MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | History of CP Bolshevik

H I S T O R Y

O F  T H E

C O M M U N I S T   P A R T Y

O F  T H E

S O V I E T  U N I O N

(B O L S H E V I K S)

 

 E D I T E D  B Y  A  C O M M I S S I O N  O F  T H E C E N T R A L  C O M M I T T E E  O F  T H E  C. P. S. U. (B.)

LENIN'S PLAN FOR THE BUILDING OF A MARXIST PARTY. OPPORTUNISM OF THE "ECONOMISTS." "ISKRA'S" FIGHT FOR LENIN'S PLAN. LENIN'S BOOK "WHAT IS TO BE DONE?" IDEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF THE MARXIST PARTY 

    Notwithstanding the fact that the First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Party had been held in 1898, and that it had announced the formation of the Party, no real party was as yet created. There was no party program or party rules. The Central Committee of the Party elected at the First Congress was arrested and never replaced, for there was nobody to replace it. Worse still, the ideological confusion and lack of organizational cohesion of the Party became even more marked after the First Congress.

    While the years 1884-94 were a period of victory over Narodism and of ideological preparation for the formation of a Social-Democratic Party, and the years 1894-98 a period in which an attempt, although unsuccessful, was made to weld the separate Marxist organizations into a Social-Democratic Party, the period immediately following 1898 was one of increased ideological and organizational confusion within the Party. The victory gained by the Marxists over Narodism and the revolutionary actions of the working class, which proved that the Marxists were right, stimulated the sympathy of the revolutionary youth for Marxism. Marxism became the fashion. This resulted in an influx into the Marxist organizations of throngs of young revolutionary intellectuals, who were weak in theory and inexperienced in political organization, and who had only a vague, and for the most part incorrect, idea of Marxism, derived from the opportunist writings of the "legal Marxists" with which the press was filled. This resulted in the lowering of the theoretical and political standard of the Marxist organizations, in their infection with the "legal Marxist" opportunist tendencies, and in the aggravation of ideological confusion, political vacillation and organizational chaos.

    The rising tide of the working-class movement and the obvious proximity of revolution demanded a united and centralized party of the working class which would be capable of leading the revolutionary movement. But the local Party organizations, the local committees, groups and circles were in such a deplorable state, and their organizational disunity and ideological discord so profound, that the task of creating such a party was one of immense difficulty.

    The difficulty lay not only in the fact that the Party had to be built under the fire of savage persecution by the tsarist government, which every now and then robbed the organizations of their finest workers whom it condemned to exile, imprisonment and penal servitude, but also in the fact that a large number of the local committees and their members would have nothing to do with anything but their local, petty practical activities, did not realize the harm caused by the absence of organizational and ideological unity in the Party, were accustomed to the disunity and ideological confusion that prevailed within it, and believed that they could get along quite well without a united centralized party.

    If a centralized party was to be created, this backwardness, inertia, and narrow outlook of the local bodies had to be overcome.

    But this was not all. There was a fairly large group of people within the Party who had their own press the Rabochaya Mysl (Workers' Thought ) in Russia and Rabocheye Delo (Workers' Cause ) abroad -- and who were trying to justify on theoretical grounds the lack of organizational cohesion and the ideological confusion within the Party, frequently even lauding such a state of affairs, and holding that the plan for creating a united and centralized political party of the working class was unnecessary and artificial.

    These were the "Economists" and their followers.

    Before a united political party of the proletariat could be created, the "Economists" had to be defeated.

    It was to this task and to the building of a working-class party that Lenin addressed himself.

    How to begin the building of a united party of the working class was a question on which opinions differed. Some thought that the building of the Party should be begun by summoning the Second Congress of the Party, which would unite the local organizations and create the Party. Lenin was opposed to this. He held that before convening a congress it was necessary to make the aims and objects of the Party clear, to ascertain what sort of a party was wanted, to effect an ideological demarcation from the "Economists," to tell the Party honestly and frankly that there existed two different opinions regarding the aims and objects of the Party -- the opinion of the "Economists" and the opinion of the revolutionary Social-Democrats -- to start a wide campaign in the press in favour of the views of revolutionary Social-Democracy -- just as the "Economists" were conducting a campaign in their own press in favour of their own views -- and to give the local organizations the opportunity to make a deliberate choice between these two trends. Only after this indispensable preliminary work had been done could a Party Congress be summoned.

    Lenin put it plainly:

    "Before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 45.)

    Lenin accordingly held that the building of a political party of the working class should be begun by the founding of a militant political newspaper on an all-Russian scale, which would carry on propaganda and agitation in favour of the views of revolutionary Social-Democracy -- that the establishment of such a newspaper should be the first step in the building of the Party.

    In his well-known article, "Where to Begin?" Lenin outlined a concrete plan for the building of the Party, a plan which was later expanded in his famous work What Is To Be Done?

    "In our opinion," wrote Lenin in this article, "the starting point of our activities, the first practical step towards creating the organization desired,* finally, the main thread following which we would be able to develop, deepen and expand that organization unswervingly, should be the establishment of a political newspaper on an all-Russian scale. . . . Without it we cannot systematically carry on that all-embracing propaganda and agitation, consistent in principle, which form the chief and constant task of Social-Democrats in general, and the particularly urgent task of the present moment when


    * That is, the formation of a party. --Ed.

interest in politics, in questions of Socialism, has been aroused among the widest sections of the population." (Ibid., p. 19.)

    Lenin considered that such a newspaper would serve not only to weld the Party ideologically, but also to unite the local bodies within the Party organizationally. The network of agents and correspondents of the newspaper, representing the local organizations, would provide a skeleton around which the Party could be built up organizationally. For, Lenin said, "a newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and collective agitator, but also a collective organizer."

    "This network of agents," writes Lenin in the same article, "will form the skeleton of precisely the organization we need, namely, one that is sufficiently large to embrace the whole country, sufficiently wide and many-sided to effect a strict and detailed division of labour; sufficiently tried and tempered to be able unswervingly to carry on its own work under all circumstances, at all 'turns' and in all contingencies; sufficiently flexible to be able to avoid open battle against an enemy of overwhelming strength, when he has concentrated all his forces at one spot, and yet able to take advantage of the awkwardness of this enemy and to attack him whenever and wherever least expected." (Ibid.) pp. 21-2.)

    Iskra was to be such a newspaper.

    And Iskra did indeed become such a political-newspaper on an all-Russian scale which prepared the way for the ideological and organizational consolidation of the Party.

    As to the structure and composition of the Party itself, Lenin considered that it should consist of two parts: a) a close circle of regular cadres of leading Party workers, chiefly professional revolutionaries, that is, Party workers free from all occupation except Party work and possessing the necessary minimum of theoretical knowledge, political experience, organizational practice and the art of combating the tsarist police and of eluding them; and b) a broad network of local Party organizations and a large number of Party members enjoying the sympathy and support of hundreds of thousands of working people.

    "I assert," Lenin wrote, 1) that no revolutionary movement can endure without a stable organization of leaders that maintains continuity; 2) that the wider the masses spontaneously drawn into the struggle . . . the more urgent the need of such an organization, and the more solid this organization must be . . . 3) that such an organization must consist chiefly of people professionally engaged in revolutionary activity; 4) that in an autocratic state the more we confine the membership of such organization to people who are professionally engaged in revolutionary activity and who have been professionally trained in the art of combating the political police, the more difficult will it be to wipe out such an organization, and 5) the greater will be the number of people of the working class and of the other classes of society who will be able to join the movement and perform active work in it." (Ibid.) pp. 138-39.)

    As to the character of the Party that was being built up and its role in relation to the working class, as well as its aims and objects, Lenin held that the Party should form the vanguard of the working class, that it should be the guiding force of the working-class movement, co-ordinating and directing the class struggle of the proletariat. The ultimate goal of the Party was the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Its immediate aim was the overthrow of tsardom and the establishment of a democratic order. And inasmuch as the overthrow of capitalism was impossible without the preliminary overthrow of tsardom, the principal task of the Party at the given moment was to rouse the working class and the whole people for a struggle against tsardom, to develop a revolutionary movement of the people against it, and to overthrow it as the first and serious obstacle in the path of Socialism.

    "History," Lenin wrote, "has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks that confront the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark not only of European but also (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat." (Ibid., p. 50.)

    And further:

    "We must bear in mind that the struggle with the government for partial demands, the winning of partial concessions, are only petty skirmishes with the enemy, petty encounters on the outposts, whereas the decisive engagement is still to come. Before us, in all its strength, stands the enemy's fortress, which is raining shot and shell upon us and mowing down our best fighters. We must capture this fortress; and we shall capture it if we unite all the forces of the awakening proletariat with all the forces of the Russian revolutionaries into one party, which will attract all that is alive and honest in Russia. And only then will the great prophecy of Pyotr Alexeyev, the Russian worker revolutionary, be fulfilled: 'the muscular arm of the working millions will be lifted, and the yoke of despotism, guarded by the soldiers' bayonets, will be smashed to atoms!'" (Lenin, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. IV, p. 59.)

    Such was Lenin's plan for the creation of a party of the working class in autocratic tsarist Russia.

    The "Economists" showed no delay in launching an attack on Lenin's plan.

    They asserted that the general political struggle against tsardom was a matter for all classes, but primarily for the bourgeoisie, and that therefore it was of no serious interest to the working class, for the chief interest of the workers lay in the economic struggle against the employers for higher wages, better working conditions, etc. The primary and immediate aim of the Social-Democrats should therefore be not a political struggle against tsardom, and not the overthrow of tsardom, but the organization of the "economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government." By the economic struggle against the government they meant a struggle for better factory legislation. The "Economists" claimed that in this way it would be possible "to lend the economic struggle itself a political character."

    The "Economists" no longer dared openly to contest the need for a political party of the working class. But they considered that it should not be the guiding force of the working-class movement, that it should not interfere in the spontaneous movement of the working class, let alone direct it, but that it should follow in the wake of this movement, study it and draw lessons from it.

    The "Economists" furthermore asserted that the role of the conscious element in the working-class movement, the organizing and directing role of Socialist consciousness and Socialist theory, was insignificant, or almost insignificant; that the Social-Democrats should not elevate the minds of the workers to the level of Socialist consciousness, but, on the contrary, should adjust themselves and descend to the level of the average, or even of the more backward sections of the working class, and that the Social-Democrats should not try to impart a Socialist consciousness to the working class, but should wait until the spontaneous movement of the working class arrived of itself at a Socialist consciousness.

    As regards Lenin's plan for the organization of the Party, the "Economists" regarded it almost as an act of violence against the spontaneous movement.

    In the columns of Iskra, and especially in his celebrated work What Is To Be Done?, Lenin launched a vehement attack against this opportunist philosophy of the "Economists" and demolished it.

    1) Lenin showed that to divert the working class from the general political struggle against tsardom and to confine its task to that of the economic struggle against the employers and the government, while leaving both employers and government intact, meant to condemn the workers to eternal slavery. The economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government was a trade union struggle for better terms in the sale of their labour power to the capitalists. The workers, however, wanted to fight not only for better terms in the sale of their labour power to the capitalists, but also for the abolition of the capitalist system itself which condemned them to sell their labour power to the capitalists and to suffer exploitation. But the workers could not develop their struggle against capitalism, their struggle for Socialism to the full, as long as the path of the working-class movement was barred by tsardom, that watchdog of capitalism. It was therefore the immediate task of the Party and of the working class to remove tsardom from the path and thus clear the way to Socialism.

    2) Lenin showed that to extol the spontaneous process in the working-class movement, to deny that the Party had a leading role to play, to reduce its role to that of a recorder of events, meant to preach khvostism (following in the tail), to preach the conversion of the Party into a tall-piece of the spontaneous process, into a passive force of the movement, capable only of contemplating the spontaneous process and allowing events to take their own course. To advocate this meant working for the destruction of the Party, that is, leaving the working class without a party -- that is, leaving the working class unarmed. But to leave the working class unarmed when it was faced by such enemies as tsardom, which was armed to the teeth, and the bourgeoisie, which was organized on modern lines and had its own party to direct its struggle against the working class, meant to betray the working class.

    3) Lenin showed that to bow in worship of the spontaneous working class movement and to belittle the importance of consciousness, of Socialist consciousness and Socialist theory, meant, in the first place, to insult the workers, who were drawn to consciousness as to light; in the second place, to lower the value of theory in the eyes of the Party, that is, to depreciate the instrument which helped the Party to understand the present and foresee the future; and, in the third place, it meant to sink completely and irrevocably into the bog of opportunism.

    "Without a revolutionary theory," Lenin said, "there can be no revolutionary movement. . . . The role of vanguard can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory." (Lenin, Selected Works, Vol. II, pp. 47, 48.)

    4) Lenin showed that the "Economists" were deceiving the working class when they asserted that a Socialist ideology could arise from the spontaneous movement of the working class, for in reality the Socialist ideology arises not from the spontaneous movement, but from science. By denying the necessity of imparting a Socialist consciousness to the working class, the "Economists" were clearing the way for bourgeois ideology, facilitating its introduction and dissemination among the working class, and, consequently, they were burying the idea of union between the working-class movement and Socialism, thus helping the bourgeoisie.

    "All worship of the spontaneity of the labour movement," Lenin said, "all belittling of the role of 'the conscious element,' of the role of the party of Social-Democracy, means, altogether irrespective of whether the belittler likes it or not, strengthening the influence of the bourgeois ideology among the workers.)' (Ibid., p. 61.)

    And further:

    "The only choice is: either the bourgeois or the Socialist ideology. There is no middle course. . . . Hence to belittle the Socialist ideology in any way, to turn away from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen the bourgeois ideology." (Ibid., p. 62.)

    5) Summing up all these mistakes of the "Economists," Lenin came to the conclusion that they did not want a party of social revolution for the emancipation of the working class from capitalism, but a party of "social reform," which presupposed the preservation of capitalist rule, and that, consequently, the "Economists" were reformists who were betraying the fundamental interests of the proletariat.

    6) Lastly, Lenin showed that "Economism" was not an accidental phenomenon in Russia, but that the "Economists" were an instrument of bourgeois influence upon the working class, that they had allies in the West-European Social-Democratic parties in the person of the revisionists, the followers of the opportunist Bernstein. The opportunist trend in Social-Democratic parties was gaining strength in Western Europe; on the plea of "freedom to criticize" Marx, it demanded a "revision" of the Marxist doctrine (hence the term "revisionism"); it demanded renunciation of the revolution, of Socialism and of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin showed that the Russian "Economists" were pursuing a similar policy of renunciation of the revolutionary struggle, of Socialism and of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    Such were the main theoretical principles expounded by Lenin in What Is To Be Done?

    As a result of the wide circulation of this book, by the time of the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, that is, within a year after its publication (it appeared in March 1902), nothing but a distasteful memory remained of the ideological stand of "Economism," and to be called an "Economist" was regarded by the majority of the members of the Party as an insult.

    It was a complete ideological defeat for "Economism," for the ideology of opportunism, khvostism and spontaneity.

    But this does not exhaust the significance of Lenin's What Is To Be Done?

    The historic significance of this celebrated book lies in the fact that in it Lenin:

    1) For the first time in the history of Marxist thought, laid bare the ideological roots of opportunism, showing that they principally consisted in worshipping the spontaneous working-class movement and belittling the role of Socialist consciousness in the working-class movement;

    2) Brought out the great importance of theory, of consciousness, and of the Party as a revolutionizing and guiding force of the spontaneous working-class movement;

    3) Brilliantly substantiated the fundamental Marxist thesis that a Marxist party is a union of the working-class movement with Socialism;

    4) Gave a brilliant exposition of the ideological foundations of a Marxist party.

    The theoretical theses expounded in What Is To Be Done? later became the foundation of the ideology of the Bolshevik Party.

    Possessing such a wealth of theory, Iskra was able to, and actually did, develop an extensive campaign for Lenin's plan for the building of the Party, for mustering its forces, for calling the Second Party Congress, for revolutionary Social-Democracy, and against the "Economists," revisionists, and opportunists of all kinds.

    One of the most important things that Iskra did was to draft a program for the Party. The program of a workers' party, as we know, is a brief, scientifically formulated statement of the aims and objects of the struggle of the working class. The program defines both the ultimate goal of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, and the demands for which the party fights while on the way to the achievement of the ultimate goal. The drafting of a program was therefore a matter of prime importance.

    During the drafting of the program serious differences arose on the editorial board of Iskra between Lenin, on the one hand, and Plekhanov and other members of the board, on the other. These differences and disputes almost led to a complete rupture between Lenin and Plekha- nov. But matters did not come to a head at that time. Lenin secured the inclusion in the draft program of a most important clause on the dictatorship of the proletariat and of a clear statement on the leading role of the working class in the revolution.

    It was Lenin, too, who drew up the whole agrarian section of the program. Already at that time Lenin was in favour of the nationalization of the land, but he considered it necessary in the first stage of the struggle to put forward the demand for the return to the peasants of the otrezki, that is, those portions of the land which had been cut off the peasants' land by the landlords at the time of "emancipation" of the peasants. Plekhanov was opposed to the demand for the nationalization of the land.

    The disputes between Lenin and Plekhanov over the Party program to some extent determined the future differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.