What Is To Be Done? - pt. 1

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Burning Questions of Our Movement



    In the last footnote we quoted the opinion of an Economist and of a non-Social-Democratic terrorist who happened to be in agreement with him. Speaking generally, however, there is not an accidental, but a necessary, inherent connection between the two, about which we shall have to speak further on, but which must be dealt with here in connection with the question of training the masses in revolutionary activity. The Economists and the present-day terrorists have one common root, namely, the worship of spontaneity, which we dealt with in the preceding chapter as a general phenomenon, and which we shall now examine in relation to its effect upon political activity and the political struggle. At first sight, our assertion may appear paradoxical, so great is

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the difference between those who stress the "drab everyday struggle" and those who call for the most self-sacrificing struggle of individuals. But this is no paradox. The Economists and terrorists merely bow to different poles of spontaneity: the Economists bow to the spontaneity of the "pure" working-class movement, while the terrorists bow to the spontaneity of the passionate indignation of intellectuals, who lack the ability or opportunity to link up the revolutionary struggle with the working-class movement, to form an integral whole. It is difficult indeed for those who have lost their belief, or who have never believed that this is possible, to find some outlet for their indignation and revolutionary energy other than terror. Thus, both kinds of worship of spontaneity we have mentioned are nothing more nor less than a beginning in carrying out the notorious Credo program: Let the workers wage their "economic struggle against the employers and the government" (we apologize to the author of the Credo for expressing his views in Martynov's words! We think we have a right to do so because the Credo, too, says that in the economic struggle the workers "come up against the political regime"), and let the intellectuals conduct the political struggle by their own efforts -- with the aid of terror, of course! This is an absolutely logical and inevitable conclusion which must be insisted upon -- even though those who are beginning to carry out this program do not themselves realize that it is inevitable. Political activity has its logic quite apart from the consciousness of those who, with the best intentions, call either for terror or for lending the economic struggle itself a political character. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and, in this case, good intentions cannot save one from being spontaneously drawn "along the line of least resistance," along the

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line of the purely bourgeois Credo program. Surely it is no accident either that many Russian liberals -- avowed liberals and those who wear the mask of Marxism -- wholeheartedly sympathize with terror and are trying to keep alive the present wave of terrorist sentiments.

    And the formation of the Revolutionary-Socialist Svoboda Group -- which set itself the aim of helping the working-class movement in every possible way, but which included in its program terror, and emancipation, so to speak, from Social-Democracy -- this fact once again confirmed the remarkable penetration of P. B. Axelrod who literally foretold these results of Social-Democratic wavering as far back as the end of 1897 (The Contemporary Tasks and Tactics), when he outlined his remarkable "two perspectives." All the subsequent disputes and disagreements among Russian Social Democrats are contained, like a plant in the seed, in these two perspectives.*

    From this point of view it also becomes clear why the Rabocheye Dyelo, being unable to withstand the spontaneity

    * Martynov "conceives of another, more realistic(?) dilemma" (Social-Democracy and the Working Class, p. 19): "Either Social-Democracy takes over the direct leadership of the economic struggle of the proletariat and by that (! ) transforms it into a revolutionary class struggle. . ." "by that," i.e., apparently by the direct leadership of the economic struggle. Can Martynov quote an example where the leadership of the industrial struggle alone has succeeded in transforming a trade union movement into a revolutionary class movement? Cannot he understand that in order to bring about this "transformation" we must actively take up the "direct leadership" of all-sided political agitation? . . . "Or the other prospect: Social-Democracy refrains from taking the leadership of the economic struggle of the workers and so . . . clips its own wings. . . ." In the Rabocheye Dyelo's opinion, quoted above, it is the Iskra that "refrains." We have seen, however, that the latter does far more to lead the economic struggle than the " Rabocheye Dyelo," but it does not confine itself to this, and does not narrow down its political tasks for the sake of it.

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of Economism, has been unable also to withstand the spontaneity of terrorism. It is highly interesting to note here the specific arguments that the Svoboda advanced in defence of terrorism. It "completely denies" the deterrent role of terrorism (The Regeneration of Revolutionism, p. 64), but instead stresses its "excitative significance." This is characteristic, first, as representing one of the stages of the breakup and decline of the traditional (pre-Social-Democratic) cycle of ideas which insisted upon terrorism. To admit that the government cannot now be "terrified," and therefore disrupted, by terror, is tantamount to thoroughly condemning terror as a system of struggle, as a sphere of activity sanctioned by the program. Secondly, it is still more characteristic as an example of the failure to understand our immediate task of "training the masses in revolutionary activity." The Svoboda advocates terror as a means of "exciting" the working-class movement, and of giving it a "strong impetus." It is difficult to imagine an argument that disproves itself more than this one does! Are there not enough outrages committed in Russian life that special "excitants" have to be invented? On the other hand, is it not obvious that those who are not, and cannot be, roused to excitement even by Russian tyranny will stand by "twiddling their thumbs," watching a handful of terrorists engaged in single combat with the government? The fact of the matter is that the masses of the workers are roused to a high pitch of excitement by the abominations in Russian life, but we are unable to collect, if one may put it that way, and concentrate all these drops and streamlets of popular excitement, which are called forth by the conditions of Russian life to a far larger extent than we imagine, but which it is precisely necessary to combine into a single gigantic torrent. That this can be accomplished is irrefutably proved by the enormous growth of the working-class movement and the eagerness with which the workers clamour for political literature, to which we have already referred above. On the other hand, calls for terror and calls to lend the economic struggle itself a political character are merely two different forms of evading the most pressing duty that now rests upon Russian revolutionaries, namely, to organize comprehensive political agitation. The Svoboda desires to substitute terror for agitation, openly admitting that "as soon as intensified and strenuous agitation is commenced among the masses the excitative function of terror will be finished." (The Regeneration of Revolutionism, p. 68.) This is exactly what proves that both the terrorists and the Economists underestimate the revolutionary activity of the masses, in spite of the striking evidence of the events that took place in the spring,[*] and whereas the former go out in search of artificial "excitants," the latter talk about "concrete demands." But both fail to devote sufficient attention to the development of their own activity in political agitation and in the organization of political exposures. And no other work can serve as a substitute for this work either at the present time or at any other time.

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