The Theory of Spontaneous Generation
|Written||1 September 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 246-251.
“Iskra has shown that a constituent assembly can be formed by way of spontaneous generation, without the aid of any government whatever, and consequently without the aid of a provisional government as well. Henceforth this terrible problem may be regarded as settled, and all disputes in connection with it must cease.”
Thus runs the Bund statement made in No. 247 of Posledniye Izvestia, dated September 1 (August 19). Unless this is irony, no better “development” of Iskra’s views could be imagined. In any case, the theory of “spontaneous generation” has been established, the “terrible problem” has been settled, and disputes “must cease”. What a blessing! We shall now live without disputes about this terrible question, cherishing this new, recently discovered, and simple theory of “spontaneous generation”, a theory as clear as the eyes of a child. True, this theory of spontaneous generation was not generated spontaneously, but appeared to the common view as the fruit of cohabitation between the Bund and the new Iskra—but after all what is important is not the origin, but the value of a theory!
How slow-witted were those unfortunate Russian Social- Democrats who discussed this “terrible question” both at the Third Congress of the RSDLP and at the Conference of new-Iskrists: some of these discussed at length the question of a provisional government for the purpose of generating, but not spontaneously, a constituent assembly. Others (the Conference resolution) thought it possible that “the revolution’s decisive victory over tsarism may be marked” also by the “decision of some representative institution to call, under the direct revolutionary pressure of the people, a constituent assembly”. No one, however, not even the new Iskra’s Editorial Board, who attended the Conference in full together with Plekhanov, could ever have thought up what "’Iskra’ has now shown”, and what the Bund has now summarised, confirmed, and christened with a magnificent name. Like all great discoveries, the theory of the spontaneous generation of a constituent assembly immediately sheds light on what was utter confusion. Now everything has become clear. There is no need to think of a revolutionary provisional government (remember Iskra’s famous dictum: let not the combination of the words “long live” and “government” defile your lips); there is no need to make the members of the State Duma give a “revolutionary pledge” to “transform the State Duma into a revolutionary assembly” (Cherevanin, in Iskra, No. 108). A constituent assembly can be generated spontaneously!! It will be immaculately brought forth-by the people themselves, who will not defile them selves with any “intermediary” by way of a government, even a provisional, even a revolutionary one. This will be birth “without original sin”, by the pure method of general elections with no “Jacobin” struggle for power, with no defilement of the holy cause through betrayal by bourgeois representative assemblies, and even without any coarse midwives, who hitherto in this profane, sinful, and unclean world had punctually appeared on the scene every time the old society was pregnant with a new one.
Hail spontaneous generation! Let all the revolutionary peoples of all Russia now appreciate its “possibility”—and consequently its necessity to them as the most rational, easy, and simple road to freedom! Let a monument be speedily erected in honour of the Bund and the new Iskra, the spontaneous progenitors of the theory of spontaneous generation!
But however much we may be blinded by the glaring light of this new scientific discovery, we must touch up on certain base features in this sublime creation. Just as the moon is very badly made in Hamburg, so too new theories are fabricated none too carefully at the editorial office of Posledniye Izvestia. The recipe is a simple one, long a favourite with people who could never be accused of harbouring a single original thought—take contrasting views, mix them, and divide into two parts! From Proletary we take the criticism of popular elections under the autocracy, from Iskra—condemnation of the “terrible problem”; from Proletary— the active boycott, from Iskra—the uselessness of insurrection as a slogan... “like a bee that gathers a fee from each flowering tree”. And the good Bundists are smugly preening them selves, rejoicing at the termination of disputes on the terrible problem, and admiring themselves: how superior they are to the narrow and biased views of both contending parties!
It doesn’t work out, comrades of the Bund. You have shown no other “way of spontaneous generation” than that of the new Iskra. And as regards the latter, you yourselves have had to admit that “under the autocracy and against the will of the government, which holds the entire machinery of state in its hands”, elections of popular representatives can only be farcical elections. Do not abandon us half-way, 0 creators of the new theory; tell us in what “way” other than the new Iskra’s you “visualise” “spontaneous generation”?
In opposition to Iskra, Proletary wrote that the only people who will be able to conduct elections under the autocracy are the Osvobozhdeniye League, who will willingly call them popular elections. The Bund replies: “This argument does not hold water, since it is beyond doubt that the autocracy will allow no one—not even the Osvobozhdeniye League—to conduct elections except within limits established by law.” We may respectfully remark: the Zemstvos, municipal councillors, and members of “unions” have held, and are holding, elections. That is a fact. Their numerous bureaux provide proof of it.
The Bund writes: “We should not start agitation against the Duma and for an insurrection in general [!] since insurrection, as merely a means of effecting a political revolution, cannot in this case land not “in general”?] serve as a slogan for agitation. We can and must reply to the Duma by extending and intensifying political ’agitation for a constituent assembly to be elected on the basis of universal, etc., suffrage.” To this we answer: in the first place, had the Bundists done a little thinking, or even simply consulted our Party programme, they would have seen that a constituent assembly, too, is only a “means”. It is illogical to declare one “means” suitable as a slogan, and another unsuitable “in general”. Secondly, we have already for a long time past repeatedly explained in detail that a slogan calling for a constituent assembly alone is inadequate, since it has become an Osvobozhdeniye slogan, the slogan of the bourgeois “compromisers” (see Proletary, Nos. 3 and 4 ). It is quite natural for the liberal monarchist bourgeoisie to gloss over the question of the method of convening a constituent assembly. For representatives of the revolutionary proletariat it is totally impermissible. The theory of spontaneous generation fully befits the former, but as regards the latter, it can only disgrace them in the eyes of class-conscious workers.
The Bund’s final argument: “An armed uprising is imperative, and we must keep on preparing for it all the time. However, we are as yet unable to launch an uprising, there fore [!!i there is no point in linking it up with the Duma.” To this we reply: 1) to acknowledge that insurrection and preparations for it are imperative and at the same time to turn up one’s nose contemptuously at the question of “combat squads” ("taken from the Vperyod arsenal”, as the Bund writes) means to defeat one’s own purpose and reveal a lack of thought in one’s writings. 2) A provisional revolutionary government is an organ of insurrection. This principle, which is clearly expressed in a resolution of the Third Congress, was accepted in essence by the new-Iskra Conference too, although, in our opinion, it was less aptly put (a provisional revolutionary government “emerging from a victorious popular insurrection”: both logic and historical experience show that it is possible to have provisional revolutionary governments as organs of insurrection which are far from victorious, or which are not completely victorious; moreover, a provisional revolutionary government does not only “emerge” from an uprising, but also directs it). The Bundists do not attempt to dispute this proposition, and indeed it cannot be disputed. To recognise that an uprising and preparations for it are imperative, and at the same time to demand the cessation of disputes about the “terrible problem” of a provisional government means to write without thinking. 3) The phrase about the formation of a constituent assembly “without the aid of any government whatever, and consequently, without the aid of a provisional government as well” is an anarchist one. It is wholly on a level with the famous Iskra phrase about “defiling” the lips by combining the words “long live” with “government”. It shows a failure to understand the significance of a revolutionary government as one of the greatest and finest “means” of effecting a political revolution. The paltry “liberalism” flaunted here by the Bund in emulation of Iskra (that is to say, we can manage without any government, even a provisional one!) is sheer anarchist liberalism. The formation of a constituent assembly without the aid of an uprising is an idea worthy only of bourgeois philistines, as even the comrades of the Bund realise. Moreover, an uprising without the aid of a provisional revolutionary government can be neither an uprising of the whole people nor a victorious uprising. Again and again we must state with regret that the Bundists’ conclusions do not hang together. 4) If it is necessary to prepare for an uprising, such preparation must of necessity include the dissemination and explanation of slogans calling for an armed uprising of the people, the formation of a revolutionary army, and the establishment of a provisional revolutionary government. We must ourselves study new methods of struggle, their conditions, their forms, their dangers, their practical realisation, etc., and enlighten the masses on these matters. 5) The proposition: “we are as yet unable to launch an uprising” is wrong. The Potemkin events have proved rather that we are unable to prevent premature outbreaks of the uprising that is being prepared. The Potemkin sailors were less prepared than those on other ships, and the sweep of the uprising was less than it might have been. What is the conclusion to be drawn from this? First, that the task of preparing an uprising should include that of preventing premature outbreaks of an uprising that is being or has almost been prepared. Secondly, that the uprising now developing spontaneously is outstripping the purposeful and planned work we are doing to prepare it. We are unable now to restrain the insurrectionary outbreaks which occur here and there sporadically, disconnectedly, and spontaneously. So much the more are we in duty bound to speed up dissemination and explanation of all the political tasks and political requisites of a successful uprising. All the more ill-advised, therefore, are suggestions that an end be put to the disputes about the “terrible problem” of a provisional government. 6) Is the idea that “there is no point in linking up insurrection with the Duma” correct? No, it is wrong. To determine beforehand just when .the uprising should take place is absurd, especially for us who are living abroad. In this sense there can be no question of any “linking up”, as has been repeatedly pointed out by Proletary. But agitation in favour of insurrection and advocacy of the latter must of necessity be “linked up” with all the important political events which are stirring the people. Our entire dispute now centres on the slogan of agitation which should be made the hub of our “Duma” agitation campaign. Is the Duma an event of that kind? Undoubtedly, it is. Will the workers and peasants ask us: What would be the best reply to the Duma? Undoubtedly, they will, and are even doing so already. How are we to reply to these questions? Not by referring to spontaneous generation (which can only be treated as a joke), but by explaining the conditions, forms, prerequisites, tasks, and organs of an insurrection. The more we achieve by such explanations, the more likely will it be that the inevitable insurrectionary outbreaks will be able to develop more smoothly and rapidly into a successful and victorious uprising.
- An expression from Gogol’s Diary of a Madman.
- See p. 198 of this volume.—Ed.
- Revolutionary Struggle and Liberal Brokerage”, “The Democratic Tasks of the Revolutionary Proletariat”. See present edition, Vol. 8., pp. 492-93, 511-18.—Ed.