What Is To Be Done? - pt. 2

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Burning Questions of Our Movement


    And yet there are many people among us who are so sensitive to the "voice of life" that they fear it more than anything in the world and accuse those who adhere to the views here expounded of Narodnaya Volya-ism, of failing to understand "democracy," etc. We have to deal with these accusations, which, of course, have been echoed by the Rabocheye Dyelo.

    The writer of these lines knows very well that the St. Petersburg Economists even accused the Rabochaya Gazeta of being Narodnaya Volya-ite (which is quite understandable when one compares it with the Rabochaya Mysl ). We were not in the least surprised, therefore, when, soon after the appearance of the Iskra, a comrade informed us that the Social-Democrats in the town of X describe the Iskra as a Narodnaya Volya-ite journal. We, of course, were flattered by this accusation, for what decent Social-Democrat has not been accused by the Economists of being a Narodnaya Volya-ite?

    These acusations are the result of a twofold misunderstanding. First the history of the revolutionary movement is so little known among us that the name "Narodnaya Volya" is used to denote any idea of a militant centraiized organization which declares determined war upon tsarism. But the magnificent organization that the revolutionaries had in the 'seventies, and which should serve us as a model, was not established by the Narodnaya Volya-ites, but by the Zemlya i Volya-ites, who split up into the Cherny Peredel and Narodnaya Volya. Consequently, to regard a militant revolutionary organization as something specifically Narod-

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naya Volya-ite is absurd both historically and logically, because no revolutionary tendency, if it seriously thinks of fighting, can dispense with such an organization. The mistake the Narodnaya Volya-ites committed was not that they strove to enlist in their organization all the discontented, and to direct this organization to decisive battle against the autocracy; on the contrary, that was their great historical merit. Their mistake was that they relied on a theory which in substance was not a revolutionary at all, and they either did not know how, or were unable, inseparably to link up their movement with the class struggle within developing capitalist society. And only a gross failure to understand Marxism (or an "understanding" of it in the spirit of Struve-ism) could prompt the opinion that the rise of a mass, spontaneous working-class movement relieves us of the duty of creating as good an organization of revolution aries as the Zemlya i Volya had, and even an incomparably better one. On the contrary, this movement imposes this duty upon us, because the spontaneous struggle of the proletariat will not become its genuine "class struggle" until this struggle is led by a strong organization of revolutionaries.

    <"p166"> Secondly, many, including apparently B. Krichevsky (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 18), misunderstand the polemics that Social-Democrats have always waged against the "conspirative" view of the political struggle. We have always protested, and will, of course, continue to protest against confining the political struggle to a conspiracy.[88] But this does not, of course, mean that we deny the need for a strong revolutionary organization. And, for example, in the pamphlet mentioned in the preceding footnote, after the polemics against reducing the political struggle to a conspiracy, a description is given (as a Social-Democratic ideal) of an

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organization so strong as to be able to "resort to. . . rebellion" and to every "other form of attack," in order to "deliver a smashing blow against absolutism."[*] In form such a strong revolutionary organization in an autocratic country may also be described as a "conspiratorial" organization, because the French word "conspiration " is tantamount to the Russian word "zagovor " ("conspiracy"), and we must have the utmost secrecy for an organization of that kind. Secrecy is such a necessary condition for this kind of organization that all the other conditions (number and selection of members, functions, etc.) must be made to conform to it. It would be extremely naïve indeed, therefore, to fear the accusation that we Social-Democrats desire to create a conspiratorial organization. Such an accusation should be as flattering to every opponent of Economism as the accusation of being followers of Narodnaya Volya.

    The objection may be raised: such a powerful and strictly secret organization, which concentrates in its hands all the threads of secret activities, an organization which of neces-

    * The Tasks of tbe Russian Social-Democrats, p. 23 (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 2, p. 318. --Ed.). Apropos, we shall give another illustration of the fact that the Rabocheye Dyelo either does not understand what it is talking about or changes its views "with the wind." In No. 1 of the Rabocheye Dyelo, we find the following passage in italics: "The sum and substance of the views expressed in this pamphlet coincide entirely with the editorial program of the 'Rabocheye Dyelo.'" (P. 142.) Is that so, indeed? Does the view that the mass movement must not be set the primary task of overthrowing the autocracy coincide with the views expressed in The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats? Do the theory of "the economic struggle against the employers and the government" and the stages theory coincide with the views expressed in that pamphlet? We leave it to the reader to judge whether an organ which understands the meaning of "coincidence" in this peculiar manner can have firm principles.

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sity is centralized, may too easily rush into a premature attack, may thoughtlessly intensify the movement before the growth of political discontent, the intensity of the ferment and anger of the working class, etc., have made such an attack possible and necessary. To this we reply: speaking abstractly, it cannot be denied, of course, that a militant organization may thoughtlessly commence a battle, which may end in defeat, that might have been avoided under other circumstances. But we cannot confine ourselves to abstract reasoning on such a question, because every battle bears within itself the abstract possibility of defeat, and there is no other way of reducing this possibility than by organized preparation for battle. If, however, we proceed from the concrete conditions at present prevailing in Russia, we must come to the positive conclusion that a strong revolutionary organization is absolutely necessary precisely for the purpose of giving firmness to the movement, and of safeguarding it against the possibility of making premature attacks. It is precisely at the present time, when no such organization exists yet, and when the revolutionary movement is rapidly and spontaneously growing, that we already observe two opposite extremes (which, as is to be expected, "meet"), i.e., absolutely unsound Economism and the preaching of moderation, and equally unsound "excitative terror," which "strives artificially to call forth symptoms of its end in a movement which is developing and becoming strong, but which is as yet nearer to its beginning than to its end." (V. Zasulich, in the Zarya, No. 2-3, p. 353.) And the example of the Rabocheye Dyelo shows that there are already Social-Democrats who give way to both these extremes. This is not surprising because, apart from other reasons, the "economic struggle against the employers and the government" can never satisfy

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revolutionaries, and because opposite extremes will always arise here and there. Only a centralized, militant organization that consistently carries out a Social-Democratic policy, that satisfies, so to speak, all revolutionary instincts and strivings, can safeguard the movement against making thoughtless attacks and prepare attacks that hold out the promise of success.

    A further objection may be raised, viz., that the views on organization here expounded contradict the "principles of democracy." Now while the first-mentioned accusation was specifically Russian in origin, this one is specifically foreign in character. And only an organization abroad (the Union of Russian Social-Democrats) was capable of giving its editorial board instructions like the following:

    "Principles of Organization. In order to secure the successful development and unification of Social-Democracy, broad democratic principles of Party organization must be emphasized, developed and fought for; and this is particularly necessary in view of the antidemocratic tendencies that have become revealed in the ranks of our Party." (Two Congresses, p. 18.)

    We shall see in the next chapter how the Rabocheye Dyelo fights against the Iskra's "antidemocratic tendencies." For the present we shall examine more closely the "principle" that the Economists advance. Everyone will probably agree that "broad democratic principles" presuppose the two following conditions: first, full publicity, and second, election to all offices. It would be absurd to speak about democracy without publicity, that is, a publicity that is not limited to the membership of the organization. We call the German Socialist Party a democratic organization because all it does is done publicly; even its party congresses are held in public. But no one would call democratic an organization that is hidden from every one but its members by a veil of secrecy.

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What is the use, then, of advancing "broad democratic principles" when the fundamental condition for these principles cannot be fulfilled by a secret organization? "Broad principles" turns out to be a resonant but hollow phrase. More, it reveals a total lack of understanding of the urgent tasks in regard to organization. Everyone knows how great is the lack of secrecy among the "broad" masses of our revolutionaries. We have heard the bitter complaints of B-v on this score, and his absolutely just demand for a "strict selection of members." (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 6, p. 42.) Yet, persons who boast a keen "sense of realities" urge, in a situation like this, not the strictest secrecy and the strictest (and therefore more restricted) selection of members but "broad democratic principles"! This is what we call being absolutely wide of the mark.

    Nor is the situation any better with regard to the second attribute of democracy, namely, the principle of election. In politically free countries, this condition is taken for granted. "Membership of the Party is open to those who accept the principles of the Party program and render the Party all possible support" -- reads clause I of the rules of the German Social-Democratic Party. And as the entire political arena is as open to the public view as is a theatre stage to the audience, this acceptance or non-acceptance, support or opposition, is known to all from the press and public meetings. Everyone knows that a certain political figure began in such and such a way, passed through such and such an evolution, behaved in a trying moment in such and such a way and possesses such and such qualities and, consequently, all party members, knowing all the facts, can elect or refuse to elect this person to a particular party office. The universal

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control (in the literal sense of the term) exercised over every act of a party man in the political field brings into existence an automatically operating mechanism which produces what in biology is called "survival of the fittest." The "natural selection" by full publicity, election and universal control provides the guarantee that, in the last analysis, every political figure will be "in his proper place," will do the work for which he is best fitted by his capacity and abilities, will feel the effects of his mistakes on himself, and will prove before all the world his ability to recognize mistakes and to avoid them.

    Just try to put this picture into the frame of our autocracy! Is it conceivable in Russia for all those "who accept the principles of the Party program and render the Party all possible support" to control every action of the revolutionary working in secret? Is it possible for all the revolutionaries to elect one of their number to any particular office, when, in the very interests of the work, he must conceal his identity from nine out of ten of these "all"? Ponder a little over the real meaning of the high-sounding phrases to which the Rabocheye Dyelo gives utterance, and you will realize that "broad democracy" in Party organization, amidst the gloom of the autocracy and the domination of gendarme selection, is nothing more than a useless and harmful toy. It is a useless toy because, as a matter of fact, no revolutionary organization has ever practised, or could practise, broad democracy, however much it desired to do so. It is a harmful toy because any attempt to practise the "broad democratic principles" will simply facilitate the work of the police in carrying out large-scale raids, it will perpetuate the prevailing amateurishness, divert the thoughts

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of the practical workers from the serious and imperative task of training themselves to become professional revolutionaries to that of drawing up detailed "paper" rules for election systems. Only abroad, where people who have no opportunity of doing real live work gather togethet very often, could this "playing at democracy" develop here and there, especially in various small groups.

    In order to show how implausible is the Rabocheye Dyelo's favourite trick of advancing the plausible "principle" of democracy in revolutionary affairs, we shall again call a witness. This witness, E. Serebryakov, the editor of the London magazine, Nakanunye, has a tender feeling for the Rabocheye Dyelo, and is filled with great hatred for Plekhanov and the "Plekhanovites." In its articles on the split in the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, the Nakanunye definitely sided with the Rabocheye Dyelo and poured a stream of abuse upon Plekhanov. All the more valuable, therefore, is this witness in the question at issue. In No. 7 of the Nakanunye (July 1899), in an article entitled "The Manifesto of the Self-Emancipation of the Workers Group," E. Serebryakov argues that it was "indecent" to talk about such things as "self-deception, leadership and so-called Areopagus in a serious revolutionary movement" and, among other things, wrote:

    "Myshkin, Rogachov, Zhelyabov, Mikhailov, Perovskaya, Figner and others never regarded themselves as leaders, and no one ever elected or appointed them as such, although as a matter of fact, they were leaders because, in the propaganda period, as well as in the period of the fight against the government, they took the brunt of the work upon themselves, they went into the most dangerous places and their activities were the most fruitful. They became leaders not because they wished it, but because the comrades surrounding them had confidence in their wisdom, their energy and loyalty. To be afraid of some kind of

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Areopagus (if it is not feared, why write about it?) that would arbitrarily govern the movement is far too naïve. Who would obey it?'!

    We ask the reader, in what way does "Areopagus" differ from "antidemocratic tendencies"? And is it not evident that the Rabocheye Dyelo's "plausible" organizational principle is equally naïve and indecent; naïve, because no one would obey "Areopagus," or people with "antidemocratic tendencies," if "the comrades surrounding them had" no "confidence in their wisdom, energy and loyalty"; indecent, because it is a demagogic sally calculated to play on the conceit of some, on the ignorance of others regarding the actual state of our movement, and on the lack of training and ignorance of the history of the revolutionary movement of still others. The only serious organizational principle for the active workers of our movement should be the strictest selection of members and the training of professlonal revolutionaries. Given these qualities, something even more than "democracy" would be guaranteed to us, namely, complete, comradely, mutual confidence among revolutionaries. And this is absolutely essential for us because there can be no question of replacing it by universal democratic control in Russia. And it would be a great mistake to believe that the fact that it is impossible to establish real "democratic" control renders the members of the revolutionary organization beyond control altogether. They have not the time to think about the toy forms of democracy (democracy within a close and compact body of comrades in which complete, mutual confidence prevails), but they have a lively sense of their responsibility, knowing as they do from experience that an organization of real revolutionaries will stop at nothing to rid itself of an undesirable member. Moreover, there is a fairly well-developed public opinion in

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Russian (and international) revolutionary circles which has a long history behind it, and which sternly and ruthlessly punishes every departure from the duties of comradeship (and "democracy," real and not toy democracy, certainly forms a component part of the conception of comradeship). Take all this into consideration and you will realize that all this talk and these resolutions about "antidemocratic tendencies" have the musty smell of that playing at generalship which is indulged in abroad.

    It must be observed also that the other source of this talk, i.e., naïveté, is likewise fostered by the confusion of ideas concerning the meaning of democracy. In Mr. and Mrs. Webb's book on the British trade unions there is an interesting chapter entitled "Primitive Democracy." In it the authors relate how the British workers, in the first period of existence of their unions, thought that it was an indispensable sign of democracy for all the members to do all the work of managing the unions; not only were all questions decided by the vote of all the members, but all the official duties were fulfilled by all the members in turn. A long period of historical experience was required for workers to realize how absurd such a conception of democracy was and to make them understand the necessity for representative institutions, on the one hand, and for full-time officials, on the other. Only after a number of cases of financial bankruptcy of trade unions occurred did the workers realize that the ratio between dues and benefits cannot be decided merely by a democratic vote, but requires also the advice of insurance experts. Take also Kautsky's book on parliamentarism and legislation by the people and you will see that the conclusions drawn by the Marxist theoretician coincide

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with the lessons learned from many years of practical experience by the workers who organized "spontaneously." Kautsky strongly protests against Rittinghausen's primitive conception of democracy; he ridicules those who in the name of democracy demand that "popular newspapers shall be directly edited by the people"; he shows the need for professional journalists, parliamentarians, etc., for the Social-Democratic leadership of the proletarian class struggle; he attacks the "Socialism of anarchists and litterateurs," who in their "striving after effect" extol direct legislation by the whole people, completely failing to understand that this idea can be only relatively applied in modern society.

    Those who have performed practical work in our movement know how widespread is the "primitive" conception of democracy among the masses of the students and workers. It is not surprising that this conception penetrates into rules of organization and into literature. The Economists of the Bernstein persuasion included in their rules the following: "§10. All affairs affecting the interests of the whole of the union organization shall be decided by a majority vote of all its members." The Economists of the terrorist persuasion repeat after them: "The decisions of the committee shall become effective only after they have been circulated among all the circles." (Svoboda, No. 1, p. 67.) Observe that this proposal for a widely applied referendum is advanced in addition to the demand that the whole of the organization be built on an elective basis! We would not, of course, on this account condemn practical workers who have had too few opportunities for studying the theory and practice of real democratic organizations. But when the Rabocheye Dyelo, which lays claim to leadership, confines itself, under such conditions, to a resolution about broad democratic principles, can this be described other than a mere "striving after effect"?

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