What Is To Be Done? - pt. 1

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Burning Questions of Our Movement



    We shall start off again by praising the Rabocheye Dyelo. "Exposure Literature and the Proletarian Struggle" is the title Martynov gave his article in No. 10 of the Rabocheye Dyelo, on his differences with the Iskra. He formulated the substance of these differences as follows: "We cannot confine ourselves entirely to exposing the system that stands in its" (the working-class party's) "path of development. We must also react to the immediate and current interests of the proletariat." (P. 63.) " . . . the Iskra . . . is in fact an organ of revolutionary opposition that exposes the state of affairs in our country, particularly the political state of affairs. . . . We, however, work and shall continue to work for the cause of the working class in close organic contact with the proletarian struggle." (P. 63.) One cannot help being grateful to Martynov for this formula. It is of outstanding general interest because substantially it embraces not only our disagreements with the Rabocheye Dyelo, but the general disagreement between ourselves and the "Economists" concerning the political struggle. We have already shown that the "Economists" do not altogether repudiate "politics," but that they are constantly straying from the Social-Democratic to the trade-unionist conception of politics. Martynov strays in exactly the same way, and we agree, therefore, to take his views as a model of Economist error on this question. As we shall endeavour to prove, neither the authors of the Special Supplement to the Rabochaya Mysl, nor the authors of the manifesto issued by the Self-Emancipation Group, nor the authors of the Economist letter published in the Iskra, No. 12, will have any right to complain against this choice.


    Everyone knows that the extensive spread and consolidation of the economic* struggle of the Russian workers proceeded simultaneously with the creation of a "literature" exposing economic conditions, i.e., factory and industrial conditions. These "leaflets" were devoted mainly to the exposure of factory conditions, and very soon a veritable passion for exposures was roused among the workers. As soon as the workers realized that the Social-Democratic circles desired to and could supply them with a new kind of leaflet that

    * To avoid misunderstanding we must point out that here and throughout this pamphlet, by economic struggle we imply (in accordance with the meaning of the term as accepted among us) the "practical economic struggle" which Engels, in the passage quoted above, described as "resistance to the capitalists," and which in free countries is known as the professional, syndical or trade union struggle.

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told the whole truth about their life of poverty, about their excessive toil and their lack of rights, correspondence began to pour in from the factories and workshops. This "exposure literature" created a huge sensation not only in the particular factory, the conditions of which were exposed in the given leaflet, but in all the factories to which news spread about the facts exposed. And as the poverty and want among the workers in the various enterprises and in the various trades are much the same, the "truth about the life of the workers" stirred all. Even among the most backward workers, a veritable passion arose to "go into print" -- a noble passion for this rudimentary form of war against the whole of the contemporary social system which is based upon robbery and oppression. And in the overwhelming majority of cases these "leaflets" were in truth a declaration of war, because the exposures served greatly to agitate the workers; they evoked among them the common demands for the removal of the most glaring evils and roused in them a readiness to support these demands with strikes. Finally, the employers themselves were compelled to recognize the significance of these leaflets as a declaration of war, so much so that in a large number of cases they did not even wait for the outbreak of hostilities. As is always the case, the mere publication of these exposures made them effective, and they acquired the significance of a strong moral influence. On more than one occasion, the mere appearance of a leaflet proved sufficient to secure the satisfaction of all or part of the demands put forward. In a word, economic (factory) exposures were and remain an important lever in the economic struggle. And they will continue to retain this significance as long as capitalism exists, which creates the need for the workers to defend themselves. Even in the most advanced countries

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of Europe we can still witness how the exposure of evils in some backward trade, or in some forgotten branch of domestic industry, serves as a starting point for the awakening of class consciousness, for the beginning of a trade union struggle, and for the spread of Socialism.[*]

    The overwhelming majority of Russian Social-Democrats have of late been almost entirely absorbed by this work of organizing the exposure of factory conditions. It is sufficient to recall the Rabochaya Mysl to see to what extent they were taken up by it. So much so, indeed, that they lost sight of the fact that this, taken by itself, is in essence still not Social-Democratic work, but merely trade union work. As a matter of fact, these exposures merely dealt with the relations between the workers in a given trade and their employers, and all that they achieved was that the sellers of labour power learned to sell their "commodity" on better terms and to fight the purchasers over a purely commercial deal. These exposures could have served (if

    * In the present chapter, we deal only with the political struggle, in its broader or narrower meaning. Therefore, we note only in passing, merely as a curiosity, the Rabocheye Dyelo's charge that the Iskra is "too restrained" in regard to the economic struggle. (Two Congresses, p. 27, rehashed by Martynov in his pamphlet Social-Democracy and the Working Class.) If those who make this accusation counted up in terms of hundred weights or reams (as they are so fond of doing) what has been said about the economic struggle in the industrial column of the Iskra in one year, and compared this with the industrial columns of the Rabocheye Dyelo and the Rabochaya Mysl taken together, they would easily see that they lag behind even in this respect. Apparently, the consciousness of this simple truth compels them to resort to arguments which clearly reveal their confusion. "The Iskra" they write, "willy-nilly (! ) is compelled (! ) to reckon with the imperative demands of life and to publish at least (!! ) correspondence about the working-class movement." (Two Congresses, p. 27.) Now this is really a crushing argument!

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properly utilized by an organization of revolutionaries) as a beginning and a constituent part of Social-Democratic activity, but they could also have led (and, given a worshipful attitude towards spontaneity, were bound to lead) to a "pure" trade union struggle and to a non-Social-Democratic working-class movement. Social-Democracy leads the struggle of the working class not only for better terms for the sale of labour power, but also for the abolition of the social system which compels the propertyless to sell themselves to the rich. Social-Democracy represents the working class not in the latter's relation to only a given group of employers, but in its relation to all classes of modern society, to the state as an organized political force. Hence, it follows that Social-Democrats not only must not confine themselves entirely to the economic struggle; they must not even allow the organization of economic exposures to become the predominant part of their activities. We must actively take up the political education of the working class and the development of its political consciousness. Now that the Zarya and the Iskra have made the first attack upon Economism, "all are agreed" on this (although some agree only in words, as we shall soon see).

    The question arises: what should political education consist of? Can it be confined to the propaganda of working-class hostility to the autocracy? Of course not. It is not enough to explain to the workers that they are politically oppressed (no more than it was to explain to them that their interests were antagonistic to the interests of the employers). Agitation must be conducted over every concrete example of this oppression (in the same way that we have begun to conduct agitation around concrete examples of economic oppression). And inasmuch as this oppression affects the most diverse

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classes of society, inasmuch as it manifests itself in the most varied spheres of life and activity, industrial, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific, etc., etc., is it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling our task of developing the political consciousness of the workers if we do not undertake the organization of the political exposure of the autocracy in all its aspects? In order to carry on agitation around concrete examples of oppression, these examples must be exposed (just as it was necessary to expose factory abuses in order to carry on economic agitation).

    One would think that this was clear enough. It turns out, however, that it is only in words that "all" are agreed on the need to develop political consciousness, in all its aspects. It turns out that the Rabocheye Dyelo, for example, far from tackling the task of organizing (or making a start in organizing) comprehensive political exposure, is even trying to drag the Iskra, which has undertaken this task, away from it. Listen to this: "The political struggle of the working class is merely" (it is precisely not "merely") "the most developed, widest and most effective form of economic struggle." (Program of the Rabocheye Dyelo, published in No. 1, p. 3.) "The Social-Democrats are now confronted with the task of, as far as possible, lending the economic struggle itself a political character." (Martynov, Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 42.) "The economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into active political struggle." (Resolution passed by the Congress of the Union and "amendments" thereto, Two Congresses, pp. 11 and 17.) As the reader will observe, all these postulates permeate the Rabocheye Dyelo, from its very first number to the latest "Instructions to the Editors," and all of them evidently ex-press a single view regarding political agitation and struggle. Examine this view from the standpoint of the opinion prevailing among all Economists, that political agitation must follow economic agitation. Is it true that, in general,[*] the economic struggle "is the most widely applicable means" of drawing the masses into the political struggle? It is absolutely untrue. All and sundry manifestations of police tyranny and autocratic outrage, and not only such as are connected with the economic struggle, are not one whit less "widely applicable" as a means of "drawing in" the masses. The Zemsky Nachalniks,[62] the flogging of peasants, the corruption of the officials, the police treatment of the "common people" in the cities, the fight against the famine-stricken and the suppression of the popular striving towards enlightenment and knowledge, the extortion of taxes, the persecution of the religious sects, the humiliating treatment of the soldiers and the treatment of the students and the liberal intelligentsia as if they were soldiers -- do all these and a thousand other similar manifestations of tyranny, though not directly connected with the "economic" struggle, represent, in general, less "widely applicable" means and occasions for political

    * We say "in general," because the Rabocheye Dyelo speaks of general principles and of the general tasks of the whole Party. Undoubtedly, cases occur in practice, when politics really must follow economics, but only Economists can say a thing like that in a resolution intended to apply to the whole of Russia. Cases do occur when it is possible "right from the beginning" to carry on political agitation "exclusively on an economic basis"; and yet the Rabocheye Dyelo hit upon the idea that "there is no need for this whatever." (Two Congresses, p. 11) In the next chapter, we shall show that the tactics of the "politicians" and revolutionaries not only do not ignore the trade union tasks of Social-Democracy, but that on the contrary, they alone can secure the consistent fulfilment of these tasks.

agitation and for drawing the masses into the political struggle? The very opposite is true. Of the sum total of the cases in which the workers suffer (either on their own account or on account of those closely connected with them) from tyranny, violence and lack of rights, undoubtedly only a small minority represent cases of police tyranny in the economic struggle as such. Why then should we, beforehand, restrict the scope of political agitation by declaring only one of the means to be "the most widely applicable," when Social-Democrats have, in addition, other, generally speaking, no less "widely applicable" means?

    Long, long ago (a year ago! . . . ) the Rabocheye Dyelo wrote: "The masses begin to understand immediate political demands after one, or at all events, after several strikes," "immediately the government sets the police and gendarmerie against them" (No. 7, p. 15, August 1900). This opportunist theory of stages has now been rejected by the Union, which makes a concession to us by declaring: "There is no need whatever to conduct political agitation right from the beginning, exclusively on an economic basis." (Two Congresses, p. 11.) This very repudiation of part of its former errors by the Union will show the future historian of Russian Social-Democracy better than any number of lengthy arguments the depths to which our Economists have degraded Socialism! But the Union must be very naive indeed to imagine that the abandonment of one form of restricting politics will induce us to agree to another form of restriction! Would it not be more logical to say, in this case too, that the economic struggle should be conducted on the widest possible basis, that it should always be utilized for political agitation, but that "there is no need whatever" to regard the economic struggle as the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into active political struggle?

    The Union attaches significance to the fact that it replaced the phrase "most widely applicable means" for the phrase "the best means" contained in one of the resolutions of the Fourth Congress of the Jewish Workers' Union (Bund).[63] We confess that we hnd it difficult to say which of these resolutions is the better one. In our opinion both are "worse." Both the Union and the Bund fall into the error (partly, perhaps, unconsciously, under the influence of tradition) of giving an economic, trade-unionist interpretation to politics. Whether this is done by employing the word "best" or the words "most widely applicable" makes no material difference whatever. If the Union had said that "political agitation on an economic basis" is the most widely applied (and not "applicable") means it would have been right in regard to a certain period in the development of our Social-Democratic movement. It would have been right in regard to the Economists and to many (if not the majority) of the practical workers of 1898-1901, for these practical Economists applied political agitation (to the extent that they applied it at all!) almost exclusively on an economic basis. Political agitation on such lines was recognized and, as we have seen, even recommended by the Rabochaya Mysl and by the Self-Emancipation Group! The Rabocheye Dyelo should have strongly condemned the fact that the useful work of economic agitation was accompanied by the harmful restriction of the political struggle, but instead of that, it declares the means most widely applied (by the Economists ) to be the most widely applicable! It is not surprising that when we call these people Economists, they can do nothing else but pour every manner of abuse upon us, and call us "mystifiers," "disrupters," "papal

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Nuncios," and "slanderers,"[*] go complaining to the whole world that we have mortally offended them, and declare almost on oath that "not a single Social-Democratic organization is now tinged with Economism."[**]Oh, these evil, slanderous politicians! They must have deliberately invented this Economism, out of sheer hatred of mankind, in order mortally to offend other people!

    What real concrete meaning does Martynov attach to his words about Social-Democracy taking up the task of "lending the economic struggle itself a political character"? The economic struggle is the collective struggle of the workers against their employers for better terms in the sale of their labour power, for the better conditions of life and labour. This struggle is necessarily an industrial struggle, because conditions of labour differ very much in different trades, and, consequently, the fight to improve these conditions can only be conducted in respect to each trade (trade unions in the Western countries, temporary trade associations and leaflets in Russia, etc.). Lending "the economic struggle itself a political character" means, therefore, striving to secure satisfaction of these trade demands, the improvement of conditions of labour in each separate trade by means of "legislative and administrative measures" (as Martynov expresses it on the next page of his article, p. 43). This is exactly what all workers' trade unions do and always have done. Read the works of the thoroughly scientific (and "thoroughly" opportunist) Mr. and Mrs. Webb and you will see that the British trade unions long ago recognized, and have long been carrying out,

    * These are exactly thc expressions used in Two Congresses, pp. 31, 32, 28 and 30.
    ** Two Congresses, p. 32.

the task of "lending the economic struggle itself a political character"; they have long been fighting for the right to strike, for the removal of all legal hindrances to the cooperative and trade union movements, for laws protecting women and children, for the improvement of labour conditions by means of health and factory legislation, etc.

    Thus, the pompous phrase about "lending the economic struggle itself a political character," which sounds so "terrifically" profound and revolutionary, serves as a screen to conceal what is in fact the traditional striving to degrade Social-Democratic politics to the level of trade union politics! On the pretext of rectifying the one-sidedness of the Iskra, which, it is alleged, places "the revolutionizing of dogma higher than the revolutionizing of life,"[*] we are presented with the struggle for economic reform as if it were some thing entirely new. As a matter of fact, the phrase "lending the economic struggle itself a political character" means nothing more than the struggle for economic reforms. And Martynov himself might have come to this simple conclusion had he only pondered over the significance of his own words. "Our Party," he says, turning his heaviest guns against the Iskra, "could and should have presented concrete demands to the government for legislative and administrative measures against economic exploitation, unemployment, famine, etc." (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, pp. 42-43.) Concrete demands for measures -- does not this mean demands for social re-

    * Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 60. This is the Martynov variation of the application to the present chaotic state of our movement of the thesis: "Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs," which we have already characterized above. As a matter of fact, this is merely a translation into Russian of the notorious Bernsteinian phrase: "The movement is everything, the final aim is nothing."

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forms? And again we ask the impartial reader, do we slander the Rabocheye Dyelo-ites (may I be forgiven for this clumsy expression!) by calling them concealed Bernsteinians when they advance, as their point of disagreement with the Iskra, their thesis about the necessity of fighting for economic reforms?

    Revolutionary Social-Democracy always included, and now includes, the fight for reforms as part of its activities. But it utilizes "economic" agitation for the purpose of presenting to the government, not only demands for all sorts of measures, but also (and primarily) the demand that it cease to be an autocratic government. More, it considers it its duty to present this demand to the government, not on the basis of the economic struggle alone, but on the basis of all manifestations in general of public and political life. In a word, it subordinates the struggle for reforms, as the part to the whole, to the revolutionary struggle for liberty and for Socialism. Martynov, however, resuscitates the theory of stages in a new form, and strives to prescribe an exclusively economic, so to speak, path of development for the political struggle. By coming out at this moment, when the revolutionary movement is on the upgrade, with an alleged special "task" of fighting for reforms, he is dragging the Party backwards and is playing into the hands of both "economic" and liberal opportunism.

    To proceed. While shamefacedly hiding the struggle for reforms behind the pompous thesis about "lending the economic struggle itself a political character," Martynov advanced, as if it were a special point, exclusively economic (in fact exclusively factory) reforms. Why he did that, we do not know. Perhaps it was due to carelessness? But if he had in mind something else besides "factory" reforms,

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then the whole of his thesis, which we have just quoted, loses all sense. Perhaps he did it because he thinks it possible and probable that the government will make "concessions" only in the economic sphere?[*] If so, then it is a strange delusion. Concessions are also possible and are made in the sphere of legislation concerning flogging, passports, land compensation payments, religious sects, the censorship, etc., etc. "Economic" concessions (or pseudo concessions) are, of course, the cheapest and most advantageous from the government's point of view, because by these means it hopes to win the confidence of the masses of the workers. For this very reason, we Social-Democrats must not under any circumstances or in any way whatever create grounds for the belief (or the misunderstanding) that we attach greater value to economic reforms, or that we regard them as being particularly important, etc. "Such demands," writes Martynov concerning the concrete demands for legislative and administrative measures referred to above, "would not be merely a hollow sound, because, promising certain palpable results, they might be actively supported by the masses of the workers. . . ." We are not Economists, oh no! We only cringe as slavishly before the "palpableness" of concrete results as do the Bernsteins, the Prokopoviches, the Struves, the R.M.'s, and tutti quanti![64] We only wish to make it understood (with Narcissus Tuporylov) that all that which "does not promise palpable results" is merely a "hollow sound"! We are only trying to argue as if the masses of the workers were incapable (and had not already proved their capabilities,

    * P. 43. "Of course, when we advise the workers to present certain economic demands to the government, we do so because in the economic sphere the autocratic government is, of necessity, prepared to make certain concessions."

notwithstanding those who ascribe their own philistinism to them) of actively supporting every protest against the autocracy even if it promises absotutely no palpable results whatever !

    Take for example the very "measures" for the relief of unemployment and the famine that Martynov himself advances. Whereas the Rabocheye Dyelo is engaged, judging by what it has promised, in drawing up and elaborating a program of "concrete" (in the form of bills?) "demands for legislative and administrative measures," "promising palpable results," the Iskra, which "constantly places the revolutionizing of dogma higher than the revolutionizing of life," tried to explain the inseparable connection between unemployment and the whole capitalist system; warned that "famine is coming", exposed the police "fight against the famine stricken" and the outrageous "provisional penal regulations"; and the Zarya published a special reprint, in the form of an agitation pamphlet, of a section of its "Review of Internal Affairs" dealing with the famine.[65] But good God! How "one-sided" were these incorrigibly narrow and orthodox doctrinaires; how deaf to the calls of "life itself"! Their articles contained -- oh horror! -- not a single, can you imagine it? -- not a single "concrete demand," "promising palpable results"! Poor doctrinaires! They ought to be sent to Krichevsky and Martynov to be taught that tactics are a process of growth, of that which grows, etc., and that the economic struggle i t s e I f should be given a political character!

    "In addition to its immediate revolutionary significance, the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government" ("economic struggle against the government"!!) "has also this significance: it constantly brings it home to the workers that they have no political rights." (Martynov, p. 44.) We quote this passage not in order to repeat for the hundredth and thousandth time what has already been said above, but in order particularly to thank Martynov for this excellent new formula: "the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government." What a pearl! With what inimitable talent and skill in eliminating all partial disagreements and shades of differences among Economists does this clear and concise postulate express the quintessence of Economism: from calling to the workers to join "in the political struggle which they carry on in the general interest, for the purpose of improving the conditions of all the workers,"[*] continuing through the theory of stages, and ending in the resolution of the Congress on the "most widely applicable," etc. "Economic struggle against the government" is precisely trade-unionist politics, which is very, very far from being Social-Democratic politics.

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