Under a False Flag
Published: First published in 1917, in the first Collection of the Priliv Publishers, Moscow. Signed: N. Konstantinov. Published according to the text in the Collection.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 21, pages 135-157.
A number of changes were made in Lenin’s article “Under a False Flag” by the editors of the Collection issued in March 1917 by Priliv Publishers.
Issue No. 1 of Nashe Dyelo (Petrograd, January 1915) published a highly characteristic programmatic article by Mr. A. Potresov, entitled “At the Juncture of Two Epochs”. Like an earlier magazine article by the same author, the present article sets forth the ideas underlying an entire bourgeois trend of public thought in Russia—the liquidationist—regarding the important and burning problems of the times. Strictly speaking, we have before us not articles but the manifesto of a definite trend, and anyone who reads them carefully and gives thought to their content will see that only fortuitous considerations, i.e., such that have nothing in common with purely literary interests, have prevented the author’s ideas (and those of his friends, since the author does not stand alone) from being expressed in the more appropriate form of a declaration or credo.
Potresov’s main idea is that present-day democracy stands at the juncture of two epochs, the fundamental difference between the old epoch and the new consisting in a transition from national isolation to internationalism. By present-day democracy, Potresov understands the kind that marked the close of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, as distinct from the old bourgeois democracy that marked the end of the eighteenth century and the first two-thirds of the nineteenth.
At first glance it may seem that the author’s idea is absolutely correct, that we have before us an opponent to the national-liberal tendency predominant in present-day democracy, and that the author is an “internationalist”, not a national-liberal.
Indeed, this defence of internationalism, this reference to national narrow-mindedness and national exclusiveness as features of an outworn and bygone epoch—is it not a breakaway from the wave of national-liberalism, that bane of present-day democracy or, rather, of its official representatives.
That, at first glance, is not only the possible but the almost inevitable impression. Yet it would be a gross error to think so. The author is transporting his cargo under a false flag. Consciously or otherwise—that does not matter in this instance—he has resorted to a stratagem by hoisting the flag of “internationalism” so as the more securely to transport under this flag his contraband cargo of national-liberalism. After all, Potresov is a most undeniable national-liberal. The gist of his article (and of his programme, platform, and credo) is in the employment of this little—and if you wish even innocent—stratagem, in carrying opportunism under the flag of internationalism. One must go into all the details of this manoeuvre, for the matter is of prime and tremendous importance. Potresov’s use of a false flag is the more dangerous since he not only cloaks himself with the principle of “internationalism” but also assumes the title of an adherent of “Marxist methodology”. In other words, Potresov pretends to be a true follower and exponent of Marxism, whereas in actual fact he substitutes national-liberalism for Marxism. Potresov tries to “amend” Kautsky, accusing him of “playing the advocate”, i.e., of defending liberalism now of one shade, now of another, that is to say, the liberalism of shades peculiar to various nations. Potresov is out to contrast national-liberalism (for it is absolutely indubitable and indisputable that Kautsky has become a national-liberal) with internationalism and Marxism. In reality, Potresov is contrasting particoloured national-liberalism with national-liberalism of a single colour, whereas Marxism is hostile—and in the present historical situation, absolutely hostile—to any kind of national-liberalism.
We shall now go on to show that such is the case, and why.
The highlight of Potresov’s misadventures, which led to his setting out under a national-liberal flag, can be best understood if the reader examines the following passage in his article:
“With their characteristic temperament, they [Marx and his comrades] attacked the problem, no matter how difficult it was; they diagnosed the conflict, and attempted to determine the success of which side opened up broader vistas for possibilities desirable from their point of view; thus they laid down a certain basis on which to build their tactics” (p. 73, our italics in excerpts).
“The success of which side is more desirable”—this is what has to be determined, and that from an international, not a national point of view. This is the essence of the Marxist methodology. This is what Kautsky does not do, thus turning from a “judge” (a Marxist) into an “advocate” (a national-liberal). Such is Potresov’s line of argument. Potresov himself is most deeply convinced that he is not “playing the advocate” when he defends the desirability of success for one side (namely, his own) and that, conversely, he is guided by truly international considerations with regard to the egregious sins of the other side.
Potresov, Maslov, Plekhanov, etc., who are all guided by truly international considerations, have reached the same conclusions as Potresov has. This is a simple-mindedness that borders on—well, we shall not make undue haste, but shall first complete an analysis of the purely theoretical question.
“The success of which side is more desirable” was established by Marx in the Italian war of 1859, for instance. Potresov dwells on this particular instance, which, he says, “has a special interest for us because of certain of its features”. We too, for our part, are willing to take the instance chosen by Potresov.
In 1859 Napoleon III declared war on Austria, allegedly for the liberation of Italy, but in reality for his own dynastic aims.
“Behind the back of Napoleon III,” says Potresov, “could be discerned the figure of Gorchakov, who had just signed a secret agreement with the Emperor of the French.” What we have here is a tangle of contradictions: on the one side, the most reactionary European monarchy, which has been oppressing Italy; on the other, the representatives of revolutionary Italy, including Garibaldi, fighting for her liberation, side by side with the ultra-reactionary Napoleon III, etc. “Would it not have been simpler,” Potresov writes, “to step aside and to say that the two are equally bad? However, neither Engels, Marx, nor Lassalle were attracted by the “simplicity” of such a solution, but started to search the problem [Potresov means to say, to study and explore the problem], of the particular outcome of the conflict which might provide the greatest opportunities for a cause dear to all three.”
Lassalle notwithstanding, Marx and Engels came to the conclusion that Prussia must intervene. Among their considerations, as Potresov himself admits, was that “of the possibility, as a result of a conflict with the enemy coalition, of a national movement in Germany, which might develop over the heads of its numerous rulers; there was also the consideration as to which Power in the Concert of Europe was the main evil: the reactionary Danubian monarchy, or other outstanding representatives of this Concert”.
“To us, it is not important who was right, Marx or Lassalle,” Potresov concludes; “what is important is that all were agreed on the necessity of determining, from an international point of view, the success of which side was more desirable.”
This is the instance cited by Potresov, and the way our author pursues the argument. If Marx was then able “to appraise international conflicts” (Potresov’s expression), notwithstanding the highly reactionary character of the governments of both belligerent sides, then Marxists too are at present obliged to make a similar appraisal, Potresov concludes.
This conclusion is either naïve childishness or crass sophistry, since it boils down to the following: since, in 1859, Marx was working on the problem of the desirability of success for which particular bourgeoisie, we, over half a century later, must solve the problem in exactly the same way.
Potresov has failed to notice that, to Marx in 1859 (as well as in a number of later cases), the question of “the success of which side is more desirable” meant asking “the success of which bourgeoisie is more desirable”. Potresov has failed to notice that Marx was working on the problem at a time when there existed indubitably progressive bourgeois movements, which moreover did not merely exist, but were in the forefront of the historical process in the leading states of Europe. Today, it would be ridiculous even to imagine a progressive bourgeoisie, a progressive bourgeois movement, in, for instance, such key members of the “Concert” of Europe, as Britain and Germany. The old bourgeois “democracy” of these two key states has turned reactionary. Potresov has “forgotten” this, and has substituted the standpoint of the old (bourgeois) so-called democracy for that of present-day (non-bourgeois) democracy. This shift to the standpoint of another class, and moreover of an old and outmoded class, is sheer opportunism. There cannot be the least doubt that a shift like this cannot be justified by an analysis of the objective content of the historical process in the old and the new epochs.
It is the bourgeoisie—for instance in Germany, and in Britain too, for that matter—that endeavours to effect the kind of substitution accomplished by Potresov, viz., replacing of the imperialist epoch by that of bourgeois-progressive, national and democratic movements for liberation. Potresov is uncritically following in the wake of the bourgeoisie. This is the more unpardonable, since, in the instance he has selected, Potresov has himself been obliged to recognise and specify the considerations guiding Marx, Engels, and Lassalle in those bygone days.
First of all, these were considerations on the national movement (in Germany and Italy)—on the latter’s development over the heads of the “representatives of medievalism”; secondly, these were considerations on the “main evil” of the reactionary monarchies (the Austrian, the Napoleonic, etc.) in the Concert of Europe.
These considerations are perfectly clear and indisputable. Marxists have never denied the progressiveness of bourgeois national-liberation movements against feudal and absolutist forces. Potresov cannot but know that nothing like this does or can exist in the major, i.e., the leading rival states of today. In those days there existed, both in Italy and in Germany, popular national-liberation movements with decades of struggle behind them. In those days the Western bourgeoisie did not give financial support to certain other states; on the contrary, those states were really “the main evil”. Potresov cannot but know—as he admits in the same article—that today none of the other states is or can be the “main evil”.
The bourgeoisie (in Germany, for instance, though not in that country alone) is, for selfish reasons, encouraging the ideology of national movements, attempting to translate that ideology into the epoch of imperialism, i.e., an entirely different epoch. As usual, the opportunists are plodding along in the rear of the bourgeoisie, abandoning the standpoint of present-day democracy and shifting over to that of the old (bourgeois) democracy. That is the chief shortcoming in all the articles, as well as in the entire position and the entire line of Potresov and his liquidationist fellow-thinkers. At the time of the old (bourgeois) democracy Marx and Engels were working on the problem of the desirability of success for which particular bourgeoisie; they were concerned with a modestly liberal movement developing into a tempestuously democratic one. In the period of present-day (non-bourgeois) democracy, Potresov is preaching bourgeois national-liberalism at a time when one cannot even imagine bourgeois progressive movements, whether modestly liberal or tempestuously democratic, in Britain, Germany, or France. Marx and Engels were ahead of their epoch, that of bourgeois-national progressive movements; they wanted to give an impetus to such movements so that they might develop “over the heads” of the representatives of medievalism.
Like all social-chauvinists, Potresov is moving backwards, away from his own period, that of present-day democracy, and skipping over to the outworn, dead, and therefore intrinsically false viewpoint of the old (bourgeois) democracy.
That is why Potresov’s following appeal to democracy reveals his muddled thinking and is highly reactionary:
“Do not retreat, but advance, not towards individualism, but towards internationalist consciousness in all its integrity and all its vigour. To advance means, in a certain sense, to go also back—back to Engels, Marx, and Lassalle, to their method of appraising international conflicts, and to their finding it possible to utilise inter-state relations for democratic purposes.”
Potresov drags present-day democracy backwards, not “in a certain sense” but in all senses; he drags it back to the slogans and the ideology of the old bourgeois democracy, to the dependence of the masses upon the bourgeoisie. . . . Marx’s method consists, first of all, in taking due account of the objective content of a historical process at a given moment, in definite and concrete conditions; this in order to realise, in the first place, the movement of which class is the mainspring of the progress possible in those concrete conditions. In 1859, it was not imperialism that comprised the objective content of the historical process in continental Europe, but national-bourgeois movements for liberation. The mainspring was the movement of the bourgeoisie against the feudal and absolutist forces. Fifty-five years later, when the place of the old and reactionary feudal lords has been taken by the not unsimilar finance capital tycoons of the decrepit bourgeoisie, the knowledgeable Potresov is out to appraise international conflicts from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, not of the new class.
Potresov has not given proper thought to the significance of the truth he uttered in the above words. Let us suppose that two countries are at war in the epoch of bourgeois, national-liberation movements. Which country should we wish success to from the standpoint of present-day democracy? Obviously, to that country whose success will give a greater impetus to the bourgeoisie’s liberation movement, make its development more speedy, and undermine feudalism the more decisively. Let us further suppose that the determining feature of the objective historical situation has changed, and that the place of capital striving for national liberation has been taken by international, reactionary and imperialist finance capital. The former country, let us say, possesses three-fourths of Africa, whereas the latter possesses one-fourth. A repartition of Africa is the objective content of their war. To which side should we wish success? It would be absurd to state the problem in its previous form, since we do not possess the old criteria of appraisal: there is neither a bourgeois liberation movement running into decades, nor a long process of the decay of feudalism. It is not the business of present-day democracy either to help the former country to assert its “right” to three-fourths of Africa, or to help the latter country (even if it is developing economically more rapidly than the former) to take over those three-fourths.
Present-day democracy will remain true to itself only if it joins neither one nor the other imperialist bourgeoisie, only if it says that the two sides are equally bad, and if it wishes the defeat of the imperialist bourgeoisie in every country. Any other decision will, in reality, be national-liberal and have nothing in common with genuine internationalism.
The reader should not let himself be deceived by the pretentious terminology Potresov employs to conceal his switch over to the standpoint of the bourgeoisie. When Potresov exclaims: “. . . not towards individualism, but towards internationalist consciousness in all its integrity and all its vigour”, his aim is to contrast his own point of view with that of Kautsky. He calls the latter’s view (and that of others like him) “individualism”, because of Kautsky’s refusal to decide “the success of which side is more desirable”, and his justification of the workers’ national-liberalism in each “individual” country. We, on the contrary, he, as it were, says, we—Potresov, Cherevanin, Muslov, Plekhanov, and others—appeal to “internationalist consciousness in all its integrity and all its vigour”, for we stand for national-liberalism of a definite shade, in no way from the standpoint of an individual state (or an individual nation) but from a standpoint that is genuinely internationalist. This line of reasoning would be ridiculous if it were not so—disgraceful.
Both Potresov and Co. and Kautsky, who have betrayed the standpoint of the class which they are trying hard to represent, are following in the wake of the bourgeoisie.
Potresov has entitled his article “At the Juncture of Two Epochs”. We are undoubtedly living at the juncture of two epochs, and the historic events that are unfolding before our eyes can be understood only if we analyse, in the first place, the objective conditions of the transition from one epoch to the other. Here we have important historical epochs; in each of them there are and will always be individual and partial movements, now forward now backward; there are and will always be various deviations from the average type and mean tempo of the movement. We cannot know how rapidly and how successfully the various historical movements in a given epoch will develop, but we can and do know which class stands at the hub of one epoch or another, determining its main content, the main direction of its development, the main characteristics of the historical situation in that epoch, etc. Only on that basis, i.e., by taking into account, in the first place, the fundamental distinctive features of the various “epochs” (and not single episodes in the history of individual countries), can we correctly evolve our tactics; only a knowledge of the basic features of a given epoch can serve as the foundation for an understanding of the specific features of one country or another.
It is to this region that both Potresov’s and Kautsky’s main sophism, or their fundamental historical error, pertains (Kautsky’s article was published in the same issue of Nashe Dyelo ), an error which has led both of them to national-liberal, not Marxist, conclusions.
The trouble is that the instance chosen by Potresov, which has presented a “special interest” to him, namely, the instance of the Italian campaign of 1859, as well as a number of similar historical instances quoted by Kautsky, “in no way pertain to those historical epochs”, “at the juncture” of which we are living. Let us call the epoch we are entering (or have entered, and which is in its initial stage) the present-day (or third) epoch. Let us call that which we have just emerged from the epoch of yesterday (or the second). In that case we shall have to call the epoch from which Potresov and Kautsky cite their instances, the day-before-yesterday (or first) epoch. Both Potresov’s and Kautsky’s revolting sophistry, the intolerable falseness of their arguments, consist in their substituting for the conditions of the present-day (or third) epoch the conditions of the day-before-yesterday (or first) epoch.
I shall try to explain what I mean.
The usual division into historical epochs, so often cited in Marxist literature and so many times repeated by Kautsky and adopted in Potresov’s article, is the following: (1) 1789-1871; (2) 1871-1914; (3) 1914 - ? Here, of course, as everywhere in Nature and society, the lines of division are conventional and variable, relative, not absolute. We take the most outstanding and striking historical events only approximately, as milestones in important historical movements. The first epoch from the Great French Revolution to the Franco-Prussian war is one of the rise of the bourgeoisie, of its triumph, of the bourgeoisie on the upgrade, an epoch of bourgeois-democratic movements in general and of bourgeois-national movements in particular, an epoch of the rapid breakdown of the obsolete feudal-absolutist institutions. The second epoch is that of the full domination and decline of the bourgeoisie, one of transition from its progressive character towards reactionary and even ultra-reactionary finance capital. This is an epoch in which a new class—present-day democracy—is preparing and slowly mustering its forces. The third epoch, which has just set in, places the bourgeoisie in the same “position” as that in which the feudal lords found themselves during the first epoch. This is the epoch of imperialism and imperialist upheavals, as well as of upheavals stemming from the nature of imperialism.
It was none other than Kautsky who, in a series of articles and in his pamphlet Der Weg zur Macht (which appeared in 1909), outlined with full clarity the basic features of the third epoch that has set in, and who noted the fundamental differences between this epoch and the second (that of yesterday), and recognised the change in the immediate tasks as well as in the conditions and forms of struggle of present-day democracy, a change stemming from the changed objective historical conditions. Kautsky is now burning that which he worshipped yesterday; his change of front is most incredible, most unbecoming and most shameless. In the above-mentioned pamphlet, he spoke forthrightly of symptoms of an approaching war, and specifically of the kind of war that became a fact in 1914. It would suffice simply to place side by side for comparison a number of passages from that pamphlet and from his present writings to show convincingly how Kautsky has betrayed his own convictions and solemn declarations. In this respect Kautsky is not an individual instance (or even a German instance); he is a typical representative of the entire upper crust of present-day democracy, which, at a moment of crisis, has deserted to the side of the bourgeoisie.
All the historical instances quoted by Potresov and Kautsky belong to the first epoch. The main objective content of the historical wartime phenomena, not only of 1855, 1859, 1864, 1866, or 1870, but also of 1877 (the Russo-Turkish war) and 1896-1897 (the wars between Turkey and Greece and the Armenian disturbances) were bourgeois-national movements or “convulsions” in a, bourgeois society ridding itself of every kind of feudalism. At that time there could have been no possibility of really independent action by present-day democracy, action of the kind befitting the epoch of the over-maturity, and decay of the bourgeoisie, in a number of leading countries. The bourgeoisie was then the chief class, which was on the upgrade as a result of its participation in those wars; it alone could come out with overwhelming force against the feudal-absolutist institutions. Represented by various strata of propertied producers of commodities, this bourgeoisie was progressive in various degrees in the different countries, sometimes (like part of the Italian bourgeoisie in 1859) being even revolutionary. The general feature of the epoch, however, was the progressiveness of the bourgeoisie, i.e., its unresolved and uncompleted struggle against feudalism. It was perfectly natural for the elements of present-day democracy, and for Marx as their representative, to have been guided at the time by the unquestionable principle of support for the progressive bourgeoisie (i.e., capable of waging a struggle) against feudalism, and for them to be dealing with the problem as to “the success of which side”, i.e., of which bourgeoisie, was more desirable. The popular movement in the principal countries affected by the war was generally democratic at that time, i.e., bourgeois-democratic in its economic and class content. It is quite natural that no other question could have been posed at the time except the following: the success of which bourgeoisie, the success of which combination of forces, the failure of which reactionary forces (the feudal-absolutist forces which were hampering the rise of the bourgeoisie) promised contemporary democracy more “elbow room”.
As even Potresov has had to admit, Marx was guided, in his “appraisal” of international conflicts springing from bourgeois national and liberation movements, by considerations as to whose success was more capable of contributing to the “development” (p. 74 of Potresov’s article) of national and, in general, popular democratic movements. That means that, during military conflicts stemming from the bourgeoisie’s rise to power within the various nationalities, Marx was, as in 1848, most of all concerned with extending the scope of the bourgeois-democratic movement and bringing it to a head through the participation of broader and more “plebeian” masses, the petty bourgeoisie in general, the peasantry in particular, and finally of the poor classes as a whole. This concern of Marx for the extension of the movement’s social base and its development is the fundamental distinction between Marx’s consistently democratic tactics and Lassalle’s inconsistent tactics, which veered towards an alliance with the national-liberals.
The international conflicts in the third epoch have, in form, remained the same kind of international conflicts as those of the first epoch, but their social and class content has changed radically. The objective historical situation has grown quite different.
The place of the struggle of a rising capital, striving towards national liberation from feudalism, has been taken by the struggle waged against the new forces by the most reactionary finance capital, the struggle of a force that has exhausted and outlived itself and is heading downward towards decay. The bourgeois-national state framework, which in the first epoch was the mainstay of the development of the productive forces of a humanity that was liberating itself from feudalism, has now, in the third epoch, become a hindrance to the further development of the productive forces. From a rising and progressive class the bourgeoisie has turned into a declining, decadent, and reactionary class. It is quite another class that is now on the upgrade on a broad historical scale.
Potresov and Kautsky have abandoned the standpoint of that class; they have turned back, repeating the false bourgeois assertion that today too the objective content of the historical process consists in the bourgeoisie’s progressive movement against feudalism. In reality, there can now be no talk of present-day democracy following in the wake of the reactionary imperialist bourgeoisie, no matter of what “shade” the latter may be.
In the first epoch, the objective and historical task was to ascertain how, in its struggle against the chief representatives of a dying feudalism, the progressive bourgeoisie should “utilise” international conflicts so as to bring the greatest possible advantage to the entire democratic bourgeoisie of the world. In the first epoch, over half a century ago, it was natural and inevitable that the bourgeoisie, enslaved by feudalism, should wish the defeat of its “own” feudal oppressor, all the more so that the principal and central feudal strongholds of all-European importance were not so numerous at the time. This is how Marx “appraised” the conflicts: he ascertained in which country, in a given and concrete situation, the success of the bourgeois-liberation movement was more important in undermining the all-European feudal stronghold.
At present, in the third epoch, no feudal fortresses of all-European significance remain. Of course, it is the task of present-day democracy to “utilise” conflicts, but—despite Potresov and Kautsky—this international utilisation must be directed, not against individual national finance capital, but against international finance capital. The utilisation should not be effected by a class which was on the ascendant fifty or a hundred years ago. At that time it was a question of “international action” (Potresov’s expression) by the most advanced bourgeois democracy; today it is another class that is confronted by a similar task created by history and advanced by the objective state of affairs.
The second epoch or, as Potresov puts it, “a span of forty-five years” (1870-1914), is characterised very inconclusively by him. The same incompleteness is the shortcoming in Trotsky’s characterisation of the same period, given in his German work, although he does not agree with Potresov’s practical conclusions (this, of course, standing to the former’s credit). Both writers hardly realise the reason for their standing so close to each other, in a certain sense.
Here is what Potresov writes of this epoch, which we have called the second, that of yesterday:
“A detailed restriction of work and the struggle and an all-pervading gradualism—these signs of the times, which by some have been elevated to a principle, have become to others an ordinary fact in their lives, and, as such, have become part of their mentality, a shade of their ideology” (p. 71). “Its [this epoch’s] talent for a smooth and cautious advance had, as its reverse, firstly, a pronounced non-adaptability to any break in gradualness and to catastrophic phenomena of any kind and secondly, an exceptional isolation within the sphere of national action—the national milieu. . .” (p. 72). “Neither revolution, nor war. . .” (p. 70). “Democracy became the more effectively nationalist, the longer the period of its ‘position warfare’ was protracted and the longer there lingered on the stage that spell of European history which . . . knew of no international conflicts in the heart of Europe, and consequently experienced no unrest extending beyond the boundaries of national state territories, and felt no keen interest on a general European or world scale” (75-76).
The chief shortcoming in this characterisation, as in Trotsky’s characterisation of the same epoch, is a reluctance to discern and recognise the deep contradictions in modern democracy, which has developed on the foundation described above. The impression is produced that the democracy contemporary with the epoch under review remained a single whole, which, generally speaking, was pervaded with gradualism, turned nationalist, was by degrees weaned away from breaks in gradualness and from catastrophes, and grew petty and mildewed.
In reality this could not have happened, since, side by side with the aforesaid tendencies, other and reverse tendencies were undoubtedly operating: the day-by-day life of the working masses was undergoing an internationalisation—the cities were attracting ever more inhabitants, and living conditions in the large cities of the whole world were being levelled out; capital was becoming internationalised, and at the big factories townsmen and country-folk, both native and alien, were intermingling. The class contradictions were growing ever more acute; the employers’ associations were exercising ever greater pressure on the workers’ unions; sharper and more bitter forms of struggle were arising, as, for instance, mass strikes; the cost of living was rising; the pressure of finance capital was becoming intolerable, etc., etc.
In actual fact, events did not follow the pattern described by Potresov. This we know definitely. In the period under discussion, none, literally not one, of the leading capitalist countries of Europe was spared by the struggle between the two mutually opposed currents within contemporary democracy. In each of the big countries, this struggle at times assumed most violent forms, including splits, this despite the general “peaceful”, “sluggish”, and somnolent character of the epoch. These contradictory currents have affected all the various fields of life and all problems of modern democracy without exception, such as the attitude towards the bourgeoisie, alliances with the liberals, the voting for war credits, the attitude towards such matters as colonial policies, reforms, the character of economic struggle, the neutrality of the trade unions, etc.
“All-pervading gradualism” was in no way the predominant sentiment in all contemporary democracy, as the writings of Potresov and Trotsky imply. No, this gradualism was taking shape as a definite political trend, which at the time often produced individual groups, and sometimes even individual parties, of modern democracy in Europe. That trend had its own leaders, its press organs, its policy, and its own particular—and specially organised—method of influencing the masses of the population. Moreover, this trend was more and more basing itself—and ultimately based itself solidly—on the interests of a definite social stratum within the democracy of the time.
“All-pervading gradualism” naturally attracted into the ranks of that democracy a number of petty-bourgeois fellow-travellers; furthermore, the specifically petty-bourgeois conditions, and consequently, a petty-bourgeois political orientation, became the rule with a definite stratum of parliamentarians, journalists, and trade union officials; a kind of bureaucracy and aristocracy of the working class was arising in a manner more or less pronounced and clear-cut.
Take, for instance, the possession of colonies and the expansion of colonial possessions. These were undoubted features of the period dealt with above, and with the majority of big states. What did that mean in the economic sense? It meant a sum of super-profits and special privileges for the bourgeoisie. It meant, moreover, the possibility of enjoying crumbs from this big cake for a small minority of the petty bourgeois, as well as for the better placed employees, officials of the labour movement, etc. The enjoyment of crumbs of advantage from the colonies, from privileges, by an insignificant minority of the working class in Britain, for instance, is an established fact, recognised and pointed out by Marx and Engels. Formerly confined to Britain alone, this phenomenon became common to all the great capitalist countries of Europe, as their colonial possessions expanded, and in general as the imperialist period of capitalism grew and developed.
In a word, the “all-pervading gradualism” of the second epoch (the one of yesterday) has created, not only a certain “non-adaptability to any break in gradualness”, as Potresov thinks, not only certain “possibilist” tendencies, as Trotsky supposes, but an entire opportunist trend based on a definite social stratum within present-day democracy, and linked with the bourgeoisie of its own national “shade” by numerous ties of common economic, social, and political interests—a trend directly, openly, consciously, and systematically hostile to any idea of a “break in gradualness”.
A number of Trotsky’s tactical and organisational errors (to say nothing of Potresov’s) spring from his fear, or his reluctance, or inability to recognise the fact of the “maturity” achieved by the opportunist trend, and also its intimate and unbreakable link with the national-liberals (or social-nationalists) of our times. In practice, this failure to recognise this “maturity” and this unbreakable link leads, at least, to absolute confusion and helplessness in the face of the predominant social-nationalist (or national-liberal) evil.
The link between opportunism and social-nationalism is, generally speaking, denied by Potresov, by Martov, Axelrod, V. Kosovsky (who has talked himself into defending the German democrats’ national-liberal vote for war credits) and by Trotsky.
Their main “argument” is that no full coincidence exists between yesterday’s division of democracy “along the line of opportunism” and today’s division “along the line of social-nationalism”. This argument is, firstly, incorrect in point of fact, as we shall presently show; secondly, it is absolutely one-sided, incomplete and untenable from the standpoint of Marxist principles. Persons and groups may shift from one side to the other; that is not only possible, but even inevitable in any great social upheaval; however, it does not at all affect the nature of a definite trend, or the ideological links between definite trends, or their class significance. All these considerations might seem so generally known and indisputable that one feels almost embarrassed at having to lay such emphasis on them. Yet the above-mentioned writers have lost sight of these very considerations. The fundamental class significance of opportunism—or, in other words, its social-economic content—lies in certain elements of present-day democracy having gone over (in fact, though perhaps unconsciously) to the bourgeoisie, on a number of individual issues. Opportunism is tantamount to a liberal-labour policy. Anyone who is fearful of the “factional” look of these words would do well to go to the trouble of studying the opinions of Marx, Engels, and Kautsky (is the latter not an “authority” highly suitable to the opponents of “factionalism”?) on, let us say, British opportunism. There cannot be the slightest doubt that such a study would lead to a recognition of the coincidence of fundamentals between opportunism and a liberal-labour policy. The basic class significance of today’s social-nationalism is exactly the same. The fundamental idea of opportunism is an alliance or a drawing together (sometimes an agreement, bloc, or the like) between the bourgeoisie and its antipode. The fundamental idea of social-nationalism is exactly the same. The ideological and political affinity, connection, and even identity between opportunism and social-nationalism are beyond doubt. Naturally, we must take as our basis, not individuals or groups, but a class analysis of the content of social trends, and an ideological and political examination of their essential and main principles.
Approaching the same subject from a somewhat different angle, we shall ask: whence did social-nationalism appear? How did it grow and mature? What gave it significance and strength? He who has been unable to find answers to these questions has completely failed to understand what social nationalism is, and is consequently quite incapable of drawing an “ideological line” between himself and social-nationalism, no matter how vehemently he may assert that he is ready to do so.
There can be only one answer to this question: social nationalism has developed from opportunism, and it was the latter that gave it strength. How could social-nationalism have appeared “all of a sudden”? In the same fashion as a babe appears “all of a sudden” if nine months have elapsed since its conception. Each of the numerous manifestations of opportunism during the entire second (or yesterday) epoch in all the European countries was a rivulet, which now flowed “all of a sudden” into a big though very shallow (and, we might add parenthetically, muddy and dirty) river of social-nationalism. Nine months after conception the babe must separate from its mother; many decades after opportunism was conceived, social-nationalism, its ripe fruit, will have to separate from present-day democracy within a period that is more or less brief (as compared with decades). No matter how good people may scold, rage or vociferate over such ideas and words, this is inevitable, since it follows from the entire social development of present-day democracy and from the objective conditions in the third epoch.
But if division “along the line of opportunism” and division “along the line of social-nationalism” do not fully coincide, does that not prove that no substantial link exists between these two facts? It does not, in the first place, just as the fact that individual bourgeois at the end of the eighteenth century went over either to the side of the feudal lords or that of the people does not prove that there was “no link” between the growth of the bourgeoisie and the Great French Revolution of 1789. Secondly, taken by and large, there is such a coincidence (and we are speaking only in a general sense and of movements as a whole). Take, not one individual country but a number of them, let us say ten European countries: Germany, Britain, France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, and Bulgaria. Only the three countries given in italics may seem the exceptions. In the others, the trends of uncompromising antagonists to opportunism have given birth to trends hostile to social-nationalism. Compare the well-known Monatshefte and its opponents in Germany, Nashe Dyelo and its opponents in Russia, the party of Bissolati and its opponents in Italy, the adherents of Greulich and Grimm in Switzerland, Branting and Höglund in Sweden, and Troelstra, Pannekoek and Gorter in Holland, and finally the Obshcho Dyelo adherents and the Tesnyaki in Bulgaria. The general coincidence between the old and the new division is a fact; as for complete coincidences, they do not occur even in the simplest of natural phenomena, any more than there is complete coincidence between the Volga before the Kama joins it, and the Volga below that point; neither is there full similarity between a child and its parents. Britain only seems the exception; in reality, there were two main currents in Britain prior to the war, these being identified with two dailies—which is the truest objective indication of the mass character of these currents—namely, the Daily Citizen, the opportunists’ newspaper, and the Daily Herald, the organ of the opponents of opportunism. Both papers have been swamped by the wave of nationalism; yet, opposition has been expressed by under one-tenth of the former’s adherents and by some three-sevenths of the adherents of the latter. The usual method of comparison, whereby only the British Socialist Party is compared with the Independent Labour Party, is erroneous because it overlooks the existence of an actual bloc of the latter with the Fabians and the Labour Party. It follows, then, that only two out of the ten countries are exceptions, but even here the exceptions are not complete, since the trends have not changed places; only (for reasons so obvious that they need not be dwelt on) the wave has swamped almost all the opponents of opportunism. This undoubtedly proves the strength of the wave, but it does not in any way disprove coincidence between the old division and the new for all Europe.
We are told that division “along the line of opportunism” is outmoded, and that only one division is of significance, namely, that between the adherents of internationalism and the adherents of national self-sufficiency. This opinion is fundamentally wrong. The concept of “adherents of internationalism” is devoid of all content and meaning, if we do not concretely amplify it; any step towards such concrete amplification, however, will be an enumeration of features of hostility to opportunism. In practice, this will prove truer still. An adherent of internationalism who is not at the same time a most consistent and determined adversary of opportunism is a phantom, nothing more. Perhaps certain individuals of this type will honestly consider themselves “internationalists”. However, people are judged, not by what they think of themselves but by their political behaviour. The political behaviour of “internationalists” who are not consistent and determined adversaries of opportunism will always aid and abet the nationalist trend. On the other hand, nationalists, too, call themselves “internationalists” (Kautsky, Lensch, Haenisch, Vandervelde, Hyndman, and others); not only do they call themselves so, but they fully acknowledge an international rapprochement, an agreement, a union of persons sharing their views. The opportunists are not against “internationalism”; they are only in favour of international approval for and international agreement among the opportunists.
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- Nashe Dyelo (Our Cause )—a monthly of the Menshevik liquidators; mouthpiece of social-chauvinists in Russia. It began publication in 1915 in Petrograd to replace Nasha Zarya, which had been suppressed in October 1914.
- Incidentally Potresov refuses to make up his mind as to whether Marx or Lassalle was right in appraising the conditions of the war of 1859. We think that (Mehring notwithstanding) Marx was right, whereas Lassalle was then an opportunist, just as he was during his flirtation with Bismarck. Lassalle was adapting himself to the victory of Prussia and Bismarck, to the lack of sufficient strength in the democratic national movements of Italy and Germany. Thus Lassalle deviated towards a national-liberal labour policy, whereas Marx encouraged and developed an independent, consistently democratic policy hostile to national-liberal cowardice (Prussia’s intervention in 1859 against Napoleon would have stimulated the popular movement in Germany). Lassalle was casting glances, not downwards but upwards, as he was fascinated by Bismarck. Bismarck’s “success” was no justification of Lassalle’s opportunism. —Lenin
- Indeed,” Potresov writes, “it was during that period of seeming stagnation that tremendous molecular processes were taking place in every country, the international situation too was gradually changing, the policy of colonial acquisitions, of militant imperialism becoming its determining feature.” —Lenin
- Obshcho Dyelo (The Common Cause ) adherents (also known as Shiroki socialists)—an opportunist trend in Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party. The journal Obshcho Dyelo was published from 1900 onwards. After a split at the Tenth Congress of the Social-Democratic Party in 1903 in Ruse they formed a reformist Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party (of Shiroki socialists). During the world imperialist war of 1914-18 the Obshcho Dyelo adherents took a chauvinist stand.
Tesnyaki—a revolutionary trend in the Bulgarian Social-Democratic Party, which in 1903 took shape as an independent Bulgarian Workers’ Social-Democratic Party. The founder and leader of Tesnyaki was D. Blagoyev, his followers, Georgy Dimitrov and Vasil Kolarov, among others, later heading that Party. In 1914-18 the Tesnyaki came out against the imperialist war. In 1919 they joined the Communist International and formed the Communist Party of Bulgaria.
- The Daily Citizen—originally organ of the opportunist bloc—the Labour Party, Fabians and the Independent Labour Party of Britain, published in London from 1912 to 1915.
- The Daily Herald—organ of the British Socialist Party, published in London since 1912.
- The Fabians—members of the Fabian Society, a British reformist organisation founded in 1884. The name is an allusion to the Roman commander Quintus Fabius Maximus (d. 203), called Cunctator, i.e., the Delayer, for his tactics of harassing Hannibal’s army without risking a pitched battle. Most of the Society’s members were bourgeois intellectuals: scholars, writers, politicians (such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Bernard Shaw, Ramsay MacDonald), who denied the need for the class struggle of the proletariat and a socialist revolution, and insisted that the transition from capitalism to socialism lay only through petty reform and a gradual transformation of society. Lenin said it was “an extremely opportunist trend” (see present edition, Vol. 13, p. 358). The Fabian Society, which was affiliated to the Labour Party in 1900, is one of the ideological sources of Labour Party policy.
During World War I, the Fabians took a social-chauvinist stand. For Lenin’s description of the Fabians, see “British Pacifism and the British Dislike of Theory” (the present volume, pp. 260-65).