V. I.   Lenin

Efforts to Whitewash Opportunism

Published: Published in Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata No. 2, December 1916. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the Sbornik text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 23, pages 167-170.
Translated: M. S. Levin, The Late Joe Fineberg and and Others
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive 2002 (2005). 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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The Paris Nashe Slovo,[1] recently suppressed by the French Government to oblige tsarism (the excuse being that copies of Nashe Slovo were found on the Russian soldiers who had mutinied in Marseilles!), was indignant over the “lamentable” role of Deputy Chkheidze. With the permission of the authorities, Chkheidze addressed public meetings in the Caucasus, appealing to the population not to create “disorder” (accompanied by looting of shops, etc.), but to organise co-operative societies, etc. A nice trip for an alleged Social-Democrat to make “under the protection of a govern or, a colonel, a priest and a police captain” (Nashe Slovo No.203).

L. Martov forthwith hastened to enter a noble protest in the Bund’s Bulletin against “representing Chkheidze as a sort of [?? not “a sort of”, but “the same sort as all the liquidators”[2]] extinguisher of the awakening revolutionary spirit”. Martov’s defence of Chkheidze proceeds along two lines: fact and principle.

He challenges the fact by declaring that Nashe Slovo quotes from a Caucasian Black-Hundred paper, and that those who spoke at the meeting with Chkheidze were Mikoladze, a retired officer “known in his uyezd as a radical public personality”, and the priest Khundadze, who “in 1905 was prosecuted for participating in the Social-Democratic movement”. (“It is well known,” adds Martov, “that participation of village priests in the Georgian Social-Democratic movement is quite common.”)

Such is Martov’s “defence” of Chkheidze. And it is a very feeble defence. Even if Chkheidze’s appearance on the same platform with a priest was reported by a Black-Hundred   paper it does not refute the fact, and Martov himself admits that the fact did occur.

That Khundadze “was prosecuted in 1905” proves absolutely nothing, for Gapon and Alexinsky were also “prosecuted” at that time. What party do Khundadze and Mikoladze be long to, or sympathise with, now? Are they defencists? That is what Martov ought to have ascertained if he were seeking the truth and not doing a cheap lawyer’s job. In our press, a man “known in his uyezd as a radical public personality” ordinarily means simply a liberal landowner.

By shouting that Nashe Slovo has presented an “entirely false picture”, Martov wishes to conceal the truth, which he has not refuted one iota.

But that is not the main thing. We have only the blossoms, the fruit is to come. Having failed to disprove Chkheidze’s “lamentable” conduct by denying the fact, Martov confirms it by his defence of the principle.

It remains beyond doubt,” says Martov, “that Comrade [?? of Potresov and Co.?] Chkheidze found it necessary to speak out not only against the reactionary direction taken by the Caucasian disorders insofar as it fell [? they fell?] under the influence of the Black Hundreds, but also against those of its destructive forms (looting of shops, violence against merchants) which, generally speaking, popular discontent may assume even regardless of reactionary influences.” Note the words: “It remains beyond doubt”!

Martov sings like a nightingale; V. Maklakov could do no better: the helplessness, disunity, “consternation and even ignorance” of the masses... “‘revolts’ of this kind is not the path that leads to the goal, and in the final analysis are harmful from the standpoint of proletarian interests....” On the one hand, “it would be a bad revolutionary party that turned its back upon an incipient movement because it was accompanied by spontaneous and inexpedient excesses.” On the other hand, “it would be a bad party that considered it its revolutionary duty to refrain from combating such excesses as inexpedient actions”.... “Inasmuch as in Russia... an organised campaign of struggle against the war has not yet begun [?], inasmuch as the scattered state of the class-conscious elements of the proletariat makes it impossible to compare our present position, not only with   1904–05, but even with 1914–15 [?], the popular unrest which flares up as a consequence of the high cost of living, etc., although a very important symptom, cannot [?] directly [?] become the source of that movement for which we are striving. The only way in which it may be ‘utilised’ expediently is by guiding the discontent that breaks out into the channels of some kind of organised struggle, without which there can be no question of the masses setting themselves revolutionary aims. For this reason, even [!!] appeals to organise co-operative societies, to compel municipal councils to fix prices, and for similar palliatives based on the development of the initiative of the masses, are more revolutionary [ha! ha!] and more fruitful than flirting.... Frivolous speculation is ‘positively criminal’,” etc.

It is difficult to keep calm when reading outrageous speeches like these. Even the Bundist editors appear to have realised that Martov was behaving dishonestly, and added an ambiguous promise to “return to the subject in a future issue”....

The question is as clear as clear can be. Let us assume that Chkheidze had to deal with a form of unrest which he considered inexpedient. Obviously it was his right and duty as a revolutionary to combat the inexpedient form—for the sake of what? For the sake of expedient revolutionary actions? Or for the sake of an expedient liberal struggle?

That is the whole point! And this is what Martov muddles up!

Mr. Chkheidze was “guiding” the rising revolutionary “mass discontent” “into the channel” of a liberal struggle (only peaceful co-operative societies, only legal pressure on the municipal councils, with the approval of the Govern or, etc.), and not into the channel of an expedient revolutionary struggle. This is the crux of the question; but Martov goes on spouting in defence of a liberal policy.

A revolutionary Social-Democrat would say: It is inexpedient to loot small shops. Let us organise a more impressive demonstration, simultaneously, say, with the Baku, Tiflis and Petrograd workers. Let us direct our hatred against the government; let us win over the part of the army that wants peace. Is this what Mr. Chkheidze said? No. He called for a “struggle” acceptable to the liberals!

Martov signed a “platform” recommending “revolutionary mass actions”[3]—one has to show oneself a revolutionary before the workers!—but when the first symptoms of such actions appear in Russia, he begins, by fair means or foul, to defend the “Left”-liberal Chkheidze.

In Russia an organised campaign of struggle against the war has not yet begun....” In the first place, this is not true. It has begun, at any rate, in Petrograd, with manifestos, meetings, strikes, demonstrations. Secondly, if it has not begun in some other parts of the country, it must be begun. But Martov claims that the liberal campaign “begun” by Mr. Chkheidze is “more revolutionary”.

What is this, if not whitewashing abominable opportunism?


[1] See Note No. 31

[2] Liquidators—exponents of an opportunist trend that spread among the Menshevik Social-Democrats after the defeat of the 1905–07 Revolution.

The liquidators demanded the dissolution of the illegal revolutionary working-class party. They urged the workers to abandon the revolutionary struggle against tsarism and intended to establish a broad opportunist party, which would renounce revolutionary slogans   and engage only in the legal activity permitted by the tsarist government. Lenin and other Bolsheviks ceaselessly exposed this betrayal of the revolution by the liquidators. The policy of the liquidators was not supported by the workers. The Prague Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. (January 1912) expelled them from the Party.

[3] Reference is to the draft platform which the Menshevik Organising Committee Secretariat Abroad issued in Zurich in 1915 and circulated to organisations affiliated to the August bloc. It was in the form of a letter headed “The Proletariat and the War” and signed by L. Martov and four other Organising Committee secretaries.

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