Burning Questions of Our Movement


        We must now deal with a question that has undoubtedly arisen in the mind of every reader. Can a connection be established between amateurishness, this disorder of growth affecting the whole of the movement, and Economism, which is one of the trends in Russian Social-Democracy? We think that it can. Lack of practical training, lack of ability to carry on organizational work is certainly common to us all, including those who have from the very outset unswervingly stood for revolutionary Marxism. And, of course, were it only lack of practical training, no one could blame the practical workers. But the term "amateurishness" embraces something else: it denotes a narrow scope of revolutionary work generally, failure to understand that a good organization of revolutionaries cannot be built up on the basis of such narrow activity, and lastly -- and most important -- it denotes attempts to justify this narrowness and to elevate it to a special "theory," i.e., bowing in worship to spontaneity on this question too. Once such attempts were observed, it became certain that amateurishness is connected with Economism and that we shall never eliminate this narrowness of our organizational activity until we eliminate Economism generally (i.e., the narrow conception of Marxist theory, of the role of Social-Democracy and of its political tasks). And these attempts were revealed in a twofold direction. Some began to say: the mass of workers themselves have not yet advanced the broad and militant political tasks that the revolutionaries are attempting to "impose" upon them; they must continue, for the time being, to fight for immediate political demands, to conduct "the economic struggle against the employers

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    and the government"[*] (and, naturally, corresponding to this struggle which is "easily understood" by the mass movement must be an organization that will be "easily understood" by the most untrained youth). Others, far removed from any kind of "gradualness," began to say: it is possible and necessary to "bring about a political revolution," but that does not require building a strong organization of revolutionaries to train the proletariat in the steadfast and stubborn struggle. All we need do is to snatch up our old friend, the "handy" wooden club. Speaking without metaphor it means -- we must organize a general strike,[**] or we must stimulate the "spiritless" progress of the working-class movement by means of "excitative terror."*** Both these trends, the opportunists and the "revolutionists," bow to the prevailing amateurishness; neither believes that it can be eliminated, neither understands our primary and most imperative practical task, namely, to establish an organization of revolutionaries capable of maintaining the energy, stability and continuity of the political struggle.

        We have just quoted the words of B-v: "The growth of the working-class movement is outstripping the growth and development of the revolutionary organizations." This "valuable remark of a close observer" (the Rabocheye Dyelo's comment on B-v's article) has a twofold value for us. It shows that we were right in our opinion that the principal cause of the present crisis in Russian Social-Democracy is

        * The Rabocbaya Mysl and the Rabocheye Dyelo, especially the Reply to Plekhanov.
        ** See "Who Will Bring About the Political Revolution?" in the symposium published in Russia, entitled The Proletarian Struggle. Reissued by the Kiev Committee.
        *** Regeneration of Revolutionism and the Svoboda.

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    that the leaders ("ideologists," revolutionaries, Social-Democrats) lag behind the spontaneous upsurge of the masses. It shows that all the arguments advanced by the authors of the Economic letter (in the Iskra, No. 12), by B. Krichevsky and by Martynov, about the danger of belittling the significance of the spontaneous element, about the drab everyday struggle, about tactics-as-a-process, etc., are nothing more than a glorification and defence of amateurishness. These people who cannot pronounce the word "theoretician" without a contemptuous grimace, who describe their genuflections to common lack of training and backwardness as a "sense for the realities of life," reveal in practice a failure to understand our most imperative practical tasks. To laggards they shout: Keep in step! Don't run ahead! To people suffering from a lack of energy and initiative in organizational work, from lack of "plans" for wide and bold activity, they shout about "tactics-as-a-process"! The principal sin we commit is that we degrade our political and organizational tasks to the level of the immediate, "palpable," "concrete" interests of the everyday economic struggle; and yet they keep singing to us the old song: lend the economic struggle itself a political character. We say again: this kind of thing displays as much "sense for the realities of life" as was displayed by the hero in the popular fable who shouted to a passing funeral procession: many happy returns of the day!

        Recall the matchless, truly "Narcissus"[81]-like superciliousness with which these wiseacres lectured Plekhanov about the "workers' circles generally" (sic !) being "unable to cope with political tasks in the real and practical sense of the word, i.e., in the sense of the expedient and successful practical struggle for political demands." (The Rabocheye Dyelo's Reply, p. 24.)

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    There are circles and circles, gentlemen! Circles of "amateurs" are, of course, not capable of coping with political tasks so long as they have not become aware of their amateurishness and do not abandon it. If, besides this, these amateurs are enamoured of their primitive methods, and insist on writing the word "practical" in italics, and imagine that being practical demands that one's tasks be reduced to the level of understanding of the most backward strata of the masses then they are hopeless, of course, and certainly cannot cope with any political tasks in general. But a circle of heroes like Alexeyev and Myshkin, Khalturin and Zhelyabov is capable of coping with political tasks in the genuine and most practical sense of the term, and it is capable of coping with them precisely because and to the extent that their passionate preaching meets with response among the spontaneously awakening masses, and their seething energy is answered and supported by the energy of the revolutionary class. Plekhanov was a thousand times right when he not only pointed to this revolutionary class, not only proved that its spontaneous awakening was inevitable, and unavoidable, but also when he set even "workers' circles" a great and lofty political task. But you refer to the mass movement that has sprung up since that time in order to degrade this task, in order to narrow down the energy and scope of activity of the "workers' circles." If you are not amateurs enamoured of your primitive methods, what are you then? You boast that you are practical, but you fail to see what every Russian practical worker knows, namely, the miracles that the energy, not only of circles, but even of individual persons is able to perform in the revolutionary cause. Or do you think that our movement cannot produce heroes like those of the 'seven-

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    ties? But why? Because we lack training? But we are training ourselves, will go on training and acquire the training! Unfortunately it is true that mould has formed on the surface of the stagnant waters of the "economic struggle against the employers and the government"; people have appeared among us who kneel in prayer to spontaneity, gazing with awe (as Plekhanov expresses it) upon the "posteriors" of the Russian proletariat. But we will get rid of this mould. The time has come when Russian revolutionaries, guided by a genuinely revolutionary theory, relying upon the genuinely revolutionary and spontaneously awakening class, can at last -- at last! -- rise to full stature in all their giant strength. All that is required is that the masses of our practical workers, and the still larger masses of those who long for practical work even while still at school, shall meet with scorn and ridicule any suggestion that may be made to degrade our political tasks and to restrict the scope of our organizational work. And we shall achieve that, rest assured, gentlemen!

        In the article "Where To Begin?" I wrote in opposition to the Rabocheye Dyelo: "The tactics of agitation in relation to some special question, or the tactics with regard to some detail of party organization may be changed in twenty-four hours; but only people devoid of all principles are capable of changing in twenty-four hours, or twenty-four months for that matter, their views as to whether it is in general, always and absolutely, necessary to have a militant organization, and to conduct political agitation among the masses."[82] To this the Rabocheye Dyelo replied: "This, the only one of the Iskra's charges that claims to be based on facts, is totally without foundation. Readers of the Rabocheye Dyelo know very well that right from the outset we not only called for political agita-

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    tion, without waiting for the appearance of the Iskra . . . " (and saying at the same time that not only the workers' circles, "but also the mass working-class movement could not regard as its primary political task the overthrow of absolutism," but only the struggle for immediate political demands, and that "the masses begin to understand immediate political demands after one, or at all events, after several strikes") . . . "but the publications that we procured from abroad for the comrades working in Russia, provided the only Social-Democratic political and agitational material . . . " (and in this only material, you not only based the widest political agitation exclusively on the economic struggle, but you even went to the extent of claiming that this narrowed-down agitation was the "most widely applicable." And do you not observe, gentlemen, that your own arguments prove the necessity -- that kind of material being the only material provided -- for the Iskra's appearance, and its fight against the Rabocheye Dyelo ?). . . ."On the other hand, our publishing activity actually prepared the ground for the tactical unity of the party" . . . (unity in the belief that tactics are a process of growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party? A precious unity indeed!) . . . "and by that rendered possible the creation of a 'militant organization' for which the Union did all that an organization abroad could do." (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 15.) A vain attempt at evasion! I would never dream of denying that you did all you possibly could. I have asserted and assert now, that the limits of what is "possible" for you to do are restricted by the narrowness of your outlook. It is ridiculous even to talk about a "militant organization" to fight for "immediate political demands," or conduct "the economic struggle against the employers and the government."

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        But if the reader wishes to see the pearls of "Economist" passion for amateurishness, he must, of course, turn from the eclectic and vacillating Rabocheye Dyelo to the consistent and determined Rabochaya Mysl. In its Special Supplement, p. 13, R. M. wrote: "Now two words about the so-called revolutionary intelligentsia proper. It is true that on more than one occasion it has proved that it was quite prepared to 'enter into determined battle with tsarism'! The unfortunate thing, however, is that, ruthlessly persecuted by the political police, our revolutionary intelligentsia imagined that the struggle against this political police was the political struggle against the autocracy. That is why, to this day, it cannot understand 'where the forces for the fight against the autocracy are to be obtained.' "

        What matchless and magnificent contempt for the hght against the police is displayed by this worshipper (in the worst sense of the word) of the spontaneous movement! Our inability to organize secretly he is prepared to justify by the argument that with the spontaneous growth of the mass movement, it is not at all important for us to hght against the political police!! Very few indeed would subscribe to this monstrous conclusion; our defects in revolutionary organization have become too urgent a matter to permit them to do that. But if Martynov, for example, refuses to subscribe to it, it will only be because he is unable, or lacks the courage, to think out his ideas to their logical conclusion. Indeed, does the "task" of prompting the masses to put forward concrete demands that promise palpable results call for special efforts to create a stable, centralized, militant organization of revolutionaries? Cannot such a "task" be carried out even by masses that do not "fight against the political police" at

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    all? More: could this task be fulhlled unless, in addition to the few leaders, it was undertaken by such workers (the overwhelming majority), who are quite incapable of "fighting against the political police"? Such workers, average people of the masses, are capable of displaying enormous energy and self-sacrifice in strikes and in street battles with the police and troops, and are capable (in fact, are alone capable) of determining the outcome of our entire movement -- but the struggle against the political police requires special qualities; it requires professional revolutionaries. And we must not only see to it that the masses "advance" concrete demands, but also that the masses of the workers "advance" an increasing number of such professional revolutionaries. Thus we have reached the question of the relation between an organization of professional revolutionaries and the pure and simple working-class movement. Although this question has found little reflection in literature, it has greatly engaged us "politicians" in conversations and controversies with those comrades who gravitate more or less towards Economism. It is a question that deserves special treatment. But before taking it up let us cite one more quotation by way of illustrating our thesis concerning the connection between amateurishness and Economism.

        In his Reply, Mr. N. N.[83] wrote: "The Emancipation of Labour group demands direct struggle against the government without hrst considering where the material forces for this struggle are to be obtained, and without indicating the path of the struggle." Emphasizing the last words, the author adds the following footnote to the word "path": "This can not be explained by purposes of secrecy, because the program does not refer to a plot but to a mass movement. And the

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    masses cannot proceed by secret paths. Can we conceive of a secret strike? Can we conceive of secret demonstrations and petitions?" (Vademecum, p. 59.) Thus, the author approaches quite closely to the question of the "material forces" (organizers of strikes and demonstrations) and to the "paths" of the struggle, but, nevertheless, is still in a state of consternation, because he "worships" the mass movement, i.e., he regards it as something that relieves us of the necessity of conducting revolutionary activity and not as something that should encourage us and stimulate our revolutionary activity. A secret strike is impossible -- for those who take part in it and for those immediately associated with it, but a strike may remain (and in the majority of cases does remain) a "secret" to the masses of the Russian workers, because the government takes care to cut all communication between strikers, takes care to prevent all news of strikes from spreading. Here indeed is where a special "fight against the political police" is required, a fight that can never be conducted by such large masses as take part in strikes. This struggle must be organized, according to "all the rules of the art," by people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity. The fact that the masses are spontaneously being drawn into the movement does not make the organization of this struggle less necessary. On the contrary, it makes it more necessary; for we Socialists would be failing in our direct duty to the masses if we did not prevent the police from making a secret of (and if we did not ourselves sometimes secretly prepare) every strike and every demonstration. And we shall succeed in doing this, precisely because the spontaneously awakening masses will advance also from their own ranks increasing numbers of "professional revolution aries" (that is, if we do not take it into our heads to advise the workers to keep on marking time).