In his book on Chernyshevsky (articles in the collection Sotsial-Demokrat, issued as a separate volume in German) Plekhanov fully appreciated the significance of Chernyshevsky and explained his attitude to the theory of Marx and Engels. The editors of Rabochaya Mysl have merely revealed their own inability to give anything like a connected and comprehensive assessment of Chernyshevsky, of his strong and weak sides.
"The real question" for Russian Social-Democracy is by no means that of determining how the liberals are to conduct the "social struggle" (by "social struggle" R. M., as we have seen, means legal opposition), but how to organise a revolutionary working-class party devoted to the struggle for the
overthrow of the autocracy, a party that could gain the backing of all opposition elements in Russia, a party that could utilise all manifestations of opposition in its revolutionary struggle. It is precisely a revolutionary working-class party that is needed for this purpose, because in Russia only the working class can be a determined and consistent fighter for democracy, because without the vigorous influence of such a party the liberal elements "could remain a sluggish, inactive, dormant force" (P. B. Axelrod, op. cit., p. 23). In saying that our "more advanced strata" are conducting "a real [!!] social struggle against the autocracy" (p. 12 of R. M.'s article), that "the main question for us is how our workers should conduct this social struggle against the autocracy" -- in saying such things, R. M. is, in fact, retreating completely from Social-Democracy. We can only offer serious advice to the editors of Rabochaya Mysl to ponder well the question of where they want to go and where their real place is: among the revolutionaries, who carry the banner of the social revolution to the working classes and want to organise them into a political revolutionary party, or among the liberals, who are conducting their own "social struggle" (i.e., the legal opposition)? There is nothing at all socialist in the theory of the "independent social activity" of the workers; in the theory of "social mutual aid" and of the craft unions that "so far" confine themselves to the 10-hour working day; in the theory of the "social struggle" of the Zemstvos, liberal societies, and others against the autocracy -- there is nothing in this theory that the liberals would not accept! Indeed, the entire programme of Rabochaya Mysl (to the extent that one can call it a programme) tends, in essence, to leave the Russian workers undeveloped and split, and to make them the tail-end of the liberals !
Some of R. M.'s phrases are particularly strange. "The whole trouble is merely that our revolutionary intelligentsia," he proclaims, "mercilessly persecuted by the political police, mistake the struggle against the political police for the political struggle against the autocracy." What sense can there be in such a statement? The political police are called political because they persecute enemies of the autocracy and those who struggle against the autocracy. For
this reason, Rabochaya Mysl, so long as its metamorphosis into a liberal is not completed, fights against the political police as do all Russian revolutionaries and socialists and all class-conscious workers. From the fact that the political police mercilessly persecute socialists and workers, that the autocracy maintains a "well-ordered organisation," "competent and resourceful statesmen" (p. 7 of R. M.'s article), only two conclusions are to be drawn: the cowardly and wretched liberal will pass judgement that our people in general and our workers in particular are still ill-pre pared for the struggle and that all hopes must be placed in the "struggle" of the Zemstvos, the liberal press, etc., since this is the "real struggle against the autocracy" and not only a struggle against the political police. The socialist and every class-conscious worker will conclude that the working-class party must bend all its efforts to the formation of a "well-ordered organisation," to the training of "competent and resourceful revolutionaries" from among the advanced workers and socialists, people who will raise the working-class party to the high level of the loading fighter for democracy and who will be able to win over to its side all opposition elements.
The editors of Rabochaya Mysl do not realise that they are standing on an inclined plane down which they will roll to the first of these two conclusions! Or, again: "What amazes us further in these programmes [i.e., in the programmes of the Social-Democrats]," writes R. M., "is that they incessantly give first place to the advantages of workers' activities in a parliament [non-existent in Russia], while completely ignoring . . . the importance of workers' participation" in the employers' legislative assemblies, on factory boards, and in municipal self-government (p. .15). If the advantages of parliament are not brought into the forefront, how will the workers learn about political rights and political liberty? If we keep silent on these questions -- as does Rabochaya Mysl -- does this not mean perpetuating the political ignorance of the lower strata of the workers? As to workers' participation in municipal self-government, no Social-Democrat has ever denied anywhere the advantages and the importance of the activities of socialist workers in municipal self-government;
but it is ridiculous to speak of this in Russia, where no open manifestation of socialism is possible and where firing the workers with enthusiasm for municipal self-government (even were this possible) would actually mean distracting advanced workers from the socialist working-class cause towards liberalism.
"The attitude of the advanced strata of the workers towards this [autocratic] government," says R. M., "is as understandable as their attitude towards the factory owners." The common-sense view of this, therefore, is that the advanced strata of the workers are no less class-conscious Social-Democrats than the socialists from among the intelligentsia, so that Rabochaya Mysl's attempt to separate the one from the other is absurd and harmful. The Russian working class, accordingly, has produced the elements necessary for the formation of an independent working-class political party. But the editors of Rabochaya Mysl draw from the fact of the political consciousness of the advanced strata of the workers the conclusion . . . that it is necessary to hold these advanced elements back, so as to keep them marking time! "Which struggle is it most desirable for the workers to wage?" asks R. M., and he answers: Desirable is the struggle that is possible, and possible is the struggle which the workers are "waging at the given moment"!!! It would be difficult to express more glaringly the senseless and unprincipled opportunism with which the editors of Rabochaya Mysl, allured by fashionable "Bernsteinism," have become infected! What is possible is desirable, and what we have at the given moment is possible! It is as though a man setting out on a long and difficult road on which numerous obstacles and numerous enemies await him were told in answer to his question "Where shall I go?": "It is desirable to go where it is possible to go, and it is possible to go where you are going at the given moment"! This is the sheerest nihilism, not revolutionary, however, but opportunist nihilism, manifested either by anarchists or bourgeois liberals! By "calling upon" the Russian workers to engage in a "partial" and "political" struggle (with political struggle understood, not as the struggle against the autocracy, but only as "the struggle to improve the condition of all workers"), R. M. is actually calling upon the Russian
working-class movement and Russian Social-Democracy to take a step backward, he is actually calling upon the workers to separate from the Social-Democrats and thus throw overboard everything that has been acquired by European and Russian experience! The workers have no need for socialists in their struggle to improve their condition, if that is their only struggle. In all countries there are workers who wage the struggle for the improvement of their condition, but know nothing of socialism or are even hostile to it.
"In conclusion," writes R. M., "a few words on our conception of working-class socialism." After what has been said above the reader will have no difficulty in imagining the sort of "conception" it is. It is simply a copy of Bernstein's "fashionable" book. Our "young" Social-Democrats substitute the "independent social and political activity of the workers" for the class struggle of the proletariat. If we recall how R. M. understands social "struggle" and "politics," it will be clear that this is a direct return to the "formula" of certain Russian legal writers. Instead of indicating precisely the aim (and essence) of socialism -- the transfer of the land, factories, etc., in general, of all the means of production, to the ownership of the whole of society and the replacement of the capitalist mode of production by production according to a common plan in the interests of all members of society -- instead of all this, R. M. indicates first of all the development of craft unions and consumers' co-operatives, and says only in passing that socialism leads to the complete socialisation of all the means of production. On the other hand, he prints in the heaviest type: "Socialism is merely a further and higher development of the modern community" -- a phrase borrowed from Bernstein, which not only does not explain but even obscures the significance and substance of socialism. All the liberals and the entire bourgeoisie undoubtedly favour the "development of the modern community," so that they will all rejoice at R. M.'s declaration. Nevertheless, the bourgeois are the enemies of socialism. The point is that "the modern community" has many varied aspects, and of those who employ this general expression, some have one aspect in view, others another. And so, instead of
explaining the concept of the class struggle and socialism to the workers, R. M. offers them only nebulous and misleading phrases. Lastly, instead of indicating the means modern socialism advances for the achievement of socialism -- the winning of political power by the organised proletariat -- instead of this, R. M. speaks only of placing production under their (the workers') social management or under the management of democratised social power, democratised "by their [the workers'] active participation on boards examining all kinds of factory affairs, in courts of arbitration, in all possible assemblies, commissions, and conferences for the elaboration of labour laws; by the workers' participation in public self-government, and, lastly, in the country's general representative institution." In this way the editors of Rabochaya Mysl include in working-class socialism only that which is to be obtained along the peaceful path and exclude the revolutionary path. This narrowing-down of socialism and its reduction to common bourgeois liberalism represents again a tremendous step backwards as compared with the views of all Russian Social-Democrats and of the overwhelming majority of European Social-Democrats. The working class would, of course, prefer to take power peacefully (we have already stated that this seizure of power can be carried out only by the organised working class which has passed through the school of the class struggle), but to renounce the revolutionary seizure of power would be madness on the part of the proletariat, both from the theoretical and the practical-political points of view; it would mean nothing but a disgraceful retreat in face of the bourgeoisie and all other propertied classes. lt is very probable -- even most probable -- that the bourgeoisie will not make peaceful concessions to the proletariat and at the decisive moment will resort to violence for the defence of its privileges. In that case, no other way will be left to the proletariat for the achievement of its aim but that of revolution. This is the reason the programme of "working-class socialism" speaks of the winning of political power in general without defining the method, for the choice of method depends on a future which we can not precisely determine. But, we repeat, to limit the activities of the proletariat under any circumstances to peaceful
"democratisation" alone is arbitrarily to narrow and vulgarise the concept of working-class socialism.
We shall not analyse the other articles in the Separate Supplement in such great detail. We have spoken of the article on the tenth anniversary of Chernyshevsky's death. As to the pro-Bernsteinian propaganda of the Rabochaya Mysl Editorial Board, which the enemies of socialism throughout the world, especially the bourgeois liberals, have seized on, and against which the vast majority of the German Social-Democrats and class-conscious German workers spoke out so decisively (at their Hannover Congress) -- as to Bernsteinism, this is not the place to speak of it in detail. We are interested in our Russian Bernsteinism, and we have shown the limitless confusion of ideas, the absence of anything like independent views, the tremendous step backwards as compared with the views of Russian Social-Democracy which "our" Bernsteinism represents. As far as German Bernsteinism is concerned, we would rather leave it to the Germans themselves to handle. We would remark only that Russian Bernsteinism is infinitely lower than the German. Bernstein, despite his errors, despite his obvious striving to retrogress both theoretically and politically, still has sufficient intelligence and sufficient conscientiousness not to propose changes in the programme of German Social-Democracy without himself having arrived at any new theory or programme; in the final and decisive moment, he declared his acceptance of Bebel's resolution, a resolution that announced solemnly to the world that German Social-Democracy would stand by its old programme and its old tactics. And our Russian Bernsteinians? Without having done a hundredth of what Bernstein has done, they even go so far as to refuse to recognise the fact that all Russian Social-Democratic organisations laid the foundations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1898, published its Manifesto, and announced Rabochaya Gazeta to be its official organ, and that these publications stand by the "old" programme of the Russian Social-Democrats in its entirety. Our Bernsteinians do not seem to be aware of the fact that, if they have rejected the old views and adopted new ones it is their moral duty -- to Russian Social-Democracy and
to the Russian socialists and workers who devoted all their efforts to the preparations for, and the founding of, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party and who in their majority now all Russian prisons -- that it is the duty of those who profess the new views, not to confine themselves to jabbing from holes and corners at "our revolutionaries" in general, but to announce directly and publicly with whom and with what they are in disagreement, what new views and what new programme they advance in place of the old.
There is still one other question left for us to examine, probably the most important one, namely, how such a retrograde trend in Russian Social-Democracy is to be explained. In our opinion it is not to be explained solely by the personal qualities of the Rabochaya Mysl editors or by the influence of the fashionable Bernsteinism alone. We hold that it is to be explained mainly by the peculiarities in the historical development of Russian Social-Democracy, which gave rise to -- and had temporarily to give rise to -- a narrow understanding of working-class socialism.
In the eighties and at the beginning of the nineties, when Social-Democrats initiated their practical work in Russia, they were confronted firstly with-the Narodnaya Volya, which charged them with departing from the political struggle that had been inherited from the Russian revolutionary movement, and with which the Social-Democrats carried on a persistent polemic. Secondly, they were confronted with the Russian liberal circles, which were also dissatisfied with the turn taken by the revolutionsry movement -- from the Narodnaya Volya trend to Social-Democracy. The two-fold polemic centred round the question of politics. In their struggle against the narrow conceptions of the Narodnaya Volya adherents, who reduced politics to conspiracy making, the Social-Democrats could be led to, and did at times, declare themselves against politics in general (in view of the then prevailing narrow conception of politics). On the other hand, the Social-Democrats often heard, in the liberal and radical salons of bourgeois "society," regrets that the revolutionaries had abandoned terror; people who were mortally afraid for their own skins and at a decisive moment failed to give support to the heroes who struck blows at the autocracy, these people hypocritically accused
the Social-Democrats of political indifferentism and yearned for the rebirth of a party that would pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them. Naturally, the Social-Democrats conceived a hatred for such people and their phrases, and they turned to the more mundane but more serious work of propaganda among the factory proletariat. At first it was inevitable that this work should have a narrow character and should be embodied in the narrow declarations of some Social-Democrats. This narrowness, however, did not frighten those Social-Democrats who had not in the least forgotten the broad historical aims of the Russian working-class movement. What matters it if the words of the Social-Democrats sometimes have a narrow meaning when their deeds cover a broad field. They do not give themselves up to use less conspiracies, they do not hob-nob with the Balalaikins of bourgeois liberalism, but they go to that class which alone is the real revolutionary class and assist in the development of its forces! They believed that this narrowness would disappear of its own accord with each step that broadened Social-Democratic propaganda. And this, to a considerable degree, is what has happened. From propaganda they began to go over to widespread agitation. Widespread agitation, naturally, brought to the forefront a growing number of class-conscious advanced workers; revolutionary organisations began to take form (the St. Petersburg, Kiev, and other Leagues of Struggle, the Jewish Workers' Union). These organisations naturally tended to merge and, eventually, they succeeded: they united and laid the foundations of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. It would seem that the old narrowness would then have been left without any basis and that it would be completely cast aside. But things turned out differently: the spread of their agitation brought the Social-Democrats into contact with the lower, less developed strata of the proletariat; to attract these strata it was necessary for the agitator to be able to adapt himself to the lowest level of understanding, he was taught to put the "demands and interests of the given moment" in the foreground and to push back the broad ideals of socialism and the political struggle. The fragmentary, amateur nature of Social-Democratic work, the extremely weak connections between the study circles in
the different cities, between the Russian Social-Democrats and their comrades abroad who possessed a profounder knowledge and a richer revolutionary experience, as well as a wider political horizon, naturally led to a gross exaggeration of this (absolutely essential ) aspect of Social-Democratic activity, which could bring some individuals to lose sight of the other aspects, especially since with every reverse the most developed workers and intellectuals were wrenched from the ranks of the struggling army, so that sound revolutionary traditions and continuity could not as yet be evolved. It is in this extreme exaggeration of one aspect of Social-Democratic work that we see the chief cause of the sad retreat from the ideals of Russian Social-Democracy. Add to this enthusiasm over a fashionable book, ignorance of the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, and a childish claim to originality, and you have all the elements that go to make up "the retrograde trend in Russian Social Democracy."
We shall, therefore, have to deal in greater detail with the question of the relation of the advanced strata of the proletariat to the less advanced, and the significance of Social-Democratic work among these two sections.
The history of the working-class movement in all countries shows that the better-situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and more easily. From among these come, in the main, the advanced workers that every working-class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the lahouring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organisation of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. Every viable working-class movement has brought to the fore such working-class leaders, its own Proudhons, Vaillants, Weitlings, and Bebels. And our Russian working-class movement promises not to lag behind the European movement in this respect. At a time when educuted society is losing interest in honest, illegal literature, an impassioned desire for knowledge and for socialism is growing among the workers, real heroes are coming to the fore from amongst the workers, who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal
servitude of factory labour, possess so much character and will-power that they study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats -- "the working-class intelligentsia." This "working-class intelligentsia" already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met and that leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party come from its ranks. The newspaper that wants to become the organ of all Russian Social-Democrats must, therefore, be at the level of the advanced workers; not only must it not lower its level artificially, but, on the contrary, it must raise it constantly, it must follow up all the tactical, political, and theoretical problems of world Social-Democracy. Only then will the demands of the working-class intelligentsia be met, and it itself will take the cause of the Russian workers and, consequently, the cause of the Russian revolution, into its own hands.
After the numerically small stratum of advanced workers comes the broad stratum of average workers. These workers, too, strive ardently for socialism, participate in workers' study circles, read socialist newspapers and books, participate in agitation, and differ from the precedillg stratum only in that they cannot become fully independent leaders of the Social-Democratic working-class movement. The average worker will not understand some of the articles in a newspaper that aims to be the organ of the Party, he will not be able to get a full grasp of an intricate theoretical or practical problem. This does not at all mean that the newspaper must lower itself to the level of the mass of its readers. The newspaper, on the contrary, must raise their level and help promote advanced workers from the middle stratum of workers. Such workers, absorbed by local practical work and interested mainly in the events of the working-class movement and the immediate problems of agitation, should connect their every act with thoughts of the entire Russian working-class movement, its historical task, and the ultimate goal of socialism, so that the newspaper, the mass of whose readers are average workers, must connect socialism and the political struggle with every local and narrow question.
Lastly, behind the stratum of average workers comes the mass that constitutes the lower strata of the proletariat. It is quite possible that a socialist newspaper will be completely or well-nigh incomprehensible to them (even in Western Europe the number of Social-Democratic voters is much larger than the number of readers of Social-Democratic newspapers), but it would be absurd to conclude from this that the newspaper of the Social-Democrats should adapt itself to the lowest possible level of the workers. The only thing that follows from this is that different forms of agitation and propaganda must be brought to bear on these strata -- pamphlets written in more popular language, oral agitation, and chiefly -- leaflets on local events. The Social-Democrats should not confine themselves even to this; it is quite possible that the first steps towards arousing the consciousness of the lower strata of the workers will have to take the form of legal educational activities. It is very important for the Party to make use of this activity, guide it in the direction in which it is most needed, send out legal workers to plough up virgin fields that can later be planted by Social-Democratic agitators. Agitation among the lower strata of the workers should, of course, provide the widest field for the personal qualities of the agitator and the peculiarities of the locality, the trade concerned, etc. "Tactics and agitation must not be confused," says Kautsky in his book against Bernstein. "Agitational methods must be adapted to individual and local conditions. Every agitator must be allowed to select those methods of agitation that he has at his disposal. One agitator may create the greatest impression by his enthusiasm, another by his biting sarcasm, a third by his ability to adduce a large number of instances, etc. While being adapted to the agitator, agitation must also be adapted to the public. The agitator must speak so that he will be understood; he must take as a starting-point something well known to his listeners. All this is self-evident and is not merely applicable to agitation conducted among the peasantry. One has to talk to cabmen differently than to sailors, and to sailors differently than to printers. Agitation must be individualised, but our tactics, our political activity must be uniform " (S. 2-3). These words from a leading representative of
Social-Democratic theory contain a superb assessment of agitation as part of the general activity of the party. These words show how unfounded are the fears of those who think that the formation of a revolutionary party conducting a political struggle will interfere with agitation, will push it into the background and curtail the freedom of the agitators. On the contrary, only an organised party can carry out widespread agitation, provide the necessary guidance (and material) for agitators on all economic and political questions, make use of every local agitational success for the instruction of all Russian workers, and send agitators to those places and into that milieu where they can work with the greatest success. It is only in an organised party that people possessing the capacities for work as agitators will be able to dedicate themselves wholly to this task -- to the advantage both of agitation and of the other aspects of Social-Democratic work. From this it can be seen that whoever forgets political agitation and propaganda on account of the economic struggle, whoever forgets the necessity of organising the working-class movement into the struggle of a political party, will, aside from everything else, deprive himself of even an opportunity of successfully and steadily attracting the lower strata of the proletariat to the working-class cause.
However, such an exaggeration of one side of our activities to the detriment of the others, even the urge to throw overboard the other aspects, is fraught with still graver consequences for the Russian working-class movement. The lower strata of the proletariat may even become demoralised by such calumnies as that the founders of Russian Social-Democracy only want to use the workers to overthrow the autocracy, by invitations to confine themselves to the restoration of holidays and to craft unions. with no concern for the final aims of socialism and the immediate tasks of the political struggle. Such workers may (and will) always be ensnared by the bait of any sops offered by the government or the bourgeoisie. The lower strata of the proletariat, the very undeveloped workers, might, under the influence of the preaching of Rabochaya Mysl, fall victim to the bourgeois and profoundly reactionary idea that the worker cannot and should not interest himself in anything but increased
wages and the restoration of holidays ("the interests of the moment"); that the working people can and should conduct the workers' struggle by their own efforts alone, by their own "private initiative," and not attempt to combine it with socialism; that they should not strive to turn the working-class movement into the essential, advanced cause of all mankind. We repeat, the most undeveloped workers might be demoralised by such an idea, but we are confident that the advanced Russian workers, those who guide the workers' study circles and all Social-Democratic activity, those who today fill our prisons and places of exile -- from Archangel Gubernia to Eastern Siberia -- that those workers will reject such a theory with indignation. To reduce the entire movement to the interests of the moment means to speculate on the backward condition of the workers, means to cater to their worst inclinatians. It means artificially to break the link between the working-class movement and socialism, between the fully defined political strivings of the advanced workers and the spontaneous manifestations of protest on the part of the masses. Hence, the attempt of Rabochaya Mysl to introduce a special trend merits particular attention and calls for a vigorous protest. As long as Rabochaya Mysl, adapting itself, apparently, to the lower strata of the proletariat, assiduously avoided the question of the ultimate goal of socialism and the political struggle, with no declaration of its special trend, many Social-Democrats only shook their heads, hoping that with the development and extension of their work the members of the Rabochaya Mysl group would come to rid themselves of their narrowness. However, when people who, until now, have performed the useful work of a preparatory class clutch at fashionable opportunist theories and begin to deafen the ears of Europe with announcements about intending to put the whole of Russian Social-Democracy into the preparatory class for many years (if not for ever), when, in other words, people who have, until now, been labouring usefully over a barrel of honey begin "in full view of the public" to pour ladles of tar into it, then it is time for us to set ourselves decisively against this retrograde trend!
Russian Social-Democracy, both through its founders, the members of the Emancipation of Labour group, and
through the Russian Social-Democratic organisations that founded the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, has always recognised the following two principles: 1) The essence of Social-Democracy is the organisation of the class struggle of the proletariat for the purpose of winning political power, of transferring all means of production to society as a whole, and of replacing capitalist by socialist economy; 2) the task of Russian Social-Democracy is to organise the Russian revolutionary working-class party which has as its immediate aim the overthrow of the autocracy and the winning of political liberty. Whoever departs from these basic principles (formulated precisely in the programme of the Emancipation of Labour group and expressed in the Manifesto of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party ) departs from Social-Democracy.