V. I.   Lenin

The Political Line

Published: Nevskaya Zvezda No. 26, September 16, 1912. Signed: M. M.. Published according to the text in Nevskaya Zvezda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 328-334.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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It is beyond doubt that the character of Nevskaya Zvezda and Pravda has been fully established, and is familiar not only to the workers, but also to all the political parties of Russia—thanks to the attacks made on Pravda and Nevskaya Zvezda by the Black Hundreds and the Octobrists (Rossiya, Novoye Vremya, Golos Moskvy, etc.), as well as by the liberals (Rech, Zaprosy Zhizni, etc.).

An appraisal of the political line followed by the two newspapers is of particular interest in the light of the election campaign, for this appraisal is the inevitable touch stone of views on basic questions of principle. That is why we propose to dwell on N. Nikolin’s article in Nevsky Golos No. 9, about the line of Pravda and Nevskaya Zvezda. The article contains not a few exceedingly angry words, as the reader will see; but we can (and must) disregard that in view of the author’s attempt to touch on the essence of important questions.

I must admit,” wrote N. Nikolin, “that in many respects Pravda fulfils rather satisfactorily its task of being an exponent of the desires, needs, requirements and interests of the Russian proletariat. Unfortunately, it considerably depreciates this useful work of its by a perfectly absurd presentation of political realities that is far from the truth and extremely harmful in its consequences.”

We shall leave the angry words aside and take the important thing: the presentation of political realities. We readily forgive the writer his annoyance for this straightforward approach to the question, which is really fundamental. Let us argue on the substance of the matter. It is, in fact, impossible   to take a single step in the field of practical work unless one has firm views as to what our “political realities” actually are.

N. Nikolin answers his straight question as follows:

Pravda—which in this case follows the example of Nevskaya Zvezda—assures its readers that the working class must build a new Russia despite the liberals. This sounds proud, of course, but it contains nothing but nonsense. Nobody is building a new Russia—she is being built [italics by N. Nikolin himself] in the complicated process of the struggle of different interests, and the task of the working class is not to make chimerical plans for building a new Russia for others and in spite of all these others, but to create, within the latter, the most favourable conditions for its further development.”

Here, too, we readily forgive the writer his “spleen”, his extreme irritation, because he tries to take the bull by the horns. N. Nikolin is more frank, sincere and thoughtful than many liquidators in touching here on one of the deepest sources of our deep differences.

Nobody is building a new Russia—she is being built in the process—” Anyone will recognise in this wonderful argument the basic and invariable keynote of the entire liquidationist (or broader still, entire opportunist) music.

Let us, therefore, analyse this argument carefully.

If a new Russia is being built in the process of the struggle of different interests, this means that the classes which have different interests are building a new Russia in different ways. This is as clear as daylight. What sense is there, then, in N. Nikolin’s contrast: “nobody is building a new Russia—she is being built, etc.”?

No sense whatever. It is nonsense from the point of view of the most elementary logic.

But this nonsense has a logic of its own, the logic of opportunism, which inevitably, and not accidentally, slips into Nikolinist errors as it tries to defend its position “in Marxist fashion”. It is on this “logic of opportunism” that we must dwell.

Whoever says that a new Russia is being built by such-and-such classes stands so firmly on the basis of Marxism that not only N. Nikolin’s angry words, but even—even “unity-liquidationist” conferences and all their verbal “thunderbolts” cannot shake him.

Whoever says that “nobody is building a new Russia—she is being built, etc.”, slips from the objectivism of the class struggle (i.e., from Marxism) to the “objectivism” of a bourgeois justification of reality. Herein lies the source of that sinful fall from Marxism into opportunism which Nikolin (unwittingly) commits.

If I say: a new Russia has to be built in such-and-such a way from the standpoint of, say, truth, justice, equalised labour, and so on, it will be a subjectivist approach that will land me in the sphere of chimeras. In practice, it is the class struggle, and not my very best wishes, that will determine the building of a new Russia. My ideals of building a new Russia will not be chimerical only if they express the interests of an actually existing class, whose living conditions compel it to act in a particular sense. By thus adopting a stand for the objectivism of the class struggle, I do not in the least justify reality, but, on the contrary, indicate in this reality itself the deepest sources (though they are invisible at first sight) and the forces that can transform it.

But if I say: “nobody is building a new Russia—she is being built in the struggle of interests”, I at once throw a certain veil over the clear picture of the struggle of such-and-such classes, and make a concession to those who see only those actions of the ruling classes, i.e., particularly the bourgeoisie, that are on the surface. I slip involuntarily into justifying the bourgeoisie; instead of the objectivism of the class struggle, I adopt as a criterion the bourgeois trend that is most conspicuous, or that is successful for the time being.

We shall illustrate this by an example from history. New Germany (the Germany of the second half of the nineteenth century) was “built” in the process of the struggle of different interests. No educated bourgeois will question this, nor will he go farther than that.

But here is how Marx reasoned during the most “critical” period of the building of new Germany.

The upper bourgeoisie,” wrote Marx in 1848, “ever anti-revolutionary, concluded a defensive and offensive alliance with the reactionaries for fear of the people, that is to say, the workers and the democratic bourgeoisie.”

The French bourgeoisie of 1789 did not for a moment leave its allies, the peasants, in the lurch. It knew that its rule was grounded in the destruction of feudalism in the countryside, the creation of a free landowning peasant class.

The German bourgeoisie of 1848 is, without the least compunction, betraying the peasants, who are its most natural allies, the flesh of its flesh and without whom it is powerless against the aristocracy.

The continuance of feudal rights ... such is the result of the German revolution of 1848. The mountain brought forth a mouse.[1]

In Marx, the classes which built new Germany stand out at once as if they were living.

A bourgeois scholar who justifies reality in the name of “objectivism” says: Bismarck defeated Marx, Bismarck took into account how “new Germany was built in the complicated process of the struggle between different interests”. Marx, however, “made chimerical plans for building” a Great-German democratic republic in spite of the liberals, with the aid of the workers and the democratic bourgeoisie (that bourgeoisie which does not enter into alliance with reaction).

That is what bourgeois scholars say in a thousand variations. In examining this question from a purely theoretical standpoint, let us ask ourselves what their mistake is. It is that they cover up and obscure the class struggle. It is that (by means of the would-be profound turn of speech, “Germany was built in the process, etc.”) they gloss over the circumstance that Bismarck Germany was built by the bourgeoisie, who by its own “betrayals and treachery” made itself “powerless against the nobility”.

Marx, however, was enabled by the objectivism of the class struggle to understand political reality a hundred times more deeply and accurately, without justifying it at all but, on the contrary, indicating and singling out in it the classes which were building a democratic Germany, and were able to become the bulwark of democracy and socialism even when events had taken a turn exceptionally favourable to Bismarck.

Marx understood political reality so correctly and so deeply that he was able in 1848, half a century in advance,   to appraise the essence of Bismarck Germany as the Germany of a bourgeoisie “powerless against the nobility”. At the elections in 1912, sixty-four years after Marx had made his appraisal, the liberals fully confirmed it by their behaviour.

Marx and the Marxists, who had been waging a ruthless struggle against the liberals since 1848—a struggle that was unprecedented in acuteness and evoked a universal howl from the liberals (excuse me for using this sharp phrase, esteemed Nikolin!)—were by no means advocates of a “chimera” when they upheld the “plan” for a Great-German democratic state.

On the contrary, by upholding their “plan”, propagating it steadfastly and lashing the liberals and democrats who were betraying it, Marx and the Marxists were educating the very class which embodied the vital forces of “new Germany” and which, thanks to Marx’s consistent and whole-heartedly resolute propaganda, now stands fully armed, ready to fulfil its historic role of grave-digger, not only of the Bismarckian bourgeoisie, but of all bourgeoisie in general.

*     *

The example from German history reveals to us the logic of opportunism in the views of Nikolin, who angrily abuses us for our “violent Cadet-eating” precisely because he is unaware that he himself is drifting to the liquidationist ideas of a liberal labour policy.

The more N. Nikolin (who is not alone!) flies into a rage and tries to brush us aside, the more explicitly and circumstantially will we, who are publicists, repeat to him that our struggle against the Cadets and the liquidators is prompted by considerations which have been deeply thought out and which for more than five years (for more than ten years, to be exact) have been reaffirmed many times by the official decisions of all Marxists. The trouble with N. Nikolin, as well as with the liquidators whom he defends, is that they have nothing even approximately formulated, definite and clear with which to counter these numerous, precise, formal tactical decisions adopted long ago.

It is not just a “proud” phrase to say that “the workers must build a new Russia in spite of the liberals”. N. Nikolin   knows very well that this idea is expressed in a number of tactical decisions recognised by most Marxists. This is, in effect, a simple summing up of Russia’s political experience during at least the past decade. It is an absolutely indisputable historical fact that during the last ten years the Russian working class has been building a new Russia in spite of the liberals”. Such “building” work is never wasted, whatever the temporary “successes” of the Russian pretenders to the role of a Bismarck.

Russian opportunism—vague, indistinct, and eel-like, as it is in other countries—is unable to express its views definitely and clearly, to state formally that the working class must not build a new Russia in spite of the liberals but must do this, that and the other. Opportunism would not be opportunism if it were capable of giving clear and straightforward answers. But it expresses its discontent over the workers’ policy, and the fact that it gravitates towards the bourgeoisie, by saying: “Nobody is building a new Russia—she is being built in the process of the struggle of interests.”

And of what is being built, it is the “building” which the nobility and the bourgeoisie are doing, with the liberals correcting it, that is most conspicuous and striking, and enjoys momentary success and the admiration of the “crowd” more than anything else. “Why try to analyse which classes are building and how—that is all a chimera; we must take what is being built”—this is the true meaning of Nikolin’s argument, and the “logic of opportunism”.

This is indeed forgetting the class struggle. This is what constitutes the main principle of a liberal labour policy. It is through this sort of “logic” that the role of the working class is reduced from leadership of a genuine, consistent, whole-hearted democratic movement to spade-work for the liberals.

Hence the fact, only too familiar to us Russians, that in words the opportunists acknowledge that the party of the proletariat, too, should have an “independent” line, which, of course, is acknowledged by Nikolin as well. But in fact he defends a line that is not independent, but is the line of a liberal labour policy.

Nikolin tries to explain and to show us how very   immaterial it is to proclaim the independence of the working class.

The liquidators’ platform, reported in Nevsky Golos No. 8, also proclaimed it as did Nikolin himself. But even as he proclaims “independence”, he is advocating a non-independent policy.

By rejecting the idea of the working class pursuing a line of its own in present-day politics and in all questions of democracy (or, in other words, the idea of the working class “building a new Russia”) in spite of the liberals, Nikolin virtually calls on the working class to trail behind the liberals.

That is the crux of the matter. That is the “logic of opportunism”. As regards arguments to the effect that the working class should not be “isolated”, that “the brunt of the struggle for political liberty should not be borne by the workers”, that what is needed is “co-ordination and not division of forces”, and so on, all that is meaningless rhetoric. In fact, they are all descriptions and paraphrases of one and the same thing: don’t isolate yourselves (from the liberals), “co-ordinate your forces” (with liberal policy), recognise liberal policy to be an effective struggle for political liberty and not for a deal with the Purishkeviches, and so on and so forth.

We did not dwell on that rhetoric because one who wants to argue on the substance of the matter should take the real starting-points, the roots of the differences, and not the rhetorical flourishes of a basically wrong line.


[1] The first quotation is taken from Frederick Engels’s The Berlin Debates on the Revolution and the second from Karl Marx’s The Bill for the Abolition of Feudal Labour Services (see Karl Marx) Friedrich Engels, Werke, Band 5, Berlin. Dietz Verlag, 1959).

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