Burning Questions of Our Movement


        We have already heard from B-v about "the lack of revolutionary forces fit for action which is felt not only in St. Petersburg, but throughout the whole of Russia." Hardly anyone will dispute this fact. But the question is, how is it to be explained? B-v writes:

       "We shall not go into an explanation of the historical causes of this phenomenon; we shall merely state that a society, demoralized by prolonged political reaction and split by past and present economic changes, advances from its own ranks an extremely small number of persons fit for revolutionary work; that the working class does advance revolutionary workers who to some extent reinforce the ranks of the illegal organizations, but that the number of such revolutionaries is inadequate to meet the requirements of the times. This is all the more so because the worker who spends eleven and a half hours a day in the factory is in such a position that he can perform, mainly, the functions of an agitator; but propaganda and organization, delivery and reproduction of illegal literature, issuing leaflets, etc., are duties which must necessarily fall mainly upon the shoulders of an extremely small force of intellectuals." (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6, pp. 38-39.)

        On many points we disagree with B-v, particularly with the words we have emphasized, and which bring out most saliently that, although weary of our amateurishness (as is every practical worker who thinks over the position), B-v cannot find the way out of this intolerable situation, because he is ground down by Economism. The fact of the matter is that society advances very many persons fit for "work," but we are unable to make use of them all. The critical, transitional state of our movement in this respect may be formulated as follows: there are no people -- yet there is a mass of people. There is a mass of people, because the working class and ever more diverse strata of society, year after year, advance from their ranks an increasing number of discontented people who desire to protest, who are ready to render all the assistance they can in the fight against absolutism, the intolerableness of which is not yet recognized by all, but is nevertheless more and more acutely sensed by increasing masses of the people. At the same time we have no people, because we have no leaders, no political leaders, no talented organizers capable of arranging extensive and at the same time uniform and harmonious work that would employ all forces, even the most in- considerable. "The growth and development of the revolutionary organizations," not only lag behind the growth of the working-class movement, which even B-v admits, but also behind that of the general democratic movement among all strata of the people. (In passing, probably B-v would now regard this as supplementing his conclusion.) The scope of revolutionary work is too narrow compared with the breadth of the spontaneous basis of the movement. It is too hemmed in by the wretched theory of "economic struggle against the employers and the government." And yet, at the present time, not only Social-Democratic political agitators, but also Social-Democratic organizers must "go among all classes of the population."[*] There is hardly a single practical worker who will doubt that the Social-Democrats could distribute the thousand and one minute functions of their organizational work among the different representatives of the most varied classes. Lack of specialization is one of the most serious defects of our technique, about which B-v justly and bitterly complains. The smaller each separate "operation" in our common cause, the more people can we find capable of carrying out such operations (people who, in the majority of cases, are absolutely not capable of becoming professional revolutionaries), the more difficult will it be for the police to "net" all these "detail workers," and the more difficult will it be for them to frame up, out of an arrest for some petty affair,

        * For example, an undoubted revival of the democratic spirit has recently been observed among persons in military service, partly as a consequence of the more frequent street fights against "enemies" like workers and students. And as soon as our available forces permit, we must without fail devote the most serious attention to propaganda and agitation among soldiers and officers, and to the creation of "military organizations" affiliated to our Party.

    page 159

    a "case" that would justify the government's expenditure on the "secret service." As for the number ready to help us, we have already referred in the previous chapter to the gigantic change that has taken place in this respect in the last five years or so. On the other hand, in order to unite all these tiny fractions into one whole, in order not to break up the movement while breaking up its functions, and in order to imbue the people who carry out the minute functions with the conviction that their work is necessary and important, without which conviction they will never do the work,* it is necessary to have a strong organization of tried revolutionaries. The more secret such an organization is, the stronger and more widespread will be the confidence in the Party, and, as we know, in time of war, it is of the utmost importance to

        * I recall what a comrade related to me of a factory inspector, who desiring to help, and while in fact helping, the Social-Democrats, bitterly complained that he did not know whether his "information" reached the proper revolutionary centre, how much his help was really required, and what possibilities there were for utilizing his small and petty services. Every practical worker can, of course, cite many similar cases of our amateurishness depriving us of allies. And these services, each "small" in itself, but invaluable when taken in the mass, could and would be rendered to us by office employees and officials not only in factories, but in the postal service, on the railways, in the Customs, among the nobility, the clergy and in every other walk of life, including even the police and the Court! Had we a real party, a real militant organization of revolutionaries, we would not make undue demands on every one of these "assistants," we would not hasten always and invariably to bring them right into the very heart of our "illegality," but, on the contrary, we would husband them very carefully and would even train people especially for such functions, bearing in mind the fact that many students could be of much greater service to the Party as "assistants" holding some official post than as "short-term" revolutionaries. But, I repeat again, only an organization that is already established and has no lack of active forces would have the right to apply such tactics.

    page 160

    imbue not only one's own army with confidence in its strength, but it is important also to convince the enemy and all neutral elements of this strength; friendly neutrality may sometimes decide the issue. If such an organization existed, one built up on a firm theoretical foundation and possessing a Social-Democratic journal, we would have no reason to fear that the movement might be diverted from its path by the numerous "outside" elements that are attracted to it. (On the contrary, it is precisely at the present time, with amateurishness prevalent, that we see many Social-Democrats leaning towards the Credo, and only imagining that they are Social-Democrats.) In a word, specialization necessarily presupposes centralization, and in its turn imperatively calls for it.

        But B-v himself, who has so excellently described the necessity for specialization, underestimates its importance, in our opinion, in the second part of the argument that we have quoted. The number of working-class revolutionaries is inadequate, he says. This is perfectly true, and once again we stress that the "valuable communication of a close observer" fully confirms our view of the causes of the present crisis in Social-Democracy, and, consequently, of the means required for overcoming it. Not only are revolutionaries in general lagging behind the spontaneous awakening of the masses, but even working-class revolutionaries are lagging behind the spontaneous awakening of the working-class masses. And this fact most strikingly confirms, even from the "practical" point of view, not only the absurdity but even the political reactionariness of the "pedagogics" to which we are so often treated when discussing our duties to our workers. This fact proves that our very first and most imperative duty is to help to train working-class revolutionaries who will be

    page 161

    on the same level in regard to Party activity as the revolutionaries from amongst the intellectuals (we emphasize the words "in regard to Party activity," because although necessary, it is neither so easy nor so imperative to bring the workers up to the level of intellectuals in other respects). Therefore, attention must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the "working masses" as the Economists wish to do, or to the level of the "average worker," as the Svoboda desires to do (which thus ascends to the second grade of Economist "pedagogics"). I am far from denying the necessity for popular literature for the workers, and especially popular (but, of course, not vulgar) literature for the especially backward workers. But what annoys me is this constant confusion of pedagogics with questions of politics and organization. You, gentlemen, who are so much concerned about the "average worker," as a matter of fact, rather insult the workers by your desire to talk down to them when discussing working-class politics and working-class organization. Talk about serious things in a serious manner, leave pedagogics to the pedagogues, and not to politicians, nor to organizers! Are there not advanced people, "average people," and the "mass," among the intelligentsia too? Does not everyone recognize that popular literature is also required for the intelligentsia and is not such literature written? Just imagine someone, in an article on organizing college or high-school students, repeating over and over again, as if he had made a new discovery, that first of all we must have an organization of "average students." The author of such an article would be ridiculed, and rightly so. He would be told: give us your ideas on organization, if you have any, and we ourselves will decide who is "aver-

    page 162

    age," who above average, who below average. But if you have no organizational ideas of your own, then all your exertions on behalf of the "masses" and "average" will be simply boring. You must realize that these questions about "politics" and "organization" are so serious in themselves that they cannot be discussed in any other but a very serious way. We can and must educate workers (and universify and high-school students) so as to be able to discuss these questions with them; but once you do bring up these questions, you must give real replies to them, do not fall back on the "average," or on the "masses"; do not try to get off by resorting to empty phrasemongering.[*]

        In order to be fully prepared for his task, the worker revolutionary must also become a professional revolutionary. Hence B-v is wrong when he says that since the worker spends eleven and a half hours in the factory, the brunt of all other revolutionary functions (apart from agitation) "must necessarily fall mainly upon the shoulders of an extremely small force of intellectuals." But this is not out of sheer "necessity." It is so because we are backward, because we do not recognize our duty to assist every capable worker to become a professional agitator, organizer, propagandist, literature distributor, etc., etc. In this respect, we

        * Svoboda, No. 1, p. 66, in the article "Organization": "The heavy tread of the army of workers will reinforce all the demands that will be advanced on behalf of Russian Labour" -- Labour with a capital L, of course. And this very author exclaims: "I am not in the least hostile towards the intelligentsia, but" (this is the very word, but, that Shchedrin translated as meaning: the ears never grow higher than the forehead, never!) "but it always frightfully annoys me when a man comes to me, utters beautiful and charming words and demands that they be accepted for their (his?) beauty and other virtues." (P. 62.) Yes. This "always frightfully annoys" me too.

    page 163

    waste our strength in a positively shameful manner; we lack the ability to husband that which should be tended and reared with special care. Look at the Germans: they have a hundred times more forces than we have. But they understand perfectly well that the "average" does not too frequently promote really capable agitators, etc., from its ranks. That is why they immediately try to place every capable workingman in such conditions as will enable him to develop and apply his abilities to the utmost: he is made a professional agitator, he is encouraged to widen the held of his activity, to spread it from one factory to the whole of the industry, from one locality to the whole country. He acquires experience and dexterity in his profession, he broadens his outlook and increases his knowledge, he observes at close quarters the prominent political leaders from other localities and of other parties, he strives to rise to their level and combine within himself the knowledge of working-class environment and freshness of socialist convictions with professional skill, without which the proletariat cannot wage a stubborn struggle against its excellently trained enemies. In this way and in this way alone does the mass of workers produce men like Bebel and Auer. But what in a politically free country takes place very largely automatically must in Russia be done deliberately and systematically by our organizations. A worker-agitator who is at all talented and "promising" must not be left to work eleven hours a day in a factory. We must arrange that he be maintained by the Party, that he may go underground in good time, that he change the place of his activity, otherwise he will not enlarge his experience, he will not widen his outlook, and will not be able to hold out for at least a few years in the fight against the gendarmes. As the spontaneous rise of the working-class

    page 164

    masses becomes wider and deeper, they promote from their ranks not only an increasing number of talented agitators, but also talented organizers, propagandists and "practical workers" in the best sense of the term (of whom there are so few among our intelligentsia who, for the most part, in the Russian manner, are somewhat careless and sluggish in their habits). When we have detachments of specially trained worker-revolutionaries who have gone through extensive preparation (and, of course, revolutionaries "of all arms"), no political police in the world will then be able to contend against them, for these detachments of men absolutely devoted to the revolution will themselves enjoy the absolute confidence of the widest masses of the workers. And we are directly to blame for doing too little to "stimulate" the workers to take this path, common to them and to the "intellectuals," of professional revolutionary training, and that we too frequently drag them back by our silly speeches about what "can be understood" by the masses of the workers, by the "average workers," etc.

        In this, as in other respects, the narrow scope of our organizational work is without a doubt directly due to the fact (although the overwhelming majority of the "Economists" and the novices in practical work do not appreciate it) that we restrict our theories and our political tasks to a narrow field. Worship of spontaneity seems to inspire a fear of taking even one step away from what "can be understood" by the masses, a fear of rising too high above mere subservience to the immediate and direct requirements of the masses. Have no fear, gentlemen! Remember that we stand so low on the plane of organization that the very idea that we could rise too high is absurd!

    Next Page