The Liquidation of Liquidationism
|Written||11 July 1909|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1973, Moscow, Volume 15, pages 452-460
In a special supplement to the present issue of Proletary the reader will find a report on the conference of the Bolsheviks and the text of the resolutions adopted there. Our purpose in the present article is to assess the importance of this conference and the breakaway of a small group of the Bolsheviks which took place there, from the standpoint both of our wing and of the RSDLP as a whole.
The last two years, roughly from the coup d’état of June 3, 1907, up to the present time, have been a period of drastic change, of grave crisis in the history of the Russian revolution and in the development of the working-class movement in Russia and of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. The All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP held in December 1908 reviewed the present political situation, the condition and prospects of the revolutionary movement and the tasks of the party of the working class in Ike present period. The resolutions passed by the conference are a permanent asset to the Party, and the Menshevik opportunists who sought to criticise them at all costs, only succeeded in betraying the glaring futility of their “criticism” which was unable to offer any intelligent, integral and systematic solution of the problems as an alternative to the one given in the resolutions.
But that was not all. The conference played an important role in the life of our Party by indicating the existence of new ideological groupings in both wings—the, Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. The struggle between these sections can be said without exaggeration to have filled the whole history of the Party, both on the eve of the revolution and during the revolution. Therefore the new ideological groupings are an event of great importance in the life of the Party, an event whose lessons all Social-Democrats should study, understand and digest, if they are to take an intelligent, stand on the new issues which this new situation raises.
These new ideological groupings may be briefly described as the appearance of liquidationism on both the extreme flanks of the Party and as the struggle being waged against it. By December 1908 liquidationism stood fully revealed among the Mensheviks, but at that time the fight against it was conducted almost exclusively by others (the Bolsheviks, the Polish and Lettish Social-Democrats, a section of the Bundists). The pro-Party Mensheviks, Mensheviks who were opposed to liquidationism, had barely begun to emerge as a trend at that time, and were not at all united or open in their criticism. Among the Bolsheviks both sections were clearly defined and acted openly, namely, the overwhelming majority of orthodox Bolsheviks, who were firmly opposed to otzovism and secured the adoption of their point of view in all the resolutions of the conference, and the otzovist minority who advocated their views as a separate group, and received frequent support from the ultimatumists who wavered between them and the orthodox Bolsheviks. That the otzovists (and the ultimatumists, too, insofar as they are coming round to the otzovist viewpoint) are Mensheviks inside out, liquidators of a new type, has been repeatedly asserted and demonstrated in Proletary (see especially issues Nos. 39, 42, and 44 ). Thus among the Mensheviks the overwhelming majority were liquidators, and the protest and struggle of the pro-Party men against them were barely beginning to manifest themselves; while among the Bolsheviks the orthodox elements were completely dominant, but an otzovist minority were acting openly. Such was the situation within the Party at the December All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP
What is this liquidationism, then? What brought it into being? Why is it that the otzovists (and the god-builders, of whom we shall say a few words later) are also liquidators, Mensheviks inside out? In a word, what is the social meaning and the social significance of the new ideological grouping within our Party?
Liquidationism in the narrow sense of the word, the liquidationism of the Mensheviks, consists ideologically in negation of the revolutionary class struggle of the socialist proletariat in general, and denial of the hegemony of the proletariat in our bourgeois-democratic revolution in particular. This denial of course takes various forms, and occurs more or less consciously, sharply and consistently. As an example we might mention Cherevanin and Potresov. The former gave such an assessment of the role of the proletariat in the revolution that the whole editorial board of Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, even before the split that took place in it (i. e., both Plekhanov and Martov-Dan-Axelrod-Martynov) had to repudiate Cherevanin, although it did so in a very discreditable form. It repudiated the consistent liquidator in Vorwärts to the Germans without publishing its statement in “Golos Sotsial-Demokrata” for the benefit of Russian readers! In the article which he contributed to the Social Movement in Russia at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century, Potresov liquidated the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the Russian revolution so successfully that Plekhanov Left the liquidationist editorial board.
In respect of organisation, liquidationism means denying the necessity for an illegal Social-Democratic Party, and consequently renouncing the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, leaving its ranks. It means fighting the Party in the columns of the legal press, in legal workers’ organisations, in the trade unions and co-operative societies, at congresses attended by working-class delegates, etc. The history of any Party organisation in Russia during the last two years teems with examples of liquidationism on the part of the Mensheviks. As a particularly glaring example of liquidationism, we have already referred (Proletary, No. 42, reprinted in the pamphlet The All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP in December 1908) to the case where the Menshevik members of the Central Committee made a deliberate attempt to wreck the Central Committee of the Party, and stop the functioning of this institution. The almost complete breakdown of the illegal Menshevik organisations in Russia is borne out by the fact that the “Caucasian delegation” at the recent Party conference consisted entirely of residents abroad, while the editorial board of Golos Sotsial Demokrata was confirmed (at the beginning of 1908) by the Central Committee of the Party as a separate literary group, totally unconnected with any organisation functioning in Russia.
The Mensheviks do not weigh up the implications of all these manifestations of liquidationism. They either conceal them or are baffled by them, at a loss to understand the significance of certain facts, floundering in minutiae, vagaries and personalities, unable to draw general conclusions, unable to grasp the meaning of what is going on.
And the meaning of it is that, in a period of bourgeois revolution, the opportunist wing of the workers’ party, at times of crisis, disintegration and collapse, is bound to be either out-and-out liquidationist or liquidator-ridden. In a period of bourgeois revolution the proletarian party is bound to have a following of petty-bourgeois fellow-travellers (what is known as Mitläufer in German) who are least capable of digesting proletarian theory and tactics, least capable of holding their own in time of collapse, most likely to carry opportunism to its extreme. Disintegration has set in—and the mass of Menshevik intellectuals, Menshevik writers, have virtually turned liberal. The intelligentsia has swung away from the Party—and consequently disintegration has been most complete in the Menshevik organisations˜ Those Mensheviks who sincerely sympathised with the proletariat and the proletarian class struggle, with proletarian revolutionary theory (and there have always been such Mensheviks who justify their opportunism in the revolution on the grounds that they are anxious to miss no changes in the situation, no convolutions in the complex historical process) found themselves “in the minority once more”, in a minority among the Mensheviks, without the determination to fight the liquidators and without the strength to succeed if they tried. But the opportunist fellow-travellers move further and further to liberalism. Plekhanov becomes exasperated with Potresov, Golos Sotsial-Demokrata with Cherevanin, the Moscow Menshevik workingmen with the Menshevik intellectuals, and so forth. The pro—Party Mensheviks, the orthodox Marxists among the Mensheviks, are beginning to break away and, by the logic of things, by becoming pro- Party, they draw nearer to the Bolsheviks. And it is our duty to understand this situation, everywhere and in every way to separate the liquidators from the pro-Party Mensheviks, to make closer contact with the latter, not by glossing over differences in principle, but by building up a really united workers’ party in which differences of opinion should not stand in the way of the common effort, the common drive, the common struggle.
But are petty-bourgeois fellow-travellers of the proletariat the exclusive property of the Menshevik wing? No. We have already pointed out in Proletary, No. 39, that they are to be found also among the Bolsheviks, as testified by the entire mode of argument of the consistent otzovists, the whole character of their attempts to justify “new” tactics. No sizable section of a mass workers’ party could, by the nature of things, avoid during a time of bourgeois revolution taking on a certain number of “fellow-travellers” of diverse shadings. This is inevitable even in the most highly developed capitalist countries, after the completion of a bourgeois revolution, for the proletariat is ever in contact with the most varied sections of the petty bourgeoisie and is constantly being recruited. and replenished from them. There is nothing abnormal or terrible in this, if the proletarian party is able thoroughly to absorb these foreign bodies, to control and not be controlled by them, and is able to see in good time that some of these elements really are foreign bodies, and that in certain conditions one must clearly and openly dissociate oneself from them. In this respect the difference between the two wings of the RSDLP is that the Mensheviks turned out to be in thrall to the liquidators (i. e., the “fellow-travellers”), proof of which is to be found among the Mensheviks themselves, being supplied both by their Moscow adherents in Russia, and abroad by Plekhanov’s repudiation of Potresov and Golos Sotsial-Demokrata; while in the case of the Bolsheviks the liquidationist elements—the otzovists and god-builders—proved to be a small minority from the outset, were rendered harmless from the outset, and were ultimately pushed aside.
That otzovism is Menshevism inside out, that it also leads inevitably to liquidationism, only of a slightly different kind, there can be no doubt. It is not, of course, a matter of personalities or particular groups, but of an objective general tendency—to the extent that otzovism ceases to be a mere state of mind and seeks to evolve into a separate trend. The Bolsheviks stated quite definitely before the revolution, first, that their aim was not to create a separate trend in socialism but to apply to the new conditions of our revolution the basic principles of international revolutionary orthodox Marxist Social-Democracy; secondly, they would do their duty even should it consist in an onerous, slow, humdrum daily grind, if history, after the issue of the struggle and after all opportunities for revolutionary action were exhausted, should condemn us to plod along the by-paths of an “autocratic constitution”. The least attentive reader will find these statements in the Social-Democratic literature of i905. They are of immense importance as a solemn obligation of the whole Bolshevik wing of the Party, a deliberate choice of path. In order to fulfil this obligation to the proletariat, it was necessary to take patiently in hand and re-educate those who had been attracted to Social-Democracy by the days of liberty (there even appeared a type of “Social-Democrat of the days of liberty”), who were attracted chiefly by the vehemence, revolutionary spirit and “vividness” of our slogans, but, who, though militant enough to fight on revolutionary holidays, lacked the stamina for worka-day struggle under the reign of counter-revolution. Some of these elements were gradually drawn into proletarian activities and assimilated the Marxist world-outlook. The others only memorised a few slogans without grasping their meaning, could only repeat old phrases and were unable to adapt the old principles of revolutionary Social-Democratic tactics to the changed conditions. Their several destinies are graphically illustrated by the evolution of those who wanted to boycott the Third Duma. In June 1907 they were the majority among the Bolsheviks. But Proletary campaigned continuously against the boycott. Events verified this policy and a year later the otzovists were in the minority among the Bolsheviks (14 votes against 18 in the summer of 1908) in the Moscow organisation, which had been the strong hold of “boycottism”. A year later, when the error of otzovism had been abundantly and repeatedly demonstrated, the Bolshevik wing—and here lies the significance of the recent Bolshevik conference—finally liquidated otzovism and ultimatumism, the thin end of otzovism, finally liquidated this peculiar form of liquidationism.
So let none accuse us of causing a “new split”. In the Re port on our conference we explain our aims and our attitude in detail. We did everything possible, we left nothing untried, to persuade the dissenting comrades: we were at it for over eighteen months. But as a wing, i. e., a union of like-minded people in the Party, we cannot work without unanimity on fundamental issues. To break away from a wing is not the same as breaking away from the Party. The people who have broken away from our wing in no way lose the possibility of working in the Party. Either they will remain “free lances”, i. e., outside any wing, and the general environment of Party work ’will draw them in. Or they will try to form a new group—as is their legitimate right, if they wish to advocate and develop their own special shade of opinion and tactics—in which case the whole Party will very soon see the practical manifestation of those tendencies, the ideological implications of which we have tried to assess above.
The Bolsheviks have to lead the Party. To do so they must know their course, they must stop hesitating, they must stop wasting time on persuading waverers, and fighting dissentients in their own ranks. Otzovism and ultimatumism, the thin end of otzovism, are incompatible with the work which the present circumstances require of revolutionary Social-Democrats. During the revolution we learned to “speak French”, i. e., to introduce into the movement the greatest number of rousing slogans, to raise the energy of the direct struggle of the masses and extend its scope. Now, in this time of stagnation, reaction and disintegration, we must learn to “speak German”, i. e., to work slowly (there is nothing else for it, until things revive), systematically, steadily, advancing step by step, winning inch by inch. Whoever finds this work tedious, whoever does not under stand the need for preserving and developing the revolutionary principles of Social-Democratic tactics in this phase too, on this bend of the road, is taking the name of Marxist in vain.
Our Party can make no headway unless it decisively liquidates liquidationism. And liquidationism does not only mean the direct liquidationism of the Mensheviks and their opportunist tactics. It also includes Menshevism inside out. It includes otzovism and ultimatumism, that are impeding the Party in the fulfilment of its immediate task, in which lie all the unique peculiarities of the present time, the task of utilising the Duma rostrum and turning all the semi-legal and legal organisations of the working class into coigns of vantage. The same goes for god-building and the defence of god-building tendencies which are radically at variance with the principles of Marxism. And the same applies to incomprehension of the Party tasks of the Bolsheviks, which in 1906 and 1907 consisted in overthrowing the Menshevik Central Committee, as a body which lacked the support of the majority of the Party (not only the Poles and Letts, but even the Bundists were against the Central Committee, which was purely Menshevik at the time)—and which now consist in patiently training up partyist elements and knitting them together, in building up a really united and. strong proletarian party. The Bolsheviks prepared the ground for partyism by their implacable struggle against the anti-Party elements in 1903–05 and in 1906–07. Now the Bolsheviks must build the Party, build the Party out of their wing, build up the Party by utilising the vantag-ground gained in the inner-Party struggle.
Such are the tasks of our wing of the Party in the present political situation and the general position of the B. S.D. L. P. as a whole. They are set forth once more and developed in particular detail in the resolutions of the recent Bolshevik Conference. The ranks have been re-formed for a new struggle. The changed conditions have been taken into account. The road has been chosen. Let us go forward along it, and the revolutionary Social-Democratic Labour Party of Russia will begin rapidly to build up into a force which no reaction will shake, and which will stand at the head of all the fighting classes of the people in the next round of our revolution.
- See pp. 425–51 of this volume.—Ed.
- See pp. 286–302, 356–59 and 383–94 of this volume.—Ed
- See pp. 286–302 of this volume.—Ed.
- Golos Sotsial-Demokrata, No. 15, and Otkliki Bunda, No. 2, have recently appeared. In these publications there is once again piled up a heap of choice specimens of liquidationism, which will need analysing and evaluating in a separate article in the next issue of Proletary. —LeninOtkliki Bunda (Echoes of the Bund)—a non-periodical organ of the Bund’s Committee Abroad, published in Geneva from March 1909 to February 1911. Five issues were put out.