What is to Be Done?/Chapter I

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Chapter I. Dogmatism and "Freedom of Criticism"[edit]

A. What is "Freedom of Criticism"

"Freedom of criticism," this undoubtedly is the most fashionable slogan at the present time, and the one most frequently employed in the controversies between the Socialists and democrats of all countries. At first sight, nothing would appear to be more strange than the solemn appeals by one of the parties to dispute the dispute for freedom of criticism. Can it be that some of the advanced parties have raised their voices against the constitutional law of the majority of European countries which guarantees freedom to science and scientific investigation? "Something must be wrong here," an onlooker, who has not yet fully appreciated the nature of the disagreements among the controversialists, will say when he hears this fashionable slogan repeated at every cross-road. "Evidently this slogan is one of the conventional phrases which, like a nickname, becomes legitimatized by use, and becomes almost a common noun," he will conclude.

In fact, it is no secret that two separate tendencies have been formed in international Social-Democracy.[1] The fight between these tendencies now flares up in a bright flame, and now dies down and smoulders under the ashes of imposing "resolutions for an armistice." What this "new" tendency, which adopts a "critical" attitude towards "obsolete doctrinaire" Marxism, represents has been stated with sufficient precision by Bernstein, and demonstrated by Millerand.

Social-Democracy must change from a party of the social revolution into a democratic party of social reforms. Bernstein has surrounded this political demand with a whole battery of symmetrically arranged "new" arguments and reasonings. The possibility of putting socialism on a scientific basis and of proving that it is necessary and inevitable from the point of view of the materialists conception of history was denied, as also were the facts of growing impoverishment and proletarianization and the intensification of capitalists contradictions. The very conception, "ultimate aim," was declared to be unsound, and the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat was in principle between liberalism and socialism. The theory of the class struggle was rejected on the grounds that it could not be applied to a strictly democratic society, governed according to the will of the majority, etc.

Thus, the demand for a definite change from revolutionary Social-Democracy to bourgeois social-reformism was accompanied by a no less definite turn towards bourgeois criticism of all the fundamental ideas of Marxism. As this criticism of Marxism has been going on for a long time now, from the political platform, from university chairs, in numerous pamphlets and in a number of scientific works, as the younger generation of the educated classes has been systematically trained for decades on this criticism, it is not surprising that the "new, critical" theory in Social-Democracy should spring up, all complete, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter. The content of this new tendency did not have to grow and develop, it was transferred bodily from bourgeois literature to socialist literature.

To proceed. If Berstein's theoretical criticism and political yearnings are still obscure to anyone, the French have taken the trouble to demonstrate this "new method." In this instance, also, France has justified its old reputation as the country in which "more than anywhere else, the historical class struggles were each time fought out to a decision..." (Engels in his introduction to Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire.) The French Socialists have begun, not to theorize, but to act. The more developed democratic political conditions in France have permitted them to put Bernsteinism into practice immediately, with all its consequences. Millerand has provided an excellent example of practical Bersteinism; not without reason did Bersteain and Vollamr rush so zealously to defend and praise him! Indeed, if Social-Democracy, in essence, is merely a reformist party, and must be bold enough to admit this openly, then not only has a Socialist the right to join a bourgeois cabinet, it is even his duty always to strive to do so. If democracy, in essence, means the abolition of class domination, then why should not a Socialist minister charm the whole bourgeois world by orations in class co-operation? Why should he not remain in the cabinet even after the shooting down of workers by gendarmes has exposed, for the hundredth and thousandth time, the real nature of the democratic co-operation of classes? Why should he not personally take part in welcoming the tsar, for whom the French Socialists now have no other sobriquet than "Hero of the Knout, Gallows and Banishment" (knouter, pendeur et déportateur)? And the reward for this utter humiliation and self-degradation of socialism in the face of the whole world, for the corruption of the socialist consciousness of the working class--the only basis that can guarantee our victory--the reward for this is imposing plans for niggardly reforms, so niggardly in fact that much more has been obtained from bourgeois governments!

He who does not deliberately close his eyes cannot fail to see that the new "critical" tendency is socialist is nothing more nor less than a new species of opportunism. And if we judge people not by the brilliant uniforms they deck themselves in, not by the imposing appellations they give themselves, but by their actions, and by what they actually advocate, it will be clear that "freedom of criticism" means freedom for an opportunistic tendency in Social-Democracy, the freedom to convert Social-Democracy into a democratic reformist party, the freedom to introduce bourgeois ideas and bourgeois elements into socialism.

"Freedom" is a grand word, but under the banner of free trade the most predatory wars were conducted; under the banner of free labor, the toilers were robbed. The modern use of the term "freedom of criticism" contains the same inherent falsehood. Those who are really convinced that they have advanced science would demand, not freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old. The cry "Long live freedom of criticism," that is heard today, too strongly calls to mind the fable of the empty barrel.

We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the and. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and are under their almost constant fire. We have combined voluntarily, precisely for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not to retreat into the adjacent marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chose the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now several among us begin to cry out: let us go into this marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: how conservative you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the right to invite you to take a better road! Oh yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don't clutch at us and don't besmirch the grand word "freedom"; for we too are "free" to go where we please, free not only to fight against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh.

B. The New Advocates of "Freedom of Criticism"

Now, this slogan ("freedom of criticism") is solemnly advanced in No. 10 of Rabocheye Dyelo, the organ of the League of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad, not as a theoretical postulate, but as a political demand, as a reply to the question: "it is possible to unite the Social-Democratic organizations operating abroad?"--"in order that unity may be durable, there must be freedom of criticism."

From this statement two very definite conclusions must be drawn: 1) that Rabocheye Dyelo has taken the opportunist tendency in international Social-Democracy under its wing; and 2) that Rabocheye Dyelo demands freeedom for opportunism in Russian Social-Democracy. We shall examine these conclusions.

Rabocheye Dyelo is "particularly" displeased with Iskra's and Zarya's "inclination to predict a rupture in international Social-Democracy."[2]

"Generally speaking," writes Krichevsky, editor of Rabocheye Dyelo, "this talk about the mountain and the Gironde that is heard in the ranks of Social-Democracy represents a shallow historical analogy, which looks strange when it comes from the pen of a Marxist. The Mountain and the Gironde did not represent to different temperaments, or intellectual tendencies, as ideologist histories may think, but two different classes or strata--the middle bourgeoisie on the one hand, and the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat on the other. In the modern socialist movement, however, there is no conflict of class interests; the socialist movement in its entirety, all of its diverse forms [B. K.'s italics], including the most pronounced Bersteinists, stand on the basis of the class interests of the proletariat and of the proletarian class struggle, for its political and economic emancipation."

A bold assertion! Has not B. Krichevsky heard the fact, not long ago noted, that it is precisely the extensive participation of the "academic" stratum in the socialist movement in recent years that has secured the rapid spread of Bersteinism? And what is most important--on what does our author base his opinion that even "the most pronounced Bernsteinists" stand on the basis of the class struggle for the political and economic emancipation of the proletariat? No one knows. This determined defense of the most pronounced Bersteinists is not supported by any kind of argument whatever. Apparently, the author believes that if he repeats what the pronounced Bernsteinists say about themselves, his assertion requires no poof. But can anything more "shallow" be imagined than an opinion of a whole tendency that is based on nothing more than what the representative of that tendency say about themselves? Can anything more shallow be imagined than the subesquent "homily" about the two different and even diametrically opposite types, or paths, of Party development? (Rabocheye Dyelo.) The German Social-Democrats, you see, recognize complete freedom of criticsm, but the French do not, and it is precisely the latter that present an example of the "harmfulness of intolerance."

To which we reply that the very example of B. Krichevsky quotes proves that those who regard history literally from the Ilovaysky point of view sometimes describe themselves as Marxists. There is no need whatever, in explaining the unity of the German Socialist Party and the dismembered state of the French Socialist Party, to search for the special features in the history of the respective countries, to compare the conditions of military semi-abolutism in the one country with republican parliamentarism in the other, or to analyze the effects of the Paris Commune and the effects of the Anti-Socialist Law[3] in Germany; to compare the economic life and economic development of the two countries, or recall that "the unexampled growth of German Social-Democracy" was accompanied by a strenuous struggle, unexampled in the history of socialism, not only against mistaken theories (Mühlberger, Düring,[4] the Socialists of the Chair), but also against mistaken tactics (Lasalle), etc., etc. All that is superfluous! The French quarrel among themselves because they are intolerant; the Germans are united because they are good boys.

And observe, this piece of matchless profundity is intended to "refute" the fact which is a complete answer to the defense of Bersteinism. The question as to whether the Bersteinists do stand on the basis of the class struggle of the proletariat can be completely and irrevocable answered only by historical experience. Consequently, the example of France is the most important one in this respect, because France is the only country in which the Bertsteinists attempted to stand independently of their German colleagues (and partly also of the Russian opportunists). (Cf. Rabocheye Dyelo, Nos. 2-3.) The reference to the "intolerance" of the French, apart from its "historical" significance (in the Nozdrev sense), turns out to be merely an attempt to obscure a very unpleasant fact with angry invectives.

But we are not even prepared to make a present of the Germans to B. Krichevsky and to the numerous other champions of "freedom of criticism." The "most pronounced Bersteinists" are still tolerated in the ranks of the German Party only because they submit to the Hanover resolution, which emphatically rejected Berstein's "amendments," and to the Lübeck resolution, which, notwithstanding the diplomatic terms in which it is couched, contains a direct warning to Berstein. It is a debatable point, from the standpoint of the interests of the German Party, whether diplomacy was appropriate and whether, in this case, a bad peace is better than a good quarrel; in short, opinions may differ in regard to the expediency, or not, of the methods employed to reject Bersteinism, but one cannot fail to see the fact that the German Party did reject Bersteinism on two occasions. Therefore, to think that the German example endorses the thesis: "the most pronounced Bersteinists stand on the basis of the proletarian class struggle, for its economic and political emancipation," means failing absolutely to understand what is going on before one's eyes.

More than that. As we have already observed, Rabocheye Dyelo comes before Russian Social-Democracy, demands "freedom of criticism," and defends Bersteinism. Apparently it came to the conclusion that we were unfair to our "critics" and Bersteinists. To whom were we unfair, when and how? What was the unfairness? About this not a word. Rabocheye Dyelo does not name a single Russian critic or Bersteinists! All that is left for us to do is to make one of two possible suppositions: first, that the unfairly treated party is none other than Rabocheye Dyelo itself (and that is confirmed by the fact that, in the two articles in No. 10, reference is made only to the insults hurled at Rabocheye Dyelo by Zarya and Iskra). If that is the case, how is the strange fact to be explained that Rabocheye Dyelo, which always vehemently dissociates itself from Bersteinism, could not defend itself, without putting in a word on behalf of the "most pronounced Bersteinists" and of freedom of criticism? The second supposition is that third persons have been treated unfairly. If the second supposition is correct, then why are these persons not named?

We see, therefore, that Rabocheye Dyelo is continuing to play the game of hide-and-seek that it has played (as we shall prove further on) ever since it commenced publication. And note the first practical application of this greatly extolled "freedom of criticism." As a matter of fact, not only has it now been reduced to abstention from all criticism, but also to very Rabocheye Dyelo which avoids mentioning Russian Bersteinism as if it were a secret disease (to use Starover's apt expression) proposes, for the treatment of this disease, to copy word for word the latest German prescription for the treatment of the German variety of the disease! Instead of freedom of criticism--slavish (worse: monkey-like) imitation! The very same social and political content of modern international opportunism reveals itself in a variety of ways according to its national characteristics. In one country the opportunists long ago came out under a separate flag, while in others they ignored theory and in practice conducted a radical-socialist policy. In a third country, several members of the revolutionary party have deserted to the camp of opportunism and strive to achieve their aims not by an open struggle for principles and for new tactics, but by gradual, unobserved and, if one may so express it, unpublishable corruption of their Party. In a fourth country again, similar deserters employ the same methods in the gloom of political slavery, and with an extremely peculiar combination of "legal" with "illegal" activity, etc. etc. To talk about freedom of criticism and Bersteinism as a condition for uniting the Russian Social-Democrats, and not to explain how Russian Bersteinism has manifested itself, and what fruits it has borne, means talking for the purpose of saying nothing.

We shall try, if only in a few words, to say what Rabocheye Dyelo did not want to say (or perhaps did not even understand).

C. Criticism in Russia

The peculiar position of Russia in regard to the point we are examining is that the very beginning of the spontaneous labor movement on the one hand, and the change of progressive public opinion towards Marxism on the other, was marked by the combination of obviously heterogeneous elements under a common flag for the purpose of fighting the common enemy (obsolete social and political views). We refer to the heyday of "legal Marxism." Speaking generally, this was an extremely curious phenomenon that no one in the 'eighties or the beginning of the 'nineties would have believed possible. In a country ruled by an autocracy, in which the press is completely shackled, and in a period of intense political reaction, in which even the tiniest outgrowth of political discontent and protest was suppressed, the theory of revolutionary Marxism suddenly forces its way into the censored literature, written in Æsopian language, but understood by the "interested." The government had accustomed itself to regarding only the theory of (revolutionary) Narodnaya Volya-ism as dangerous, without observing its internal evolution, as is usually the case, and rejoicing at the criticism leveled against it no matter from what side it came. Quite a considerable time elapsed (according to our Russian calculations) before the government realized what had happened and the unwieldy army of censors upon him. Meanwhile, Marxian books were published one after another, Marxian journals and newspapers were published, nearly everyone became a Marxist, Marxism was flattered, the Marxists were courted and the book publishers rejoiced at the extraordinary, ready sale of Marxian literature. It was quite natural, therefore, that among the Marxian novices who were caught in this moment, there should me more than one "author who got a swelled head..."

We can now speak calmly of this period as of an event of the past. It is no secret that the brief period in which Marxism blossomed on the surface of our literature was called forth by the alliance between people of extremely moderate views. in point of fact, the latter were bourgeois democrats; and this was the conclusion (so strikingly confirmbed by their subsequent "critical" development) that intruded itself on the minds of certain persons even when the "alliance" was still intact.[5]

That being the case, does not the responsibility for the subsequent "confusion" rest mainly upon the revolutionary Social-Democrats who entered into alliance with these future "critics"? This question, together with a reply in the affirmative, is sometimes heard from people with excessively rigid views. But these people are absolutely wrong. Only those who have no self-reliance can fear to enter into temporary alliances even with unreliable people; not a single political party could exist without entering into such alliances. The combination with the "legal Marxists" was in its way the first really political alliance, an astonishingly rapid victory was obtained over Narodism, and Marxian ideas (even though in a vulgarized form) became very widespread. Moreover, the alliance was not concluded altogether without "conditions." The proof: the burning by the censor, in 1895, of the Marxian symposium, Materials on the Problem of the Economic Development of Russia. If the literary agreement with the "legal Marxists" can be compared with a political alliance, then that book can be compared with a political treaty.

The rupture, of course, did not occur because the "allies" proved to be bourgeois democrats. On the contrary, the representatives of the latter tendency were the natural and desirable allies of Social-Democracy in so far as its democratic tasks that were brought to the front by the prevailing situation in Russia were concerned. But an essential condition for such an alliance must be complete liberty for socialists to reveal to the working class that its interests were diametrically opposed to the interests of the bourgeoisie. However, the Bernsteinian and "critical" tendency, to which the majority of the "legal Marxists" turned, deprived the Socialists of this liberty and corrupted socialist consciousness by vulgarizing Marxism, by preaching the toning down of social antagonisms, but declaring the idea of the social revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat to be absurd, by restricting the labor movement and the class struggle to narrow trade unionism and to a "realistic" struggle for petty, gradual reforms. This was tantamount to the bourgeois democrat's denial of socialism's right to independence and, consequently, of its right to existence; in practice it meant a striving to convert the nascent labor movement into a tail of the liberals.

Naturally, under such circumstances a rupture was necessary. But the "peculiar" feature of Russia manifested itself in that this rupture simply meant the elimination of the Social-Democrats from the most accessible and widespread "legal" literature. The "ex-Marxists" who took up the flag of "criticism," and who obtained almost a monopoly of the "criticism" of Marxism, entrenched themselves in this literature. Catch-words like: "Against orthodoxy" and "Long live freedom of criticism" (now repeated by Rabocheye Dyelo) immediately became the fashion, and the fact that neither the censor nor the gendarmes could resist this fashion is apparent from the publication of three Russian editions of Berstein's celebrated book (celebrated in the Herostratus sense) and from the fact tat the books by Berstein, Prokopovich and others were recommended by Zubatov. (Iskra, No. 10.) Upon the Social-Democrats was now imposed a task that was difficult in itself, and made incredibly more difficult by purely external obstacles, viz., the task of fighting against the new tendency. And this tendency did not confine itself to the sphere of literature. The turn towards criticism was accompanied by the turn towards Economism that was taken by Social-Democratic practical workers.

The manner in which the contacts and mutual inter-dependence of legal criticism and illegal Economism arose and grew is an interesting subject in itself, and may very well by treated in a special article. It is sufficient to note here that these contacts undoubtedly existed. The notoriety deservedly acquired by the Credo was due precisely to the frankness with which it formulated these contacts and laid down the fundamental political tendencies of Economism, viz., let the workers carry on the economic struggle (it would be more correct to say the trade union struggle, because the latter also embraces specifically labor politics), and let the Marxian intelligentsia merge with the liberals for the political "struggle." Thus it turned out that trade union work "among the people" meant fulfilling the first part of this task, and legal criticism meant fulfilling the first part of this task, and legal criticism meant fulfilling the second part. This statement proved to be such an excellent weapon against Economism that, had there been no Credo, it would have been worth inventing.

The Credo was not invented, but it was published without the consent and perhaps even against the will of its authors. At all events the present writer, who was partly responsible for dragging this new "program" into the light of day,[6] has heard complaints and reproaches to the effect that copies of the résumé of their views which was dubbed the Credo were distributed and even published in the press together with the protest! We refer to this episode because it reveals a very peculiar state of mind among our Economists, viz., a fear of publicity. This is a feature of Eocnomism generally, and not of the authors of the Credo alone. It was revealed by that most outspoken and honest advocate of Economis, Rabochaya Mysl, and by Rabocheye Dyelo (which was indignant over the publication of Economist documents in the Vademecum), as well as by the Kiev Committee, which two years ago refused to permit the publication of itss profession de foi, together with a repudiation of it, and by many other individual representatives of Economism.

This fear of criticism displayed by the advocates of freedom of criticism cannot be attributed solely to craftiness (although no doubt craftiness has something to do with it: it would be unwise to expose the young and as yet punt movement to the enemies attack!). No, the majority of the Economists quite sincerely disapprove (and by the very nature of Economism they must disapprove) of all theoretical controversies, factional disagreement, of broad political questions, of schemes for organizing revolutionaries, etc. "Leave all this sort of thing to the exiles abroad!" said a fairly consistent Economist to me one day, and thereby he expressed a very widespread (and purely trade unionist) view: our business, he said, is the labor movement, the labor organizations, here, in our localities; all the rest are merely the inventions of doctrinaires, an "exaggeration of the importance of ideology," as the authors of the letter, published in Iskra, No. 12, expressed it, in unison with Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10.

The question now arises: seeing what the peculiar features of Russian "criticism" and Russian Bersteinism were, what should those who desired to oppose opportunism, in deeds and not merely in words, have done? First of all, they should have made efforts to resume the theoretical work that was only just begun in the period of "legal Marxism," and that has now again fallen on the shoulders of the illegal workers. Unless such work is undertaken the successful growth of the movement is impossible. Secondly, they should have actively combated legal "criticism" that was greatly corrupting people's minds. Thirdly, they should have actively counteracted the confusion and vacillation prevailing practical work, and should have exposed and repudiated every conscious or unconscious attempt to degrade our program and tactics.

That Rabocheye Dyelo did none of these things is a well-known fact, and further on we shall deal with this well-know fact from various aspects. At the moment, however, we desire merely to show what a glaring contradiction there is between the demand for "freedom of criticism" and the peculiar features of our native criticism and Russian Economism. Indeed, glance at the text of the resolution by which the League of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad endorsed the point of view of Rabocheye Dyelo.

"In the interests of the further ideological development of Social-Democracy, we recognize the freedom to criticize Social-Democratic theory in Party literature to be absolutely necessary in so far as this criticism does not run counter to the class and revolutionary character of this theory." (Two Congresses, p. 10.)

And what is the argument behind this resolution? The resolution "in its first part coincides with the resolution of the Lübeck Party Congress on Bernstein...." In the simplicity of their souls the "Leaguers" failed to observe the testimonium paupertatis (certificate of poverty) they give themselves by this piece of imitativeness!... "But...in its second part, it restricts freedom of criticism much more than did the Lübeck Party Congress."

So the League's resolution was directed against Russian Bersteinism? If it was not, then the reference to Lübeck is utterly absurd! But it is not true to say that it "restricts freedom of criticism." In passing their Hanover resolution, the Germans, point by point, rejected precisely the amendments proposed by Berstein, while in their Lübeck resolution they cautioned Berstein personally, and named him in the resolution. Our "free" imitators, however, do not make a single reference to a single manifestation of Russian "criticism" and Russian Economism and, in view of this omission, the bare reference to the class and revolutionary character of theory leaves exceedingly wide scope for misinterpretation, particularly when the League refuses to identify "so-called Economism" with opportunism. (Two Congresses.) But all this en passant. The important thing to note is that the opportunist attitude towards revolutionary Social-Democrats in Russia is the very opposite of that in Germany. In Germany, as we know, revolutionary Social-Democrats are in favor of preserving what is: they stand in favor of the old program and tactics which are universally known, and after many decades of experience have become clear in all their details. The "critics" desire to introduce changes, and as these critics represent in insignificant minority, and as they are very shy and halting in their revisionist efforts, one can understand the motives of the majority in confining themselves to the dry rejection of "innovations." In Russia, however, it is the critics and Economists who are in favor of preserving what is: the "critics" wish us to continue to regard them as Marxists, and to guarantee them the "freedom of criticism" which they enjoyed to the full (for, as a matter of fact, they never recognized any kind of Party ties,[7] and, moreover, we never had a generally recognized Party organ which could "restrict" freedom of criticism even by giving advice); the Economists want the revolutionaries to recognize the "competency of the present movement" (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10), i.e., to recognize the "legitimacy" of what exists; they do not want the "ideologists" to try to "divert" the movement from the path that "is determined by the interaction of material elements and material environment" (Letter published in Iskra, No. 12); they want recognition "for the only struggle that the workers can conduct under present conditions," which in their opinion is the struggle "which they are actually conducting at the present time." (Special Supplement to Rabochaya Mysl.) We revolutionary Social-Democrats, on the contrary, are dissatisfied with this worshiping of spontaneity, i.e., worshiping what is "at the present time"; we demand that the tactics that have prevailed in recent years be changed; we declare that "before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all firmly and definitely draw the lines of demarcation." (See announcement of the publication of Iskra.)[8] In a word, the Germans stand for what is and reject the changes; we demand changes, and reject subservience to and conciliation with what is.

This "little" difference our "free" copyists of German resolutions failed to notice!

D. Engels on the Importance of the Theoretical Struggle

“Dogmatism, doctrinairism”, “ossification of the party – the inevitable retribution that follows the violent strait-lacing of thought” – these are the enemies against which the knightly champions of “freedom of criticism” in Rabocheye Dyelo rise up in arms. We are very glad that this question has been placed on the order of the day and we would only propose to add to it one other:

And who are the judges?

We have before us two publishers’ announcements. One, “The Programme of the Periodical Organ of the Union of Russian Social Democrats Abroad – Rabocheye Dyelo” (reprint from No. 1 of Rabocheye Dyelo), and the other, the “Announcement of the Resumption of the Publications of the Emancipation of Labour Group”. Both are dated 1899, when the “crisis of Marxism” had long been under discussion. And what do we find? We would seek in vain in the first announcement for any reference to this phenomenon, or a definite statement of the position the new organ intends to adopt on this question. Not a word is said about theoretical work and the urgent tasks that now confront it, either in this programme or in the supplements to it that were adopted by the Third Congress of the Union Abroad in 1901 (Two Conferences, pp. 15-18). During this entire time the Editorial Board of Rabocheye Dyelo ignored theoretical questions, in spite of the fact that these were questions that disturbed the minds of all Social-Democrats the world over.

The other announcement, on the contrary, points first of all to the declining interest in theory in recent years, imperatively demands “vigilant attention to the theoretical aspect of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat”, and calls for “ruthless criticism of the Bernsteinian and other anti-revolutionary tendencies” in our movement. The issues of Zarya to date show how this programme has been carried out.

Thus, we see that high-sounding phrases against the ossification of thought, etc., conceal unconcern and helplessness with regard to the development of theoretical thought. The case of the Russian Social-Democrats manifestly illustrates the general European phenomenon (long ago noted also by the German Marxists) that the much vaunted freedom of criticism does not imply substitution of one theory for another, but freedom from all integral and pondered theory; it implies eclecticism and lack of principle. Those who have the slightest acquaintance with the actual state of our movement cannot but see that the wide spread of Marxism was accompanied by a certain lowering of the theoretical level. Quite a number of people with very little, and even a total lack of theoretical training joined the movement because of its practical significance and its practical successes. We can judge from that how tactless Rabocheye Dyelo is when, with an air of triumph, it quotes Marx’s statement: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”[9] To repeat these words in a period of theoretical disorder is like wishing mourners at a funeral many happy returns of the day. Moreover, these words of Marx are taken from his letter on the Gotha Programme,[10] in which he sharply condemns eclecticism in the formulation of principles. If you must unite, Marx wrote to the party leaders, then enter into agreements to satisfy the practical aims of the movement, but do not allow any bargaining over principles, do not make theoretical “concessions”. This was Marx’s idea, and yet there are people among us who seek-in his name to belittle the significance of theory!

Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity. Yet, for Russian Social-Democrats the importance of theory is enhanced by three other circumstances, which are often forgotten: first, by the fact that our Party is only in process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined, and it has as yet far from settled accounts with the other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path. On the contrary, precisely the very recent past was marked by a revival of non-Social-Democratic revolutionary trends (an eventuation regarding which Axelrod long ago warned the Economists). Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an “unimportant” error may lead to most deplorable consequences, and only short-sighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades of opinion inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for very many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other “shade”.

Secondly, the Social-Democratic movement is in its very essence an international movement. This means, not only that we must combat national chauvinism, but that an incipient movement in a young country can be successful only if it makes use of the experiences of other countries. In order to make use of these experiences it is not enough merely to be acquainted with them, or simply to copy out the latest resolutions. What is required is the ability to treat these experiences critically and to test them independently. He who realises how enormously the modern working-class movement has grown and branched out will understand what a reserve of theoretical forces and political (as well as revolutionary) experience is required to carry out this task.

Thirdly, the national tasks of Russian Social-Democracy are such as have never confronted any other socialist party in the world. We shall have occasion further on to deal with the political and organisational duties which the task of emancipating the whole people from the yoke of autocracy imposes upon us. At this point, we wish to state only that the role of vanguard fighter can be fulfilled only by a party that is guided by the most advanced theory. To have a concrete understanding of what this means, let the reader recall such predecessors of Russian Social Democracy as Herzen, Belinsky, Chernyshevsky, and the brilliant galaxy of revolutionaries of the seventies; let him ponder over the world significance which Russian literature is now acquiring; let him. . . but be that enough!

Let us quote what Engels said in 1874 concerning the significance of theory in the Social-Democratic movement. Engels recognizes, not two forms of the great struggle of Social Democracy (political and economic), as is the fashion among us, but three, placing the theoretical struggle on a par with the first two. His recommendations to the German working-class movement, which had become strong, practically and politically, are so instructive from the standpoint of present-day problems and controversies, that we hope the reader will not be vexed with us for quoting a long passage from his prefatory note to Der deutsche Bauernkrieg,[11] which has long become a great bibliographical rarity:

“The German workers have two important advantages over those of the rest of Europe. First, they belong to the most theoretical people of Europe; and they have retained that sense of theory which the so-called ’educated’ classes of Germany have almost completely lost. Without German philosophy, which preceded it, particularly that of Hegel, German scientific socialism – the only scientific socialism that has ever existed – would never have come into being. Without a sense of theory among the workers, this scientific socialism would never have entered their flesh and blood as much as is the case. What an immeasurable advantage this is may be seen, on the one hand, from the indifference towards all theory, which is one of the main reasons why the English working-class movement crawls along so slowly in spite of the splendid organisation of the individual unions; on the other hand, from the mischief and confusion wrought by Proudhonism, in its original form, among the French and Belgians, and, in the form further caricatured by Bakunin, among the Spaniards and Italians.

“The second advantage is that, chronologically speaking, the Germans were about the last to come into the workers’ movement. Just as German theoretical socialism will never forget that it rests on the shoulders of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Owen – three men who, in spite of all their fantastic notions and all their utopianism, have their place among the most eminent thinkers of all times, and whose genius anticipated innumerable things, the correctness of which is now being scientifically proved by us – so the practical workers’ movement in Germany ought never to forget that it has developed on the shoulders of the English and French movements, that it was able simply to utilise their dearly bought experience, and could now avoid their mistakes, which in their time were mostly unavoidable. Without the precedent of the English trade unions and French workers’ political struggles, without the gigantic impulse given especially by the Paris Commune, where would we be now?

“It must be said to the credit of the German workers that they have exploited the advantages of their situation with rare understanding. For the first time since a workers’ movement has existed, the struggle is being conducted pursuant to its three sides – the. theoretical, the political, and the practical-economic (resistance to the capitalists) – in harmony and in its interconnections, and in a systematic way. It is precisely in this, as it were, concentric attack, that the strength and invincibility of the German movement lies.

“Due to this advantageous situation, on the one hand, and to the insular peculiarities of the English and the forcible suppression of the French movement, on the other, the German workers have for the moment been placed in the vanguard of the proletarian struggle. How long events will allow them to occupy this post of honour cannot be foretold. But let us hope that as long as they occupy it, they will fill it fittingly. This demands redoubled efforts in every field of struggle and agitation. In particular, it will be the duty of the leaders to gain an ever clearer insight into all theoretical questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the old world outlook, and constantly to keep in mind that socialism, since it has become a science, demands that it be pursued as a science, i.e., that it be studied. The task will be to spread with increased zeal among the masses of the workers the ever more clarified understanding thus acquired, to knit together ever more firmly the organisation both of the party and of the trade unions....

“If the German workers progress in this way, they will not. be marching exactly at the head of the movement – it is not at all in the interest of this movement that the workers of any particular country should march at its head – but they will occupy an honourable place in the battle line; and they will stand armed for battle when either unexpectedly grave trials or momentous events demand of them increased courage, increased determination and energy.”[12]

Engels’s words proved prophetic. Within a few years the German workers were subjected to unexpectedly grave trials in the form of the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists. And they met those trials armed for battle and succeeded in emerging from them victorious.

The Russian proletariat will have to undergo trials immeasurably graver; it will have to fight a monster compared with which an antisocialist law in a constitutional country seems but a dwarf. History has now confronted us with an immediate task which is the most revolutionary of all the immediate tasks confronting the proletariat of any country. The fulfilment of this task, the destruction of the most powerful bulwark, not only of European, but (it may now be said) of Asiatic reaction, would make the Russian proletariat the vanguard of the international revolutionary proletariat. And we have the right to count upon acquiring this honourable title, already earned by our predecessors, the revolutionaries of the seventies, if we succeed in inspiring our movement, which is a thousand times broader and deeper, with the same devoted determination and vigour.


Notes[edit]

  1. Incidentally, this perhaps is the only occasion in the history of modern socialism in which controversies between various tendencies within the socialist movement have grown from national into international controversies; and this is extremely encouraging. Formerly, the disputes between the Lasalleans and Fabians, between the Guesdists and the Possibilists, between the Fabians and the Social-Democrats, and between the Narodovolists and the Social-Democrats, remained purely national disputes, reflected purely national features and proceeded, as it were, on different planes. At the present time (this is quite evident now), the English Fabians, the French Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinists and the Russian "critics"--all belong to the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and are rallying their forces against "doctrinaire" Marxism. Perhaps in this this first really international battle with socialist opportunism, international revolutionary Social-Democracy will become sufficiently strengthened to put an end to the political reaction that has long reigned in Europe.
  2. A comparison between the two tendencies among the revolutionary proletariat (the revolutionary and the opportunist) and the two tendencies among the revolutionary bourgeoisie in the eighteenth century (the Jacobin, known as the Mountain, and the Girondists) was made in a leading article in No. 2 of Iskra, February 1901. This article was written by Plekhanov. The Cadets, the Bezzaglavtsi and the Mensheviks to this day love to refer to the Jacobinism in Russian Social-Democracy but they prefer to remain silent about or...to forget the circumstances that Plekhanov used this term for the first time against the Right wing of Social-Democracy.
  3. In response to the new strength of the recently united German Social Democratic party (see footnote on the Gotha Program of 1875 below), Bismark had the Reichstag enact a group of laws aimed specifically at the German Social Democrats. Thse laws, enacted in 1878, restricted freedom of publication and assembly in Germany.--Editor's note
  4. At the time Engels hurled his attack against Dühring, many representatives of German Social-Democracy, inclined towards the latter's views, and accusations of acerbity, intolerance, uncomradely polemics, etc., were even publicly hurled at Engels at the Party congress. At the Congress of 1877, Most, and his supporters, moved a resolution to prohibit the publication of Engels' articles in Vorwärts because "they do not interest the overwhelming majority of the readers," and Vahlteich declared that the publication these articles had caused great damage to the Party, that Dühring had also rendered services to Social-Democracy: "We must utilize everyone in the interest of the Party; let the professors engage in polemics if they care to do so, but Vorwärts is not the pplace in which to conduct them." (Vorwärts, No. 65, June 6, 1877.) Here we have another example of the defense of "freedom of criticism," and it would do our legal criticas and illegal opportunists, who love so much to quote examples from the German, a deal of good to ponder over it!
  5. This refers to an article by K. Tulin [Lenin] written against Struve. The article was compiled from an essay entitle "The Reflection of Marxism in Bourgeois Literature."
  6. Reference is made here to the Protest Signed by the Seventeen against the Credo. The present writer took part in drawing up this protest (the end of 1899). The protest and the Credo were published abroad in the spring of 1900. It is now known from the article written by Madame Kuskova, I think in Byloye, that she was the author of the Credo, and that Mr. Prokopovich was very prominent among the Economists abroad at that time.
  7. The absence of public Party ties and Party traditions by itself marks such a cardinal difference between Russia and Germany that it should have warned all sensible Socialists against being blindly imitative. But here is an example of the lengths to which "freedom of criticism" goes in Russia. Mr. Bulgakov, the Russian critic, utters the following reprimand to the Austrian critic, Hertz: "Notwithstanding the independence of his conclusions, Hertz, on this point apparently remains tied by the opinions of his party, and although he disagrees with it in details, he dare not reject common principles." (Capitalism and Agriculture, Vol. II.) The subject of a politically enslaved state, in which nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of the population are corrupted to the marrow of their bones by political subservience, and completely lack the conception of Party honor and Party ties, superciliously reprimands a citizen of a constitutional state for being excessively "tied by the opinion of his party"! Our illegal organizations have nothing else to do, of course, but draw up resolutions about freedom of criticism....
  8. See present edition, Vol. 4, p. 354.—Ed.
  9. See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 16.
  10. The Gotha Programme — the programme adopted by the German Social-Democratic Party at the Gotha Congress in 1875 when the Eisenachers and Lassalleans united. The programme suffered from eclecticism and opportunism, since the Eisenachers made concessions to the Lassalleans on the most important points and accepted their formulations. Marx and Engels subjected the Gotha Programme to scathing criticism and characterised it as a retrograde step as compared with the Eisenach Programme of 1869 (See Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 13–48).
  11. Dritter Abdruck, Leipzig, 1875. Verlag der Genossenschaftsbuchdruckerei. (The Peasant War in Germany. Third impression. Co-operative Publishers, Leipzig, 1875. —Ed.) —Lenin
  12. See Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 652-54.