The Struggle for Marxism

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 3 September 1913


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Severnaya Pravda No. 27, September 3, 1913. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the Severnaya Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 343-347.
Collection(s): Severnaya Pravda

Recently there has been a lively discussion in the news papers about collections made by St. Petersburg workers for the working-class press. It must be admitted that a most detailed and serious discussion of this question is essential since it is one of tremendous importance from the point of view of political principles.

How does the matter stand? The liquidators (Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta) insist on the equal division of funds collected. The Marxists (Severnaya Pravda) demand division according to the wishes of the workers who contribute their pence. The workers must themselves decide, by a discussion on the trend represented by each newspaper, for whom they have made their contributions.

The resolution of twenty-two Vyborg supporters of the liquidators, the first document on the question, said simply (see Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta No. 2, August 9): “Take collections for the benefit of working-class newspapers on a parity basis.” Then the resolutions of some of the workers of the Nobel Works and the Putilov Works (ibid., Nos. 6, 8, 9, 10) upheld and actually put into practice the division of collections into three equal parts—one part each for the Marxists, liquidators and Narodniks. The Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta editors tacitly approved and defended it in an article by G. R.[1] (No. 9).

Severnaya Pravda, on the contrary, showed that equal division is an incorrect method and one that does not correspond to the aims and purposes of Marxism.

Every class-conscious worker, we repeat, must study this question with care and quite independently.

What are the arguments in favour of equal division? Reference is made to the “sacred slogan of Marxist workers—Workers of all countries, unite!”

The question arises—does this slogan demand the alliance of Marxist workers, who are members, say, of a Marxist party, with those who support bourgeois parties? Any worker who gives this a little thought will agree that it does not.

In all countries, even in the most advanced, there are workers who support bourgeois parties—they are for the Liberals in Britain, for the Radical-Socialists in France, for the Catholics, and the liberal “people’s” party in Germany, for the Reform (petty-bourgeois) Party in Italy, etc., including the petty-bourgeois P. S. P. (Polish Socialist Party) in neighbouring Poland.

The great slogan calls upon workers to unite in a proletarian, independent, class party, and not one of the parties mentioned above is proletarian.

Take the basic principle of our Narodniks. From the Narodnik point of view, the abolition of the private ownership of land and its equalitarian division is socialism or “socialisation”, but it is an erroneous and bourgeois point of view. Marx long ago showed that the more daring bourgeois economists can and do demand the abolition of private property in land.[2] It is a bourgeois reform that extends capitalism’s field of action. We support the peas ants as bourgeois democrats in their struggle for land and freedom against the feudal-minded landowners.

However, unity between a proletarian organisation of wage-workers and petty-bourgeois peasant, democrats is a flagrant violation of the great Marxist slogan. Attempts at such unity would do great damage to the working-class movement and always end in an early collapse.

The history of Russia (in the years 1905, 1906 and 1907) has demonstrated that there is not and cannot be any mass, class support for the Narodniks, except that of the Left-wing peasantry.

The liquidators and the workers who follow them, there fore, have retreated from Marxism, have left the class path and entered on the path of non-party unity between wage-workers and a petty-bourgeois party. For it is, indeed, a non-party alliance when the worker is told: don’t try to find out which is the proletarian and which is the petty-bourgeois party, fork out equally for both![3]

The masses “cannot get at the root of things”, wrote G. R. in Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta No. 9. That is precisely why we need an old, tried and tested Marxist newspaper to develop the political consciousness of the masses who “cannot get at the root of things”, to help them get at that root and understand it.

The reference made by G. R. and similar writers who oppose organised, Marxist unity (but never raise the question of uniting the two parties!)—their reference to “masses who cannot get at the root of things” is nothing but the preaching of non-party tendencies, is a retreat from Marxism, is the underhanded pursuit of petty-bourgeois views and policies.

By such a policy the liquidators justify their name, i.e., they are deserters from the Marxist organisation, its destroyers.

Another argument (see G. R.’s article and the discussion by the editors of Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta in No. 6) is that collections taken in accordance with political trends would disrupt “unanimous opposition to the reactionaries”, who persecute workers’ newspapers.

When a politically conscious worker has thought this over he will see that it is the old liberal argument about disrupting “unanimity against reaction” by the separation of the democrats from the liberals. It is a bourgeois argument and is profoundly erroneous.

The non-party masses “who cannot”, as G. R. asserts, “get at the root of things”, learn splendidly from examples. One who is still ignorant and not politically conscious, who cannot think or is too lazy to think and “get at the root of things” will wave his hand and say “I also protest, give them all an equal share”. But one who begins to think and “get at the root of things”, will also go to listen to a discussion on platforms, to the defence of the views of each trend, and, by listening to those who are more politically conscious, will himself gradually learn, and his indifference and his broad sympathy for all will change to a definite, thoughtful attitude to the newspapers.

The liquidators have forgotten all these elementary truths that “every worker should know and remember”. They have proved by their plan to “divide equally” that they are correctly regarded as the vehicle of the non-party spirit, as renegades from Marxism and advocates of the “bourgeois influence over the proletariat” (see the unanimous decision of the Marxists, January 1910).

The Marxist organisation unites politically conscious workers by its common programme, common tactics, common decisions on the attitude to reaction, capitalists, bourgeois democrats (Narodniks), etc. All these common decisions—among others, the decisions of 1908, 1912 and 1913 on the absurdity and harmfulness of reformism—are upheld and are persistently implemented by the Marxists.

Discussions (talks, debates, disputes) about parties and about common tactics are essential; without them the masses are disunited; without them common decisions are impossible and, therefore, unity of action is also impossible. Without them the Marxist organisation of those workers “who can get at the root of things” would disintegrate and the influence of the bourgeoisie on the unenlightened would thereby be facilitated.

In advocating collections in accordance with political trends, collections accompanied by a discussion on platforms, the best St. Petersburg workers are struggling for Marxism against the champions of a non-party spirit.

We are confident that the workers will always and every where bend all their efforts to uphold only the Marxist system of collections and discussions, which educate the masses.

  1. G. R. (G. Rakitin)—pseudonym of the Menshevik liquidator V. 0. Tsederbaum.
  2. Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value (Theorien über den Mehrwert. 2. Teil. Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1959, S. 36).
  3. The way in which some workers respond to the liquidators’ unprincipled preaching may also be judged from the following resolution published in Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta No. 21.
    “We find this decision [to divide collections equally between the three newspapers] to be necessary and the only just one; first, because all three newspapers are, as workers’ newspapers, equally subjected to penalties and persecution and, secondly, the overwhelming majority of workers, both here and in other parts of the country, have not yet gained a full understanding of the specifics of the various party trends and cannot with full knowledge attach themselves to any one of them, but are equally in sympathy with all of them.”
    The liquidators’ newspaper has never made an attempt to explain to its readers, has never given them an opportunity of finding out, whether a Narodnik newspaper may be considered a working-class newspaper, and whether it should be confused with a Marxist or even with a liquidators’ newspaper. Novaya Rabochaya Gazeta prefers to stick to the “elemental”, to plod along behind those who do not understand, as long as it can be “a nuisance” to the Marxists. —Lenin