manner in which Rabocheye Dyelo used to argue against the old Iskra. We cannot too strongly advise comrades interested in the history of their own Party to reread Rabocheye Dyelo, particularly issue No. 10. It had been pointed out to Rabocheye Dyelo that it minimised the tasks of the political struggle. Its retort was that Iskra under estimated the economic struggle. It is pointed out to the new Iskra that it minimises the tasks of organising the revolution, the conduct of the uprising and the arming of the workers, and the participation of Social-Democracy in the provisional revolutionary government. The new Iskra retorts that Vperyod underestimates the spontaneity of revolution and insurrection, the primacy of politics over “technique” (arming). Like tail-ender views lead to like tail-ender conclusions. These people seek to cover up their inability to provide a guiding slogan for the new tasks by moralising on the importance of the old tasks. Words are torn out of context to show that the opponent himself appreciates the importance of the old tasks, the significance of the ABC of Social-Democracy. Of course, comrades of the new Iskra, we prize the ABC of Social-Democracy very highly, but we do not want to remain at the abecedarian stage forever. Let this be plain. Neither Parvus nor the Bureau of Committees of the Majority nor Vperyod would ever think of disputing the elementary truth that the workers themselves can, will, and must arm, even without the organisations and the Party. But if Iskra makes its famous “self-arming” a slogan—then, of course, everyone smiles at the sight of such a worshipful attitude towards spontaneity. When Iskra, correcting Parvus, discovers a new task—worthy of the lucubrations of Krichevsky and Akimov—the task of “arming the workers with a sense of the burning necessity to arm”, it is only natural that it should meet with nothing but ridicule. If at a time when the new tasks of arming the masses, organising street fighting, etc., have been added to the old tasks of Social-Democracy, Iskra hastens to belittle these tasks (which we have scarcely begun to tackle) with its disparaging sophisms about “technique” and its secondary role; if instead of supplementing the old, customary, constant political tasks of the Party with the new tasks of “technique”, Iskra argues about the separation of the former from the latter, then, of course, everyone regards such arguments as a new variety of tail-ism.

In conclusion, as a curiosity, we would mention Iskra’s attempt to discard its sterling reputation as the author of the famous no-panic-mongering theory. Iskra itself now calls this a “famous” question and tries to prove that the Bureau of Committees of the Majority, too, advocates “no panic mongering” when in its leaflet on the insurrection it recommends caution in destroying property belonging to petty bourgeois (except in cases of absolute necessity), so as not to frighten them needlessly.[11] “Ah,” Iskra exults, “so you, too, do not want to frighten people!”

Isn’t this just too precious? An agreement with the Zemstvo men not to cause a panic during a peaceful demonstration is compared to a warning against the unwarranted destruction of property during the uprising! In the first case, moreover, it is “demonstrations of a higher type”; in the second, the base, contemptible “technique” of armed street fighting.... Just one slight question, friends: why is it that every Social-Democrat[12] agrees and will agree with the advice not to frighten the petty bourgeoisie needlessly during an uprising? And why, on the other hand, did your plan for a Zemstvo campaign become “famous” among Social-Democrats, by your own admission? Why did Parvus and many others from your own ranks protest against it? Why are you yourselves to this very day ashamed to publish this famous plan? Is it not because the advice contained in your notorious letter was as irrelevant and ridiculous as the advice of the Bureau is indisputably correct and generally accepted by Social-Democrats?

  1. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Geneva, May 1904. See present. edition, Vol. 7, pp. 203-425.—Ed.
  2. Iskra, November 25, 1903. See present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 115-18.—Ed.
  3. To the Party”. See present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 454-61.—Ed.
  4. See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 487.—Ed.
  5. The reactionary newspaper Novoye Vremya (New Times) waged against its political opponents a virulent campaign in which it made wide use of malicious slander and other dishonest methods of controversy.
    Further below, Lenin calls the Menshevik Iskra “our Party’s Novoye Vremya” and the Mensheviks “people of the Novoye Vremya type”.
  6. See pp. 58-59 of this volume.–Ed.—Lenin
  7. See present edition, Vol. 7, p. 242.—Ed.
  8. The reference is to the pamphlet by Orlovsky (V. V. Vorovsky) The Council Against the Party, published in Geneva in 1904.
  9. See present edition, Vol. 7, pp. 258-60 and 265-66.—Ed.
  10. See p. 219 of this volume.—Ed.
  11. The leaflet on the insurrection, signed by the Bureau of Committees of the Majority, was published in full in Vperyod, No. 9, March 8 (February 23), 1905, under the title “Pressing Problems”.
  12. So far only the anarchists have expressed their disagreement on this point. They attacked Vperyod in their paper, revealing an absolute lack of understanding of the difference between a democratic and a socialist revolution.—Lenin