Marxism and Reformism
Pravda Truda No. 2, September 12, 1913. Signed: V. I..
Published according to the Pravda Truda text.
the anarchists, the Marxists recognise struggle for reforms, i.e.,
for measures that improve the conditions if the working people without
destroying the power of the ruling class. At the same time, however, the
Marxists wage a most resolute struggle against the reformists, who, directly or
indirectly, restrict the aims and activities of the working class to the winning
of reforms. Reformism is bourgeois deception of the workers, who, despite
individual improvements, will always remain wage-slaves, as long as there is the
domination of capital.
The liberal bourgeoisie grant reforms with one hand, and with the other
always take them back, reduce them to nought, use them to enslave the workers,
to divide them into separate groups and perpetuate wage-slavery. For that reason
reformism, even when quite sincere, in practice becomes a weapon by means of
which the bourgeoisie corrupt and weaken the workers. The experience of all
countries shows that the workers who put their trust in the reformists are
And conversely, workers who have assimilated Marx’s theory, i.e., realised
the inevitability of wage-slavery so long as capitalist rule remains, will not
be fooled by any bourgeois reforms. Understanding that where capitalism
continued to exist reforms cannot be either enduring or far-reaching, the
workers fight for better conditions and use them to intensify the fight against
wage-slavery. The reformists try to divide and deceive the workers, to divert
them from the class struggle by petty concessions. But the workers, having seen
through the falsity of reformism, utilise reforms to develop and broaden their
stronger reformist influence is among the workers the weaker they are,
the greater their dependence on the bourgeoisie, and the easier it is for the
bourgeoisie to nullify reforms by various subterfuges. The more independent the
working-class movement, the deeper and broader its aims, and the freer it is
from reformist narrowness the easier it is for the workers to retain and utilise
There are reformists in all countries, for everywhere the bourgeoisie seek,
in one way or another, to corrupt the workers and turn them into contented
slaves who have given up all thought of doing away with slavery. In Russia, the
reformists are liquidators, who renounce our past and try to lull the workers
with dreams of a new, open, legal party. Recently the St. Petersburg liquidators
were forced by Severnaya = Pravda
to defend themselves against the charge of reformism. Their arguments should be
carefully analysed in order to clarify an extremely important question.
We are not reformists, the St. Petersburg liquidators wrote, because we have
not said that reforms are everything and the ultimate goal nothing; we have
spoken of movement to the ultimate goal; we have spoken of advancing through the
struggle for reforms to the fulness of the aims set.
Let us now see how this defense squares with the facts.
First fact. The liquidator Sedov, summarizing the statements of all the
liquidators, wrote that of the Marxists’ “three pillars” two are no longer
suitable for our agitation. Sedov retained the demand for an eight-hour day,
which, theoretically, can be realised as a reform. He deleted, or relegated to
the background the very things that go beyond reforms. Consequently, Sedov
relapsed into downright opportunism, following the very policy expressed in the
formula: the ultimate goal is nothing. When the “ultimate goal” (even in
relation to democracy) is pushed further and further away from our agitation,
that is reformism.
Second fact. The celebrated August Conference (last year’s) of the
liquidators likewise pushed non-reformist demands further and further away—until
some special occasion—instead of bringing them closer, into the heart of our
fact. By denying and disparaging the “old” and dissociating themselves
from it, the liquidators thereby confine themselves to reformism. In the present
situation, the connection between reformism and the renunciation of the “old” is
Fourth fact. The workers’ economic movement evokes the wrath and attacks of
the liquidators (who speak of “crazes”, “milling the air”, etc., etc.) as soon
as it adopts slogans that go beyond reformism.
What is the result? In words, the liquidators reject reformism as a
principle, but in practice they adhere to it all along the line. They assure us,
on the one hand, that for them reforms are not the be-all and end-all, but on
the other hand, every time the Marxists go beyond reformism, the liquidators
attack them or voice their contempt.
However, developments in every sector of the working-class movement show
that the Marxists, far, from lagging behind, are definitely in the lead in
making practical use of reforms, and in fighting for them. Take the Duma
elections at the worker curia level—the speeches of our deputies inside and
outside the Duma, the organisation of the workers’ press, the utilisation of the
insurance reform; take the biggest union, the Metalworkers’ Union,
etc.,—everywhere the Marxist workers are ahead of the liquidators, in the
direct, immediate, “day-to-day” activity of agitation, organisation, fighting
for reforms and using them.
The Marxists are working tirelessly, not missing a single “possibility” of
winning and using reforms, and not condemning, but supporting, painstakingly
developing every step beyond reformism in propaganda, agitation, mass economic
struggle, etc. The liquidators, on the other hand, who have abandoned Marxism,
by their attacks on the very existence of the Marxist body, by their destruction
of Marxist discipline and advocacy of reformism and a liberal-labour policy, are
only disorganising the working-class movement.
Nor, moreover, should the fact be overlooked that in Russia reformism is
manifested also in a peculiar form, in identifying the fundamental political
situation in present-day Russia with that of present-day Europe. From the
liberal’s point of view this identification is legitimate, for the liberal
believes and professes the view that “thank God, we have
a Constitution”. The liberal expresses the interests of the bourgeoisie when he
insists that, after October 17, every step by democracy beyond reformism is
madness, a crime, a sin, etc.
But it is these bourgeois views that are applied in practice by our
liquidators, who constantly and systematically “transplant” to Russia (on paper)
the “open party” and the “struggle for a legal party”, etc. In other words, like
the liberals, they preach the transplanting of the European constitution to
Russia, without the specific path that in the West led to the adoption
of constitutions and their consolidation over generations, in some cases even
over centuries. What the liquidators and liberals want is to wash the hide
without dipping it in water, as the saying goes.
In Europe, reformism actually means abandoning Marxism and replacing it by
bourgeois “social policy”. In Russia, the reformism of the liquidators means not
only that, it means destroying the Marxist organisation and abandoning the
democratic tasks of the working class, it means replacing them by a liberal-labour