What Is To Be Done? - pt. 2

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Burning Questions of Our Movement


    The history of Russian Social-Democracy can be distinctly divided into three periods:

    The first period covers about ten years, approximately the years 1884 to 1894. This was the period of the rise and consolidation of the theory and program of Social-Democracy. The number of adherents of the new trend in Russia could be counted in units. Social-Democracy existed without a working-class movement; as a political party it was undergoing a process of foetal development.

    The second period covers three or four years -- 1894-98. In this period Social-Democracy appeared on the scene as a social movement, as the upsurge of the masses of the people, as a political party. This is the period of its childhood and adolescence. With the speed of an epidemic there spread among the intelligentsia a universal passion to fight Narodism and go among the workers; a universal passion among the workers for strike action. The movement made enormous strides. The majority of the leaders were quite young people who had by no means reached "the age of thirty-five" which to Mr. N. Mikhailovsky appeared to be

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a sort of natural border line. Owing to their youth, they proved to be untrained for practical work and they left the scene with astonishing rapidity. But in the majority of cases the scope of their work was very wide. Many of them began their revolutionary thinking as adherents of Narodnaya Volya. Nearly all of them in their early youth enthusiastically worshipped the terrorist heroes. It required a struggle to abandon the captivating impressions of these heroic traditions, and it was accompanied by the break of personal relations with people who were determined to remain loyal to the Narodnaya Volya and for whom the young Social-Democrats had profound respect. The struggle compelled them to educate themselves, to read the illegal literature of diverse tendencies and to study closely the questions of legal Narodism. Trained in this struggle, Social-Democrats went into the working-class movement without "for a moment" forgetting the theory of Marxism which brightly illuminated their path, or the task of overthrowing the autocracy. The formation of the Party in the spring of 1898 was the most striking and at the same time the last act of the Social-Democrats of this period.

    The third period, as we have seen, was prepared in 1897 and definitely replaced the second period in 1898 (1898-?). This was a period of disunity, dissolution and vacillation. In the period of adolescence a youth's voice breaks. And so, in this period, the voice of Russian Social-Democracy began to break, began to strike a false note -- on the one hand, in the productions of Messrs. Struve and Prokopovich, Bulgakov and Berdyaev, and on the other hand, in the productions of V. I-n and R. M., B. Krichevsky and Martynov. But it was only the leaders who wandered

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about separately and went back; the movement itself continued to grow, and advanced with enormous strides. The proletarian struggle spread to new strata of the workers, extended to the whole of Russia and at the same time indirectly stimulated the revival of the democratic spirit among the students and among other strata of the population. The consciousness of the leaders, however, failed to face up to the breadth and power of the spontaneous upsurge; among Social-Democrats, a different brand predominated -- a brand of Party workers who had been trained almost exclusively on "legal Marxist" literature which proved to be all the more inadequate the more the spontaneity of the masses called for consciousness. The leaders not only lagged behind in regard to theory ("freedom of criticism") and practice ("amateurishness"), but tried to justify their backwardness by all sorts of high-flown arguments. Social-Democracy was degraded to the level of trade unionism by the Brentano-ites in legal literature, and by the tail-enders in illegal literature. The Credo program began to be put into operation, especially when the "amateurishness" of the Social-Democrats caused a revival of revolutionary non-Social-Democratic tendencies.

    And if the reader reproaches me for having dealt in excessive detail with a certain Rabocheye Dyelo, I shall say to him in reply: the Rabocheye Dyelo acquired "historical" significance because it most strikingly reflected the "spirit" of this third period.* It was not the consistent R.M. but

    * I could also reply with the German proverb: Den Sack schlägt man, den Esel meint man (you beat the sack, but the blows are intended for the ass). It was not the Rabocheye Dyelo alone, but also the mass of practical workers and theoreticians that was carried away by the fashion [cont. onto p. 224. -- DJR] of "criticism," they became confused on the question of spontaneity and lapsed from the Social-Democratic to the trade-unionist conception of our political and organizational tasks.

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the weathercock Krichevskys and Martynovs who could properly express the disunity and vacillation, the readiness to make concessions to "criticism," to "Economism" and to terrorism. It is not the lofty contempt for practical work displayed by some worshipper of the "absolute" that is characteristic of this period, but the combination of pettyfogging practice and utter disregard for theory. It was not so much the downright rejection of "great watchwords" that the heroes of this period engaged in as in their vulgarization: scientific Socialism ceased to be an integral revolutionary theory and became a hodgepodge "freely" diluted with the contents of every new German textbook that appeared; the slogan "class struggle" did not impel them forward to wider and more strenuous activity but served as a soothing syrup, because the "economic struggle is inseparably linked up with the political struggle"; the idea of a party did not serve as a call for the creation of a militant organization of revolutionaries, but was used to justify some sort of a "revolutionary bureaucracy" and infantile playing at "democratic" forms.

    When this third period will come to an end and the fourth begin we do not know (at all events it is already heralded by many signs). We are passing from the sphere of history to the sphere of the present and, partly, of the future. But we firmly believe that the fourth period will lead to the consolidation of militant Marxism, that Russian Social-Democracy will emerge from the crisis in the full strength of manhood, that the opportunist rearguard will be "replaced" by the genuine vanguard of the most revolutionary class.

    In the sense of calling for such a "replacement" and summing up, as it were, all that has been expounded above, we may give the following brief reply to the question, What is to be done?:

Liquidate the Third Period.


    It remains for us to describe the tactics the Iskra adopted and consistently pursued in its organizational relations with the Rabocheye Dyelo. These tactics have already been fully expressed in theIskra, No. 1, in an article entitled "The Split of the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad."[104] From the outset we adopted the point of view that the real Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, which at the first congress of our Party was recognized as its representative abroad, had split into two organizations; that the question of the Party's representation remains an open one, having been settled only temporarily and conditionally by the election at the International Congress at Paris of two members to represent Russia on the International Socialist Bureau, one from each of the two sections of the divided Union. We declared that fundamentally the Rabocheye Dyelo was wrong ; in principle we emphatically took the side of the Emancipation of Labour group, but at the same time we refused to enter into the details of the split and noted the services

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rendered by the Union in the sphere of purely practical work.[*]

    Consequently, ours was, to a certain extent, a waiting policy; we made a concession to the opinions prevailing among the majority of the Russian Social-Democrats that the most determined opponents of Economism could work hand in hand with the Union because the Union had frequently declared its agreement in principle with the Emancipation of Labour group, without, apparently, claiming independence on fundamental questions of theory and tactics. <"p227">The correctness of our position was indirectly proved by the fact that almost simultaneously with the appearance of the first issue of the Iskra (December 1900) three members separated from the Union, formed the so-called "Group of Initiators" and offered their services: 1. to the foreign section of the Iskra organization; 2. to the Revolutionary Sotsial-Demokrat Organization; and 3. to the Union as mediators in negotiations for reconciliation. The first two organizations at once announced their agreement, the third turned down the offer. True, when a speaker related these facts at the "Unity" Congress last year, a member of the Managing Committee of the Union declared that their rejection of the offer was due entirely to the fact that the Union was dissatisfied with the composition of the Initiators' Group. While I consider it my duty to quote this explanation I cannot, however, refrain from observing that it is an unsatisfactory one: knowing that two organizations had agreed to enter into negotiations, the Union could have approached them through other intermediaries, or directly. <"np227">

    * Our opinion of the split was based not only upon a perusal of the literature on the subject but also on information gathered abroad by several members of our organization.

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    In the spring of 1901 both the Zarya (No. 1, April) and the Iskra (No. 4, May) entered into open polemics with the Rabocheye Dyelo.[105] The Iskra particularly attacked the "historical turn" taken by the Rabocheye Dyelo which, in its April supplement, that is, after the spring events, revealed instability on the question of terror and the calls for "blood," with which many had been carried away at the time. Notwithstanding these polemics, the Union agreed to the resumption of negotiations for reconciliation through the mediation of a new group of "conciliators." A preliminary conference of representatives of the three organizations named above took place in June and framed a draft agreement on the basis of a very detailed "agreement on principles" that the Union published in the pamphlet Two Congresses and the League in the pamphlet Documents of the "Unity" Congress.

    The contents of this agreement on principles (or as it is more frequently named, the Resolutions of the June Conference), make it perfectly clear that we put forward as an absolute condition for unity the most emphatic repudiation of all and every manifestation of opportunism generally, and of Russian opportunism in particular. Paragraph I reads: "We repudiate all and every attempt to introduce opportunism into the proletarian class struggle -- attempts which have found expression in so-called Economism, Bernsteinism, Millerandism, etc." "The sphere of Social-Democratic activities includes . . . ideological struggle against all opponents of revolutionary Marxism" (4, c); "In every sphere of organizational and agitational activity Social-Democracy must not for a moment forget that the immediate task of the Russian proletariat is -- to overthrow the autocracy" (5, a); ". . . agitation, not only on the basis of the everyday struggle between wage labour and capital" (5, b); ". . . not recognizing . . . a

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stage of purely economic struggle and of struggle for partial political demands" (5, c); ". . . we consider it important for the movement to criticize tendencies that make a principle of the primitiveness . . . and narrowness of the lower forms of the movement" (5, d). Even a complete outsider, who has read these resolutions at all attentively, will have realized from the very way in which they are formulated that they are directed against people who were opportunists and "Economists," who, even for a moment, forget about the task of overthrowing the autocracy, who recognize the theory of stages, who have elevated narrowness to a principle, etc. And anyone who has the least acquaintance with the polemics conducted by the Emancipation of Labour group, the Zarya and the Iskra against the Rabocheye Dyelo, cannot doubt for a single moment that these resolutions repudiate, point by point, the very errors into which the Rabocheye Dyelo had wandered. Consequently, when one of the Union members declared at the "Unity" Congress that the articles in No. 10 of the Rabocheye Dyelo were prompted, not by a new "historical turn" on the part of the Union, but by the excessive "abstractness" of the resolutions,* this was quite justly ridiculed by one of the speakers. Far from being abstract, he said, the resolutions are incredibly concrete: a single glance at them is sufficient to see that they are out to "catch" someone. This remark was the occasion for a characteristic episode at the congress. On the one hand, B. Krichevsky seized upon the word "catch" in the belief that this was a slip of the tongue which betrayed our evil intentions ("to set a trap") and pathetically exclaimed: "Whom are they out to catch,

    * This assertion is repeated in Two Congresses, p. 25.

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whom?" "Whom indeed?" -- Plekhanov rejoined sarcastically. "I will stimulate Comrade Plekhanov's perspicacity," replied B. Krichevsky. "I will explain to him that the trap was set for the editorial board of the Rabocheye Dyelo," (general laughter) "but we have not allowed ourselves to be caught!" (A remark from the left: "All the worse for you! ") On the other hand, a member of the Borba group (a group of conciliators), in opposing the Union's amendments to the resolutions and wishing to defend our speaker, declared that obviously the word "catch" was dropped by chance in the heat of polemics.

    For my part, I think the speaker responsible for uttering the words under discussion will hardly be pleased with this "defence." I think the words "catch someone" were "true words spoken in jest": We have always accused the Rabocheye Dyelo of instability and vacillation and, naturally, we had to try to catch it in order to put a stop to this vacillation. There is not the slightest suggestion of evil intent in this, for we were discussing instability of principles. And we succeeded in "catching" the Union in such a comradely manner* that B. Krichevsky himself and one other

    * Precisely: In the introduction to the June resolutions we said that Russian Social-Democracy as a whole always stood by the principles of the Emancipation of Labour group and that the Union's particular service was its publishing and organizing activity. In other words, we expressed our complete readiness to forget the past and to recognize the usefulness (for the cause) of the work of our comrades of the Union on the condition that it completely ceased the vacillation which we tried to "catch." Any impartial person reading the June resolutions will only interpret them in that way. If the Union, after having caused a split by its new turn towards Economism (in its articles in No. 10 and in the amendments), now solemnly accuses us of prevaricating (Two Congresses, p. 30) because of what we said about its services, then of course, such an accusation can only evoke a smile.

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member of the Managing Committee of the Union signed the June resolutions.

    The articles in the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10 (our comrades saw this issue for the first time when they arrived at the congress, a few days before the meetings started), clearly showed that a new turn had taken place in the Union in the period between the summer and the autumn: the Economists had again gained the upper hand, and the editorial board, which turned with every "wind," again set out to defend "the most pronounced Bernsteinians" and "freedom of criticism," to defend "spontaneity," and through the mouth of Martynov, to preach the "theory of restricting" the sphere of our political influence (for the alleged purpose of making this influence more complex). Once again Parvus' apt observation that it was difficult to catch an opportunist with a formula was proved correct. An opportunist will put his name to any formula and as readily abandon it, because opportunism is precisely a lack of definite and firm principles. Today, the opportunists have repudiated all attempts to introduce opportunism, repudiated all narrowness, solemnly promised "never for a moment to forget about the task of overthrowing the autocracy," to carry on "agitation not only on the basis of the everyday struggle between wage labour and capital," etc., etc. But tomorrow they will change their form of expression and revert to their old tricks on the pretext of defending spontaneity and the forward march of the drab everyday struggle, of extolling demands promising palpable results, etc. By continuing to assert that in the articles in No. 10 "the Union did not and does not now see any heretical departure from the general principles of the draft adopted at the conference" (Two Congresses, p. 26), the Union only reveals a complete lack of ability, or of


desire, to understand the essential points of the disagreements.

    After the appearance of the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, we could make only one effort: open a general discussion in order to ascertain whether all the members of the Union agree with these articles and with its editorial board. The Union is particularly displeased with us because of this and accuses us of trying to sow discord in its ranks, of interfering in other people's business, etc. These accusations are obviously unfounded because with an elected editorial board which "turns" with every wind, however light, everything depends precisely upon the direction of the wind, and we defined that direction at private meetings at which no one, except members of the organizations intending to unite, were present. The amendments to the June resolutions submitted in the name of the Union have removed the last shadow of a hope of arriving at agreement. The amendments are documentary evidence of the new turn towards Economism and of the fact that the majority of the Union members are in agreement with the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10. It was moved to delete the words "so-called Economism" from the reference to manifestations of opportunism (on the plea that "the meaning" of these three words "was vague" -- but if that were so, all that was required was a more precise definition of the nature of a widespread error), and to delete "Millerandism" (although B. Krichevsky defended it in the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 2-3, pp. 83-84, and still more openly in the Vorwärts).* Notwithstanding the fact that the June resolutions definitely indicated that the task of Social-De- <"p232">

    * A controversy over this subject had started in the Vorwärts between its present editor, Kautsky, and the editorial board of the Zarya. We shall not fail to acquaint the Russian reader with this controversy.[106]

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mocracy is "to guide every manifestation of the proletarian struggle against all forms of political, economic and social oppression," thereby calling for the introduction of system and unity in all these manifestations of the struggle, the Union added the absolutely superfluous words to the effect that "the economic struggle is a powerful stimulus to the mass movement" (taken by itself, this assertion cannot be disputed, but with the existence of narrow Economism it could not but give occasion for false interpretations). More, even the direct narrowing down of "politics" was introduced into the June resolutions, both by the deletion of the words "not for a moment" (to forget the aim of overthrowing the autocracy), and by the addition of the words "the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into active political struggle." Naturally, after such amendments had been introduced all the speakers on our side, one after another, refused to take the floor, considering that it was useless to continue negotiations with people who were again turning towards Economism and who were striving to secure for themselves freedom of vacillation.

    "It was precisely the preservation of the independent features and the autonomy of the Rabocheye Dyelo which the Union considered the sine gua non of the durability of our future agreement, that the Iskra regarded as the stumbling block to agreement." (Two Congresses, p. 25.) This is very inexact. We never had any designs against the Rabocheye Dyelo's autonomy.* We did indeed absolutely refuse to recognize the independence of its features, if by "inde-

    * That is, if the editorial consultations in connection with the establishment of a joint supreme council of the combined organizations are not to be regarded as a restriction of autonomy. But in June the Rabocheye Dyelo agreed to this.

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pendent features" is meant independence on questions of principle regarding theory and practice: The June resolutions did indeed absolutely repudiate such independence of features because, in practice, such "independent features" have always meant, as we have pointed out, all sorts of vacillations that foster the disunity which prevails among us and which is intolerable from the Party point of view. The Rabocheye Dyelo's articles in its issue No. 10, and its "Amendments" clearly revealed its desire to preserve precisely this kind of independence of features, and such a desire naturally and inevitably led to a rupture and a declaration of war. But all of us were ready to recognize the Rabocheye Dyelo's "independent features" in the sense that it should concentrate on definite literary functions. A proper distribution of these functions naturally called for: 1) a scientific magazine, 2) a political newspaper, and 3) popular symposiums of articles, and popular pamphlets. Only by agreeing to such a distribution of functions would the Rabocheye Dyelo have proved that it sincerely desired to abandon once and for all its erring ways, against which the June resolutions were directed. Only such a distribution of functions would have removed all possibility of friction, and would have effectively guaranteed a durable agreement which, at the same time, would have served as a basis for a fresh revival and new successes of our movement.

    At present not a single Russian Social-Democrat can have any doubts that the final rupture between the revolutionary and opportunist tendencies was caused, not by any "organizational" circumstances, but by the desire of the opportunists to consolidate the independent features of opportunism and to continue to cause confusion of mind by the disquisitions of the Krichevskys and Martynovs.

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