What Is To Be Done? - pt. 1

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Burning Questions of Our Movement



    We have dealt at such length with the little-known and now almost forgotten leading article in the first number of the Rabochaya Mysl because it was the first and most striking expression of that general stream of thought which afterwards emerged into the light of day in innumerable streamlets. V. I. was absolutely right when, in praising the first number and the leading article of the Rabochaya Mysl, he said that it was written in a "sharp and challenging" style. (Listok Rabotnika, No. 9-10, p. 49.) Every man with convictions who thinks he has something new to say writes "challengingly" and in such a way as to make his views stand out in bold relief. Only those who are accustomed to sitting between two stools lack "challenge"; only such people are able to praise the challenge of the Rabochaya Mysl one day, and attack the "challenging polemics" of its opponents the next.

    <"p53"> We shall not dwell on the Special Supplement to the Rabochaya Mysl (further on we shall have occasion, on various points, to refer to this work, which expresses the ideas of the Economists more consistently than any other) but shall briefly mention the Manifesto of the Self-Emancipation of the Workers Group (March 1899, reprinted in the London Nakanunye,[54] No. 7, July 1899). The authors of this manifesto quite rightly say that "the workers of Russia are only just awakening, are only just looking around, and instinctively clutch at the first available means of struggle." But from this they draw the same incorrect conclusion that is drawn by the Rabochaya Mysl, forgetting that instinctiveness is that unconsciousness (spontaneity) to the aid of which Socialists must come; that the "first available means of struggle" will always

be, in modern society, the trade union means of struggle, and the "first available" ideology will be the bourgeois (trade union) ideology. Similarly, these authors do not "repudiate" politics, they merely say (merely!), repeating what was said by Mr. V. V., that politics is the superstructure, and therefore, "political agitation must be the superstructure to the agitation carried on in favour of the economic struggle; it must arise on the basis of this struggle and follow in its wake."

    As for the Rabocheye Dyelo, it started out on its career by "defending" the Economists. It uttered a downright falsehood in its very first issue (No. 1, pp. 141-42) when it stated that it "does not know which young comrades Axelrod referred to" in his well-known pamphlet,[*] in which he uttered a warning to the Economists. In the controversy that flared up with Axelrod and Plekhanov over this falsehood, the Rabocheye Dyelo was compelled to admit that "by expressing perplexity, it desired to defend all the younger Social-Democrats abroad from this unjust accusation" (Axelrod accused the Economists <"p54"> of having a narrow outlook). As a matter of fact this accusation was absolutely just, and the Rabocheye Dyelo knows perfectly well that, among others, it applied to V. I., a member of its editorial staff. Let me note in passing that in this controversy Axelrod was absolutely right and the Rabocheye Dyelo was absolutely wrong in their respective interpretations of my pamphlet The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats.[55] That pamphlet was written in 1897, before the appearance of the Rabochaya Mysl when I thought, and rightly thought, that the original tendency of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle, which I described above, was the predominant one. And that <"np54">

    * The Contemporary Tasks and Tactics of the Russian Social-Democrats, Geneva, 1898. Two letters written to the Rabochaya Gazeta in 1897.

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tendency really was the predominant one, at any rate until the middle of 1898. Consequently, the Rabocheye Dyelo had no right whatever, in its attempt to refute the existence and dangers of Economism, to refer to a pamphlet which expressed views that were squeezed out by "Economist" views in St. Petersburg in 1897-98.[*]

    But the Rabocheye Dyelo not only "defended" the Economists -- it itself constantly fell into their fundamental errors. The source of this confusedness is to be found in the ambiguity of the interpretation given to the following thesis of the Rabocheye Dyelo program: "We consider that the most important phenomenon of Russian life, the one that will mainly determine the tasks" (our italics) "and the character of the literary activity of the Union, is the mass working-class movement" (Rabocheye Dyelo's italics) "that has arisen in recent years." That the mass movement is a most important phenomenon is a fact about which there can be no dispute. But the crux of the question is, how is one to understand the statement that the mass working-class movement will "determine the tasks"? It may be interpreted in one of two ways.

    * To its defence of the first untruth it uttered ("we do not know which young comrades Axelrod referred to"), the Rabocheye Dyelo added a second, when, in its Reply, it wrote: "Since the review of The Tasks was published, tendencies have arisen, or have become more or less clearly defined among certain Russian Social-Democrats, towards economic one-sidedness, which represent a step backwards from the state of our movement as described in The Tasks" (p. 9). This is what the Reply says, published in 1900. But the first number of the Rabocheye Dyelo (containing the review) appeared in April 1899. Did Economism really arise only in 1899? No. The year 1899 saw the first protest of the Russian Social-Democrats against Economism (the protest against the Credo). Economism arose in 1897, as the Rabocheye Dyelo very well knows, for already in November 1898, V. I. was praising the Rabochaya Mysl (see the Listok Rabotnika, No. 9-10).

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Either it means bowing to the spontaneity of this movement, i.e., reducing the role of Social-Democracy to mere subservience to the working-class movement as such (the interpretation given to it by the Rabochaya Mysl, the Self-Emancipation Group and other Economists); or it means that the mass movement puts before us new theoretical, political and organizational tasks, far more complicated than those that might have satisfied us in the period before the rise of the mass movement. The Rabocheye Dyelo inclined and still inclines towards the first interpretation, for it has said nothing definite about any new tasks, but argued all the time just as if the "mass movement" relieves us of the necessity of clearly appreciating and fulfilling the tasks it sets before us. We need only point out that the Rabocheye Dyelo considered that it was impossible to set the overthrow of the autocracy as the first task of the mass working-class movement, and that it degraded this task (in the interests of the mass movement) to that of a struggle for immediate political demands. (Reply, p. 25.) We shall pass over the article by B. Krichevsky, the editor of the Rabocheye Dyelo, entitled "The Economic and Political

Struggle in the Russian Movement," published in No. 7 of that paper, in which these very mistakes[*] are repeated, and proceed directly to the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10. We shall not, of course, enter in detail into the various objections raised by B. Krichevsky and Martynov against the Zarya and the Iskra. What interests us here solely are the principles expounded by the Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10. For example, we shall not examine the curiosity -- that the Rabocheye Dyelo saw a "diametrical contradiction" between the proposition:

    <"p57"> "Social-Democracy does not tie its hands, it does not restrict its activities to some one preconceived plan or method of political struggle; it recognizes all means of struggle, as long as they correspond to the forces at the disposal of the Party," etc. (Iskra, No.1)[56]

and the proposition:

"Without a strong organization, tested in the political struggle carried on under all circumstances and in all periods, there can be no talk of a systematic plan of activity, enlightened by firm principles and unswervingly carried out, which alone is worthy of being called tactics." (Iskra, No. 4.)[57]

    To confuse the recognition, in principle, of all means of struggle, of all plans and methods, as long as they are ex-

    * [Transcriber's Note: For some reason the publisher began Lenin's following note on the preceeding page (p. 56). -- DJR]

    The "stages theory," or the theory of "timid zigzags" in the political struggle, is expressed, for example, in this article, in the following way: "Political demands, which in their character are common to the whole of Russia, should, however, at first" (this was written in August 1900!) "correspond to the experience gained by the given stratum" (sic!) "of workers in the economic struggle. Only (!) on the basis of this experience can and should political agitation be taken up," etc. (P. 11.) On page 4, the author, protesting against what he regards as the absolutely unfounded charge of Economist heresy, pathetically exclaims: "What Social-Democrat does not know that according to the theories of Marx and Engels the economic interests of various classes play a decisive role in history, and, consequently, that particularly the proletariat's struggle for the defence of its economic interests must be of first-rate importance [cont. onto p. 57. -- DJR] in its class development and struggle for emancipation?" (Our italics.) The word "consequently" is absolutely out of place. The fact that economic interests play a decisive role does not in the least imply that the cconomic (i.e., trade union) struggle is of prime importance, for the most essential, the "decisive" interests of classes can be satisfied only by radical political changes in general. In particular the fundamental economic interests of the proletariat can be satisfied only by a political revolution that will replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat. B. Krichevsky repeats the arguments of the "V. V.'s of Russian Social-Democracy" (i.e., politics follow economics, etc.) and the Bernsteinians of German Social-Democracy (for example, by arguments like these, Woltmann tried to prove that the workers must first of all acquire "economic power" before they can think about political revolution) . pedient -- with the demand that at a given political moment, if we are to talk of tactics, we be guided by a strictly observed plan, is tantamount to confusing the recognition by medical science of various methods of treatment of diseases with the necessity for adopting a certain definite method of treatment for a given disease. The point is, however, that the Rabocheye Dyelo, while itself the victim of a disease which we have called bowing to spontaneity, refuses to recognize any "method of treatment" for that disease. Hence, it made the remarkable discovery that "tactics-as-a-plan contradicts the fundamental spirit of Marxism" (No. 10, p. 18), that tactics are "a process of growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party." (P. 11, the Rabocheye Dyelo's italics.) The latter remark has every chance of becoming a celebrated maxim, a permanent monument to the Rabocheye Dyelo "trend." To the question: whither a leading organ replies: movement is a process of altering the distance between the starting point and subsequent points of the movement. This matchless example of profundity is not merely a curiosity (if it were, it would not be worth dealing with at length), but the program of a whole trend, i.e., the very program which R.M. (in the Special Supplement to the Rabochaya Mysl ) expressed in the words: That struggle is desirable which is possible, and the struggle which is possible is the one that is going on at a given moment. This is precisely the trend of unbounded opportunism, which passively adapts itself to spontaneity.

    "Tactics-as-a-plan contradicts the fundamental spirit of Marxism!" But this is a libel on Marxism; it means turning it into the caricature of Marxism that was set up by the Narodniks in their fight against us. It means belittling the initiative and energy of class-conscious fighters, whereas Marxism, on the contrary, gives a gigantic impetus to the initiative and energy of the Social-Democrat, opens up for him the widest perspectives and (if one may so express it) places at his disposal the mighty force of millions and millions of workers "spontaneously" rising for the struggle! The whole history of international Social-Democracy seethes with plans advanced now by one, now by another political leader; some confirming the farsightedness and correct political and organizational views of their authors and others revealing their shortsightedness and political errors. At the time when Germany was at one of the most important turning points in its history -- the formation of the Empire, the opening of the Reichstag and the granting of universal suffrage -- Liebknecht had one plan for Social-Democratic policy and work in general and Schweitzer had another. When the Anti-Socialist Law came down on the heads of the German Socialists, Most and Hasselmann had one plan, they were prepared there and then to call for violence and terror; Höchberg, Schramm and (partly) Bernstein had another: they began to preach to the Social-Democrats that they themselves had provoked the enactment of the Law by being unreasonably bitter and revolutionary, and must now earn forgiveness by their exemplary conduct. There was yet a third plan proposed by those who paved the way for and carried out the publication of an illegal organ. It is easy, of course, in retrospect, many years after the fight over the selection of the path to be followed has ended, and after history has pronounced its verdict as to the expediency of the path selected, to utter profound maxims about the growth of Party tasks, which grow together with the Party. But at a time of con-fusion,[*] when the Russian "critics" and Economists are degrading Social-Democracy to the level of trade unionism, and when the terrorists are stronglv advocating the adoption of "tactics-as-a-plan" that repeats the old mistakes, at such a time, to confine oneself to such profundities, means simply issuing oneself a "certificate of poverty." At a time when many Russian Social-Democrats suffer from lack of initiative and energy, from a lack of "scope of political propaganda, agitation and organization,"[58] a lack of "plans" for a broader organization of revolutionary work, at such a time, to say: "tactics-as-a-plan contradicts the fundamental spirit of Marxism," means not only vulgarizing Marxism in the realm of theory, but also dragging the Party backward in practice.

    The Rabocheye Dyelo goes on to sermonize:

    "The task of the revolutionary Social-Democrat is only to accelerate objective development by his conscious work; not to obviate it or substitute his own subjective plans for this development. The Iskra knows all this in theory. But the enormous importance which Marxism quite justly attaches to conscious revolutionary work causes it in practice, owing to its doctrinaire view of tactics, to belittle tbe significance of the objective or the spontaneous element of development." (P. 18.)

    Another example of the extraordinary theoretical confusion worthy of Mr. V.V. and that fraternity. We would ask our philosopher: how may a deviser of subjective plans "belittle" objective development? Obviously by losing sight of the fact that this objective development creates or strengthens, destroys or weakens certain classes, strata, groups, certain nations, groups of nations, etc., and in this way serves as the

    * "Ein Jahr der Verwirrung" ("Year of Confusion") is the title Mehring gave to the chapter of his History of German Social-Democracy in which he describes the hesitancy and lack of determination displayed at first by the Socialists in selecting the "tactics-as-a-plan" for the new situation.

premise for a definite international political alignment of forces, for determining the position of revolutionary parties, etc. If the deviser of plans did that, his guilt would not be that he belittled the spontaneous element, but, on the contrary, that he belittled the conscious element, for he would then show that he lacked the "consciousness" properly to understand objective development. Hence, the very talk about "estimating the relative significance" (the Rabocheye Dyelo's italics) of spontaneity and consciousness itself reveals a complete lack of "consciousness." If certain "spontaneous elements of development" can be grasped at all by human understanding, then an incorrect estimation of them will be tantamount to "belittling the conscious element." But if they cannot be grasped, then we cannot know them, and therefore cannot speak of them. What is B. Krichevsky arguing about then? If he thinks that the Iskra's "subjective plans" are erroneous (as he in fact declares them to be), then he ought to show what objective facts are ignored in these plans, and then charge the Iskra with a lack of consciousness for ignoring them, with, to use his own words, "belittling the conscious element." If, however, while being displeased with subjective plans he can bring forward no other argument than that of "belittling the spontaneous element" (!!) he merely shows: 1) that theoretically he understands Marxism à la the Kareyevs and Mikhailovskys, who have been sufficiently ridiculed by Beltov,[59] and 2) that, practically, he is quite pleased with the "spontaneous elements of development" that have drawn our legal Marxists towards Bernsteinism and our Social-Democrats towards Economism, and that he is full of wrath against those who have determined at all costs to divert Russian Social-Democracy from the path of "spontaneous" development.

    And then follow things that are positively funny. "Just as human beings will multiply in the old-fashioned way, notwithstanding all the discoveries of natural science, so the birth of a new social order will come about, in the future too, mainly as a result of elemental outbursts, notwithstanding all the discoveries of social science and the increase in the number of conscious fighters." (P. 19.) Just as our grandfathers in their old-fashioned wisdom used to say: "Any fool can bring forth children," today the "modern Socialists" (à la Narcissus Tuporylov)[60] in their wisdom say: Any fool can participate in the spontaneous birth of a new social order. We too are of that opinion. All that is required for participation of that kind is to yield, to Economism when Economism reigns, and to terrorism when terrorism arises. For example, in the spring of this year, when it was so important to utter a note of warning against infatuation with terrorism, the Rabocheye Dyelo stood in amazement, confronted by a problem that was "new" to it. And now, six months after, when the problem has become less topical, it, at one and the same time, pre sents us with the declaration: "We think that it is not and should not be the task of Social-Democracy to counteract the rise of terroristic sentiments" (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 23), and the congress resolution: "The congress regards systematic and aggressive terror as being inopportune" (Two Congresses, p. 18). How beautifully clear and coherent this is! Not to counteract, but to declare inopportune, and to declare it in such a way that unsystematic and defensive terror does not come within the scope of the "resolution." It must be admitted that a resolution like that is extremely safe and completely insured against error, just as a man who talks, but says nothing, is insured against error! And all that is required to frame such a resolution is: ability to keep at the tail end of the movement. When the Iskra ridiculed the Rabocheye Dyelo for declaring the question of terror to be a new one,[61] the latter angrily accused the Iskra of "having the incredible effrontery to impose upon the Party organization solutions of tactical questions proposed by a group of emigrant writers more than fifteen years ago" (p. 24). Effrontery indeed, and what an overrating of the conscious element -- first to find the theoretical solutions to problems, and then to try to prove to the organization, to the Party and to the masses that this solution is correct![*] How much better it would be to repeat something that has been learned by rote, and, without "imposing" anything upon anybody, swing with every "turn" -- whether in the direction of Economism or in the direction of terrorism. The Rabocheye Dyelo even generalizes this great precept of worldly wisdom and accuses the Iskra and the Zarya of "setting up their program against the movement, like a spirit hovering over the formless chaos." (P. 29.) But what else is the function of Social-Democracy if not to be a "spirit," not only hovering over the spontaneous movement, but also raising this movement to the level of "its program"? Surely, it is not its function to drag at the tail of the movement: at best, this would be of no service to the movement; at the worst, it would be very, very harmful. The Rabocheye Dyelo, however, not only follows this ''tactics-as-a-process," but elevates it to a principle, so that it would be more correct to describe its tendency not as opportunism, but as tail-ism (from the word tail). And it must be admitted that those who have determined always to follow behind the

    * Nor must it be forgotten that in solving "theoretically" the problem of terror, the Emancipation of Labour group generalized the experience of the preceding revolutionary movement.

movement and be its tail are absolutely and forever ensured against "belittling the spontaneous element of development."

*                     *                      *
   And so, we have become convinced that the fundamental error committed by the "new trend" in Russian Social-Democracy lies in its bowing to spontaneity, and its failure to understand that the spontaneity of the masses demands a mass of consciousness from us Social-Democrats. The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses, the more widespread the movement becomes, so much the more rapidly, incomparably more rapidly, grows the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political and organizational work of Social-Democracy.

    The spontaneous upsurge of the masses in Russia proceeded (and continues) with such rapidity that the young Social Democrats proved unprepared for these gigantic tasks. This unpreparedness is our common misfortune, the misfortune of all Russian Social-Democrats. The upsurge of the masses proceeded and spread uninterruptedly and with continuity; it not only continued in the places where it began, but spread to new localities and to new strata of the population (under the influence of the working-class movement, there was a revival of ferment among the students, the intellectuals generally and even among the peasantry). Revolutionaries, however, lagged behind this upsurge both in their "theories" and in their activity; they failed to establish an uninterrupted organization having continuity with the past, and capable of leading the whole movement.

    In Chapter I, we proved that the Rabocheye Dyelo belittled our theoretical tasks and that it "spontaneously" repeated the fashionable catchword "freedom of criticism": that those who repeated this catchword lacked the "consciousness" to understand how diametrically opposed are the positions of the opportunist "critics" and the revolutionaries in Germany and in Russia.

    In the following chapters, we shall show how this worship of spontaneity found exprcssion in the sphere of the political tasks and the organizational work of Social-Democracy.

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