What Is To Be Done? - pt. 2

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Burning Questions of Our Movement


    The main point of the article "Where To Begin?" is that it discusses precisely this question and gives an affirmative reply to it. As far as we know, the only attempt to examine this question on its merits and to prove that it must be answered in the negative was made by L. Nadezhdin, whose argument we reproduce in full:

    ". . . It greatly pleased us to see the Iskra (No. 4) raise the question of the need for an all-Russian newspaper, but we cannot agree that it fits in with the title of the article: 'Where To Begin?' Undoubtedly this is an extremely important matter, but neither a newspaper, nor a whole series of popular leaflets, nor a whole mountain of manifestoes, can serve as the basis for a militant organization in revolutionary times. We must set to work to build up strong political organizations in the localities. We lack such organizations; we have been carrying on our work mainly among enlightened workers, while the masses have been engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle. If strong political organizations are not trained locally, what will be the use of even an excellently organized all-Russian newspaper? It will be a burning bush, burning without being consumed, but firing no one! The Iskra thinks that around it, in the work for it people will gather and organize. But they will find it far easier to gather and organize around work that is more concrete! This something

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more concrete must and should be the extensive organization of local newspapers, the immediate preparation of the workers' forces for demonstrations, constant work by local organizations among the unemployed (regular distriblltion of pamphlets and leaflets, meetings, appeals to resist the government, etc.). We must begin live political work in the localities, and when the time comes to amalgamate on this real basis, it will not be an artificial, a paper amalgamation, it will not be by means of newspapers that such an amalgamation of local work into an all-Russian cause will be achieved!" (The Eve of Revolution, p. 54.)

    We have emphasized the passages in this eloquent tirade which most strikingly illustrate the author's incorrect judgment of our plan, and the incorrectness of his point of view in general, which he opposes to that of the Iskra. Unless we train strong political organizations in the localities -- even an excellently organized all-Russian newspaper will be of no avail. Absolutely true. But the whole point is that there is no other way of t r a i n i n g strong political organizations except through the medium of an all-Russian newspaper. The author missed the most important statement the Iskra made before it proceeded to set forth its "p]an": that it was necessary "to call for the establishment of a revolutionary organization, capable of combining all the forces and of leading the movement not only in name, but in deed, i.e., an organization that will be ready at any moment to support every protest and every outbreak, and to utilize these for the purpose of increasing and strengthening the military forces required for decisive battle." But now after the February and March events, everyone will agree with this in principle, continues the Iskra. Yet what we need is not a solution of the problem in principle, but a practical solution of it; we must immediately advance a definite constructive plan in order that everyone may immediately set to work to build from every side. And now we are again being dragged

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away from the practical solution towards something that in principle is correct, indisputable and great, but is absolutely inadequate and absolutely incomprehensible to the broad masses of workers, namely, to "train strong political organizations"! This is not the point at issue, most worthy author! The point is how to go about the training and how to accomplish it!

    It is not true to say that "we have been carrying on our work mainly among enlightened workers, while the masses have been engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle." Presented in such a form, this thesis reduces itself to the Svoboda's usual but fundamentally fallacious proclivity to oppose the enlightened workers to the "mass." In recent years, even the enlightened workers have been "engaged almost exclusively in the economic struggle." That is the first point. On the other hand, the masses will never learn to conduct the political struggle until we help to train leaders for this struggle, both from among the enlightened workers and from among the intellectuals; and such leaders can acquire training solely by systematically appraising all the everyday aspects of our political life, of all attempts at protest and struggle on the part of various classes and on various grounds. Therefore, to talk about "training political organizations" and at the same time to contrast the "paper work" of a political newspaper to "live political work in the localities" is simply ridiculousl Why, the Iskra has adapted its "plan" for a newspaper to the "plan" for creating a "militant preparedness" to support the unemployed movement, peasant revolts, discontent among the Zemstvo-ites, "popular indignation against the reckless tsarist bashi-bazouks," etc. Everyone who is at all acquainted with the movement knows perfectly well that the vast majority of

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local organizations never even dream of these things, that many of the prospects of "live political work" here indicated have never been realized by a single organization, that the attempt, for example, to call attention to the growth of discontent and protest among the Zemstvo intelligentsia rouses feelings of consternation and perplexity in Nadezhdin ("Good Lord, is this newspaper intended for Zemstvo-ites?" -- The Eve, p. 129), among the Economists (letter to the Iskra No. 12) and among many practical workers. Under these circumstances, it is possible to "begin" only by inducing people to think about all these things, by inducing them to summarize and generalize all the diverse signs of ferment and active struggle. "Live political work" can be begun in our time, when Social-Democratic tasks are being degraded exclusively with live political agitation, which is impossible unless we have an all-Russian newspaper, frequently issued and properly distributed.

    Those who regard the Iskra's "plan" as a manifestation of "literariness" have totally failed to understand the substance of the plan, and imagine that what is suggested as the most suitable means for the present time is the goal. These people have not taken the trouble to study the two comparisons that were drawn to clearly illustrate the plan proposed. The Iskra wrote: the publication of an all-Russian political newspaper must be the main line by adhering to which we could unswervingly develop deeper, and expand this organization (i.e., a revolutionary organization always prepared to support every protest and every outbreak). Pray tell me: when bricklayers lay bricks in various parts of an enormous structure the like of which has never been seen before, is it "paper" work to use a line to help them find the correct place in which to put each brick, to indicate to

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them the ultimate purpose of the work as a whole, enable them to use not only every brick but even every piece of brick which, joining with the bricks placed before and after it, forms a complete and all-embracing line? And are we not now passing through just such a period in our Party life when we have bricks and bricklayers, but lack the guiding line which all could see and follow? Let them shout that in stretching out the line, we want to command. Had we desired to command, gentlemen, we would have written on the title page, not "Iskra, No. 1," but "Rabochaya Gazeta, No. 3," as we were invited to do by a number of comrades, and as we would have had a perfect right to do after the events described above. But we did not do that. We wished to have our hands free to wage an irreconcilable struggle against all pseudo Social-Democrats; we wanted our line, if properly laid, to be respected because it was correct, and not because it was laid by an official organ.

    "The question of uniting local activity in central bodies runs in a vicious circle," L. Nadezhdin lectures us; "unifica tion requires homogeneous elements, and this can be created only by something that unites; but this uniting element may be the product of strong local organizations which at the present time are by no means distinguished for their homo geneity." This truism is as hoary and indisputable as the one that says we must train strong political organizations. And it is equally barren. Every question "runs in a vicious circle" because the whole of political life is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and gripping as strong as we can the link that is least likely to be torn out of our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that guarantees the possessor of a link the possession of the

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whole chain.[*] If we had a staff of experienced bricklayers, who had learned to work so well together that they could place their bricks exactly where they were required without a guiding line (and, speaking abstractly, this is by no means impossible), then perhaps we might seize upon some other link. But the unfortunate thing is that we have no experienced bricklayers trained to teamwork yet, that bricks are often laid where they are not needed at all, that they are not laid according to the general line, but are so scattered about that the enemy can shatter the structure as if it were made not of bricks but of sand.

    Here is the other comparison: "A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and collective agitator, but also a collective organizer. In this respect it can be compared to the scaffolding erected around a building in construction; it marks the contours of the structure and facilitates communication between the builders, permitting them to distribute the work and to view the common results achieved by their organized labour."** Does this sound anything like an attempt of an armchair author to exaggerate his role? The scaffolding is not required at all for habitation, it is made of the cheapest material, it is only put up temporarily, and as soon as the shell of the structure is completed, is scrapped for firewood. As for the building up of revolutionary

    * Comrade Krichevsky and Comrade Martynov! I call your attention to this outrageous manifestation of "autocracy," "uncontrolled authority," "supreme regulating," etc. Just think of it: a desire to possess the whole chain!! Send in a complaint at once, Here you have a ready-prepared subject for two leading articles for No. 12 of the Rabocheye Dyelo!
    ** Martynov, quoting the first sentence in this passage in the Rabocheye Dyelo (No. 10, p. 62), left out the second sentence as if desiring to emphasize by that either his unwillingness to discuss the essentials of the question, or his incapability of understanding them.

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organizations, experience shows that sometimes they may be built without scaffolding -- take the 'seventies for example. But at the present time we cannot imagine that the building we require can be put up without scaffolding.

    Nadezhdin disagrees with this, and says: "The Iskra thinks that around it, in the work for it people will gather and organize. But they will find it far easier to gather and organize around work that is more concrete !" So! So! "they will hnd it far easier to gather around work that is more concrete. . . ." There is a Russian proverb which says: "Don't spit into a well, you may want to drink out of it." But there are people who do not object to drinking from a well which has been spat into. What despicable things our magnificent, legal "critics of Marxism" and illegal admirers of the Rabochaya Mysl have said in the name of this something more concretet How restricted our movement is by our own narrowness, lack of initiative and hesitation, which is justified by the traditional argument about finding it "far easier to gather around work that is more concrete"! And Nadezhdin -- who regards himself as possessing a particularly keen sense of the "realities of life," who so severely condemns "armchair" authors (with pretensions to being witty) and accuses the Iskra of a weakness for seeing Economism everywhere, and who imagines that he stands far above this division between the orthodox and the critics -- fails to see that with his arguments he is playing into the hands of the narrowness that arouses his indignation and that he is drinking from a well that has actually been spat into! Yes, the sincerest indignation against narrowness, the most passionate desire to raise those who worship this narrowness from their knees, is insufficient if the indignant one is swept along without sail or rudder, and as "spontaneously" as the revolu-

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tionaries of the 'seventies, clutches at such things as "excitative terror," "agrarian terror," "sounding the tocsin," etc. Glance at this "more concrete" work around which he thinks it will be "far easier" to gather and organize: 1) local newspapers; 2) preparations for demonstrations; 3) work among the unemployed. It will be seen at the very first glance that all these have been seized upon at random in order to be able to say something, for however we may regard them, it would be absurd to see in them anything especially suitable for "gathering and organizing." Why, this very Nadezhdin says a few pages further on: "It is time we simply stated the fact that extremely petty work is being carried on in the localities, the committees are not doing a tenth of what they could do . . . the unifying centres that we have at the present time are a pure fiction, they represent a sort of revolutionary bureaucracy, mutual promotion of each other to the post of general; and so it will continue until strong local organizations grow up." These remarks, though exaggerating the position somewhat, no doubt contain many a bitter truth, but can it be said that Nadezhdin does not see the connection between the petty work carried on in the localities and the narrow outlook of the Party workers, the narrow scope of their activities, which is inevitable in view of the lack of training of the Party workers confined to their local organizations? Has he, like the author of the article on organization published in the Svoboda, forgotten how the transition to a broad local press (from 1898) was accompanied by a very strong intensification of Economism and "amateurishness" ? Even if a "broad local press" could be established at all satisfactorily (and we have shown above that it is impossible save in very exceptional cases) -- even then the local organs could not "gather and organize" all

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the revolutionary forces for a general attack upon the autocracy and for the leadership of a united struggle. Do not forget that we are here discussing only the "gathering," the organizing significance of a newspaper, and we could put to Nadezhdin, who defends scatteredness, the ironical question that he himself has put: "Has someone left us a legacy of 200,000 revolutionary organizers?" Furthermore, "preparations for demonstrations" cannot be opposed to the Iskra's plan for the very reason that this plan includes the organization of the widest possible demonstrations as one of its aims; the point under discussion is the choice of the practical means. On this point also Nadezhdin is confused for he has lost sight of the fact that only already "gathered and organized" forces can "prepare for" demonstrations (which hitherto, in the overwhelming majority of cases, have taken place quite spontaneously) and we lack precisely the ability to gather and organize. "Work among the unemployed." Again the same confusion, for this too represents one of the military operations of the mobilized forces and not a plan for mobilizing the forces. The extent to which Nadezhdin here too underestimates the harm caused by our state of scatteredness, by our lack of "200,000 organizers," can be seen from the following: many (including Nadezhdin) have reproached the Iskra with the paucity of the news it gives about unemployment and with the casual nature of the correspondence it publishes about the most common affairs of rural life. The reproach is justified, but the Iskra's "guilty without sin." We strive "to stretch a line" through the countryside too, but there are almost no bricklayers there, and we are obliged to encourage everyone who informs us even on the most common facts, in the hope that this will increase the number of our contributors in this field and will

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ultimately train us all to select the really most outstanding facts. But the material on which we can train is so scanty that unless we generalize it for the whole of Russia we shall have very little to train on at all. No doubt one who possesses at least as much capability as an agitator and as much knowledge of the life of the vagrant as apparently Nadezhdin does, could render priceless service to the movement by carrying on agitation among the unemployed -- but a person of this description would be simply burying his talents if he failed to inform all comrades in Russia of every step he took in his work, in order that others, who, in the mass, as yet lack the ability to undertake new kinds of work, might learn from his example.

    Absolutely everybody now talks about the importance of unity, about the necessity for "gathering and organizing" but in the majority of cases what is lacking is a definite idea of where to begin and how to bring about this unity. Probably everyone will agree that if we "unite," say, the district circles in a given city? it will be necessary to have for this purpose common institutions, i.e., not merely a common title of "Union" but genuinely common work exchange of material, experience and forces, distribution of functions not only by districts, but specializing them on a city-wide scale. Everyone will agree that a big secret apparatus will not pay its way (to use a commercial expression) "with the resources" (in material and man power, of course), of a single district, and that this narrow field will not provide sufficient scope for a specialist to develop his talents. But the same thing applies to the unification of a number of cities, because even a whole locality will prove, and has already proved in the history of our Social-Democratic movement, to be far too narrow a field: we have already proved this above in detail

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with regard to political agitation and organizational work. What we require first and foremost and most imperatively, is to widen the field, establish real contacts between the cities on the basis of regular, common work; for scatteredness weighs down our people who are "stuck in a hole" (to use the expression employed by a correspondent to the Iskra ), not knowing what is happening in the world, from whom to learn, or how to acquire experience and satisfy their desire to engage in broad activities. And I continue to insist that we can start establishing real contacts only with the aid of a common newspaper, as the only regular, all-Russian enterprise, which will summarize the results of the most diverse forms of activity and thereby stimulate people to march forward untiringly along all the innumerable paths which lead to revolution in the same way as all roads lead to Rome. If it is not in name only that we want unity, we must arrange for every local circle immediately to assign, say, a fourth of its forces to active work for the common cause and the newspaper will immediately convey to them* the general design, dimensions and character of this cause, will give them a precise indication of the most keenly felt defects of all-Russian activity, where agitation is lacking and where contacts are weak, and point out which cogs in the vast general mechanism could be repaired or replaced by better ones. A circle that has not yet commenced to work, but which is only just seeking work, could then start, not

    * A reservation : that is, if a given circle sympathizes with the policy of that newspaper and considers it useful to become a collaborator, meaning by that, not only literary collaboration, but revolutionary collaboration generally. Note for the "Rabocheye Dyelo ": among revolutionists who attach value to the cause and not to playing at democracy, who do not separate "sympathy" from the most active and lively participation, this reservation is taken for granted.

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like a craftsman in a separate little workshop unaware of the development that has taken place in "industry" before him or of the general level of production methods prevailing in industry, but as a participant in an extensive enterprise that reflects the whole general revolutionary attack on the autocracy. And the more perfect the finish of each cog, the larger the number of detail workers engaged in the common cause, the closer will our network become and the less will be the consternation in the general ranks resulting from inevitable police raids.

    Actual contacts would begin to be established by the mere function of distributing a newspaper (that is, if it is a newspaper worthy of the name, i.e., if it is issued regularly, not once a month like a magazine, but four times a month). At the present time, communication between cities on revolutionary business is an extreme rarity, and at all events the exception rather than the rule. If we had a newspaper, however, such communication would become the rule and would secure, not only the distribution of the newspaper, of course, but also (and what is more important) an exchange of experience, of material, of forces and of resources. The scope of organizational work would immediately become many times wider and the success of one locality would serve as a standing encouragement to further perfection and would arouse the desire to utilize the experience already gained by comrades working in other parts of the country. Local work would become far richer and more varied than it is now: political and economic exposures gathered from all over Russia would provide mental food for workers of all trades and in all stages of development, would provide material and occasion for talks and readings on the most diverse subjects, which would, in addition, be suggested by

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hints in the legal press, by talk among the public and by the "shamefaced" government statements. Every outbreak, every demonstration, would be weighed and discussed in all its aspects in all parts of Russia; it would stimulate a desire to keep up with the rest (we Socialists do not by any means reject all rivalry or all "competition"!) and consciously to prepare for that which at first appeared spontaneously as it were, a desire to take advantage of the favourable conditions in a given district or at a given moment for modifying the plan of attack, etc. At the same time, this revival of local work would not result in that desperate, "convulsive" exertion of all efforts and the risking of all forces which every single demonstration or the publication of every single issue of a local newspaper now frequently entails. On the one hand the police would find it much more difficult to get at the "roots," once they do not know in what district to seek for them. On the other hand, regular common work would train our people to adjust the force of a given attack to the strength of the given detachment of the army (at the present time no one ever thinks of doing that, because in nine cases out of ten these attacks occur spontaneously), and would facilitate the "transportation" from one place to another, not only of literature, but also of revolutionary forces.

    At present these forces in a great many cases are being spent and bled on restricted local work, but under the circumstances we are discussing, there would be the possibility and occasion would constantly arise for transferring an agitator or organizer who is at all capable from one end of the country to another. Beginning with short journeys on Party business at the Party's expense, people would become accustomed to being maintained entirely by the Party, would

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become professional revolutionaries and would train themselves to be real political leaders.

    And if indeed we succeeded in reaching a point when all, or at least a considerable majority, of the local committees, local groups and circles actively took up work for the common cause, we could, in the not distant future, establish a weekly newspaper that would be regularly distributed in tens of thousands of copies over the whole of Russia. This newspaper would become a part of an enormous pair of smith's bellows that would fan every spark of class struggle and popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocent and very small, but a regular and common effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried warriors would systematically gather and receive their training. On the ladders and scaffolding of this general organizational structure there would soon develop and come to the fore Social-Democratic Zhelyabovs from among our revolutionaries and Russian Bebels from among our workers who would take their place at the head of the mobilized army and rouse the whole people to settle accounts with the shame and the curse of Russia.

    That is what we should dream of.

*                     *                      *
    "We should dream!" I wrote these words and became alarmed. I imagined myself sitting at a "unity congress" and opposite me were the editors and contributors of the Rabocheye Dyelo. Comrade Martynov rises and, turning to me, says sternly: "Permit me to ask you, has an autonomous editorial board the right to dream without first soliciting the opinion of the Party committees?" He is followed by

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Comrade Krichevsky who (philosophically deepening Comrade Martynov who had long ago rendered Comrade Plekhanov more profound) continues even more sternly: "I go further. I ask, has a Marxist any right at all to dream, knowing that according to Marx mankind always sets itself such tasks as it can solve and that tactics is a process of growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party?"

    The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide. I shall try to hide behind the back of Pisarev.

    "There are rifts and rifts," wrote Pisarev concerning the rift between dreams and reality. "My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the workingmen. . . . There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyze labour power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science and practical endeavour. . . . The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well."[100]

    Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their "closeness" to the "concrete," the representatives of legal criticism and of illegal tail-ism.

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