What Is To Be Done? - pt. 1

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Burning Questions of Our Movement


    "What a large number of Social-Democratic Lomonosovs have appeared among us lately!" observed a comrade one day, having in mind the astonishing propensity of many of those who are inclined towards Economism to arrive, "all by themselves," at great truths (for example, that the economic struggle stimulates the workers to ponder over their lack of rights), and in doing so to ignore, with the supreme

    * Rabochaya Mysl, Special Supplement, p. 14.

contempt of born geniuses, all that has already been produced by the previous development of revolutionary thought and of the revolutionary movement. Lomonosov-Martynov is precisely such a born genius. Glance at his article, "Immediate Questions," and observe how "all by himself" he approaches what has been said long ago by Axelrod (of whom our Lomonosov, naturally, says not a word); how, for example, he is beginning to understand that we cannot ignore the opposition of the various strata of the bourgeoisie (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 9, pp. 61, 62, 71; compare this with the Rabocheye Dyelo's Reply to Axelrod, pp. 22, 23-24), etc. But alas, he is only "approaching" and is only "beginning," not more than that, for so little has he understood Axelrod's ideas, that he talks about "the economic struggle against the employers and the government." For three years (1898-1901) the Rabocheye Dyelo has tried hard to understand Axelrod, but . . . but has failed to do so yet! Perhaps one of the reasons is that Social-Democracy, "like humanity," always sets itself only tasks that can be achieved?

    But the Lomonosovs are distinguished not only by the fact of their ignorance of many things (that would be half a misfortune!), but also by the fact that they are not conscious of their ignorance. Now this is a real misfortune; and it is this misfortune that prompts them without further ado to attempt to render Plekhanov "more profound."

    "Much water," Lomonosov-Martynov says, "has flowed under the bridges since Plekhanov wrote this book." (Tasks of the Socialists in tbe Fight Against the Famine in Russia.) "The Social-Democrats who for a decade led the economic struggle of the working class . . . have failed as yet to lay down a broad theoretical basis for Party tactics. This question has now come to a head, and if we should wish to lay down such a theoretical basis we would certainly have to deepen considerably the principles of tactics developed at one time by Plekhanov. . . . Our

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present definition of the distinction between propaganda and agitation would have to be different than Plekhanov's." (Martynov had just quoted Plekhanov's words: "A propagandist presents many ideas to one or a few persons; an agitator presents only one or a few ideas, but he presents them to a mass of people.") "By propaganda we would understand the revolutionary elucidation of the whole of the present system or partial manifestations of it, irrespective of whether it is done in a form intelligible to individuals or to broad masses. By agitation, in the strict sense of the word," (sic! ) "we would understand calling the masses to certain concrete actions, facilitating the direct revolutionary intervention of the proletariat in social life."

    We congratulate Russian -- and international -- Social-Democracy on this new, Martynov terminology which is more strict and more profound. Up to now we thought (with Plekhanov, and with all the leaders of the international working class movement) that a propagandist, dealing with, say, that same question of unemployment, must explain the capitalistic nature of crises, the reasons why they are inevitable in contemporary society, describe the need for its transformation into socialist society, etc. In a word, he must present "many ideas," so many indeed that they will be understood as an integral whole only by a (comparatively) few persons. An agitator, however, speaking on the same subject, will take as an illustration a fact that is most glaring and most widely known to his audience, say, the death from starvation of the family of an unemployed worker, the growing impoverishment, etc., and utilizing this fact, which is known to all and sundry, will direct all his efforts to presenting a single idea to the "masses," i.e., the idea of the senselessness of the contradiction between the increase of wealth and increase of poverty; he will strive to rouse discontent and indignation among the masses against this crying injustice, and leave a more complete explanation of this contradiction to the propagandist. Consequently, the propagandist operates chiefly by


means of the printed word; the agitator by means of the living word. The propagandist must possess different qualities than the agitator. Kautsky and Lafargue, for example, we call propagandists; Bebel and Guesde we call agitators. To single out a third sphere, or third function, of practical activity, and to include in this function "calling the masses to certain concrete actions," is sheer nonsense, because the "call," as a single act, either naturally and inevitably supplements the theoretical tract, propagandist pamphlet and agitational speech, or represents a purely executive function. Take, for example, the struggle now being carried on by the German Social-Democrats against the grain duties. The theoreticians write research works on tariff policy and "call," say, for a fight for commercial treaties and for free trade. The propagandist does the same thing in the periodical press, and the agitator in public speeches. At the present time, the "concrete action" of the masses takes the form of signing petitions to the Reichstag against the raising of the grain duties. The call for this action comes indirectly from the theoreticians, the propagandists and the agitators, and, directly, from those workers who carry the petition lists to the factories and to private homes soliciting signatures. According to the "Martynov terminology," Kautsky and Bebel are both propagandists, while those who solicit the signatures are agitators; is that not so?

    The German example recalled to my mind the German word "Verballhornung," which literally translated means "to Ballhorn." Johann Ballhorn, a Leipzig publisher of the sixteenth century, published a child's reader in which, as was the custom, he introduced a drawing of a cock; but this drawing, instead of portraying an ordinary cock with spurs, portrayed it without spurs and with a couple of eggs Iying near it. On the cover of this reader he printed the legend "Revised

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edition by Johann Ballhorn." Since that time the Germans describe any "revision" that is really a worsening as "Ballhorning." And you cannot help recalling Ballhorn when you see how the Martynovs try to render Plekhanov "more profound."

    Why did our Lomonosov "invent" this confusion? In order to illustrate how the Iskra "devotes attention only to one side of the case, just as Plekhanov did a decade and a half ago" (p. 39). "According to the Iskra, propagandist tasks force agitational tasks into the background, at least for the present" (p. 52). If we translate this last proposition from the language of Martynov into ordinary human language (because humanity has not yet managed to learn the newly invented terminology), we shall get the following: According to the Iskra, the tasks of political propaganda and political agitation force into the background the task of "presenting to the government concrete demands for legislative and administrative measures" that "promise certain palpable results" (or demands for social reforms, that is, if we are permitted just once again to employ the old terminology of old humanity, which has not yet grown to Martynov's level). We suggest that the reader compare this thesis with the following tirade:

    "What also astonishes us in these programs" (the programs advanced by revolutionary Social-Democrats) "is the constant stress that is laid upon the benefits of workers' activity in parliament (non-existent in Russia), though they completely ignore (thanks to their revolutionary nihilism) the importance of workers participating in the legislative manufacturers' assemblies on factory affairs (which do exist in Russia) . . . or at least the importance of workers participating in municipal bodies. . . ."

    The author of this tirade expresses somewhat more straight-forwardly, more clearly and frankly, the very idea which

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Lomonosov-Martynov discovered all by himself. This author is R.M. in the Special Supplement to the Rabochaya Mysl. (P. 15.)


    In advancing against the Iskra his "theory" of "raising the activity of the masses of the workers," Martynov, as a matter of fact, betrayed a striving to belittle this activity, because he declared the very economic struggle, before which all Economists have grovelled, to be the preferable, the most important and "the most widely applicable" means of rousing this activity, and the widest field for it. This error is characteristic, precisely because it is by no means peculiar to Martynov alone. As a matter of fact, it is possible to "raise the activity of the masses of the workers" only provided this activity is not restricted to "political agitation on an economic basis." And one of the fundamental conditions for the necessary expansion of political agitation is the organization of comprehensive political exposure. The masses cannot be trained in political consciousness and revolutionary activity in any other way except by means of such exposures. Hence, activity of this kind is one of the most important functions of international Social-Democracy as a whole, for even the existence of political liberty does not in the least remove the necessity for such exposures; it merely changes somewhat the sphere against which they are directed. For example, the German party is especially strengthening its position and spreading its influence, thanks precisely to the untiring energy with which it is conducting a campaign of political exposure.

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Working-class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected. Moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic, and not from any other point of view. The consciousness of the masses of the workers cannot be genuine class consciousness, unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current), political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual, ethical and political life of these classes; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population. Those who concentrate the attention, observation and consciousness of the working class exclusively, or even mainly, upon itself alone are not Social-Democrats; for its self-realization is indissolubly bound up not only with a fully clear theoretical -- it would be even more true to say not so much with a theoretical, as with a practical understanding, of the relationships between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through experience of political life. That is why the idea preached by our Economists, that the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into the political movement, is so extremely harmful and extremely reactionary in its practical significance. In order to become a Social-Democrat, the worker must have a clear picture in his mind of the economic nature and the social and political features of the landlord and the priest, the high state official and the peasant, the student and the tramp; he must know their strong and weak points; he must see the meaning of all the catchwords and sophisms by which each class and each stratum

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camouflages its selfish strivings and its real "inside workings"; he must understand what interests certain institutions and certain laws reflect and how they reflect them. But this "clear picture" cannot be obtained from books. It can be obtained only from living examples and from exposures, following hot upon the heels of what is going on around us at a given moment, of what is being discussed, in whispers perhaps, by each one in his own way, of the meaning of such and such events, of such and such statistics, of such and such court sentences, etc., etc., etc. These comprehensive political exposures are an essential and fundamental condition for training the masses in revolutionary activity.

    Why is it that the Russian workers as yet display little revolutionary activity in connection with the brutal way in which the police maltreat the people, in connection with the persecution of the religious sects, with the flogging of the peasantry, with the outrageous censorship, the torture of soldiers, the persecution of the most innocent cultural undertakings, etc.? Is it because the "economic struggle" does not "stimulate" them to this, because such activity does not "promise palpable results," because it produces little that is "positive"? No. To advocate such views, we repeat, is merely to lay the blame where it does not belong, to blame the masses of the workers for one's own philistinism (which is also Bernsteinism). We must blame ourselves, our lagging behind the mass movement for being unable as yet to organize sufficiently wide, striking and rapid exposures of all these despicable outrages. When we do that (and we must and can do it), the most backward worker will understand, or will feel that the students and members of religious sects, the muzhiks and the authors are being abused and outraged by the very same dark forces that are oppressing and crushing him at every

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step of his life, and, feeling that, he himself will be filled with an irresistible desire to respond to these things, and then he will organize catcalls against the censors one day, another day he will demonstrate outside the house of a governor who has brutally suppressed a peasant uprising, another day he will teach a lesson to the gendarmes in surplices who are doing the work of the Holy Inquisition, etc. As yet we have done very little, almost nothing, to hurl universal and fresh exposures among the masses of the workers. Many of us as yet do not appreciate the bounden duty that rests upon us, but spontaneously trail in the wake of the "drab everyday struggle," in the narrow confines of factory life. Under such circumstances to say that the "Iskra displays a tendency to minimize the significance of the forward march of the drab everyday struggle in comparison with the propaganda of brilliant and complete ideas" (Martynov, p. 61) -- means dragging the Party backward, defending and glorifying our unpreparedness and backwardness.

    As for calling the masses to action, that will come of itself immediately energetic political agitation, live and striking exposures are set going. To catch some criminal red-handed and immediately to brand him publicly is of itself far more effective than any number of "calls"; the effect very often is such as will make it impossible to tell exactly who it was that "called" on the crowd, and exactly who suggested this or that plan of demonstration, etc. Calls for action, not in the general, but in the concrete sense of the term, can be made only at the place of action; only those who themselves go into action, and do so immediately, can sound such calls. And our business as Social-Democratic publicists is to deepen, to expand and intensify political exposures and political agitation.

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    A word in passing about "calls to action." The only paper which prior to the spring events[66] called upon the workers actively to intervene in a matter that certainly did not promise any palpable results whatever for the workers, i.e., the drafting of the students into the army, was the "Iskra." Immediately after the publication of the order of January 11, on "drafting the 183 students into the army," the Iskra published an article about it (in its February issue, No. 2),[67] and before any demonstration was started openly called upon "the workers to go to the aid of the students," called upon the "people" openly to take up the government's arrogant challenge. We ask: how is the remarkable fact to be explained that although Martynov talks so much about "calls to action," and even suggests "calls to action" as a special form of activity, he said not a word about this call? After this, is not Martynov's allegation, that the Iskra was one-sided because it did not sufficiently "call for" a struggle for demands "promising palpable results," sheer philistinism?

    Our Economists, including the Rabocheye Dyelo, were successful because they pandered to the backward workers. But the Social-Democratic worker, the revolutionary worker (and the number of such workers is growing) will indignantly reject all this talk about fighting for demands "promising palpable results," etc., because he will understand that this is only a variation of the old song about adding a kopek to the ruble. Such a worker will say to his counsellors of the Rabochaya Mysl and the Rabocheye Dyelo: you are wasting your time, gentlemen, and shirking your proper duties, by meddling with such excessive zeal in a job that we can very well manage ourselves. There is nothing clever in your assertion that the Social-Democrats' task is to lend the economic struggle itself a political character; that is only the beginning, it

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is not the main task of Social-Democrats. For all over the world, including Russia, the police themselves often make the start in lending the economic struggle a political character, and the workers themselves learn to understand whom the government supports.[*] The "economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government," about which you make as much fuss as if you had discovered a new America, is being waged in a host of remote spots of Russia by the workers themselves who have heard about strikes, but who have heard almost nothing about Socialism. The "activity" you want to stimulate among us workers, by advancing concrete demands promising palpable results, we are already displaying and in our everyday, petty trade union work we put forward these concrete demands, very often without any assistance whatever from the intellectuals. But such activity is not enough for us; we are not children to be fed on the <"np90">

    * The demand "to lend the economic struggle itself a political character" most strikingly expresses subservience to spontaneity in the sphere of political activity. Very often the economic struggle spontaneously assumes a political character, that is to say, without the intervention of the "revolutionary bacilli -- the intelligentsia," without the intervention of the class-conscious Social-Democrats. For example, the economic struggle of the British workers also assumed a political character without any intervention of the Socialists. The tasks of the Social-Democrats however, are not exhausted by political agitation on an economic basis their task is to convert trade union politics into Social-Democratic politicai struggle, to utilize the sparks of political consciousness, which the economic struggle generates among the workers, for the purpose of raising them to the level of Social-Democratic political consciousness. The Martynovs however, instead of raising and stimulating the spontaneously awakening political consciousness of the workers, bow to spontaneity and repeat over and over again ad nauseam, that the economic struggle "brings home" to the workers their own lack of political rights. It is unfortunate gentlemen, that the spontaneously awakening trade-unionist political consciousness does not "bring home" to you an understanding of your Social-Democratic tasks!

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thin gruel of "economic" politics alone; we want to know everything that others know, we want to learn the details of all aspects of political life and to take part actively in every single political event. In order that we may do this, the intellectuals must talk to us less of what we already know,[*] and tell us more about what we do not yet know and what we can never learn from our factory and "economic" experience, that is, you must give us political knowledge. You intellectuals can acquire this knowledge, and it is your duty to bring it to us in a hundred and a thousand times greater

    * To prove that this imaginary speech of a worker to an Economist is based on fact, we shall refer to two witnesses who undoubtedly have direct knowledge of the working-class movement, and who are least of all inclined to be partial towards us "doctrinaires," for one witness is an Economist (who regards even the Rabocheye Dyelo as a political organ!), and the other is a terrorist. The first witness is the author of a remarkably truthful and vivid article entitled "The St. Petersburg Working Class Movement and the Practical Tasks of Social-Democracy," published in the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6. He divided the workers into the following categories: 1. class-conscious revolutionaries; 2. intermediate stratum; 3. all the rest. Now the intermediate stratum, he says, "is often more interested in questions of political life than in its own immediate economic interests, the connection between which and the general social conditions it has long understood. . . ." The Rabochaya Mysl "is sharply criticized": "it keeps on repeating the same thing over and over again, things we have long known, read long ago." "Nothing in the political review again!" (Pp. 30-31.) But even the third stratum, "the younger and more sensitive section of the workers, less corrupted by the tavern and the church, who hardly ever have the opportunity of getting hold of political literature, discuss political events in a rambling way and ponder over the fragmentary news they get about student riots," etc. The terrorist writes as follows: ". . . They read over once or twice the petty details of factory life in other towns, not their own, and then they read no more . . . dull, they find it. . . . To say nothing in a workers' paper about the government . . . is to regard the worker as a small child. . . . The workers are not babies." (Svoboda, published by the Revolutionary-Socialist Group, pp. 69-70.)

measure than you have done up to now; and you must bring it to us, not only in the form of arguments, pamphlets and articles which sometimes -- excuse our frankness! -- are rather dull, but precisely in the form of live exposures of what our government and our governing classes are doing at this very moment in all spheres of life. Just devote more zeal to carrying out this duty, and talk less about "raising the activity of the masses of the workers"! We are far more active than you think, and we are quite able to support, by open, street fighting, demands that do not promise any "palpable results" whatever! And it is not for you to "raise" our activity, because activity is precisely the thing you yourselves lack! Bow less in worship to spontaneity, and think more about raising your own activity, gentlemen!

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